N'Ko script


N'Ko (N'Ko: ߒߞߏ) is a script devised by Solomana Kante in 1949, as a writing system for the Manding languages of West Africa.[1][2] The term N'Ko, which means I say in all Manding languages, is also used for the Manding literary standard written in N'Ko script.

Script type
CreatorSolomana Kante
Time period
Directionright-to-left script Edit this on Wikidata
LanguagesN'Ko, Manding languages (Mandingo, Maninka,
Bambara, Dyula)
ISO 15924
ISO 15924Nkoo, 165 Edit this on Wikidata, ​N’Ko
Unicode alias
 This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and ⟨ ⟩, see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.

The script has a few similarities to the Arabic script, notably its direction (right-to-left) and the letters which are connected at the base. Unlike Arabic, it is obligatory to mark both tone and vowels. N'Ko tones are marked as diacritics, in a similar manner to the marking of some vowels in Arabic.


Grave of Kanté Souleymane. The French at the bottom reads "Inventor of the N'Ko alphabet".

Kante created N'Ko in response to what he felt were beliefs that Africans were a cultureless people due to assumptions that no indigenous African writing system for their languages existed; a widely told story is that Kante was enraged over a newspaper article written by a Lebanese reporter equating African languages "like those of the birds, impossible to transcribe".[3] Kante devised N'Ko as he was in Bingerville, Côte d'Ivoire and later brought to Kante's natal region of Kankan, Guinea.[4]

N'Ko began to be used in many educational books when the script is believed to have been finalized[5] on April 14, 1949 (now N'Ko Alphabet Day); Kante had transcribed from religious to scientific and philosophical literature, even a dictionary.[3] These materials were given as gifts into other Manding-speaking parts of West Africa. The script received its first specially made typewriter from Eastern Europe back when Guinea had ties with the Soviet Union in the 1950s.[6]

The introduction of the script led to a movement promoting literacy in the N'Ko script among Manding speakers in both Anglophone and Francophone West Africa. N'Ko literacy was instrumental in shaping the Maninka cultural identity in Guinea, and it has also strengthened the Manding identity in other parts of West Africa.[7]

Current useEdit

Smartphone with a N'Ko class via WhatsApp

As of 2005, it was used mainly in Guinea and the Ivory Coast (respectively by Maninka and Dyula speakers), with an active user community in Mali (by Bambara-speakers). Publications include a translation of the Quran, 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. Though taught mostly informally through N'ko literacy promotion associations, N'ko has also been introduced more recently into formal education through private primary schools in Upper Guinea.[8] It has been classed as the most successful of the West African scripts.[9]

N'Ko literature generally uses a literary language register, termed kangbe (literally, 'clear language'), that is seen as a potential compromise dialect across Manding languages.[10] For example, the word for 'name' in Bamanan is tɔgɔ and in Maninka it is tɔɔ. N'Ko has only one written word for 'name', but individuals read and pronounce the word in their own language. This literary register is thus intended as a koiné language blending elements of the principal Manding languages, which are mutually intelligible, but has a very strong Maninka influence.

There has also been documented use of N'Ko, with additional diacritics, for traditional religious publications in the Yoruba and Fon languages of Benin and southwestern Nigeria.[11]


The N'Ko script is written from right to left, with letters being connected to one another.


ɔ o u ɛ i e a
ߐ ߏ ߎ ߍ ߌ ߋ ߊ


r t d t͡ʃ d͡ʒ p b
ߙ ߕ ߘ ߗ ߖ ߔ ߓ
m gb l k f s rr
ߡ ߜ ߟ ߞ ߝ ߛ ߚ
ŋ h j w n ɲ
ߒ ߤ ߦ ߥ ߣ ߢ


N'Ko uses 7 diacritical marks to denote tonality and vowel length. Together with plain vowels, N'Ko distinguishes four tones: high, low, ascending, and descending; and two vowel lengths: long and short. Unmarked signs designate short, descending vowels.

high low rising falling
short ߫ ߬ ߭
long ߯ ߰ ߱ ߮


0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
߀ ߁ ߂ ߃ ߄ ߅ ߆ ߇ ߈ ߉

Non-native sounds and lettersEdit

N'Ko also provides a way of representing non-native sounds through the modification of its letters with diacritics.[12][13] These letters are used in transliterated names and loanwords.

