N'ko is an alphabet created in West Africa by the Guinean scholar Souleymane Kanté in 1949. It was designed to accurately transcribe African tonal languages with special attention to tones that cannot be transcribed with the Latin alphabet. It is used mainly by West African speakers of Mande languages, such as Maninka, Bambara, Dioula and their dialects.
Over the past fifty years, N'ko has spread throughout West Africa. It is central to a grassroots, native-language literacy movement in the region. Sizable N'ko literate populations can be found in Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Senegal, The Gambia, Mali, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso. Numerous organizations have been created and hundreds of books have been written to teach and spread N'ko literacy around the world.
The Alphabet with English Equivalencies
|N'ko alphabet ||vowels|
|English sounds ||aw ||O ||uh ||eh ||E ||A ||ah |
|N'ko alphabet ||consonants|
|N'ko alphabet ||or||consonants|
The N'ko alphabet has 27 letters or phonemes. There are 7 vowels, 19 consonants and one nasal (ng sound). N'ko is a phonetic script, so the letters represent sounds, as in English (Latin script). Each letter corresponds with one sound. However, accents (diacritics) above and below letters can change their pronunciation.
The English pronunciation of each letter is given in the row below the N'ko letter. Capital vowels refer to a long vowel sound in English (A = long a, as in ate).
The N'ko alphabet has accents above and below the letters, which indicate both pronunciation and tone.
The N'ko alphabet's popularity stems from its fidelity to vowel tones in African languages. Eight vowel tones are notated
-- diacritics which denote intonations that the Latin alphabet cannot accurately express.
Here are examples using the ah sound:
There are four primary tones:
The four secondary tones are longer, stressed versions of the four primary tones:
slightly descending middle tone
short middle tone
image unavailable tone that first rises and then descends
long slightly descending middle tone
suspended brisk middle tone
longer rising and falling tone
long low tone
Here are a few examples:
I. European sounds
II. Arab sounds
III. African sounds
RULES FOR WRITING
Some accented consonants indicate uniquely African tones whose pronunciations can only be approximated using Latin letters.
N'ko script is written from right to left.
Words are written by stringing letters together along a base line.
Words are separated with a space. Capital letters are also indicated with a space between each letter with no base line. Otherwise, upper and lower case letters are identical.
The first letter in a sentences and proper names are NOT capitalized in N'ko. Capital letters in N'ko are used for abbreviating words, such as names of organizations (like U.N.) and common words (like P.O. box).
Dropped vowels in N'ko
Manika people use a unique syntax when writing in N'ko. Instead of transcribing each sound individually, repeated vowels are often dropped.
If the SAME vowel and accent is repeated after two DIFFERENT consonants in a word, the first vowel is not written.
For example, the Maninka word for arm, bolo, is written:
However, if the SAME vowel and accent is repeated after the SAME consonant in a word, both vowels are written.
For example, mama is written:
In polysylabic words where one vowel is repeated several times, the vowels are combined in pairs. In tri-syllabic words, the first pair of vowels is combined and the thrid vowel is written.
For example, the word for hyena, suluku, is written:
These pages were taken from the
internet archive as the pagelinks no longer work. I recommend you go and look around as there is still a lot of information available.
Wyrod, Christopher. 2006. "Introduction to N'ko". N'ko. George Washington University. Posted December 8, 2006.