Ni kan tiyen, sewa tiyen. Ni sewa tiyen, kantiyen

Would like to understand the meaning of “tiyen” from the Malinke proverb:

Ni kan tiyen, sewa tiyen. Ni sewa tiyen, kantiyen.

Secondarily wondering about kan tiyen being separate words in the first sentence and munged together in the second sentence.

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I ni ke!

I wasn’t familiar with this proverb or saying, but I googled it and on this page about Mamady Keita, I found the following gloss/interpretation (without it, I wouldn’t have been able to guess the meaning out of context – in part because of the non-standard orthography/spelling; see below):

Ni kan tiyen, sewa tiyen. Ni sewa tiyen, kantiyen
“Without music there is no joy, without joy there is no music.”

In standard Latin-based orthography, this would normally be more like this:

Ni kan tɛ yen, sewa tɛ yen. Ni sewa tɛ yen, kan tɛ yen
Lit. “If there isn’t ‘sound’ [music], there isn’t joy. If there isn’t joy, there isn’t ‘sound’ [music]”

So to answer your questions:

  • tiyen is an non standard spelling of a situative sentence with tɛ yen (which could use be ti yen — the exact pronunciation of can vary between , ti and te, etc. It’s basically a question of “accent” if you will. It means isn’t.located there literally.
  • The fact that they are written together in the first half of the expression and not in the second half is not standard spelling. It’s supposed to be written kan tɛ yen (Lit. “sound isn’t.located there”) in both clauses

Hope that helps!

As ever. Tremendously helpful. Yes. Mamady was my friend and teacher over 20 years. While he didn’t create the quote, he is the source of it. I’ll see if I can find out more about where it came from. Thank you Coleman!