N vs ne for "I" [emphatic vs non-emphatic pronouns]


It’s often heard that the only correct way of saying “I” is n, as in “a ka di n ye”, but when living in Bamako I think “ne” was used much more. Is it dialectal or are they pretty much interchangeable? I’ve heard “ne bɛ ta” a lot but can’t remember hearing “n’bɛ ta”

Aw ni ce ni aw ni bara kosɛbɛ!

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Hi Vincent! Welcome to the Forum and thanks for posting this here :slight_smile:

“N” and “Ne” are two different forms of the first person singular pronoun (“I; me” in English).

There is nothing dialectal about them. The distinction is actually a formal one that linguists call non-emphatic (n) and emphatic (ne). I made a full video about this on YouTube, but in short…

This distinction exists for all the pronouns: for example, n/ne, i/e, à/ale, an/anw, á/aw, and u/olu in standard Bambara.

They are close to interchangeable, but there a few grammatical situations where the emphatic form is required. For instance, here’s one:

Jɔn don?
Ne don! (N don!)

– Who is it?
– It’s me!

As such, they are neither free variants nor dialectal variants.

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