The Bambara Language

Bambara is the most widely-spoken language in Mali, West Africa. Speakers of the language call it Bamanankan, or the language of the Bamanan people. It is spoken as a first or second language by an estimated 80% of Mali’s 14 million people, or about 11 million people. Variants (Dyula, Maninka, Minianka) are spoken in Mali and in neighboring countries of Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Guinea, Senegal, and the Gambia.

There is a decent short introduction to the Bambara language on Wikipedia, or a slightly longer page on the French-language Wikipédia. There is also Wikipedia in Bambara, but with only a few articles to date. The website bambara.org has a dictionary for translating to/from English, French, and German. You can take 13 lessons (with audio) online at Peace Corps’ World Wise Schools website.

The historic extent of the Bambara people (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

The Mali page at Ethnologue is fascinating for its detailed map of where different languages are spoken. Notice all the overlapping languages!

Bambara is a member of the larger Mande family of languages. The Mande Studies Association has its own journal and even puts on an annual conference.