Sɔn t'i la | faultless

The line Sɔn t’i la is common in songs and translated as “There’s nothing wrong (with you)” or Tu n’as pas de défaut" in French.

What is the exact meaning and usage of this phrase?

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Hi Coleman! There’s a song by Rokia Koné that I have been working on off and on. It’s called “Sontila”. I had a voice message I tried to send you a piece of. It’s a conversation I had a while back about it with a friend of mine. I’ll type out her explanation here and maybe it will help.

In this context, “sɔn” means bad character. “Sɔn t’i la” means a person that doesn’t have anything from which anyone can complain. People whom we can get along with. Who we can live with for a long time without being disappointed. They’ll say “Sɔn t’i la.” It means you are well mannered socially.

When you love someone, you can also say “Sɔn t’i la” to them. To tell them their manner pleases you.

~ Korotimi Haidara


Amazing! I ni ce, Christy! I ni ce, Korotimi! :slight_smile: I made this post as a placeholder for me to make sure to ask some people, so I couldn’t be happier that you chimed in!

Yeah, the context bit about sɔn meaning “bad character” is what I was interested in. Where I learned Manding, we would say “À sɔn man ɲi” (‘He/she has a bad character’; lit. “His/her character isn’t good”), so using sɔn in this way of Sɔn t’i la was weird to me since it literally seems to be:

Sɔn tɛ i la

‘Character is not upon you’

But the meaning isn’t “You don’t have (good) character”, but rather, as you and Korotimi said, “You are well-mannered”!

It’s actually @OdhranMullan who originally got me looking into this Bamanan expression, so he’ll be very happy too! And I think he’s got a few songs where is aware of the line :slight_smile:

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3 posts were split to a new topic: Connecting about Rokia Koné’s “Sontila”

Following up on my own question after some discoveries. It seems that the word is indeed sɔn (sɔ̌n if I put on the tone), which means ‘character’, but it has a nuance that the English translation doesn’t have. With @OdhranMullan, we came across another example from a song that led to this “discovery”. Here’s the song lyric:

Mɔgɔ jugu tɛ kɔli sɔn na k’o da i la

“A person’s enemy doesn’t fail to find a fault with you”
(lit. “A person’s enemy doesn’t fail at [finding] a fault and [then] lay it upon you”)

It took us a while to “hear” this right, but I am sure it is now because we also found another example (#2829) from Bailleul’s book of proverbs:

Sɔnnɔlabɔla tɛ kɔli sɔn na

‘A fault-seeker doesn’t fail at [finding] fault’

This led me to go back to Bailleul’s original dictionary instead of Bamadaba. Bailleul’s original dictionary explicitly highlights that sɔ̌n means ‘conduct’, but that it often refers to “vice” or negative behavior:

sɔ̌n n.

  1. heart (the organ : rare usage)
  2. conduct (pejorative : vice)

Under this second sense, he gives the example (which is also in Bamadaba; note that I’ve removed the tones):

Sɔn tɛ maa min na, i jugu b’o da i la

‘The vices that we don’t have, our enemies will attribute them to us’

All of that to say that I think that we can see that the sense of ‘poor behavior; fault; vice’ is the meaning of sɔn that is used in the expression: “Sɔn t’i la” :slight_smile:

Depending on the context, one could perhaps translate at like this:

Sɔn t’i la

‘You are not at fault’ or “You’re faultless”

I’m going to update the AKT dictionary to include some of this, but I wanted to share here for anyone else down the road!

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Very interesting. This one took us on a bit of a journey!

You know… This is interesting Coleman. I didn’t type out ALL of what Koro said… But as she was describing it she kept saying “like you’re perfect” as she was explaining it to me. I CLEARLY understand what she was trying to convey now. This very thing!


And had I continued on with the song we may’ve had all of this hashed out about two months ago. :upside_down_face:

I ni baara!

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Hi Christy,

Interesting to hear this extra bit of feedback, because in my English translation I felt it sounded nicer to say ‘you’re perfect’ rather than ‘faultless’, hence I decided on:

Oh Kia, you’re perfect as you are
Daughter of Badji
I say Kia, you’re perfect as you are
Daughter of Assitan

It’s such an uplifting song.


Look at you! :clap:t5: Go Odhrán!! :blush:

Here is another song that has this expression Djeneba Seck - Ndiyani

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another example of the word “son” being used in song is the song Son te Sara m’a la by Ramata Diakite (RIP).

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