N’Ko

orthography notes

Updated 6 February, 2024

This page brings together basic information about the N’Ko script and its use for a koiné register of Manding. It aims to provide a brief, descriptive summary of the modern, printed orthography and typographic features, and to advise how to write N’Ko using Unicode.

Given that individual speakers apply their own local pronunciations to the N’Ko written text, the phonological transcriptions here are more like transliterations of the N’Ko, using Latin letters typically employed for the Manding languages.

Referencing this document

Richard Ishida, N’Ko Orthography Notes, 06-Feb-2024, https://r12a.github.io/scripts/nkoo/nqo

Sample (Maninka)

Select part of this sample text to show a list of characters, with links to more details. Source
Change size:   28px

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

The script is used mainly in Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire (respectively by Maninka and Dyula speakers), and an active user community in Mali (by Bamanan 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.

The name is also used for a literary (as opposed to spoken) language written in that script, which is intended as a koiné, blending elements of the principal Manding languages (which are mutually intelligible), but has a very strong Maninka flavour. The term N’Ko means I say in all Manding languages. The koiné language is understandable by all literate Manding speakers and is used in situations where speakers of different Manding languages need a neutral means of communication

ߒߞߏ

The script was devised by Sùlemáana Kántɛ in 1949, as a writing system for the Manding languages of West Africa.

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.

Sources: Scriptsource, Wikipedia.

N’Ko and the Manding koiné

As mentioned above, N’Ko is a literary orthography that is tied to a standard or common Manding dialect which has arisen as a result of the contact, mixing, and often simplification of the various distinct, but mutually intelligible, varieties of Manding. This koiné may be referred to as Kangbe (kãɡ͡be).

“When Mandens from different sub-groups talk to each other, it is common practice for them to switch, consciously or sub-consciously, from one's own dialect to a conventional dialect known as N’Ko or Kangbe (the clear language). This is even true, sometimes, during conversations between the Bamanans of Mali, the Maninka-Moris of Guinea, and the Maninkos of Gambia or Senegal although pronunciations are practically the same. As an example, the word “Name” in Bamanan is “Toko” and in Maninka it is “Toh”. In written communications each will write it as Tô (ߕߐ߮) in N’Ko, and yet read and pronounce it differently.”nfb

Additionally, N’Ko reduces different phones into a single grapheme. For example, when writing Bamanan the following words are all spelled differently in the Latin orthography, reflecting the different pronunciations, but are spelled using the same letter in N’Ko:

Bamanan N’Ko
jɛ́ ߜߍ߫
gɛ̀lɛn ߜߍ߬ߟߍ߲߬
woló ߜߏ߬ߟߏ
The letter ߜ used for 3 words that are spelled differently in Bamanan written in Latin script. (Source, Donaldson, p207)

Basic features

The N’Ko script is an alphabet. Both consonants and vowels are indicated by letters. See the table to the right for a brief overview of features for modern Kangbe written in the N’Ko script.

N’Ko script is written right-to-left in horizontal lines. Unlike other RTL scripts, such as Arabic and Hebrew, numbers are also written right-to-left. Words are separated by spaces.

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

❯ consonantSummary

N’Ko has 19 native consonant letters. Use of 3 different diacritics results in letters for 22 more sounds used in foreign and loan words (mostly French or Arabic). There is also a nasal syllabic, and 2 'abstract' characters.

N’Ko doesn't have corresponding letters for g, ŋ, and z used in the Latin orthographies of Manding languages. Also, plurals that are written by appending a w to a word in Bamanan are generally written in N’Ko by adding a free-standing particle such as ߟߎ߬ or ߠߎ߬ .

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

❯ basicV

N’Ko is an alphabet where vowel sounds are written using 7 letters. 07F3 is used above N’Ko letters to represent 3 foreign sounds (particularly from French and Arabic). Another diacritic produces nasalisation of the vowel sound.

There are no special arrangements for standalone vowels.

A letter is used to indicate the absence of a vowel, and it is used regularly, since it disambiguates situations where a repeated vowel is omitted.

N’Ko has 7 combining tone marks and 2 tone letters. Several of these have more than one use, indicating vowel length in addition to tone.

N’Ko has it's own set of digits, which, as mentioned earlier, are (unusually) written right-to-left.

Character index

Letters

Show

Consonants

ߔ␣ߓ␣ߕ␣ߘ␣ߗ␣ߖ␣ߞ␣ߜ␣ߝ␣ߛ␣ߤ␣ߡ␣ߣ␣ߢ␣ߥ␣ߙ␣ߚ␣ߟ␣ߦ

Nasal syllabic

ߒ

Vowels

ߊ␣ߋ␣ߌ␣ߍ␣ߎ␣ߏ␣ߐ␣ߑ

Other

ߴ␣ߵ␣ߠ␣ߧ␣ߺ

Not used for N’Ko

ߨ␣ߩ␣ߪ

Combining marks

Show

Tones

߫␣߬␣߭␣߮␣߯␣߰␣߱

Other

߲␣߳␣߽

Numbers

Show
߀␣߁␣߂␣߃␣߄␣߅␣߆␣߇␣߈␣߉

Punctuation

Show
߸␣߹␣߷␣⸜␣⸝␣،␣؛␣؟␣﴾␣﴿␣«␣»

ASCII

(␣)␣[␣]␣.␣:

Symbols

Show
߶␣߾␣߿

Other

Show
‌␣‍␣⁧␣‫␣⁦␣‪␣⁨␣⁩␣‬␣‏␣‎

To be investigated

͏␣؜␣٪␣​␣‑␣–␣—␣‘␣’␣“␣”␣…␣‹␣›␣⁠
Items to show in lists

Phonology

These are sounds covered by the N’Ko script. Because N’Ko provides a standardised written form, but allows speakers of different dialects to pronounce words differently, the application of these sounds to graphemes is not cut and dry.

