N'Ko

From Academic Kids

Sample N'Ko letters
The word N’Ko written in the N’Ko alphabet

N’Ko is a script devised by Solomana Kante in 1949 as a writing system for the Mande languages of West Africa; N’Ko means 'I say' in all Mande languages. Kante created N’Ko in response to what he felt were beliefs that Africans were a "cultureless people" since there was prior to this time, no indigenous African writing system for his language. N'ko came first into use in Kankan, Guinea as a Maninka alphabet and disseminated from there into other Mande-speaking parts of West Africa.

The script has a few similarities to the Arabic alphabet, notably its direction (right-to-left) and the connected letters. It obligatorily marks both tone and vowels.

The introduction of the alphabet led to a movement promoting literacy in the N'ko alphabet among Mande speakers in both Anglophone and Francophone West Africa. N'ko literacy was instrumental in shaping the Maninka cultural identity in Guinea, and has also strengthened the Mande identity in other parts of West Africa (Oyler 1994).

As of 2005, it is principally used in Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire (respectively by Maninka and Dyula-speakers), with a smaller but active user community in Mali (by Bambara-speakers). Publications include a translation of the Qur'an, 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 literary language used is intended as a koine blending elements of the principal Manding languages (which are mutually intelligible), but has a particularly strong Maninka flavor.

At least in Mali, the Latin script with several phonetic additions is much in use. This might be due to the lack of support for N'Ko on computers, notably in Unicode, but is more likely due to the education system which is still mostly in French, and the general omnipresence of writings in these languages.

UNESCO's Programme Initiative B@bel supports the addition of N'Ko to Unicode. In 2004 a proposition presented by the Irish delegation was approved by the working group (WG2). The Technical Unicode committees was blocked by Canada, declaring that the Kamasere accents and three old characters, "Old Ja", "Cha" and "Ra" should be removed — a decision considered political by the other WG members.

References

  • Dalby, David (1969) 'Further indigenous scripts of West Africa: Mandin, Wolof and Fula alphabets and Yoruba 'Holy' writing', African Language Studies, 10, pp. 161–181.
  • Oyler, Dianne White (1994) Mande identity through literacy, the N'ko writing system as an agent of cultural nationalism. Toronto : African Studies Association.
  • Oyler, Dianne White (1997) 'The N'ko alphabet as a vehicle of indigenist historiography', History in Africa, 24, pp. 239–256.
  • Singler, John Victor (1996) 'Scripts of West Africa', in Daniels, Peter T., & Bright, William (eds) The World's Writing Systems, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc. pp. 593–598.
  • Vydrine, Valentin F. (2001) 'Souleymane Kanté, un philosophe-innovateur traditionnaliste maninka vu à travers ses écrits en nko', Mande Studies, 3, pp. 99–131.
  • Wyrod, Christopher (2003) 'The Light on the Horizon: N'ko Literacy and Formal Schooling in Guinea', MA Thesis, George Washington University. link to text (http://home.gwu.edu/~cwme/Nko/Wyrod_Nko.pdf)
  • L’initiative B@bel et l’initiative d’encodage des alphabets minoritaires en faveur de la diversité linguistique dans le cyberspace (http://portal.unesco.org/ci/fr/ev.php-URL_ID=17488&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html) 12-11-2004 (UNESCO)

External links

eo:N'Ko fr:N'Ko

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