Updated 28 November, 2021

This page brings together basic information about the Latin script and its use for the Bamanan (Bambara) language. It aims to provide a brief, descriptive summary of the modern, printed orthography and typographic features, and to advise how to write Bamanan using Unicode.

Bamakanan text often contains French words or spellings, but the characters needed for French words are not covered here. Nor is the N'Ko alphabet covered here (see N'Ko).

Phonetic transcriptions on this page should be treated as an approximate guide. No clear distinction is made between phonemic and phonetic information, and transcriptions may vary depending on the source of the transcription. Accents are used for tone marks to show the basic information only. Bamanan tones involve complicated contextual rules. These are not transcribed in detail. Also tone marks are not used for syllables that follow an initial indication, and the high tone is usually not marked unless it needs to be for clarity.

In addition, Bamanan has numerous dialects and variant pronunciations, each of which may lead to differences in pronunciation or spelling. The pronunciation in this document is generally based on the the standard Bamanan dialect of Bamako.

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Other script summaries.


Select part of this sample text to show a list of characters, with links to more details.
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Hadamaden bɛɛ danmakɛɲɛnen bɛ bange, danbe ni josira la. Hakili ni taasi bʼu bɛɛ la, wa u ka kan ka badenɲasira de waleya u ni ɲɔgɔn cɛ.

Bɛɛ ka kan josira ni hɔrɔnɲasira dantigɛlen ninnu bɛɛ la, wolomali fan si t’a la, janko siyawoloma, fari jɛya n’a finɲa, cɛya ni musoya, kan, diinɛ, politikisira ni miirisira jan o jan, fasowoloma ni sɛrɛwoloma, sɔrɔ ni bonda ni jɔyɔrɔwoloma fan o fan. Wa mɔgɔ tɛ minɛ i bɔyɔrɔ ma, o dabolo mana kɛ fɛn o fɛn ye politiki ni sariya la ani diɲɛ kɔnɔ: o ka kɛ jamana wali dugukolo yɛrɛmahɔrɔn ye, wali kalifafen, wali maralen, wali dankari bɛ min ka setigiya la.

Usage & history

The Bamanan language is used as a lingua franca and one of the national languages of Mali. Concentrated in southwest Mali and southern and eastern Guinea. it is also spoken in Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania. There are around 15 million people, and is a first language for around a third of those people. There are also pockets of usage in other countries. It is one of the Mande group of languages.

Bamanan is mostly written in the Latin orthography, although it may also be written using N'Ko. Literacy rates are not high.

Bamanan is also known as Bamana or Bambara.

Bamanankan bamanãkã Bamanan language

The language was written using the Latin script during the French occupation, but a set of spelling conventions were introduced in 1966/67. These introduced the use of ŋ rather than ny, and ŋ instead of ng or nk.

Basic features

The Latin script is an alphabet. It is largely phonetic in nature, where each letter represents a basic sound, and all vowel sounds are written using letters. See the table to the right for a brief overview of features for the modern Bamanan orthography using the Latin script.

Bamanan text runs left-to-right in horizontal lines.

Words are separated by spaces.

The orthography is bicameral.

Bamanan has 20 consonant letters, and 7 vowel letters. All are duplicated in upper- and lowercase. Two more consonants are represented by digraphs. Long vowels are indicated by doubling the vowel letter, and nasalisation is indicated by a syllable-final letter n. Some consonants are pre-nasalised, again using n.

Numbers use ASCII digits.

The visual forms of letters don't usually interact.

Character index











Combining marks







Character lists show:


Typical Bamanan syllable types include the following.

CV is the standard form. Words are commonly CVCV. bana

CVV indicates a long vowel. The long vs. short vowel distinction is phonemically distinctive. baana

CVC occurs where the vowel is nasalised, using a syllable-final n. denkɛ

V occurs at the beginning of a word. abada

CCV/CCVV where a consonant is pre-nasalised, indicated by preceding it with n. nsaajɛ

Is there a syllabic nasal?

Is gb a feature of Bamana, and if so how is it written?


The following represents the repertoire of the Bamako Bamanan dialect.

Click on the sounds to reveal locations in this document where they are mentioned.

Phones in a lighter colour are non-native or allophones. Source Wikipedia.

Vowel sounds

Plain vowels

i iː ĩ u uː ũ e eː ẽ o oː õ ɛ ɛː ɛ̃ ɔ ɔː ɔ̃ a aː ã

Consonant sounds

labial dental alveolar post-
retroflex palatal velar glottal
stop p b t d         k ɡ ɡʷ  
affricate       t͡ʃ d͡ʒ
fricative f   s z ʃ     ɣ h
nasal m   n     ɲ ŋ
approximant w   l     j  
trill/flap     r    


Click on the characters to find where they are mentioned in this page.

The basic Bamanan alphabet has 27 letters. Each has upper and lowercase forms; shown above and below, respectively. These and other characters are covered in more detail below.



Click on the characters in the lists for detailed information. For a mapping of sounds to graphemes see vowel_mappings.

Vowel letters

7 vowel letters are used, each with an upper and lower case form.


Vowel length

Long and short vowel sounds are phonemically distinctive, and Bamanan distinguishes between them by doubling the long vowels, eg. laada

Long nasalised vowels do exist, but they are very raregd,19, eg. mɛɛn

In some cases a long vowel may be a result of phonological changes where a consonant is lost, or may be written to express emphasis (eg. wari caaman), or may be a vowel with a low-high tone,19


Bamanan vowels can also be nasalised. To write a nasalised vowel, follow it by n [U+006E LATIN SMALL LETTER N], eg. bɛnba


Hausa uses 2 tones, high, and low, however, there is no strict requirement to mark tones, and usually they are not marked. Even if tone marks are used, they don't reflect the detailed contextual effects that apply, especially in flowing text (see below).

In spoken Bamanan, tones are useful for distinguishing words that are otherwise written the samecd, eg. ba river, stream ba thousand

One exception tends to be the 2nd person and 3rd person pronouns, which are otherwise indistinguishable, eg. á a

Use of tones in transcriptions, dictionaries, etc. Tone marks do tend to be written in dictionaries or language-learning texts. Where tone is indicated, the high tone can be marked with   ́ [U+0301 COMBINING ACUTE ACCENT], but is commonly not marked unless the tone changes within a word. The low tone can be marked with   ̀ [U+0300 COMBINING GRAVE ACCENT]. An initial tone mark typically indicates the tones for all following vowels in a word, or until another tone mark appears, and so the mark is not repeated.

Typically, many of the vowel+tone combinations are expressed using precomposed characters, however precomposed alternatives are not available for all combinations. The basic set of characters needed to mark tones includes the following:


Long vowels may involve more than one tone, in which case one tone tends to be added to each vowel, eg. bàá

In some cases, a syllable containing a single vowel letter has a tone change that can be written using   ̌ [U+030C COMBINING CARON] , eg.

That would involve the following additional characters.


In fact, the phonetics of tones are more complicated than usually shown by the accent marks, especially in flowing text. For example, a word with 2 low tones marked usually has an unmarked high tone between them, some tonal sequences involve downsteps, etc. For more details, see Vydrinvv.

An additional low tone or downstep is also used in a grammatical role related to definitiveness. Vydrinvv uses the following example, where he represents the tone expressing definitiveness by a floating grave accent. Mùsó-` tɛ́ yàn The woman isn’t here. Mùsò tɛ́ yàn There’s no woman here.

A page by UCLA represents this phonetically as a downstep when it occurs after a low vowel, eg. dingɛ

Vowel sounds mapped to characters

This section maps Bamanan vowel sounds to common lowercase graphemes in the Latin orthography. Tones are ignored. Click on the character names to see examples.

Plain vowels


Click on the characters in the lists for detailed information. For a mapping of sounds to graphemes see vowel_mappings.