Two dots above a vowel, resembling a diaeresis mark, represent a foreign vowel: u-two-dots for the French /y/ sound, or e-two-dots for the French /ə/.

Diacritics are also placed above some consonant letters to cover sounds not found in Manding, such as gb-dot for /g/; gb-line for /ɣ/; gb-two-dots for /k͡p/; f-dot for /v/; rr-dot for /ʁ/; etc.


With the increasing use of computers and the subsequent desire to provide universal access to information technology, the challenge arose of developing ways to use the N'Ko script on computers. From the 1990s onwards, there were efforts to develop fonts and even web content by adapting other software and fonts. A DOS word processor named Koma Kuda was developed by Prof. Baba Mamadi Diané from Cairo University.[14] However the lack of intercompatibility inherent in such solutions was a block to further development.


There is also a N’ko version of Wikipedia in existence since 26 November 2019, it contains 975 articles as of 16 August 2021, with 7,880 edits and 2,018 users.[15]


N'Ko script was added to the Unicode Standard in July 2006 with the release of version 5.0. Additional characters were added in 2018.

UNESCO's Programme Initiative B@bel supported preparing a proposal to encode N'Ko in Unicode. In 2004, the proposal, presented by three professors of N'Ko (Baba Mamadi Diané, Mamady Doumbouya, and Karamo Kaba Jammeh) working with Michael Everson, was approved for balloting by the ISO working group WG2. In 2006, N'Ko was approved for Unicode 5.0. The Unicode block for N'Ko is U+07C0–U+07FF:

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+07Cx ߀ ߁ ߂ ߃ ߄ ߅ ߆ ߇ ߈ ߉ ߊ ߋ ߌ ߍ ߎ ߏ
U+07Dx ߐ ߑ ߒ ߓ ߔ ߕ ߖ ߗ ߘ ߙ ߚ ߛ ߜ ߝ ߞ ߟ
U+07Ex ߠ ߡ ߢ ߣ ߤ ߥ ߦ ߧ ߨ ߩ ߪ ߫ ߬ ߭ ߮ ߯
U+07Fx ߰ ߱ ߲ ߳ ߴ ߵ ߶ ߷ ߸ ߹ ߺ ߽ ߾ ߿
1.^ As of Unicode version 14.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points


  1. ^ Eberhard, David; Simons, Gary; Fennig, Charles, eds. (2019). "N'ko". Ethnoloque. Retrieved June 12, 2019.
  2. ^ Oyler, Dianne (Spring 2002). "Re-Inventing Oral Tradition: The Modern Epic of Souleymane Kanté". Research in African Literatures. 33 (1): 75–93. doi:10.1353/ral.2002.0034. JSTOR 3820930. OCLC 57936283. S2CID 162339606.
  3. ^ a b Oyler, Dianne White (2001). "A Cultural Revolution in Africa: Literacy in the Republic of Guinea since Independence". The International Journal of African Historical Studies. 34 (3): 585–600. doi:10.2307/3097555. ISSN 0361-7882. JSTOR 3097555.
  4. ^ The N'ko Alphabet as a Vehicle of Indigenist Historiography, Diane Oyler, History in Africa , Volume 24 , January 1997 , pp. 239 - 256 DOI: https://doi.org/10.2307/3172028
  5. ^ Oyler, Dianne White (November 2005). The History of N'ko and its Role in Mande Transnational Identity: Words as Weapons. Africana Homestead Legacy Publishers. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-9653308-7-9.
  6. ^ Rosenberg, Tina (9 December 2011). "Everyone Speaks Text Message". The New York Times Magazine. p. 20.
  7. ^ Oyler, Dianne White (1994) Mande identity through literacy, the N'ko writing system as an agent of cultural nationalism. Toronto: African Studies Association.
  8. ^ Wyrod, Christopher (January 2008). "A social orthography of identity: the N'ko literacy movement in West Africa". International Journal of the Sociology of Language. 2008 (192). doi:10.1515/ijsl.2008.033. ISSN 0165-2516. S2CID 143142019.
  9. ^ Unseth, Peter. 2011. Invention of Scripts in West Africa for Ethnic Revitalization. In Fishman, Joshua; Garcia, Ofelia (2011). Handbook of Language and Ethnic Identity: The Success-Failure Continuum in Language and Ethnic Identity Efforts (Volume 2). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-983799-1.
  10. ^ N'Ko Language Tutorial: Introduction
  11. ^ Agelogbagan Agbovi. "Gànhúmehàn Vodún - Living Sacred Text (completely in Fongbe and N'ko African writing script)". Kilombo Restoration & Healing. Kilombo Restoration and Healing.
  12. ^ Doumbouya, Mamady (2012). Illustrated English/N'Ko Alphabet: An introduction to N'Ko for English Speakers (PDF). Philadelphia, PA, USA: N'Ko Institute of America. p. 29.
  13. ^ Sogoba, Mia (June 1, 2018). "N'Ko Alphabet: a West African Script". Cultures of West Africa. Retrieved June 2, 2019.
  14. ^ Personal note from the LISA/Cairo conference, in Dec. 2005, Don Osborn
  15. ^ nqo:ߞߙߍߞߙߍߣߍ߲:Statistics

