From a linguistic perspective, Manding is a language-dialect continuum spoken across a massive area stretching from Senegal to Burkina Faso. Traditionally, it is divided into four major named varieties: Bamanan (Bambara), Maninka (Malinké), Jula (Dioula) and Mandinka (Mandingo). The first three, in particular, are often held to mutually intelligible by native speakers. They are all Eastern Manding varieties characterized by a 7-vowel system. Mandinka, on the other hand, is a Western variety which has a 5-vowel system and a number of other features that make it more difficult to consider mutually intelligible in many contexts.
Despite early attempts following independence to develop a unified Latin-based orthography, most West African countries with Manding-speaking populations each have their own tradition and quirks when it comes to writing their dominant national varieties of Manding. N’ko on the other hand is a single normative tradition meant to be used for writing Manding as one single language. In this open-access publication, I analyze and compare the emergence and philosophies of these two orthographic traditions.
The following tables lay out the basic letters of Manding orthography in both N’ko and Latin script without going into the details that distinguish the named national varieties: