Latin orthography notes

Updated 27 January, 2024

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).

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.

Referencing this document

Richard Ishida, Bamanan (Latin) Orthography Notes, 27-Jan-2024,


Select part of this sample text to show a list of characters, with links to more details. Source
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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. The visual forms of letters don't usually interact.

❯ consonantSummary

Bamanan has 20 consonant letters (40 including upper- and lowercase). Two more consonants are represented by digraphs.

Some consonants are pre-nasalised, using n.

❯ basicV

The Bamanan alphabet has 7 vowel letters, duplicated in upper- and lowercase. Long vowels are indicated by doubling the vowel letter.

Tone is not usually indicated outside of dictionaries and education materials, but it if is, another 21 accented characters are used (counting lowercase only). Of these, 15 can be represented as atomic characters. Otherwise, and in decomposed text, letters are combined with one of 3 diacritics (maybe four).

Nasalisation is indicated by a syllable-final letter n.

Standalone vowels are written using ordinary vowel letters and no special arrangements.

Numbers use ASCII digits.

Character index











Combining marks








To be investigated

Items to show in lists


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 ĩ u ũ e o õ ɛ ɛː ɛ̃ ɔ ɔː ɔ̃ a 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    




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?


Vowel summary table

The following table summarises the main vowel to character assigments.

Bamanan vowels are mostly simple letters, but on rare occasions accent marks are used to indicate tone, and those are shown here. Many of the combinations of letter and tone are atomic characters.

i␣u␣ ␣ì␣í␣ǐ␣ù␣ú␣ǔ
I␣U␣ ␣Ì␣Í␣Ǐ␣Ù␣Ú␣Ǔ
e␣o␣ ␣è␣é␣ě␣ò␣ó␣ǒ
E␣O␣ ␣È␣É␣Ě␣Ò␣Ó␣Ǒ
ɛ␣ɔ␣ ␣ɛ́␣ɛ̀␣ɛ̌␣ɔ́␣ɔ̀␣ɔ̌
Ɛ␣Ɔ␣ ␣Ɛ́␣Ɛ̀␣Ɛ̌␣Ɔ́␣Ɔ̀␣Ɔ̌
a␣ ␣à␣á␣ǎ
A␣ ␣À␣Á␣Ǎ

For more details see vowel_mappings.

Vowel letters

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


When tone marks are shown, 15 more atomic letters may be used. See tones.

Vowel diacritics

Accent marks are only used if tone is marked, which it usually is not. Even then, many vowel letter and accent combinations can be written using atomic characters, unless the text is decomposed. See tones.

The accent marks are shown below. The fourth one is not yet confirmed.


Standalone vowels

Standalone vowels are written using ordinary vowel letters and no special arrangements.



Observation: Most word-initial standalone vowels seem to be 'a'. Not clear whether there are any word-medial standalone vowels.

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].



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 absence


Vowel sounds to characters

This section maps Bamanan vowel sounds to common graphemes in the Latin orthography. Tones and uppercase letters are ignored. Click on a grapheme to find other mentions on this page (links appear at the bottom of the page). Click on the character name to see examples and for detailed descriptions of the character(s) shown.


Consonant summary table

The following table summarises the main consonant to character assigments.

Consonants are written using letters. There are several digraphs, most of which are prenasalised consonants.

p␣b␣t␣d␣k␣g␣ ␣np␣nb␣nt
c␣j␣ ␣nc
f␣s␣z␣sh␣kh␣h␣ ␣ns
P␣B␣T␣D␣K␣G␣ ␣Np␣Nb␣Nt
C␣J␣ ␣Nc
F␣S␣Z␣Sh␣Kh␣H␣ ␣Ns

For more details see consonant_mappings.

Basic consonant letters


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 clusters


Consonant length


Consonant sounds to characters

This section maps Bamanan consonant sounds to common graphemes in the Latin orthography. Tones and uppercase letters are ignored. Click on a grapheme to find other mentions on this page (links appear at the bottom of the page). Click on the character name to see examples and for detailed descriptions of the character(s) shown.






Numbers, dates, currency, etc

European digits are used.

Text direction

Bamanan text runs left to right in horizontal lines.

Glyph shaping & positioning

You can experiment with examples using the Bamanan character app.

Transforming characters

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


Grapheme cluster

No issues arise with grapheme selection.

Punctuation & inline features

Word boundaries

Words are separated by spaces.

Compound words can be hyphenated, eg. ɲɛ-ji

Phrase & section boundaries


Bamanan uses regular ASCII punctuation.


, [U+002C COMMA]


: [U+003A COLON]


. [U+002E FULL STOP]



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.

Bracketed text


Bamanan commonly uses ASCII parentheses to insert parenthetical information into text.

  start end



Quotations & citations


Bamanan texts may use guillemets around quotations, but mostly use quotation marks. Of course, due to keyboard design, quotations may also be surrounded by ASCII double and single quote marks.

  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.

Line & paragraph layout

Line breaking & hyphenation

Lines are generally broken between words.

Line-edge rules

As in almost all writing systems, certain punctuation characters should not appear at the end or the start of a line. The Unicode line-break properties help applications decide whether a character should appear at the start or end of a line.

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

The following list gives examples of typical behaviours for some of the characters used in Bamanan. Context may affect the behaviour of some of these and other characters.

Click/tap on the characters to show what they are.

  • “ ‘ ( «   should not be the last character on a line.
  • ” ’ ) » . , ; ! ? %   should not begin a new line.

Text alignment & justification

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

Baselines, line height, etc.


Bamanan uses the 'alphabetic' baseline.

Page & book layout

Online resources

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