N'Ko script summary

Updated 17 April, 2019 • tags scriptnotes, nko

This page provides basic information about the N'Ko script. It is not authoritative, peer-reviewed information – these are just notes I have gathered or copied from various places as I learned. For character-specific details follow the links to the N'Ko character notes.

For similar information related to other scripts, see the Script comparison table.

Clicking on red text examples, or highlighting part of the sample text shows a list of characters, with links to more details. Click on the vertical blue bar (bottom right) to change font settings for the sample text.

Sample (Mandinka)

ߞߏ ߡߍ߲ ߞߵߊ߬ ߞߍ߫ ߊ߲ ߛߋ߫ ߘߊ߫ ߞߊ߬ ߕߟߋ߬ߓߊ߰ߓߟߐߟߐ ߘߊߦߟߍ߬ ߒߞߏ ߦߋ߫ ߸ ߊ߲ ߧߴߊ߲ ߞߊߘߊ߲߫ ߏ߬ ߘߐ߫ ߞߙߊߕߊߕߊ߫ ߞߊ߬ ߒ߬ ߓߊߘߋ߲ ߕߐ߬ߡߊ ߟߎ߬ ߟߊߞߍ߫ ߊ߬ ߞߊ߬ߟߊߡߊ߬߸ ߞߵߊ߬ߟߎ߬ ߡߊߛߊ߬ߡߊ߲߫ ߞߵߊ߬ߟߎ߬ ߡߊߘߏ߲߬ ߒ߬ ߠߊ߫ ߒߞߏ ߛߘߊߟߊ߫ ߞߏߓߊ ߣߌ߲߬ ߞߊߡߊ߲ ߞߣߐ߫߸ ߏ߬ ߘߏ߲߬ ߕߴߛߋ߫ ߘߊߓߊ߲߫ ߠߊ߫ ߝߋߎ߫ ߝߏ߫ ߊ߬ߟߎ߬ ߦߋ߫ ߛߋ߫ ߞߊ߬ ߓߟߐߟߐ ߞߐߜߍ ߟߎ߬ ߡߊߝߟߍ߫ ߟߴߊ߬ߟߎ߫ ߖߘߍ߬ ߦߋ߫ ߊ߬ߟߎ߬ ߟߊ߫ ߕߟߋ߬ߓߊ߮ ߟߎ߬ ߟߊ߫ ߣߐ߰ߦߊ߫ ߘߐ߫ ߸ ߣߌ߲߬ ߘߏ߲߬ ߕߊ߬ߣߍ߲߫ ߒߞߏ ߟߊ߫ ߖߘߍ߬ߛߐߘߐ߲ ߛߌߟߊ߫ ߓߐߣߍ߲ ߠߎ߫ ߓߎ߭ ߟߋ߫ ߡߊ߬.

ߡߊ߲߬ߘߋ߲߬ ߛߊ߲ߘߊ ߘߏ߫ ߟߋ߬ ߞߊ߲߫ ߞߏ߫: ߌ ߓߊ߯ ߌ ߢߊ ߟߐ߬ ߕߋ߬ߟߋ ߘߐ߫ ߞߵߌ ߕߊ߯ ߦߙߐ ߡߊߝߟߍ߫߸ ߛߎ߫ ߕߍ߫ ߞߏ߬ ߌ ߡߊ߬. ߒ߬ߓߊ߬ ߊ߲ ߧߋ߫ ߒ߬ ߠߞߊߟߌߦߊ߫ ߛߊ߫ ߒ߬ ߘߌ߫ ߞߍ߫ ߒ߬ ߘߎߢߊߘߐߕߍ߯ ߢߐ߲߮ ߠߎ߬ ߘߐ߫ ߞߊ߬ ߞߍ߫ ߞߎߟߎ߲߫ ߞߋߟߋ߲߫ ߞߣߐ߫ ߏ߬ ߘߐ߫.

Usage & history

From Scriptsource:

The N'ko script was created in 1949 by Soloman Kante to write the Bambara language, one of the Manding languages spoken in Mali, in response to a newspaper article reflecting the colonial misconception that Africans were culturally inferior due to their lack of indigenous writing systems. The word N'ko means "I say" in all the Manding languages. Kante had travelled widely throughout West Africa, and his knowledge of the Arabic script influenced his invention.

N'ko is also used to write the Kangbe language - a literary (that is, predominantly written as opposed to spoken) language which combines the features of various Manding languages, is understandable by all literate Manding speakers and is used in situations where speakers of different Manding languages need a neutral means of communication. Its role as a literary language has contributed to N'ko's status as one of the most widely used indigenous West African scripts, which has in turn been instrumental in fulfilling one of the functions for which Kante had designed it; the strengthening of Manding cultural identity in the region. The N'ko literacy movement operated largely on the fringes of formal education, which was conducted in the Latin script. Despite receiving no government funding or endorsement, and having no official curriculum, it succeeded because it exploited the desire of the Manding people to define and possess their identity.

