|1949 to the present|
N'Ko (N'Ko: ߒߞߏ) is both a script devised by Solomana Kante in 1949, as a writing system for the Manding languages of West Africa, and the name of the N'Ko literary language written in that script. The term N'Ko means I say in all Manding languages.
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 obligatorily marks both tone and vowels. N'Ko tones are marked as diacritics, in a similar manner to the marking of some vowels in Arabic.
Kante created N'Ko in response to what he felt were beliefs that Africans were a cultureless people, because before then, no indigenous African writing system for his language existed. N'Ko came first into use in Kankan, Guinea, as a Maninka alphabet and was disseminated from there into other Mande-speaking parts of West Africa. N'Ko Alphabet Day is April 14, relating to the date in 1949 when the script is believed to have been finalized.
The introduction of the alphabet led to a movement promoting literacy in the N'Ko alphabet among Mande speakers in both Anglophone and Francophone West Africa. N'Ko literacy was instrumental in shaping the Mandinka cultural identity in Guinea, and it has also strengthened the Mande identity in other parts of West Africa.
As of 2005, it is 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. It has been classed as the most successful of the West African scripts.
N'Ko literature is evolving into a literary language, termed kangbe 'clear language', that is based on a compromise dialect of several Manding languages. Mande speakers use kangbe to communicate in writing. For example, the word for 'name' in Bamanan is tɔgɔ and in Maninka it is toh. In written communication each person will write it tô in N’Ko, and yet read and pronounce it as in their own language. The literary language used is intended as a koiné blending elements of the principal Manding languages (which are mutually intelligible), but has a very strong Maninka flavour.
The N'Ko alphabet is written from right to left, with letters being connected to one another.
A tone diacritic is placed above some consonant letters to cover sounds not found in Manding, such as gb-dot for /g/ (a different diacritic[which?] produces /ɣ/) and f-dot for /v/.
N'Ko uses 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. However no mark exists for a short, descending tone.
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 N'ko on computers. From the 1990s on, 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. However the lack of intercompatibility inherent in such solutions was a block to further development.
Pango 1.18 and GNOME 2.20 have native support for the N'ko languages. An iOS calculator in N'ko, N'ko:Calc, is available on the Apple App Store. An iOS app for sending email in N'ko is available: Triage-N'ko. There is a virtual keyboard named virtual-keyboard-nko to type N'ko characters on Windows operating system.
N'Ko script was added to the Unicode Standard in July 2006 with the release of version 5.0.
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)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to N'Ko letters.|
|N'Ko alphabet test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator|