Bambara, also known as Bamanankan in the language itself, is a language spoken in Mali by as many as six million people (including second language users). The differences between Bambara and Dioula are minimal. Dioula is a language spoken or understood, by fewer numbers of people, in Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, and Gambia. The Bambara language is the mother tongue of the Bambara ethnic group, numbering about 2,700,000 people, but serves also as a lingua franca in Mali (it is estimated that about 80% of the population speaks it as a first or second language).
Bambara belongs to a group of closely-related languages called Manding, within the larger Mandé group. It is an SOV language and has two tones. It uses seven vowels a, e,ɛ, i, o,ɔ and u (the letters approximate their IPA equivalents). Writing was introduced during the French occupation and alphabetisation is a major issue especially in rural areas. Although written literature is only slowly evolving (due to the predominance of French as the "language of the educated"), there exists a wealth of oral literature, which is often tales of kings and heroes. This oral literature is mainly tradited by the "Griots" ( Jɛliw in Bambara) who are a mixture of storytellers, praise singers and human history books who have studied the trade of singing and reciting for many years. Many of their songs are very old and are said to date back to the old kingdom of Mali. Bambara is a national language of Mali, and also the most widely understood language in Mali.
Bambara has many local dialects. Some dialect variants: Somono, Segou, San, Beledugu, Ganadugu, Wasulu and Sikasso.