In 1986 l’Association pour l’Impulsion et la Coordination des Recherches sur l’Alphabet N’ko (ICRA-N’KO) was established, and officially approved as an NGO for the promotion of N'ko five years later. The script is currently used in Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire as well as Mali, and has been used for publications relating to indigenous knowledge, including descriptions of medical rituals, traditional poetry, and philosophical works, as well as textbooks and a transcription of the Qur'an.

From Wikipedia:

N'Ko (ߒߞߏ‎) is both a script devised by Solomana Kante in 1949, as a writing system for the Manding languages of West Africa, and the name of the literary language written in that script. The term N'Ko means I say in all Manding languages.

As of 2005, it is used mainly in Guinea and the Ivory Coast (respectively by Maninka and Dyula speakers), with an active user community in Mali (by Bambara-speakers). Publications include a translation of the Quran, 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. It has been classed as the most successful of the West African scripts. The literary language used is intended as a koiné blending elements of the principal Manding languages (which are mutually intelligible), but has a very strong Maninka flavour.

Distinctive features

N'Ko is an alphabet. This means that it is phonetic in nature, where each letter represents a basic sound. See the table to the right for a brief overview of features, taken from the Script Comparison Table.

The script is normally cursive, but in certain circumstances a non-joining font styles may be used.

The script is written right-to-left, but unusually digits are not written lef-to-right within the RTL flow.

N'Ko has (many) tone marks. Many diacritics (including some tone marks) have more than one use.

An unusual feature is that If two adjacent consonants are followed by the same vowel, the vowel is omitted after the first consonant.

The base repertoire is significantly extended, using diacritics, to cover sounds in foreign languages – particularly Arabic and French.

Character lists

The N'Ko script characters in Unicode 10.0 are in a single block:

The following links give information about characters used for languages associated with this script. The numbers in parentheses are for non-ASCII characters.

For character-specific details see N'Ko character notes.

In yellow boxes, show:

Text direction

N'Ko script is written right-to-left.

Unlike other RTL scripts, such as Arabic and Hebrew, numbers are also written right-to-left.

ߏ߬ ߞߏߛߐ߲߬߸ ߂߀߀߉ ߞߊߙߏ߫ ߁߀߲/߂߂

Click on this example, which contains numbers and words, to see how the order of characters in memory matches the simple right-to-left order as displayed.

Vowels

Vowel characters

There are 7 vowel characters:

ߊ␣ߋ␣ߌ␣ߍ␣ߎ␣ߏ␣ߐ

Each can carry a tone mark and a nasalisation mark.

Vowel absence

ߑ

If there is no vowel between two consonants, this is indicated using ߑ [U+07D1 NKO LETTER DAGBASINNA]. u

If two adjacent consonants are followed by the same vowel, the vowel is omitted after the first consonant. (There is no ambiguity here with consonant clusters, since in the latter case the dagbasinna would appear.) u

Tone marks

߫␣߬␣߭␣߯␣߰␣߱␣߮␣ߴ␣ߵ

Diacritics are used to indicate tones, and which is used depends on the length of the vowel, per the following table. w

high low rising falling
short  ߫  ߬  ߭
long  ߯  ߰  ߱  ߮

There are also two spacing characters used for tones: ߴ [U+07F4 NKO HIGH TONE APOSTROPHE] and ߵ [U+07F5 NKO LOW TONE APOSTROPHE], eg. ߞߵߌ.

Tone marks should be typed and stored after any nasalisation marker.

Nasalisation

The low diacritic  ߲ [U+07F2 NKO COMBINING NASALIZATION MARK​] is applied to a vowel to indicate nasalisation. This may produce multiple combining marks attached to a single character.

ߣߌ߲߬

A nasalisation mark attached to a letter that already has a combining character.

This mark should be typed and stored before any tone mark to preserve the canonical order. u

Vowel repertoire extension

 ߳ [U+07F3 NKO COMBINING DOUBLE DOT ABOVE​] is used above N'Ko letters to represent foreign sounds (particularly French and Arabic).

ߊ߳␣ߋ߳␣ߎ߳

Consonants

N'Ko has 19 regular consonants:

ߓ␣ߔ␣ߕ␣ߖ␣ߗ␣ߘ␣ߙ␣ߚ␣ߛ␣ߜ␣ߝ␣ߞ␣ߟ␣ߡ␣ߢ␣ߣ␣ߤ␣ߥ␣ߦ

There is also a nasal syllabic (ߒ), and two 'abstract' consonants (ߠ ߧ).