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

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

Vowel sounds

i u e o ɛ ɔ a

Consonant sounds

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

Tone

Manding languages have two basic tones, high and low. A low-high combination (rising) may also occur with short and long vowels, and a high-low combination (falling) with long vowels.ws

Structure

tbd

Vowels

Vowel summary table

The following table summarises the main vowel to character assigments.

Each of the following can carry a tone mark and a nasalisation mark which are not shown here. The choice of tone mark also indicates whether the vowel is long or short. See tones.

All:
ߌ␣ ␣ߎ߳␣ ␣ߎ
ߋ␣ ␣ߏ
ߋ߳
ߍ␣ ␣ߐ
ߊ␣ߊ߳

For additional details see vowel_mappings.

Vowel letters

N’Ko has 7 vowel letters.

ߌ␣ߎ␣ߋ␣ߏ␣ߍ␣ߐ␣ߊ

Combining marks used with vowels

߲␣߳

07F2 is used for nasalisation (see nasalisation).

07F3 creates additional vowels (see just above).

Multipart vowels

Three vowels are represented by more than one character. These are the combinations of letter plus the diaeresis-like diacritic that is used to extend the repertoire to cover sounds from other languages. See basicV.

See also tones.

Standalone vowels

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

ߊߡߌ߯ߣߊ߫

ߍߛߑߞߌߡߏߞߊ

Nasalisation

The low diacritic 07F2 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

Tones & vowel length

߫␣߯␣߬␣߰␣߭␣߱␣߮

In the N’Ko orthography, each of the above diacritics indicates both vowel length and tone. Manding languages have two basic tones, high and low. A low-high combination may also occur with short and long vowels, and a high-low combination with long vowels.ws

short long
ˊ high 07EB 07EF
ˋ low 07EC 07F0
ˇ rising 07ED 07F1
ˆ falling   07EE
Tone diacritics in N’Ko.

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

Several of these diacritics are also used over consonants to extend the repertoire when translitering foreign sounds (see extendedC).

Although some of the N’Ko diacritics look like those in general use with the Latin script, the ones provided in this block are typically drawn higher and bolder, and have a wider range of glyph variation.u

Tonal apostrophes

ߴ␣ߵ

Mande languages commonly elide a word-final vowel that precedes another vowel. The elided vowel is replaced by an apostrophe, eg. í bɛ́ à fɔ́ → í bʼà fɔ́

N’Ko has two apostrophes, 07F4 and 07F5, that are used to indicate elision, but which preserve information about the tone of the elided vowel.cd,xvi

ߌ ߓߴߊ߬ ߝߐ߫

ߌ ߞߵߊ߬ ߝߐ߫

The height relative to the baseline can vary.

Vowel absence

ߑ

An absence of vowels between two consonants can be indicated using ߑ [U+07D1 NKO LETTER DAGBASINNA]u. However, this is not often needed, given that Manding words are normally composed of CV syllables, and is used in words from other languages, eg. ߍߛߑߞߌߡߏߞߊ ߛߑߔߌߣߏߖ߭ߊ߫

However, when writing N’Ko, when two adjacent consonants are followed by the same vowel the vowel is omitted after the first consonantu, eg. ߛߓߊ߬

There is no ambiguity here with regards to consonant clusters, since in the case of a cluster ߑ [U+07D1 NKO LETTER DAGBASINNA] would appear between the two letters.

This does not happen, however, if the two consonants are the samecd,xvii, eg. ߝߊߝߊ

Vowel sounds to characters

This section maps N’Ko vowel sounds to common graphemes in the N’Ko orthography. Tone is not shown here. 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.

The table doesn't show separate entries for all tone marks, but does show nasalised vowels.

i
 

07CC
ߦߙߌ

ĩ
 

07CC 07F2
ߡߌ߲߭

y
 

07CE 07F3
ߓߌߢߍ߲ ߝ߭ߋߣߎ߳

u
 

07CE
ߡߎ߬ߙߎ

ũ
 

07CE 07F2

e
 

07CB
ߟߋߟߋ

 

07CB 07F2
ߜߟߊ߬ߥߊ߰ߘߋ߲

o
 

07CF
ߓߟߏ

õ
 

07CF 07F2
ߥߏ߲ߥߏ߲ߠߌ

ə
 

07CB 07F3

ɛ
 

07CD
ߤߣߍ

ɛ̃
 

07CD 07F2
ߜߍ߬ߟߍ߲߬

ɔ
 

07D0
ߣߐߣߐ

ɔ̃
 

07D0 07F2
ߢߊߟߐ߲ߓߊ߮

a
 

07CA
ߓߊ߬ߣߊ

ã
 

07CA 07F2
ߓߊ߬ߣߊ߲߬ߞߎ

ʕa
 

07CA 07F3

Consonants

Consonant summary table

The following table summarises the main consonant to character assigments.

