Monday, July 13, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Mali

A few weeks ago we checked out the languages spoken in Malawi, but this week we're moving on to the similar-sounding country named Mali. Both countries are located in Africa, but on opposite sides of the continent: Malawi is in southeastern Africa, while Mali is much farther north in West Africa.

The Official Language

The sole official language of Mali, the eighth largest country in Africa, is French. Despite being the country's official language, it is the native language of only about 9,000 Malians. However, it is widely used as a second language throughout the country, which has over 1 million non-native French speakers.

Two pages from the historical Timbuktu Manuscripts
that have been preserved in Timbuktu, Mali for centuries.
National Languages

Mali also has an impressive thirteen national languages, all of which are indigenous to the country. The most important of these languages is undoubtedly Bamanankan, also known as Bamabara, which is thought to be used by approximately 80% of Malians. There are around 4 million native speakers of the Bamanankan language in Mali, and it is also often learned as a second language due to its use as a lingua franca.

Bamanankan is a member of the Niger-Congo language family, as are most of the other national languages. This includes Maasina Fulfulde, the language of the Fula people, which has approximately 1 million native speakers, as well as Mamara Sénoufo and Soninke, which both have around 700,000 native speakers.

The rest of the country's national languages that belong to the Niger-Congo language family are Kita Maninkakan, Koyraboro Senni Songhay, Syenara Sénoufo, Xaasongaxango, Tieyaxo Bozo, Bomu, and Toro So Dogon. Most of these languages have names that we can't even begin to guess how to pronounce, while all of them have under 500,000 native speakers.

The last two national languages of Mali are Tamasheq and Hasanya Arabic. Tamasheq is a Berber language with approximately 250,000 native speakers in Mali that is also spoken in Burkina Faso. Hasanya Arabic, on the other hand, is a member of the Semitic language family, and is a variety of Arabic that was originally spoken by Bedouin tribes.

Other Languages

In addition to the the 14 aforementioned languages, Mali is home to another 52 languages, which makes a grand total of 66 living languages! We certainly don't have time to look at them all, but one of the most prominent languages is Jula, which is the native language of 50,000 Malians and is used as a second language by nearly 300,000 more. It is an important trade and business language, and is also spoken in nearby Burkina Faso and Côte d'Ivoire.