General sourcesEdit

  • Condé, Ibrahima Sory 2. Soulemana Kanté entre Linguistique et Grammaire : Le cas de la langue littéraire utilisée dans les textes en N'Ko Archived 2012-11-20 at the Wayback Machine (in French)
  • Conrad, David C. (2001). Reconstructing Oral Tradition: Souleymane Kanté's Approach to Writing Mande History. Mande Studies 3, 147–200.
  • 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.
  • Davydov, Artem. On Souleymane Kanté's "Nko Grammar" Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine
  • Everson, Michael, Mamady Doumbouya, Baba Mamadi Diané, & Karamo Jammeh. 2004. Proposal to add the N'Ko script to the BMP of the UCS
  • Donaldson, Coleman (2017) Clear Language: Script, Register and the N'ko Movement of Manding-Speaking West Africa. Doctoral Dissertation, Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania.
  • Donaldson, Coleman (2019). "Linguistic and Civic Refinement in the N'ko Movement of Manding-Speaking West Africa". Signs and Society. 7 (2): 156–185. doi:10.1086/702554. S2CID 181625415.
  • Donaldson, Coleman (2017) "Orthography, Standardization and Register: The Case of Manding." In Standardizing Minority Languages: Competing Ideologies of Authority and Authenticity in the Global Periphery, edited by Pia Lane, James Costa, and Haley De Korne, 175–199. Routledge Critical Studies in Multilingualism. New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Donaldson, Coleman (2020). "The Role of Islam, Ajami writings, and educational reform in Sulemaana Kantè's N'ko". African Studies Review. 63 (3): 462–486. doi:10.1017/asr.2019.59.
  • 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 (1995). For "All Those Who Say N'ko": N'ko Literacy and Mande Cultural Nationalism in the Republic of Guinea. Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Florida.
  • Oyler, Dianne White (1997) 'The N'ko alphabet as a vehicle of indigenist historiography', History in Africa, 24, pp. 239–256.
  • Rovenchak, Andrij. (2015) Quantitative Studies in the Corpus of Nko Periodicals, Recent Contributions to Quantitative Linguistics, Arjuna Tuzzi, Martina Benešová, Ján Macutek (eds.), 125–138. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.
  • 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.
  • Wyrod, Christopher. 2008. A social orthography of identity: the N'Ko literacy movement in West Africa. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 192:27–44.
  • B@bel and Script Encoding Initiative Supporting Linguistic Diversity in Cyberspace 12-11-2004 (UNESCO)

External linksEdit

  • N'Ko Institute
  • Kanjamadi
  • Observations on the use of N'ko
  • Omniglot page on N'ko, with more links
  • Nkohome, N'ko tutorial site with information on N'ko publications and contacts
  • Virtual N'Ko keyboard by KeymanWeb
  • How to write the N'ko alphabet (ߒߞߏ) of West Africa: A tutorial!, tutorial video on writing basic letters from An Ka Taa, an online Manding language resource
  • Information about Manding languages
  • An introduction to N'Ko
  • "Casablanca Statement" (on localization of ICT) translated & written in N'Ko
  • PanAfriL10n page on N'Ko
  • Translation of the Meaning of the Holy Quran in N'ko
  • Everyone Speaks Text Message (Tina Rosenberg, The New York Times Magazine, Dec. 11, 2011)
  • some link to ߒߞߏ