What is Manding?

From a linguistic perspective, the languages commonly known as Bambara, Jula or Malinké (Bamanankan, Julakan and Maninkakan respectively) are actually the Eastern varieties within a larger language-dialect continuum known as Manding that spans from Senegal to Burkina Faso in West Africa.

Donaldson, Coleman. (2018, December 30). Map of the Manding language continuum. Zenodo.

While speakers of Manding varieties typically do not refer to it as such, the label is useful in the sense that Bambara, Jula and Malinké remain mutually intelligible and are frequently recognized by native speakers as being different varieties of but one language. The word ‘Manding’ is a Western adaptation of the word Màndén, the name of both a place and former West African polity now commonly referred to as the Mali Empire that at its apogee between the 13th and 15th centuries encompassed much of West Africa and in particular the modern day states of Guinea and Mali.

Given the historical weight of the Mali empire and the spread of the Manding-speaking Muslim trade and religious network, it is of little surprise that major Manding varieties of today (i.e., Malinké in Guinea, Bambara in Mali, and Jula in Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso), are widely used in their respective zones as trade languages between different peoples and language groups.

The Manding language-dialect continuum also encompasses the Western varieties frequently referred to as Mandinka or Mandingo and spoken primarily in the Gambia, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and in smaller enclaves in Sierra Leone and Liberia. While clearly related to the Eastern varieties, they are frequently not mutually intelligible with them.

Books, Articles, Apps, Audio etc.

Here’s a running list of resources for learning and investigating Manding that is currently under construction but hopefully is useful nonetheless:


Learner's Grammars and Texts [by author]

In Print or Available Online…

Harder to find…

Online Dictionaries

Print Dictionaries

Linguistic Grammars

  • Dumestre’s “Grammaire fondamentale du bambara

  • Creissels’s “Le malinké de Kita

  • Kantè’s ߒߞߏ ߞߊ߲ߓߍ ߞߎ߲߬ߝߟߐ [The First Book of N’ko Grammar].

  • Kantè’s ߒߞߏ ߞߊ߲ߜߍ ߞߎ߲߬ߓߊߓߊ [The Big Book of N’ko Grammar].

  • Vydrin’s “Cours de grammaire bambara” (in press but unpublished as of 2019-02-27)




  • Map of the Manding language continuum. (Open-access map that I adapted from other data sources)

  • SIL's maps of the Manding language and dialect continuum (both as individual dialects and as a lingua franca)



  • Na baro kè; YouTube video series of street-side chats in Manding that are subtitled

  • An ka taa’s YouTube channel also includes playlists of other outside videos related to the Manding language



Technology for Typing


  • SIL IPA keyboards (what I use for writing Manding’s IPA characters and tones on Mac)

  • Keyman (common keyboard solution for PCs but also for other platforms for both Latin- and N’ko-based orthography)

  • Evertype’s N’ko keyboards (Mac; what I use for typing N’ko on my laptop)

  • JamraPatel’s N’ko desktop keyboards (Mac and PC)

  • JamraPatel’s “Sebedenwala” N’ko keyboard app for Android and iOS (what I use to type N’ko on my phone)

  • 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)



  • Doulos SIL (I primarily use Doulos SIL and its compact version for properly rendering the full range of IPA characters and diacritics in Latin-based Manding)

  • Google Noto Fonts (install the N'ko version so that you can view the script properly on your computer)


  • N'ko Text Converter (can be used to convert legacy N'ko fonts [before Unicode standardization] to the Unicode standardization AND to transliterate N'ko into a Latin-based script that preserves the tonal diacritics)

  • Bambara spell checker (can be used with LibreOffice, Firefox etc)