Dioula vs Malinke

Hi I was looking to learn some Dioula to communicate with a Malinke speaking person. They say these dialects are he same, is this the case? This is for someone based in Côte d’Ivoire?


Hi DaveJohn!

You asked a similar question in the comments on YouTube on this video and I answered there.

But for other people’s reference, I’m going to respond here as well.

In short, within the context of Côte d’Ivoire, “Dioula” and “Malinké” are generally considered different forms of the same language.

Both varieties are forms of Manding, which is a language-dialect continuum that also includes Bambara (primarily spoke in Mali) and Mandinka (primarily spoken in the Senegambia).

The term Malinké is the French language label for what is maninkakan in the language. The element kan simply means ‘language’. That’s why the language is often called “Maninka”.

The term “Dioula” is the French spelling and name of what is julakan in the language. That’s why it’s often called Jula. Derived from the word for “trader”, Jula is generally said to be a lingua franca form of Manding with fewer native speakers than Bambara or Maninka. This ignores the case of ethnic Jula in the region, but it does capture the reality that oftentimes in western Burkina and northern Côte d’Ivoire, Jula is learned alongside one’s mother tongue to facilitate interethnic communication at the market place, etc. At other times in Côte d’Ivoire, people use the term “julakan” as a generic catch-all term that encompasses all of the Manding varieties (see episode 14 of Na baro kè that I did about “julakan” in Abidjan).

The French label Malinké is sometimes used in Côte d’Ivoire instead of “Jula”, because some people consider it closer to the original name of the language (and the original name of the people that spoke it). There are some villages in the northwest of Côte d’Ivoire where they consider themselves ethnically “maninka” and therefore use the name “Maninka” (or “Malinké” in French) instead of the label “Jula/Dioula”, which they view as just a name for the lingua franca version of the language as used in the markets, etc.

Linguistically, there are objective differences between “Maninka” as it is spoken in various villages and communities and “Jula” as it is spoken as 1) a lingua franca 2) an ethnic variety in the northeastern part of Côte d’Ivoire.

Nonetheless, as your interlocutor has said to you, many people view them as different (if not identical) forms of the same language in Côte d’Ivoire.

Hope that helps!

PS - For more detail, I’d recommend looking at the references mentioned on pp. 6 and 183 of my open-access dissertation.

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