Why does written Bambara include phonetic letters?

Aw ni ce!

With all respect, raised the question in me recently: wouldn’t written Bambara get wider popularity, if it would not include phonetic letters (especially the very common ɛ and ɔ as variants of e and o) mixed within its otherwise not phonetic writing?

As if in English we would write “Good morning” as “Gʊd morning” or “common” as “commən”…

Also it’s not possible to write ɛ, ɔ, ɲ and ŋ on standard smartphones and desktops…

In the end, Manding musicians end up writing their song titles and even lyrics with French orthography, which is the worst solution imho, cause then it’s even harder to find these words in the dictionary.

Thank you for claryfing this,
K’an ben,

Hi, this is a great question.

If you think about it, the problem is not really the phonetic writing and special characters. French and almost every other language have their own letters that are not the standard 26 that we have in English. For example French has its accents and extra letters and people still write in its standard way. French and all of its symbols are also able to be written on phones.

The other thing is that we can actually write “ɛ, ɔ, ɲ and ŋ on standard smartphones and desktops”. There are keyboards from Google in the standard Latin-Bambara script as well as the N’ko one. For my computer, I use the app PolyglotKeyboard which allows me to write all the symbols, accents, and special letter any language in Latin writing would need (I use it for French and Bambara). I think @coleman made a post on his blog about this.

When it comes to artists misspelling words, one must remember that most Manding speakers were never taught in school how to write in their own language of Manding because their schools were in French. If they were taught to write in Manding, this would surely change.
I agree that it is hard to sometimes discern what someone is saying when they are trying to write Manding but with wrong spelling. All we can do about that is hope that native speakers can be educated in their own languages.

Thank you Boka,
Malik Diallo


Also I thank you for the good work that you are doing. I love the kora!


A post was split to a new topic: How to write Latin-based Bambara on iPhone?

I ni ce, Boka! And i ni ce, Malik, for what I think is a great response! :slight_smile:

Just wanted to add a little bit addressing this:

This is an interesting question and one that many scholars and linguists have written about.

I wrote an article, “Orthography, Standardization and Register: The Case of Manding”, that tries to understand the debate about Bambara/Manding spelling conventions and script from a sociohistorical perspective. There’s a number of references in there that you might find relevant.

You might also appreciate the work of the French linguist Gérard Galtier. After years of working in the “literacy industry/sector” of Mali in the 1970s, he wrote a dissertation proposing a Latin-based harmonized spelling system for all of Manding. He was and remains very critical of the choice in the 1980s to begin to use the Latin extended characters that many Westerners think of as “phonetic” letters:

  • Gérard Galtier, “L’évolution de la transcription moderne du bambara: De la conférence de Bamako de 1966 à nos jours,” in De l’écrit africain à l’oral: le phénomène graphique africain , ed. Simon Battestini (Harmattan, 2006).

Overall, I agree with @malikdiallo’s point that the problem in itself is not one of the Latin letters that go beyond those of English.

In fact, you look at N’ko, it is many ways more widely used than the Latin-based system, but it is literally a different writing system that includes tone and goes from right to left. N’ko users – with no government backing or funding – have nonetheless gotten their script into Unicode and onto keyboards, etc. And they have gotten people to use it without it being part of any government programs. My dissertation was in part an attempt to explore and understand this success of N’ko as a movement. (Plus, there’s a lot of additional references in there to Bambara spelling issues that you might be interested in.)

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Thank you Coleman!

I see, so after all, and anyway, I’ll just get used to it :slight_smile: Having ɛ instead of è actually makes sense because they need to mark the tones as well - I wasn’t considering this because I’m still just at the very beginning of learning Bambara.

So I’ll just get used to it! After all, ɛ is not much more unusual actually than ñ for example :slight_smile:

Thank you for all,
K’an bɛn,

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