Bambara 101

Bambara belongs to a group of closely-related languages called Manding (related to Mandinka, Mande language group). It is an SOV language and has two (mid/standard and high) tones; e.g. sa 'death' vs. 'snake.' The typical argument structure of the language consists of a subject, followed by an aspectival auxiliary, followed by the direct object, and finally a transitive verb. Naturally, if the verb is intransitive, the direct object is not found.

Bambara does not inflect for gender. Gender for a noun can be specified by adding a suffix, -ce or -ke for male and -muso for female. The plural is formed by attaching -w to words.

Bambara uses postpositions in much the same manner than languages like English and French use prepositions. These postpositions are found after the verb and are used to express direction, location, and in some cases, possession.

In urban areas, many Bambara conjunctions have been replaced in everyday use by French borrowings that often mark code-switches. The Bamako dialect makes use of sentences like: N taara Kita mais il n'y avait personne là-bas.  : I went to Kita [Bambara] but there was no one there [French]. The sentence in Bambara alone would be N taara Kita nka mɔgɔsi tuntɛ yen. The French proposition "est-ce-que" is also used in Bambara, however it is pronounced more slowly and as three syllables; "ess uh kuh".

Bambara uses many French loan words. For example, some people might say: I ka kulosi ye jauni ye : "Your skirt is yellow" (using a derivation of the French word for yellow, jaune.)

However, one could also say: I ka kulosi ye neremuguman ye , also meaning "your skirt is yellow." The original Bambara word for yellow comes from " neremugu ," mugu being flour made from nere, a seed from a long seed pod. Neremugu is often used in sauces in Southern Mali.

Most French loan words are suffixed with the sound 'i'; this is particularly common when using French words which have a meaning not traditionally found in Mali. For example, the Bambara word for snow is niegei , based on the French word for snow neige . As there has never been snow in Mali, there has not been a traditional meaning for the word and thus no unique word in Bambara to describe it.


N bɛ bamanankan mɛn dɔɔni-dɔɔni
I speak a little bit of Bambara (lit: I aux positive Bambara hear small-small)
I tɛna dumuni ke wa?
Aren't you going to eat? (lit: you aux negative future eating do question particle )