N’Ko System

Manden people live mainly in West Africa. They are also known as Bamanan, Dioula, Maninka-Mory, Maninka, Mandingo, Garo, Vai, etc.  The language they speak is known as Mandenkan, the suffix, -kan in Mandenkan means language of, and the suffix -ka, would means    the people of. It is a combination of multiple languages, dialects, and accents.
They comprise many sub-groups who speak the various branches of the language. Some of the branches like Bamanan, Dioula, and Maninka, are different only by the dialect or by simple accents. Mandenkan spoken styles range from the Vai in Liberia, Kono in Sierra Leone, the Kissi of the Republic of Guinea, to the Dioula in Cote d’Ivoire. The Vai, the Kono, and the Kissi dialects sound phonetically different from the basic Mandenkan therefore may required some translation for other Manden speakers. They are nevertheless of the same Manden origin. The Dioula dialect (Dioula means trader or businessperson), on the other hand, is a newer dialect and is easily understood by other Manden speakers.

When Mandens from different sub-groups talk to each other, it is common practice for them to switch, consciously or sub-consciously, from one’s own dialect to a conventional dialect known as N’Ko or Kangbe (the clear language).  This is even true, sometimes, during conversations between the Bamanans of Mali,  the Maninka-Moris of  Guinea, and the Mandenkos of Gambia or Senegal although pronunciations are practically the same. As an example, the word “Name” in Bamanan is “Toko” and  in Maninka it is “Toh”.  In written communications each will write it as Tô (^Qt) in N’Ko, and yet read and pronounce it differently.