The second column shows extensions to the repertoire produced by adding diacritics.

Stops
ߔ␣ߓ␣ߕ␣ߘ␣ߞ␣ ␣ߜ
ߕ߭␣ߘ߭␣ߜ߭␣ߞ߫␣ ␣ߜ߳␣ ␣ߓ߭␣ߙ߳
Affricates
ߗ␣ߖ
 
Fricatives
ߝ␣ߛ␣ߤ
ߝ߭␣ߛ߳␣ߗ߭␣ߖ߭␣ߛ߫␣ߖ߳␣ߛ߭␣ߜ߫␣ߞ߭␣ߤ߭
Nasals
ߡ␣ߣ␣ߢ
ߡ߭␣ߢ߭
Other
ߥ␣ߙ␣ߚ␣ߟ␣ߦ
ߙ߭␣ ␣ߟ߭␣ߦ߭
Syllabic
ߒ
Abstract
ߠ␣ߧ

For more details see consonant_mappings.

Basic consonants

ߔ␣ߓ␣ߕ␣ߘ␣ߞ␣ߜ␣ ␣ߗ␣ߖ␣ ␣ߝ␣ߛ␣ߤ␣ ␣ߡ␣ߣ␣ߢ␣ ␣ߥ␣ߙ␣ߚ␣ߟ␣ߦ

These basic letters are extended to cover additional sounds used in loan or foreign words by adding combining marks (see extendedC).

Nasal syllabic

ߒ

07D2 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

The 'abstract' consonants 07E0 and 07E7 are used where allophonic variants of 07DF and 07E6 after a nasal or nasalisation produce the sounds n and ɲ, respectively, either word-internally or across word boundaries.u They are generally transcribed using n and y, respectivelycd,xviii.

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 represents the θ sound of the Arabic letter ث.u

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

The diacritics used are 07EB, 07ED, or 07F3.

For example:

ߓߐߗ߭ߎߙ. ߓߌߢߍ߲ ߝ߭ߋߣߎ߳.

Onsets

tbd

Finals

tbd

Consonant clusters

Adjacent consonants with no intervening vowel sound are indicated using 07D1. The following example, is pronounced with the vowel after the first letter, even though none is present, because of the vowel letter omission rule explained in novowel.

ߓߟߏ blo bolo

To show that this should be pronounced without the vowel you need the following.u

ߓߑߟߏ bˣlo blo

Consonant length

tbd

Archaic consonants

ߨ␣ߩ␣ߪ

The Unicode Standard lists 3 consonants that are archaic forms of other characters in the N’Ko block. The new shapes were only introduced in the latter writings of the inventor of the script, Solomana Kante. (Their inclusion in the block generated some controversy.yaec)

Archaic formModern form
ߨ ߖ
ߩ ߗ
ߪ ߙ

Consonant sounds to characters

This section maps N’Ko consonant sounds to common graphemes in the N’Ko orthography. 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.

Sounds listed as 'infrequent' are allophones, or sounds used for foreign words,, etc.

Stops

Affricates

t͡ʃ
 
d͡ʒ
 

Fricatives

Nasals

Other

Symbols

߶

߶ is added to phrases to indicate remote future placement of the topic under discussion.u

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.

߁߇ ߕߎߟߊߝߌ߲ ߂߀߂߁
The highlighted characters represent the date 17 Sept. 2021 in N’Ko. All characters are read right to left, including numbers.
Click on the highlighted characters to see the character order.

Ordinal numbers

߭␣߲

Ordinal numbers are indicated using diacritics.

The first ordinal is produced using 07EDu.

߁߭ first

Others use 07F2.

߂߲ second

When there are multiple digits in a number, the diacritic appears only under the last in sequenceu, eg. ߁߂߃߲ 123rd

Currency

߾␣߿

Unicode 11 introduced 2 currency symbols to represent the dorome and taman.e4 The symbols precede the numeric amounts, eg. ߾߅،߿߉߅

Observation: It's not clear who uses these currency denominations.

Text direction

N’Ko text is written horizontally, with successive lines progressing down the page.

Inline text is right-to-left in the main but, as in most right-to-left scripts, embedded text in left-to-right scripts is written left-to-right (producing 'bidirectional' text). However, like Adlam but unlike Arabic, numbers are also written with digits in right-to-left order.

ߛߌ߲ߘߌߓߊ߮ ߣߊ߯ߣߌ߲ߣߊ߲߫: Karl Marks (߁߈߁߈-߁߈߈߁)
N’Ko-script words are read right-to-left, starting from the right of this line, but 'Karl Marx' is read left-to-right. The numbers (1818-1881) and the range, on the other hand are written right-to-left.

The Unicode Bidirectional Algorithm automatically takes care of the ordering for all the text in fig_bidi, as long as the 'base direction' is set to RTL. In HTML this can be set using the dir attribute, or in plain text using formatting controls.

If the base direction is not set appropriately, the directional runs will be ordered incorrectly, as shown in fig_bidi_no_base_direction.

