(ߒߞߏ) is both a script
devised by Solomana Kante
in 1949 as a writing system for the Mande languages
of West Africa
, and the name of the literary language
itself written in the script. The term N'Ko
means 'I say' in all Manding languages
The script has a few similarities to the Arabic alphabet, notably its direction (right-to-left) and the connected letters. It obligatorily marks both tone and vowels.
Kante created N'Ko in response to what he felt were beliefs that Africans were a "cultureless people" since there was prior to this time no indigenous African writing system for his language. N'Ko came first into use in Kankan
, as a Maninka
alphabet and was disseminated from there into other Mande-speaking parts of West Africa. "N'Ko Alphabet Day" is April 14
, relating to April 14
, the date the script is believed to have been finalized.
The introduction of the alphabet led to a movement promoting literacy in the N'Ko alphabet among Mande speakers in both Anglophone and Francophone West Africa. N'Ko literacy was instrumental in shaping the Maninka cultural identity in Guinea, and has also strengthened the Mande identity in other parts of West Africa (Oyler 1994).
As of 2005
, it is principally used in Guinea
and Côte d'Ivoire
(respectively by Maninka
-speakers), with an active user community in Mali
-speakers). Publications include a translation of the Qur'an
, a variety of textbooks on subjects such as physics
, poetic and philosophical works, descriptions of traditional medicine, a dictionary, and several local newspapers. The literary language used is intended as a koine
blending elements of the principal Manding languages
(which are mutually intelligible), but has a particularly strong Maninka flavour.
The Latin script with several extended characters (phonetic additions) is used for all Manding languages to one degree or another for historical reasons and because of its adoption for "official" transcriptions of the languages by various governments. In some cases, such as with Bambara in Mali, promotion of literacy using this orthography has led to a fair degree of literacy in it. Arabic transcription is commonly used for Mandinka in The Gambia and Senegal.
The N'Ko alphabet is written from right to left, with letters being connected to one another.
|| a |
|| ߊ |
|| ba |
|| ߓ |
|| rra |
|| ߚ |
|| nya |
|| ߢ |
N'ko and computers
With the increasing use of computers and the subsequent need to grant universal access to information technology, the challenge arose of developing ways to use N'ko on computers. From the 1990s on, there were efforts to develop fonts and even web content by adapting other software and fonts. A pre-Windows word processor called "Koma Kuda" was developed by Prof. Baba Mamadi Diané
from the University of Cairo. However the lack of intercompatibility inherent in such solutions was a block to further development.
UNESCO's Programme Initiative B@bel supported the preparation of a proposal to encode N'Ko in Unicode. In 2004, the proposal, presented by three professors of N'Ko (Baba Mamadi Diané, Mamady Doumbouya, and Karamo Kaba Jammeh) working with Michael Everson was approved for balloting by the ISO working group WG2. In 2006 N'Ko was approved for Unicode 5.0. The N'ko script is now encoded in Unicode 5.1 as Unicode code points U+07C0 to U+07FA inclusive.
Pango 1.18 and GNOME 2.20 have native support for the N'ko languages.
The literary language
N'Ko is evolving as a standard language of several Manding or N'Ko languages
. It is a literary language
based on a "compromise dialect" which Mandens from different sub-groups use to talk to each other. They switch from their own dialect to a conventional dialect known as N'Ko.
N'Ko is also known as Kangbe
- the clear language.
For example, the word for 'name' in Bamanan is toko and in Maninka it is toh. In written communications each person will write it as tô in N’Ko, and yet read and pronounce it differently.
- Condé, Ibrahima Sory 2 . Soulemana Kanté entre Linguistique et Grammaire : Le cas de la langue littéraire utilisée dans les textes en N’ko (in French)
- Conrad, David C. (2001). Reconstructing Oral Tradition: Souleymane Kanté’s Approach to Writing Mande History. Mande Studies 3, 147-200.
- Dalby, David (1969) 'Further indigenous scripts of West Africa: Mandin, Wolof and Fula alphabets and Yoruba 'Holy' writing', ''African Language Studies, 10, pp. 161–181.
- Davydov, Artem. On Souleymane Kanté's "Nko Grammar"
- Everson, Michael, Mamady Doumbouya, Baba Mamadi Diané, & Karamo Jammeh. 2004. Proposal to add the N’Ko script to the BMP of the UCS
- Oyler, Dianne White (1994) Mande identity through literacy, the N'ko writing system as an agent of cultural nationalism. Toronto : African Studies Association.
- Oyler, Dianne (1995). For ‘All Those Who Say N'ko’ N'ko Literacy and Mande Cultural Nationalism in the Republic of Guinea. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Florida.
- Oyler, Dianne White (1997) 'The N'ko alphabet as a vehicle of indigenist historiography', History in Africa, 24, pp. 239–256.
- Singler, John Victor (1996) 'Scripts of West Africa', in Daniels, Peter T., & Bright, William (eds) The World's Writing Systems, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc. pp. 593–598.
- Vydrine, Valentin F. (2001) 'Souleymane Kanté, un philosophe-innovateur traditionnaliste maninka vu à travers ses écrits en nko', Mande Studies, 3, pp. 99–131.
- Wyrod, Christopher. 2008. A social orthography of identity: the N’ko literacy movement in West Africa. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 192:27-44.
- B@bel and Script Encoding Initiative Supporting Linguistic Diversity in Cyberspace 12-11-2004 (UNESCO)