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Type alphabet
Spoken languages N'Ko
Created by Solomana Kante
Time period 1949 to the present
ISO 15924 Nkoo
Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode.
Spoken in Guinea, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali
Region West Africa
Total speakers c. 27 million (mother tongue and second language); see Bambara, Mandinka, Maninka, and Dioula
Language family Niger-Congo
Official status
Official language in None
Regulated by Kurukan fuwa gbara (Association Kurukan fuwa gbara - [1])
Language codes
ISO 639-1 -
ISO 639-2 nqo
ISO 639-3 nqo

N'Ko (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, Guinea, 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, 1949, 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).

Current usage

As of 2005, it is principally used in Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire (respectively by Maninka and Dioula-speakers), with an active user community in Mali (by Bambara-speakers). Publications include a translation of the Qur'an, a variety of textbooks on subjects such as physics and geography, 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.



ɔ o u ɛ i e a
‎ߐ‏ ‎ߏ‏ ‎ߎ‏ ‎ߍ‏ ‎ߌ‏ ‎ߋ‏ ‎ߊ‏
NKo Aw.svg NKo O.svg NKo Uh.svg NKo Eh.svg NKo E.svg NKo A.svg NKo Ah.svg


ra da cha ja ta pa ba
‎ߙ ‎ߘ ‎ߗ‏ ‎ߖ‏ ‎ߕ‏ ‎ߔ‏ ‎ߓ
NKo R.svg NKo D.svg NKo Ch.svg NKo J.svg NKo T.svg NKo P.svg NKo B.svg
ma la ka fa gba sa rra
‎ߡ ‎ߟ‏ ‎ߞ‏ ‎ߝ‏ ‎ߜ‏ ‎ߛ‏ ‎ߚ‏
NKo M.svg NKo L.svg NKo K.svg NKo F.svg NKo Gb.svg NKo S.svg NKo Rr.svg
n'   ya wa ha na nya
‎ߒ   ‎ߦ‏ ‎ߥ ‎ߤ‏ ‎ߣ‏ ‎ߢ‏
NKo Ng.svg   NKo Y.svg NKo W.svg NKo H.svg NKo N.svg NKo Ny.svg

N'ko and computers

With the increasing use of computers and the subsequent desire to provide 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. An MS-DOS word processor called "Koma Kuda" was developed by Prof. Baba Mamadi Diané from the University of Cairo.[1] 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.[2] N'Ko is also known as Kangbe - the clear language.

For example, the word for 'name' in Bamanan is tɔgɔ and in Maninka it is toh. In written communications each person will write it as in N’Ko, and yet read and pronounce it differently.




  1. ^ Personal note from the LISA/Cairo conference, in Dec. 2005, Don Osborn
  2. ^ N'Ko Language Tutorial: Introduction

External links

See also


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