ߦߊ߬ߣߌ߬ ߒ ߧߋ߫ ߘߏ߫ ߝߐ߫ Marks ߡߙߌߦߊ ߞߊ߲߬ ߸ ߒ ߧߋ߫ ߛߐ߰ ߟߊ߫ ߎߖߊߓ ߞߎߡߊߘߋ ߢߌ߲߬ ߠߎ߫ ߝߊ߬ߛߊߙߌ ߟߋ߬ ߡߊ߬:

ߦߊ߬ߣߌ߬ ߒ ߧߋ߫ ߘߏ߫ ߝߐ߫ Marks ߡߙߌߦߊ ߞߊ߲߬ ߸ ߒ ߧߋ߫ ߛߐ߰ ߟߊ߫ ߎߖߊߓ ߞߎߡߊߘߋ ߢߌ߲߬ ߠߎ߫ ߝߊ߬ߛߊߙߌ ߟߋ߬ ߡߊ߬:

The exact same sequence of characters with the base direction set to RTL (top), and with no base direction set on this LTR page (bottom).

Show default bidi_class properties for characters in the N’Ko Kangbe orthography described here.

For other aspects of dealing with right-to-left writing systems see the following sections:

For more information about how directionality and base direction work, see Unicode Bidirectional Algorithm basics. For information about plain text formatting characters see How to use Unicode controls for bidi text. And for working with markup in HTML, see Creating HTML Pages in Arabic, Hebrew and Other Right-to-left Scripts.

Managing text direction

Unicode provides a set of 10 formatting characters that can be used to control the direction of text when displayed. These characters have no visual form in the rendered text, however text editing applications may have a way to show their location.

202B (RLE), 202A (LRE), and 202C (PDF) are in widespread use to set the base direction for an inline range of characters. RLE/LRE come at the start, and PDF at the end of a range of characters for which the base direction is to be set.

More recently, the Unicode Standard added a set of characters which do the same thing but also isolate the content from surrounding characters, in order to avoid spillover effects. They are 2067 (RLI), 2066 (LRI), and 2069 (PDI). The Unicode Standard recommends that these be used instead.

There is also 2068 (FSI), used initially to set the base direction according to the first recognised strongly-directional character.

200F (RLM) and 200E (LRM) are invisible characters with strong directional properties that are also sometimes used to produce the correct ordering of text.

For more information about how to use these formatting characters see How to use Unicode controls for bidi text. Note, however, that when writing HTML you should generally use markup rather than these control codes. For information about that, see Creating HTML Pages in Arabic, Hebrew and Other Right-to-left Scripts.

Glyph shaping & positioning

Experiment with examples using the N’Ko character app.

Font styles

N’Ko is usually cursive, ie. letters in a word are joined up (see cursive).

However, non-cursive fonts are sometimes used.

Non-cursive font style

Fonts containing non-joining glyphs are often used for such things as headings, and book and article titlesu (see fig_unjoined).

ߝߘߊ߬ߝߌ߲߬ߠߊ߫ ߕߟߋ߬ߓߋ
ߥߊߘߌ߫ ߞߎߘߊ
ߋߞߏ ߦߋ߫ ߝߊ߬ߘߊ߬ߞߊ߬ ߖߊߕߋߘߐߛߌ߮ ߘߏ߫ ߟߋ߬ ߕߐ߮ ߘߌ߫߸ ߡߍ߲ ߓߟߏߘߐߓߍ߲ ߒߎ߬ ߦߴߌߘߐ߫ ߞߵߊ߬ ߓߍ߲߬ ߂߀߂߀ ߡߊ߬، ߞߊ߬ߕߎ߲߯߸ ߊߟߎ߫ ߓߍ߯ ߦߴߊ߬ ߞߊ߬ߟߊߡߊ߬ ߞߊ߬ߞߘߐ߬߸ ߞߏ߫ ߖߡߊ߬ߣߊ ߕߛߴߊ߬ ߟߊ߫ ߡߊ߬ߞߐ߬ߙߐ߲߬ߞߐ߬ߙߐ߲߬ߠߌ߲ ߓߊߛߌ߰ ߟߊ߫߸ ߞߵߊ߬ ߟߊ߫ ߝߊ߬ߘߊ߲߬ߞߊ ߕߏ߫ ߥߊߟߌ ߟߎ߬ ߓߟߏ߫.
An example of unjoined text used for the title of a section. The body text is joined.

Texts based on legacy fonts often create the unjoined effect by using an old non-Unicode font where the glyphs make an attempt to show a baseline but don't actually join. This leads to shapes such as those shown in the title of fig_unjoined_old, where letters have short baseline extensions.

ߝߘߊ߬ߝߌ߲߬߬ߠߊ߫ ߕߟߋ߬ߓߋ ߥߊߘߌ߫ ߞߎߘߊ
An example of unjoined text used for the title of a section taken from an online text that is not Unicode-based. The heading uses glyphs with small baseline extensions, though they don't join.

Cursive text

Although the shapes just mentioned can be found quite commonly (see examples), the World Organisation for the Development of N'Ko prefers that unjoined shapes look the same as the isolated forms of letters without the baseline extensions.@GitHub issue #29,https://github.com/w3c/afrlreq/issues/29#issuecomment-1468140413

Expand the control just below to see a figure which compares isolated characters from a cursive font with glyphs from an older font that includes the small horizontal extensions.