Nasal syllabic

ߒ

ߒ [U+07D2 NKO LETTER N] is considered to be neither a consonant nor a vowel. It represents an alveolar or velar syllabic nasal sound. u

This character may carry a tone diacritic, eg. ߒ߬.

Abstract consonants

ߠ␣ߧ

Abstract consonants indicate a NA or NYA mutated by a preceding nasal, either word-internally or across word boundaries. u

The abstract consonants are ߠ [U+07E0 NKO LETTER NA WOLOSO] and ߧ [U+07E7 NKO LETTER NYA WOLOSO].

Consonant repertoire extension

Three diacritics, two of them tone markers, are used to represent foreign sounds (particularly Arabic and French) in conjunction with existing N'Ko letters, eg. ߛ߳ sx̣ represents the arabic sound θ (ث). u

ߛ߫␣ߜ߫␣ߞ߫␣ߓ߭␣ߕ߭␣ߖ߭␣ߗ߭␣ߘ߭␣ߙ߭␣ߛ߭␣ߜ߭␣ߝ߭␣ߞ߭␣ߟ߭␣ߡ߭␣ߢ߭␣ߤ߭␣ߦ߭␣ߖ߳␣ߙ߳␣ߛ߳␣ߜ߳

The diacritics used are  ߫ [U+07EB NKO COMBINING SHORT HIGH TONE​],  ߭ [U+07ED NKO COMBINING SHORT RISING TONE​], or  ߳ [U+07F3 NKO COMBINING DOUBLE DOT ABOVE​].

For example, ߓߐߗ߭ߎߙ. ߓߌߢߍ߲ ߝ߭ߋߣߎ߳. bɔʧ³ur. biɲɛx̃ f³enux̣. (bɔʒur. bi‌ñɛ̃ veny) Bonjour. Bien venue.

Archaic consonants

The Unicode Standard lists 3 consonants that are archaic.

ߨ␣ߩ␣ߪ

Consonant clusters

Adjacent consonants with no intervening vowel sound are indicated using ߑ [U+07D1 NKO LETTER DAGBASINNA], eg. ߓߟߏ blo bolo is pronounced with the vowel after the first letter, even though none is present, because of the rule explained above. To show that this should be pronounced without the vowel you need ߓߑߟߏ bˣlo blo. u

Combining marks

߫␣߬␣߭␣߮␣߯␣߰␣߱␣߲␣߳

The first 7 items in the above list are tone marks, described at tone_marks.

߫ [U+07EB NKO COMBINING SHORT HIGH TONE] and ߭ [U+07ED NKO COMBINING SHORT RISING TONE] are also used to extend the consonant repertoire for foreign sounds, as is ߳ [U+07F3 NKO COMBINING DOUBLE DOT ABOVE], see transliteration and vowelextensions.

߲ [U+07F2 NKO COMBINING NASALIZATION MARK] is used to produce vowel nasalisation (see nasalisation).

߭ [U+07ED NKO COMBINING SHORT RISING TONE] and ߲ [U+07F2 NKO COMBINING NASALIZATION MARK] are also used  to create ordinal numbers (see ordinals).

A base character may carry multiple combining characters, for example:

ߣߌ߲߬

Although some of the N'Ko diacritics look like those in general use, you should use the ones provided in this block. This is because they are typically drawn higher and bolder than the generic marks, and have a wider range of glyph variation. u

Unicode 11 introduced an additional combining mark to abbreviate units of measure.e

߽

Punctuation & symbols

ߺ␣߸␣߹␣߷␣߶

ߺ [U+07FA NKO LAJANYALAN] is a baseline extender, described in letterspace.

The middle 3 items are phrase punctuation, described in phrase.

߶ [U+07F6 NKO SYMBOL OO DENNEN] is added to phrases to indicate remote future placement of the topic under discussion. u

N'Ko may also use Arabic punctuation marks such as the following (see phrase).

،␣؛␣؟␣﴾␣﴿

Unicode 11 introduced 2 currency symbols to represent the dorome and taman.e

߾␣߿

Numbers

Digits

N'Ko uses native digits.

߀␣߁␣߂␣߃␣߄␣߅␣߆␣߇␣߈␣߉

However, unlike other right-to-left scripts such as Arabic, Hebrew, Thaana, the numbers are displayed right-to-left, with the most significant digit first.u This means that numbers don't produce bidirectional text in N'Ko.

ߝߌߟߊߣߊ߲ ߕߋ߬ߟߋ߫ ߂߇-߂߈/߂߀߁߀ ߕߊ߬ߡߌ߲߬ߣߍ߲ ߠߊ߫߸

A date in N'Ko. All characters are read right to left, including numbers.

Ordinal numbers

Ordinal numbers are produced using diacritics.

The first ordinal is produced using  ߭ [U+07ED NKO COMBINING SHORT RISING TONE​], eg. ߁߭ first. u

Others use  ߲ [U+07F2 NKO COMBINING NASALIZATION MARK​], eg. ߂߲ second. When there are multiple digits in a number, the diacritic appears only under the last in sequence, eg. ߁߂߃߲ 123rd. u

Glyph shaping & positioning

Cursive joining

N'Ko is usually cursive, ie. letters in a word are joined up.

Fonts need to produce the appropriate joining form for a code point, according to its visual context.

ߕߟߋ߬ߓߊ߰ߓߟߐߟߐ

Cursive connections in a word. Note that here is both a medial and final form of ߐ.

The cursive treatment doesn't produce significant variations of the essential part of the glyph for a character (unlike Arabic).

Display fonts for books and articles sometimes use a font that doesn't join the characters (the characters are the same). u

Glyph positioning

The Noto Sans Nko font changes the height of diacritics according to the height of the base character.

ߊ߬ߟߎ߬

The height of diacritics depends on the base consonant.

Structural boundaries & markers

Word boundaries

The concept of 'word' is difficult to define in any language (see What is a word?). Here, a word is a vaguely-defined, but recognisable semantic unit that is typically smaller than a phrase and may comprise one or more syllables.

Words are separated by spaces.

Phrase boundaries

N'Ko uses punctuation borrowed from Arabic, including ، [U+060C ARABIC COMMA], ؛ [U+061B ARABIC SEMICOLON], and ؟ [U+061F ARABIC QUESTION MARK]. u

Other ASCII punctuation is also used. The sample text at the top of the page also shows the use of ASCII colon and full stop.

The 2 punctuation characters in the N'Ko Unicode block are ߸ [U+07F8 NKO COMMA], and ߹ [U+07F9 NKO EXCLAMATION MARK]. The N'Ko comma is sometimes used distinctively with the arabic comma in the same text.1 See this example:

ߕߏ߲ߘߋ ߟߊ߫ ߊߙߊߓߎ ߞߐ߲ߛߐߣ ߊ ߛߌ߰ߙߊ߬ߕߊ ߊ ߘߏ߫ ߟߎ߫ ߞߊ߲߬ ߸ ߛߊ߫ ( ߜ ، ߔ ، ߗ ) ߟߎ߬ ߘߌ߫ ߛߋ߫ ߛߓߍ߫ ߟߊ߫ ߸ ߏ߬ ߟߎ߬ ߡߍ߲ ߠߎ߬ ߕߍ߫ ߊߙߊߓߎ߫ ߞߊ߲ ߘߐ߫ ߡߎ߰ߡߍ߫ .

Other borrowings from Arabic include [U+FD3E ORNATE LEFT PARENTHESIS], and ﴿ [U+FD3F ORNATE RIGHT PARENTHESIS], although the shape is often different. u

߷ [U+07F7 NKO SYMBOL GBAKURUNEN] is used to end major sections of the text. u

Text alignment & justification

The most common approach to justification relies on adjustment of spaces. u

Sometimes ߺ [U+07FA NKO LAJANYALAN] is used like the arabic tatweel to instead stretch the intra-word baseline. u

Use the control below to see how your browser justifies the text sample here.

ߡߊ߲߬ߘߋ߲߬ ߛߊ߲ߘߊ ߘߏ߫ ߟߋ߬ ߞߊ߲߫ ߞߏ߫: ߌ ߓߊ߯ ߌ ߢߊ ߟߐ߬ ߕߋ߬ߟߋ ߘߐ߫ ߞߵߌ ߕߊ߯ ߦߙߐ ߡߊߝߟߍ߫߸ ߛߎ߫ ߕߍ߫ ߞߏ߬ ߌ ߡߊ߬. ߒ߬ߓߊ߬ ߊ߲ ߧߋ߫ ߒ߬ ߠߞߊߟߌߦߊ߫ ߛߊ߫ ߒ߬ ߘߌ߫ ߞߍ߫ ߒ߬ ߘߎߢߊߘߐߕߍ߯ ߢߐ߲߮ ߠߎ߬ ߘߐ߫ ߞߊ߬ ߞߍ߫ ߞߎߟߎ߲߫ ߞߋߟߋ߲߫ ߞߣߐ߫ ߏ߬ ߘߐ߫.

Letter spacing

There appears to be a tendency to stretch text, like in Arabic, to fit a given space or make a heading, using ߺ [U+07FA NKO LAJANYALAN], eg. ߞߺߺߺߺߺߏ߲.

References

  1. [ u ] The Unicode Standard v9.0, N'Ko.
  2. [ w ] Wikipedia, N'Ko alphabet
  3. [ e ] Michael Everson, Proposal to encode four N’Ko characters in the BMP of the UCS
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