Mande languages

Mande languages
West Sudanic
Ethnicity: Mandé peoples
West Africa
Linguistic classification: Niger–Congo?
  • Mande
Manding–Kpelle (Central & Southwest)
Samogo–Soninke (Northwest)
Dan–Busa (East)
ISO 639-5: dmn

The Mande languages are spoken in several countries in West Africa by the Mandé people and include Mandinka, Soninke, Bambara, Bissa, Dioula, Kagoro, Bozo, Mende, Susu, Yacouba, Vai, and Ligbi. The population includes millions of speakers, chiefly in Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria. This linguistic group is traditionally considered a divergent branch of the Niger–Congo family.

The group was first recognized in 1854 by S. W. Koelle in his Polyglotta Africana. He mentioned 13 languages under the heading North-Western High-Sudan Family, or Mandéga Family of Languages. In 1901 Maurice Delafosse made a distinction of two groups in his Essai de manuel pratique de la langue mandé ou mandingue. He speaks of a northern group mandé-tan and a southern group mandé-fu. This distinction was basically done only because the languages in the north use the expression tan for ten whereas the southern group use fu. In 1924 L. Tauxier noted that this distinction is not well founded and there is at least a third subgroup he called mandé-bu. It is not until 1950 when A. Prost supports this view and gives further details. In 1958 Welmers published an article The Mande Languages where he divided the languages into three subgroups – North-West, South and East. His conclusion was based on lexicostatistic research. Greenberg followed this distinction in his The Languages of Africa (1963). Long (1971) and G. Galtier (1980) follow the distinction into three groups but with notable differences.

The N'Ko alphabet (ߒߞߏ) is a script for Mande languages developed by Souleymane Kante, which is mostly used in Guinea.



Mande does not share the morphology characteristic of most of the Niger–Congo family, such as the noun-class system. Blench regards it as an early branch that—like Ijoid and perhaps Dogon—diverged before this developed. However, Dimmendaal (2008) argues that the evidence for inclusion is slim, with no new evidence for decades, and that for now Mande is best considered an independent family.[1]

Most internal Mande classifications are based on lexicostatistics, and the results are unreliable. See for example, Vydrin (2009), based on a 100-word list.[2] The following classification from Kastenholz (1996) is based on lexical innovations and comparative linguistics; details of East Mande are from Dwyer (1989, 1996) [summarized in Williamson & Blench 2000].

 East Mande 










Busa  languages 




West Mande 
Central West 
Central Mande


Jɔgɔ languages (Ligbi)




Manding languages

Mokole languages


 Southwest  Mande






 Northwest  proper





Samogo languages (partial: Duun–Sembla)

Jɔ (Jowulu)


Mande languages do not have the noun-class system or verbal extensions of the Atlantic–Congo languages and for which the Bantu languages are so famous, though Bɔbɔ has causative and intransitive forms of the verb. Southwestern Mande languages and Soninke have initial consonant mutation. Plurality is most often marked with a clitic; in some languages, with tone, as for example in Sembla. Pronouns often have alienable–inalienable and inclusive–exclusive distinctions. Word order in transitive clauses is subjectauxiliaryobjectverbadverb. Mainly postpositions are used. Within noun phrases, possessives come before the noun, adjectives and plural markers after, while demonstratives are found with both orders. (Williamson & Blench 2000)

See also



  1. ^ Gerrit Dimmendaal, "Language Ecology and Linguistic Diversity on the African Continent", Language and Linguistics Compass 2/5:841.
  2. ^ [1]

General references

  • Delafosse, Maurice (1901) Essai de manuel pratique de la langue mandé ou mandingue. Paris : Leroux. 304 p.
  • Delafosse, Maurice (1904) Vocabulaires comparatifs de plus de soixante langues ou dialectes parlés à la Côte d'Ivoire et dans les régions limitrophes, avec des notes linguistiques et ethnologiques. Paris : Leroux. 285 p.
  • Halaoui, Nazam, Kalilou Tera, Monique Trabi (1983) Atlas des langues mandé – sud de Côte d'Ivoire. Abidjan : ACCT-ILA.
  • Kastenholz, Raimund (1996) Sprachgeschichte im West-Mande: Methoden und Rekonstruktionen. Mande Languages and Linguistics · Langues et Linguistique Mandé, 2. Köln : Rüdiger Köppe Verlag. 281 p.
  • Steinthal, Heymann (1867) Die Mande-Negersprachen, psychologisch und phonetisch betrachtet. Berlin: Schade. 344 p.
  • Sullivan, Terrence D. 2004 [1983]. A preliminary report of existing information on the Manding languages of West Africa: Summary and suggestions for future research. SIL Electronic Survey Report. Dallas, SIL International.
  • Vydrine, Valentin, T.G. Bergman and Matthew Benjamin (2000) Mandé language family of West Africa: Location and genetic classification. SIL Electronic Survey Report. Dallas, SIL International.
  • Vydrin, Valentin. On the problem of the Proto-Mande homeland // Вопросы языкового родства – Journal of Language Relationship 1, 2009, pp. 107–142.
  • Welmers, William E.(1971) Niger–Congo, Mande. In Linguistics in Sub-Saharan Africa (Current Trends in Linguistics,7), Thomas A. Sebeok, Jade Berry, Joseph H. Greenberg et al. (eds.), 113–140. The Hague: Mouton.
  • Williamson, Kay, and Roger Blench (2000) "Niger–Congo". In Heine & Nurse, eds., African Languages.

External links

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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