Show figure
Joining side:none unjoined
ߔ [U+07D4 NKO LETTER PA] ߔ ba
ߓ [U+07D3 NKO LETTER BA] ߓ ba
ߕ [U+07D5 NKO LETTER TA] ߕ ta
ߘ [U+07D8 NKO LETTER DA] ߘ da
ߗ [U+07D7 NKO LETTER CHA] ߗ cha
ߖ [U+07D6 NKO LETTER JA] ߖ ja
ߞ [U+07DE NKO LETTER KA] ߞ ka
ߜ [U+07DC NKO LETTER GBA] ߜ gba
ߝ [U+07DD NKO LETTER FA] ߝ fa
ߛ [U+07DB NKO LETTER SA] ߛ sa
ߤ [U+07E4 NKO LETTER HA] ߤ ha
ߡ [U+07E1 NKO LETTER MA] ߡ ma
ߣ [U+07E3 NKO LETTER NA] ߣ na
ߢ [U+07E2 NKO LETTER NYA] ߢ nya
ߥ [U+07E5 NKO LETTER WA] ߥ wa
ߙ [U+07D9 NKO LETTER RA] ߙ ra
ߚ [U+07DA NKO LETTER RRA] ߚ rra
ߟ [U+07DF NKO LETTER LA] ߟ la
ߦ [U+07E6 NKO LETTER YA] ߦ ya
ߒ [U+07D2 NKO LETTER N] ߒ n
ߊ [U+07CA NKO LETTER A] ߊ a
ߋ [U+07CB NKO LETTER EE] ߋ ee
ߌ [U+07CC NKO LETTER I] ߌ i
ߍ [U+07CD NKO LETTER E] ߍ e
ߎ [U+07CE NKO LETTER U] ߎ u
ߏ [U+07CF NKO LETTER OO] ߏ oo
ߐ [U+07D0 NKO LETTER O] ߐ o
Comparison of isolated letters from the Noto font, and letter forms found in the older Bateka font. The latter has glyphs that may be found in non-joined fonts used in headings. Note the small horizontal lines at the bottom of many glyphs.

It is possible to use CSS to make a font show unjoined letters, if the OpenType features are available. Simply add something like this to your style sheet.

.unjoined { font-feature-settings: "init" 0, "medi" 0, "fina" 0, "isol" 1; }

Here is an example, using the Noto Sans font:

ߡߊ߲߬ߘߋ߲߬ ߛߊ߲ߘߊ ߘߏ߫ ߟߋ߬ ߞߊ߲߫ ߞߏ߫: ߌ ߓߊ߯ ߌ ߢߊ ߟߐ߬ ߕߋ߬ߟߋ ߘߐ߫ ߞߵߌ ߕߊ߯ ߦߙߐ ߡߊߝߟߍ߫߸ ߛߎ߫ ߕߍ߫ ߞߏ߬ ߌ ߡߊ߬.

Joining forms

When N’Ko is cursive (see writing_styles), letters in a word are joined up. Fonts need to produce the appropriate joining form for a letter, according to its visual context, but the code point remains the same. This results in four different glyphs for most letters (including an isolated glyph).

ߕߟߋ߬ߓߊ߰ߓߟߐߟߐ
Cursive connections in a word. The highlights show both medial and final forms of ߐ.

Unlike some other cursive scripts, the cursive treatment doesn't produce significant variations of the essential part of the glyph for a character.

All letters are capable of joining on both sides.

Unlike Arabic or Syriac, joining forms only differ by the addition of a small baseline extension. Also, whereas Arabic and Syriac re-use a number of basic shapes to create additional letters by adding diacritics, in N’Ko each letter shape is different. fig_joining_forms shows the basic shapes in N’Ko and what their joining forms look like.

Joining side:nonerightbothleft
ߔ [U+07D4 NKO LETTER PA] ߔ ߺߔ ߺߔߺ ߔߺ
ߓ [U+07D3 NKO LETTER BA] ߓ ߺߓ ߺߓߺ ߓߺ
ߕ [U+07D5 NKO LETTER TA] ߕ ߺߕ ߺߕߺ ߕߺ
ߘ [U+07D8 NKO LETTER DA] ߘ ߺߘ ߺߘߺ ߘߺ
ߗ [U+07D7 NKO LETTER CHA] ߗ ߺߗ ߺߗߺ ߗߺ
ߖ [U+07D6 NKO LETTER JA] ߖ ߺߖ ߺߖߺ ߖߺ
ߞ [U+07DE NKO LETTER KA] ߞ ߺߞ ߺߞߺ ߞߺ
ߜ [U+07DC NKO LETTER GBA] ߜ ߺߜ ߺߜߺ ߜߺ
ߝ [U+07DD NKO LETTER FA] ߝ ߺߝ ߺߝߺ ߝߺ
ߛ [U+07DB NKO LETTER SA] ߛ ߺߛ ߺߛߺ ߛߺ
ߤ [U+07E4 NKO LETTER HA] ߤ ߺߤ ߺߤߺ ߤߺ
ߡ [U+07E1 NKO LETTER MA] ߡ ߺߡ ߺߡߺ ߡߺ
ߣ [U+07E3 NKO LETTER NA] ߣ ߺߣ ߺߣߺ ߣߺ
ߢ [U+07E2 NKO LETTER NYA] ߢ ߺߢ ߺߢߺ ߢߺ
ߥ [U+07E5 NKO LETTER WA] ߥ ߺߥ ߺߥߺ ߥߺ
ߙ [U+07D9 NKO LETTER RA] ߙ ߺߙ ߺߙߺ ߙߺ
ߚ [U+07DA NKO LETTER RRA] ߚ ߺߚ ߺߚߺ ߚߺ
ߟ [U+07DF NKO LETTER LA] ߟ ߺߟ ߺߟߺ ߟߺ
ߦ [U+07E6 NKO LETTER YA] ߦ ߺߦ ߺߦߺ ߦߺ
ߒ [U+07D2 NKO LETTER N] ߒ ߺߒ ߺߒߺ ߒߺ
ߊ [U+07CA NKO LETTER A] ߊ ߺߊ ߺߊߺ ߊߺ
ߋ [U+07CB NKO LETTER EE] ߋ ߺߋ ߺߋߺ ߋߺ
ߌ [U+07CC NKO LETTER I] ߌ ߺߌ ߺߌߺ ߌߺ
ߍ [U+07CD NKO LETTER E] ߍ ߺߍ ߺߍߺ ߍߺ
ߎ [U+07CE NKO LETTER U] ߎ ߺߎ ߺߎߺ ߎߺ
ߏ [U+07CF NKO LETTER OO] ߏ ߺߏ ߺߏߺ ߏߺ
ߐ [U+07D0 NKO LETTER O] ߐ ߺߐ ߺߐߺ ߐߺ
Joining forms for shapes that join on both sides.

Managing glyph shaping

200D (ZWJ) and 200C (ZWNJ) are used to control the visual joining behaviour of cursive glyphs. They are particularly useful in educational contexts.

ZWJ permits a letter to form a cursive connection without a visible neighbour.

ZWNJ prevents two adjacent letters forming a cursive connection with each other when rendered.

Observation: The ZWJ only works on the left side of glyphs in fig_joining_forms if the table cell's base direction is set to RTL.

Context-based shaping & positioning

The Noto Sans NKo font changes the height of diacritics according to the height of the base character, but the preferred approach is to maintain the diacritics at the same height all along a line.@GitHub,https://github.com/w3c/afrlreq/issues/30

ߊ߬ߟߎ߬
The height of diacritics depends on the base consonant.

The only time a base character carries multiple combining characters is when one is a tone mark and the other is 07F2. These diacritics occur on opposite sides of the base letter, so this avoids the difficulties associated with correctly placing marks in the same location. (A letter that carries 07F3 will not usually carry a tone mark as well.@GitHub,https://github.com/w3c/afrlreq/issues/30)

ߓߊ߲߬
Multiple diacritics attached to the same base consonant.
show composition

ߓߊ߲߬

Apart from that, no shaping is needed other than that described for cursive connections.

Letterform slopes, weights, & italics

N’Ko uses italicisation and bolding.

An example of bolded inline text.

Italics may need to lean to the left, rather than to the right. Neil Patel writes:

Formalized typographic practices for both Adlam and N’Ko are still being developed. When [JamraPatel] reached out to both communities to see if an Italic typeface would be beneficial, both communities expressed a desire to have one. Over the past few years, as the ability to use both of these scripts more readily in computing has increased, the need to be able to set more complex copy has increased as well. Both communities see the benefit of having italic typefaces to add some semantic value to their copy. On-line N’Ko has historically used synthetic obliques for things like by-lines on articles. ...

Since neither script had any precedent for a drawn italic typeface, we asked each community on how they would like to see it drawn. This is how N’Ko ended up with the leftward lean and Adlam with a rightward lean in our typeface. ... To my knowledge our typeface has the first drawn italicized N’Ko and Adlam, so this is all still a bit new.g3,#issuecomment-512911833

Left-leaning italics in N’Ko.

Graphemes

Grapheme clusters

No issues are evident with regard to grapheme selection.

Punctuation & inline features

Word boundaries

N’Ko has word units that are separated by spaces.

Te-kerende

The te-kerende is a common way of linking together a sequence of sounds that mean 'each and every ...'. It is possible to create new combinations, and the general pattern is to repeat the vowel of the first word, then repeat the first word, and put the te-kerende in between each item.@GitHub, Issue #28,https://github.com/w3c/afrlreq/issues/28

ߡߐ߰ ߺ ߐ ߺ ߡߐ߰

ߛߎ ߺ ߎ ߺ ߛߎ

ߛߌ ߺ ߌ ߺ ߛߌ

The te-kerende sits on the baseline, and breaks cursive joining. There is a small space on either side.

Line-breaks only occur after te-kerende, and not before.e4

A dedicated te-kerende code point was proposed for inclusion into Unicode, but not adopted. It is difficult to find a clear rationale for the lack of adoption other than brief references to the possibility of using a regular hyphen, which would be dropped to the baseline by fonts. In N'Ko documents, however, it appears that the de facto standard is to use ߺ surrounded by small spaces to represent this punctuation, and other places where in Latin text a hyphen might appear. On the other hand, there may be some locations in the document where a regular hyphen is more appropriate, such as for counter style separators.

