"la" VS "ra" VS "na" postposition usage

Hi all,
I am a new learner of Manding. I am trying to learn it the way a baby learn, by similarities. I try to find a frequent phrase and make as many similar phrases as I can, and verify the correctness with a fluent speaker.

Sometimes I am stumped and I need an explanation. So …

How do I know when to use la or ra? Case in point “’ n’ bɛ taa sugu la” but " n’ bɛ taa Mali ra". Both are refering to going places. I have also heard na, but I don’t have an example of use.

Please help.

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Hi Rashid! Thanks for posting here.

The postpositions la/na and ra are underlying all the same thing in Bambara/Jula. You can see this in the AKT dictionary entry for la:

In Bambara, it generally only takes the form la or na. The use of na occurs when the word preceding la ends in a nasal sound (like nasalization on the final vowel in a word like bon ‘house; room’ for example). Like this:

À bɛ bon laÀ bɛ bon na

“It is in the house/room”

In Jula in Burkina and Côte d’Ivoire, the variant ra exists. It generally just replaces la entirely, but there can be some variability (that is, people using mixing both). But it carries the same meaning. People generally just view it as a question of accent. Here’s a simple example.

À b’à la → À b’à ra

“It is upon/in it”

I discuss this with examples in this part of the Deep Dive video about episode 2 of Baarakètò. I also note this and provide examples in this blog post about Bambara vs Jula.

Having said all of that, I’d add that your examples are a little weird if you are writing in standard Bambara. People would just say “N bɛ taa Mali la” and “N bɛ taa sugu la”. If someone opts to use “ra” instead of “la” in either sentence, it’s not contrastive. And one isn’t more correct really. It’s just a question of a Jula-style pronunciation that someone may use or not.

Hope that helps.

Thank you so much for the explanation. I am learning from a mixed community jula/bambara hence my confusion. Thanks again for your help.

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