How to say "deaf" in Manding: A Tale of Two Words


Today while working on some research related to various Manding translations (or interpretations if you prefer) of the Quran, I learned something new about a specific word for a “deaf person”.

The issue came up while looking at verse 18 of the Quran’s second sura which reads as follows:

In my handwritten notes of an oral interpretation of the Quran, I jotted down the following noun that was used for “deaf”:


As it turns out, I may not have correctly written down this word. Why?

In the case of the Latin-based Bambara translation of the Quran, the word is listed as:


In the N’ko version of Quran, it is listed as:

ߕߟߏߜߋߘߋ߲ (tólogbeden)

The Bambara and the N’ko words are clearly cognate forms despite their variant spelling. This is because “gb/g” and “r/d” are regular phonological correspondences between Bambara and Maninka.

It is rare, on the other hand, to find regular correspondences between e/ɛ in Eastern Manding varieties; they are fully fledged phonemes in Maninka, Bambara and Jula and generally used systematically to distinguish the same set of words.

As it turns out, I was looking at two distinct words.

Tulogɛlɛn ~ tulogwɛlɛn ~ tulogbɛlɛn

This word is a compound made up of tulo ‘ear’ and gwɛlɛn ‘hard; difficult’. Literally then this word means ‘ear-hard’ or ‘ear-difficult’, but it does NOT mean ‘hard of hearing’. Instead, it refers to the idea of being someone who doesn’t listen and is stubborn.

This is an expression that I use and hear all of the time in West Africa. It is particularly frequent in the context of obstinate children who don’t like to listen to their parents.

Given that it is considered a “predictable” expression, it is not listed in the An ka taa, Bamadaba or Malidaba dictionaries.

That said, it does show up in Bambara Reference Corpus under the for “tulogɛlɛn”, but only 8 times of 2019-09-05):


Screenshot of the Bambara Reference Corpus search results for “tulogɛlɛn”


Tulogeren ~ tulogweren ~ tologbeden

Similarly, tulogeren is also a compound noun. It is formed from tulo ‘ear’ and the verb (ka) geren ‘to plug’.

Tulogeren and its cognates therefore literally means something like ‘ear-plug’, but in general is the word for "a deaf person” if used as a noun or “deaf” if used as an adjective.

This word is much more frequent in printed Bambara texts. It shows up in various forms 120 times in the Bambara Reference Corpus as of 2019-09-05:


Screenshot of the Bambara Reference Corpus search results for “tulogeren”


Unsurprisingly, the word also shows up in both the Bamadaba and Malidaba dictionaries.

Conclusion and a Proverb

And how do you make sure you pronounce the difference correctly? I’ll leave that up to you.

In the meantime for keeping them straight at least in terms of meaning, you might be interested in the following proverb that conveniently puts the two words side-by-side and showed up in my search of Bambara Reference Corpus:

Tulogeren wele ka di tulogɛlɛn ye.

‘It’s easier to call out to someone deaf than someone stubborn.’

(Proverb 2506 in Bailleul's "Sagesse Bambara" Book)