Phrase & section boundaries

،␣߸␣؛␣:␣.␣؟␣߹␣߷

N’Ko uses punctuation marks from the ASCII, N’Ko, and and Arabic Unicode blocks.u

phrase

،

߸

؛

:

sentence

.

؟

߹

section

߷

߸ [U+07F8 NKO COMMA] and ، [U+060C ARABIC COMMA] are sometimes used distinctively within the same textu (see fig_contrasting_commas) .

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.
An example of contrastive use of commas.

߸ [U+07F8 NKO COMMA] is normally separated from the previous word by a space, but in some texts is not, If no space is used, the baseline line below the dot doesn't join with the preceding letter.

ߛߊ߰ߣߐ߯߸ ߞߏ߲߬ߓߏ
An example of a comma immediately following a word, where the comma's baseline doesn't create a join.

߷ [U+07F7 NKO SYMBOL GBAKURUNEN] is used to end major sections of the text, and represents the three stones that hold a cooking pot over the fireu.

Bracketed text

See type samples.

(␣)␣[␣]

N'Ko commonly uses ASCII parentheses and brackets to insert parenthetical information into text.

  start end
standard

( [U+0028 LEFT PARENTHESIS]

) [U+0029 RIGHT PARENTHESIS]

other

[ [U+005B LEFT SQUARE BRACKET] 

] [U+005D RIGHT SQUARE BRACKET] 

 

The low paraphrase brackets may be used for quoting text as well as for editorial insertions that weren’t part of the original author’s text@Coleman Donaldson: pers.corr.13Mar2023,nqo.html#bracketing. Note that all these characters have mirrored glyphs (see below).

Mirrored characters

The words 'left' and 'right' in Unicode names for parentheses, brackets, and other paired characters should be ignored. LEFT should be read as if it said START, and RIGHT as END. The direction in which the glyphs point will be automatically determined according to the base direction of the text.

a > b > c
ߊ > ߋ > ߌ
Both of these lines use > [U+003E GREATER-THAN SIGN], but the direction it faces depends on the base direction at the point of display.

The number of characters that are mirrored in this way is around 550, most of which are mathematical symbols. Some are single characters, rather than pairs. The following are some of the more common ones.

(␣)␣⸜␣⸝␣<␣>␣[␣]␣{␣}␣«␣»␣‹␣›

Quotations & citations

See type samples.

«␣»␣⸜␣⸝␣﴾␣﴿

N'Ko texts may use guillemets or native marks around quotations.

  start end
standard « [U+00AB LEFT-POINTING DOUBLE ANGLE QUOTATION MARK]  » [U+00BB RIGHT-POINTING DOUBLE ANGLE QUOTATION MARK] 
other

[U+2E1C LEFT LOW PARAPHRASE BRACKET]

[U+2E1D RIGHT LOW PARAPHRASE BRACKET]

other

﴿ [U+FD3F ORNATE RIGHT PARENTHESIS]

[U+FD3E ORNATE LEFT PARENTHESIS]

The quotation marks in the first two rows above are also mirrored as the directionality changes (see mirrored_characters). Those in the bottom row are not mirrored during display, which means that for them LEFT means use on the left, and RIGHT means use on the right.

[U+2E1C LEFT LOW PARAPHRASE BRACKET] and [U+2E1D RIGHT LOW PARAPHRASE BRACKET] are used as a pair to indicate indirect quotationsep, eg. ⸜ߒߞߏ⸝

Observation: [U+FD3E ORNATE LEFT PARENTHESIS] and ﴿ [U+FD3F ORNATE RIGHT PARENTHESIS] derive from Arabic, and appear to be used for quotations in Islamic texts. The appearance of these brackets can vary from the shapes used in Arabicu,774. Note also that they are encoded among presentation forms, but it is normal to use these particular code points as if they were normal characters. See examples here.

Example of ornate parentheses used for Quranic quotations.

Emphasis

N'Ko authors commonly apply bolding and sometimes italics to emphasise text (see fontstyle).

Abbreviation, ellipsis & repetition

߽

07FD is used to abbreviate units of measure.e4 The table shows some examples from a long list by Eversone4:

Full word Abbreviation
ߞߎߘߍ ߞ߽
ߛߌߘߐ ߛ߽
ߕߏ߲ߜߊ ߕ߽
ߜߟߊ߬ߥߊ߰ߘߋ߲ ߡߥ߽
ߜߟߊ߬ߗߡߍ߬ߝߘߎ߬ߓߍ߲ ߡߗ߽߂

Other punctuation

ߺ is typically used, with a space on either side, to represent te-kerende or other hyphen-related punctuation. (For more information, see tekerende.)

Line & paragraph layout

Line breaking & hyphenation

Lines are mostly broken at inter-word spaces. As in almost all writing systems, certain punctuation characters should not appear at the end or the start of a line.

Breaking between Latin words.

When a line break occurs in the middle of an embedded left-to-right sequence, the items in that sequence need to be rearranged visually so that it isn't necessary to read lines from bottom to top.

latin-line-breaks shows how two Latin words are apparently reordered in the flow of text to accommodate this rule. Of course, the rearragement is only that of the visual glyphs: nothing affects the order of the characters in memory.

