In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mande Languages

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals and Book Series
  • Conferences
  • Text Collections and Corpora
  • Classifications
  • Historical and Comparative Linguistics
  • Phonetics
  • Phonology
  • Language Contact and Areal Linguistics
  • Writing Systems

Linguistics Mande Languages
Dmitry Idiatov
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0144


Mande languages are spoken across much of inland West Africa up to the northwest of Nigeria as their eastern limit. The center of gravity of the Mande-speaking world is situated in the southwest of Mali and the neighboring regions. There are approximately seventy Mande languages. Mande languages have long been recognized as a coherent group. Thanks to both a sufficient number of clear lexical correspondences and the remarkable uniformity in basic morphosyntax, the attribution of a given language to Mande is usually straightforward. The major subdivision within Mande is between Western Mande, which comprises the majority of both languages and speakers, and Southeastern Mande (aka Southern Mande or Eastern Mande, which are also the names for the two subbranches of Southeastern Mande), a comparatively small but linguistically diverse and geographically dispersed group. Traditionally, Mande languages have been classified as one of the earliest offshoots of Niger-Congo. However, their external affiliation still remains a working hypothesis rather than an established fact. One of the most well-known Mande languages is probably Bamana (aka Bambara), as well as some of its close relatives, which in nonlinguistic publications are sometimes indiscriminately referred to as Mandingo. Mande languages are written in a variety of scripts ranging from Latin-based or Arabic-based alphabets to indigenously developed scripts, both syllabic and alphabetic.

General Overviews

There are few general overviews of the whole family, such as Dwyer 1989, Vydrin 2006, and Vydrin 2004, and they are mostly concerned with phonology and nominal morphology. A notable exception is represented by Vydrin, et al. 2016 (in Russian), which provides grammatical sketches of twenty-one Mande languages, an overview of the Mande family, and a survey of the writing systems used for Mande languages. Vydrin 2002 provides an overview of the tonal systems of Mande languages, Konoshenko 2014 surveys person-number agreement, and Perekhvalskaya and Vydrin 2015 explores the numeral systems. Some of the better grammars representative of different Mande groups are Creissels 2013 on Mandinka, Innes 1971 on Mende (cited under Textbooks), Le Bris and Prost 1981 on Bobo, Jones 1998 on the Boko-Busa language cluster, and Bearth 1971 on Tura.

  • Bearth, Thomas. 1971. L’énoncé toura (Côte d’Ivoire). Summer Institute of Linguistics Publications in Linguistics and Related Fields 30. Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma.

    A very solid and detailed description of the Southern Mande language Tura.

  • Creissels, Denis. 2013. Le mandinka: Phonologie, grammaire, textes. In collaboration with Pierre Sambou. Paris: Karthala.

    One of the best descriptions of a Western Mande language from Greater Manding dialect continuum.

  • Dwyer, David J. 1989. Mande. In The Niger-Congo languages. Edited by John Bendor-Samuel, 47–66. Lanham, MD: Univ. Press of America.

    A brief overview of the family with information on the history of research and an overview of some typical grammatical features. The paper also presents arguments for Dwyer’s classification of Mande in two branches, Western and Eastern (aka Southeastern), with Bobo classified as Eastern Mande.

  • Jones, Ross McCallum. 1998. The Boko/Busa language cluster. Studies in African linguistics 30. Munich: LINCOM Europa.

    A thorough description of the Boko-Busa language cluster from the Eastern branch of Southeastern Mande.

  • Konoshenko, Maria. 2014. Лично-числовое согласование в языках манде: Внутригенетическая типология. PhD diss, Institut Yazykoznaniya RAN.

    A typological survey of cases of person-number agreement between nouns and various functional words in Mande languages.

  • Le Bris, Pierre, and André Prost. 1981. Dictionnaire bobo-français, précédé d’une introduction grammaticale et suivi d’un lexique français-bobo. Paris: Société d’Études Linguistiques et Anthropologiques de France.

    In its grammar and lexicon, Bobo is somewhat unusual within Mande. The book is a good dictionary of Bobo introduced by a good grammatical sketch.

  • Perekhvalskaya, Elena, and Valentin Vydrin. 2015. Системы счисления в языках манде. In Африканский Сборник. Edited by Aleksander Zheltov, 356–377. Saint Petersburg, Russia: MAE RAN.

    An overview of the numeral systems of Mande languages.

  • Vydrin, Valentin. 2002. Some hasty notes on the ways of evolution of Mande tonal systems. In Lexical and structural diffusion: Interplay of internal and external factors of language development in the West African Sahel. Edited by Robert Nicolaï and Petr Zima, 243–264. Nice, France: Publications de la Faculté des Lettres, Arts et Sciences Humaines de Nice.

    An overview of the tonal systems of Mande languages.

  • Vydrin, Valentin. 2004. Areal and genetic features in West Mande and South Mande phonology: In what sense did Mande languages evolve? Journal of West African Languages 30.2: 113–125.

    A brief English summary of some of the discussion in Vydrin 2006 focusing on how, from the historical perspective, we can reconcile the sharp differences between the phonological structures of Western and Southeastern Mande languages.

  • Vydrin, Valentin. 2006. К реконструкции фонологического типа и именной морфологии пра-манде. In Acta Linguistica Petropolitana: Труды Института лингвистических исследований. Vol. 2. 3–246. Saint Petersburg, Russia: Nauka.

    This is the published version of the author’s 2001 habilitation dissertation. It provides a good comparative overview of various phonological features (such as nasalization and initial consonant alternation) and nominal morphology (such as plural and referential status markers) of Mande languages. The discussion takes a historical perspective, with a lot of data and reconstructions provided. One of the more controversial hypotheses advanced in the book is the reconstruction of a restricted noun class system.

  • Vydrin, Valentin, Juliya Mazurova, Andrey Kibrik, and Elena Markus, eds. 2016. Языки манде. Языки мира. Saint Petersburg, Russia: Nestor-Istoria.

    A collection of grammar sketches (in Russian) of twenty-one Mande languages from different branches (Bamana, Mandinka, Kakabe, Jogo, Susu, Soninke, Kpelle, Looma, Loko, Goo, Dan, Kla-Dan, Mano, Tura, Mwan, Guro, Yaure, Gban, Beng, Wan, Boko). The sketches all follow the same structure. The volume is introduced with an overview of the Mande family and also contains a survey of the writing systems used for Mande languages.

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