How to type in Bambara (with the special characters) in Latin-based orthography

Modern Bambara orthography is Latin-based but includes a few letters that one will not find on a regularly using an English keyboard. These letters are derived from the IPA and are as follows:

ɔ, ɛ, ɲ, ŋ

Until the 1980s the sounds behind these letters were represented differently. Instead of using single characters, the orthography used digraphs (that is, two letters) or letters with diacritics (that is, “accents”). This system works fine if you are not trying to represent Bambara’s (and in general Manding’s) contrastive tones since these are typically represented by diacritics (that is, “accents”) above the vowels as well.

Here’s a table that lays out the equivalences between old and modern Bambara orthography

Old Bambara orthography ny ng
Modern Bambara orthography ɔ ɛ ɲ ŋ
Example
'go/take out'

'man'
ɲin
'tooth'
ŋɔmi
'fried breakfast cake; fritter'

In a pinch when you don’t have the proper keyboard to type the modern orthography, you can use the old one. That said, nowadays it is quite easy to download the correct keyboard and use it both from a mobile device or desktop computer. Here are the options:

Desktop keyboards for typing Bambara in Latin-based orthography

Mobile device keyboards for typing Bambara in Latin-based orthography

  • Gboard on Android and iOS (supports Manding’s Latin-based orthography and N’ko orthography, but under the language name of “Bambara”; see my blog write-up for more information)

Fonts for typing Bambara in Latin-based orthography

In some cases, you might have a keyboard that can type the code-points that the computer recognizes as Bambara’s special characters, but you do not have a font that includes the relevant letter. This is less-and-less of an issue these days since computers will recognize that a font doesn’t include a character and will display it using a different font. This is a fine a solution, but it means that Bambara letters such as ɛ, ɔ, ɲ and ŋ can look a little odd since they do not match the font of their surrounding letters. As such, you may want to download fonts that you know include all the necessary characters. Here are some options: