N'Ko script summary

Updated 15 January, 2018 • 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 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.

Key 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.

Words are separated by spaces, and contain a mixture of consonants and vowels, with diacritics to indicate things such as tone, nasalisation, or foreign sounds. Several diacritics have multiple uses.

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

ߣߌ߲߬

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

Usage hint : 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.1

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.

Consonants

N'Ko has 19 regular consonants:

list all
ߓb
ߔp
ߕt
ߖʤ
ߗʧ
ߘd
ߙr
ߚrr
ߛs
ߜgb
ߝf
ߞk
ߟl
ߡm
ߢɲ
ߣn
ߤh
ߥw
ߦj

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

Nasal syllabic

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.1

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

Abstract consonants

Abstract consonants indicate a NA or NYA mutated by a preceding nasal, either word-internally or across word boundaries.1

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

Consonant clusters

Adjacent consonants with no intervening vowel sound are indicated using ߑ [U+07D1 NKO LETTER DAGBASINNA], eg. ߓߟߏ bolo bloo is pronounced with the vowel after the first letter, even though none is present, because of the rule explained below. To show that this should be pronounced without the vowel you need ߓߑߟߏ blo.1

Vowels

Vowel characters

There are 7 vowel characters:

list all
ߊa
ߋe
ߌi
ߍɛ
ߎu
ߏo
ߐɔ

Each can carry a tone mark and a nasalisation mark.

If there is no vowel between two consonants, this is indicated by using ߑ [U+07D1 NKO LETTER DAGBASINNA].1

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.)1

Tone marks

Diacritics are used to indicate tones, and which is used depends on the length of the vowel, per the following table.2

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.

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.

Usage hint : This mark should be typed before any tone mark to preserve the canonical order.1

Context-based glyph changes

Cursive joining

N'Ko is 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).1

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.

Transliteration

Three diacritics are used to represent foreign sounds in conjunction with existing N'Ko letters, eg. ߛ߳ represents the arabic sound θ (ث). For more information, follow the links to the character descriptions for  ߫ [U+07EB NKO COMBINING SHORT HIGH TONE​],  ߭ [U+07ED NKO COMBINING SHORT RISING TONE​], or  ߳ [U+07F3 NKO COMBINING DOUBLE DOT ABOVE​].1For example, ߓߐߗ߭ߎߙ. ߓߌߢߍ߲ ߝ߭ߋߣߎ߳. bɔʒur. bi‌ñɛ̃ veny. Bonjour. Bien venue.

Symbols

߶ [U+07F6 NKO SYMBOL OO DENNEN] is added to phrases to indicate remote future placement of the topic under discussion.1

Numbers

Digits

N'Ko uses native digits.

list all
߀0
߁1
߂2
߃3
߄4
߅5
߆6
߇7
߈8
߉9

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.1 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.1

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.1

Text layout

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.

Text delimiters

Words are separated by spaces.

N'Ko uses punctuation borrowed from Arabic, including ، [U+060C ARABIC COMMA], ؛ [U+061B ARABIC SEMICOLON], and ؟ [U+061F ARABIC QUESTION MARK].1

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.1

߷ [U+07F7 NKO SYMBOL GBAKURUNEN] is used to end major sections of the text.1

Justification

The most common approach to justification relies on adjustment of spaces.1

Sometimes ߺ [U+07FA NKO LAJANYALAN] is used like the arabic tatweel to instead stretch the intra-word baseline.1

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. The Unicode Standard v9.0, N'Ko.
  2. Wikipedia, N'Ko alphabet
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