A few people have asked us about dictionaries in Bambara. Below is a roundup of all the modern editions I know about. Please leave a comment if I missed a good one.
If you are looking for a bilingual dictionary, it helps if you know French. As you might expect, there are many more resources for the Bambara language available in French. 2019 Update: There is finally a good English-language online dictionary available at dictionary.ankataa.com.
Bamanankan Daɲɛgafe by Kassim Kone, 1994.
The first and only of its kind that I’m aware of. This dictionary is entirely in Bambara. You can purchase a copy from Mother Tongue Editions in Boston. A 51-page excerpt, with the front matter and the definitions of words beginning with the letters A – D, is available on this digital library site.
Bambara Lexicon at Bambara.org. This online dictionary covers the basics and it’s free. There is also a version that you can download and install on Windows. Can translate Bambara to/from English, French, and German. It even has photos of some of the entries. Fast and easy to use.
Dictionnaire bambara-français, suivi d’un index abrégé français-bambara, by Gérard Dumestre, 2011.
Published by Karthala Editions in France, this is quite good, and has many more words than the online lexicon above. I enjoyed reading the introduction, which has some very good information about the language’s development and current status. The definitions include many examples of usage, collected from proverbs, literature, and transcriptions of native speakers. You can purchase a copy on Google Books to read online. Note that what you get are page images, not the digital text of a true ebook. So it is useful on computers and tablets, but difficult to read on smaller devices like phones.
Dictionnaire Bambara-Français by Charles Bailleul, 2007. Published by Éditions Donniya in Bamako. Considered a classic and one of the best. Difficult to find outside of France or Mali, but well worth seeking out. A very useful aspect of this dictionary is its use of the scientific Latin names for plants and animals. Like Dumestre’s dictionary, it contains many examples of usage, which are more concise and seem less literary. Interestingly, the Francais-Bambara dictionary is published as a separate edition, and is much smaller. For example, defining negela as a “poisson cheval” is ambiguous: Gymnarchus niloticus is much more specific and useful.
Dictionnaire Bamadaba online at the Corpus Bambara de Reference, launched in 2013. This appears to be one of the best and most comprehensive Bambara dictionaries created to date. From what I learned by corresponding with the creators at INALCO in Paris, it was based on Dumestre’s 2011 dictionary, with the addition of some new words. However, it does not contain the many usage examples in Dumestre’s edition. Another shortcoming is that the French-to-Bambara version is not well-developed or straightforward to use. Also, there is no search function, and searching does not usually work well, because words are listed with tone markings on many vowels, and have periods separating the “morphemes.” So you can’t search for aladaba, since it’s listed as ála.da.ba. However, as a free resource available to anyone with an internet connection, it is top notch.
The Manding (Bambara/Jula) Dictionary at An ka taa launched in 2019 appears to be the most comprehensive online English-Bambara dictionary. It is the mastermind of Coleman Donaldson, a linguist and “Manding” enthusiast who also produces wonderful videos featuring “man on the street” interviews with Bamakois on a variety of topics. Not to be missed.
The Bambara Lexicon described above is available in English. This is the best one I know about if you don’t know French.
There is a English-Bambara dictionary on the crowdsourcing site Glosbe, but it only has 1,144 words.
There is also a new English-Bambara dictionary Android app that was launched in September 2014. It appears to be a port of the same data from the Glosbe site described above, so it’s extremely limited. The same developer has also launched dictionaries in dozens of different languages, so caveat emptor.