Text with no line break in Latin text.

Text with line break in Latin text.

The lower of these two images shows the result of decreasing the line width, so that text wraps between a sequence of Latin words.

In-word line-breaking

Lines can be broken inside a word, in which case - [U+002D HYPHEN-MINUS] is added to the end of the line.e4

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 in these positions.

Show (default) line-breaking properties for characters in the modern N’Ko Kangbe orthography.

The following list gives examples of typical behaviours for some of the characters used in modern N'Ko script. 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.
  • ߾ ߿   should be kept with any number, even if separated by a space or parenthesis.

Line breaking should not move a danda or double danda to the beginning of a new line even if they are preceded by a space character.

Text alignment & justification

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

Sometimes, however, ߺ is used like arabic tatweel to stretch the intra-word baseline.u

Observation: The N’Ko comma is separated from the preceding word by a space, which appears to stretch during justification in various samples. It's not clear whether that is expected, or simply because an ordinary space was used, rather than, say, a NNBSP.

Text spacing

ߺ

Text may be stretched, like in Arabic, using ߺ to fit a given space or make a heading stand out, eg. fig_letter_spacing shows a streched version of the title, ߞߏ߲.

ߞߺߺߺߺߺߏ߲
A title that is stretched using baseline extension characters.

This corresponds to the Arabic ـU+0640 ARABIC TATWEEL.

Baselines, line height, etc.

N'Ko uses the so-called 'alphabetic' baseline, which is the same as for Latin and many other scripts.

N'Ko places diacritics above and below the base characters, but they don't stack. Diacritics can, however, appear above and below the same base. The letters themselves are relatively uniform in height, and have no descenders. There is no upper- vs. lowercase distinction.

To give an approximate idea, fig_baselines compares Latin and N'Ko glyphs from the Noto Sans font. The basic height of N'Ko letters is typically around the Latin cap-height, however combining marks and the dorome sign reach beyond the Latin ascenders, creating a need for larger line spacing. (Note that the preference of users is for the tone marks to all appear at the higher position shown here, but this version of the Noto font drops them when the base is less tall.)

Hhqxߔߝ߭ߊ߲߬ߎ߬ߐ߫߾߁߭߂߷
Font metrics for Latin text compared with N'Ko glyphs in the Noto Sans Nko font.

fig_baselines_other shows similar comparisons for the Ebrima and Conakry fonts.

Hhqxߔߝ߭ߊ߲߬ߎ߬ߐ߫߾߁߭߂߷ Hhqxߔߝ߭ߊ߲߬ߎ߬ߐ߫߾߁߭߂߷
Latin font metrics compared with N'Ko glyphs in the Ebrima and Conakry fonts.

Counters, lists, etc.

See type samples.

You can experiment with counter styles using the Counter styles converter.

The N'Ko orthography uses 2 numeric styles with native digits. The first uses cardinal numbers, the second ordinal.

Cardinal numeric style

The cardinal numeric style is decimal-based and uses these digits.

߁␣߂␣߃␣߄␣߅␣߆␣߇␣߈␣߉␣߀

Examples:

߁␣߂␣߃␣߄␣߁߁␣߂߂␣߃߃␣߄߄␣߁߁߁␣߂߂߂␣߃߃߃␣߄߄߄

Ordinal numeric style

The ordinal numeric style uses the same digits, but places a dot alongside. The dot goes over the digit ߁ (1), but goes below other digits, and it only appears alongside the leftmost digit. (Bear in mind that N'Ko digits run from right to left.)

߁߭␣߂߲␣߃߲␣߄߲␣߅߲␣߆߲␣߇߲␣߈߲␣߉߲␣߀߲

Examples:

߁߭␣߂߲␣߃߲␣߄߲␣߁߁߭␣߂߂߲␣߃߃߲␣߄߄߲␣߁߁߁߭␣߂߂߂߲␣߃߃߃߲␣߄߄߄߲

Prefixes and suffixes

An N'Ko list counter for cardinal number styles typically uses a hyphen + space as a suffix.

߁- ߂- ߃- ߄- ߅-
Separator for N'Ko list counters.

Page & book layout

General page layout & progression

N’Ko books, magazines, etc. are bound on the right-hand side, and pages progress from right to left.

ߞߊ߬ߝߊ

Binding configuration for N’Ko books, magazines, etc.

Columns are vertical but run right-to-left across the page.

Layout direction

The right-to-left orientation of the script affects the direction of page layout, and of the layout of items within the page.

An N’Ko web page should be the mirror-image of pages in, say, French. This includes the various navigation items on the page, and the placement of other panels on the page.

The following show a meter control, a progress control, and an input slider as they would appear in an N'Ko web page. The quantity represented increases from right to left.

A selection of right to left controls.

On the other hand, the video controls assume a LTR direction. This is mostly constrained by technology at the moment, and whether or not this is acceptable is still being debated.

Online resources

  1. Kanjamadi dictionary
  2. An Ka Taa resources page
  3. N’Ko Wikipedia
  4. Silabosoona

Acknowledgements

Thanks to the following people who reviewed this page and provided information on N'Ko (in alphabetical order):

Coleman Donaldson, Diéfadima Dioubate Sesay, Neil Suresh Patel

References