Basic consonant letters









Other sonorants


Vidrin observes that “in the intervocalic position, velar phonemes are not contrastive: [-g-], [-k-], [-ɣ-], [-x-] and even a zero consonant, -ø-, are allophones of a single phoneme.” Coleman adds that to represent this, “Latin-based orthographies vary widely in their preferred grapheme. One may often choose freely between g, k, or simply dropping the intervocalic velar (e.g., tága, táka versus táa ‘go’)”cdl

Pronunciation and consequent spelling of Bambara words may vary, influenced by dialect or sometimes other factors. The following are examples:



sh [U+0073 LATIN SMALL LETTER S + U+0068 LATIN SMALL LETTER H] represents the sound ʃ, where needed in Bamanan text. It is more common in some dialects than otherswbm, and may sometimes be written instead as sy [U+0073 LATIN SMALL LETTER S + U+0079 LATIN SMALL LETTER Y].

ny [U+006E LATIN SMALL LETTER N + U+0079 LATIN SMALL LETTER Y] may be preferred by some people instead of ɲ [U+0272 LATIN SMALL LETTER N WITH LEFT HOOK], although if not word-initial it can create ambiguities related to nasalisation of the previous vowel.

kh [U+006B LATIN SMALL LETTER K + U+0068 LATIN SMALL LETTER H] is used to represent the sound ɣ in loan words from other languageswbm.


Bamanan syllables may begin with a prenasalised stop or fricative. This may sometimes be spelled phonetically, eg. mb, but more frequently is written using just n [U+006E LATIN SMALL LETTER N], ie. nb. Examples include: npan nbuuru ntɔn ncɔgɔn nsaajɛ

Consonant sounds to characters

This section maps Hausa consonant sounds to common graphemes. Click on the character names to see examples. Uppercase characters are not shown for ASCII characters.


Numbers, dates, currency, etc

European digits are used.

Text direction

Bamanan text runs left to right in horizontal lines.

Glyph shaping & positioning

This section brings together information about the following topics: writing styles; cursive text; context-based shaping; context-based positioning; baselines, line height, etc.; font styles; case & other character transforms.

You can experiment with examples using the Bamanan character app.

No special shaping or positioning is needed.

Font styles


Transforming characters

Bamanan is bicameral, and applications may need to enable transforms to allow the user to switch between cases.

Punctuation & inline features

Grapheme boundaries

No issues arise with grapheme selection.

Word boundaries

Words are separated by spaces.

Compound words can be hyphenated, eg. ɲɛ-ji

Phrase & section boundaries


, [U+002C COMMA]


: [U+003A COLON]


. [U+002E FULL STOP]



Bamanan uses regular ASCII punctuation.

As for French, it is common for a space to appear before the semicolon, colon and question mark punctuation. In French this is usually slightly smaller than a normal space, and lines should not be broken on either side of that space. For this, NNBSP [U+202F NARROW NO-BREAK SPACE] is ideal.

Ɲin ye den kelen tilannen don fan fila ye : fan min bɛ kɛnɛma ; ɔ ye ɲin ye.
An example of spaces occurring before semicolon and colon.

Parentheses & brackets

  start end




  start end







Abbreviation, ellipsis & repetition


Bamanan words often elide vowels in a similar way to the English word "don't". For this, they use an apostrophe. A good character to use for this would be ʼ [U+02BC MODIFIER LETTER APOSTROPHE], but most of the time authors use the ASCII ' [U+0027 APOSTROPHE], eg. compare: A ye à fɔ. A y’à fɔ.

[U+2026 HORIZONTAL ELLIPSIS] can also be found in Bamanan texts.

sogomaw : sogo, jɛgɛ, ntumu…
An example of ellipsis.

Inline notes & annotations


Other inline


Other punctuation


Line & paragraph layout

Line breaking & hyphenation

Lines are generally broken between words.

Show (default) line-breaking properties for characters in the Hausa boko orthography described here.

Text alignment & justification

Text alignment and justification follow the typical pattern for Latin script orthographies. Inter-word spaces provide the primary justification opportunities.

Letter spacing

Does the script create emphasis or other effects by spacing out the words, letters or syllables in a word? (For justification related spacing, see above.).

Counters, lists, etc.

Are there list or other counter styles in use? If so, what is the format used? Do counters need to be upright in vertical text? Are there other aspects related to counters and lists that need to be addressed?

Styling initials


Page & book layout

This section is for any features that are specific to Hausa and that relate to the following topics: general page layout & progression; grids & tables; notes, footnotes, etc; forms & user interaction; page numbering, running headers, etc.

Online resources

  1. Wikipedia
  2. An Ka Taa Dictionary
  3. Wiktionary: Bambara language