Manding–Kpelle (Central & Southwest)
The Mande languages are spoken in several countries in West Africa by the Mandé people and include Mandinka, Soninke, Bambara, Dioula, Bozo, Mende, Susu, and Vai. There are millions of speakers, chiefly in Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Ivory Coast. The Mande languages have traditionally been considered a divergent branch of the Niger–Congo family, though this classification has always been controversial.
The group was first recognized in 1854 by S. W. Koelle in his Polyglotta Africana. He mentioned 13 languages under the heading North-Western High-Sudan Family, or Mandéga Family of Languages. In 1901 Maurice Delafosse made a distinction of two groups in his Essai de manuel pratique de la langue mandé ou mandingue. He speaks of a northern group mandé-tan and a southern group mandé-fu. This distinction was basically done only because the languages in the north use the expression tan for ten whereas the southern group use fu. In 1924 L. Tauxier noted that this distinction is not well founded and there is at least a third subgroup he called mandé-bu. It is not until 1950 when A. Prost supports this view and gives further details. In 1958 Welmers published an article The Mande Languages where he divided the languages into three subgroups – North-West, South and East. His conclusion was based on lexicostatistic research. Greenberg followed this distinction in his The Languages of Africa (1963). Long (1971) and G. Galtier (1980) follow the distinction into three groups but with notable differences.
Mande does not share the morphology characteristic of most of the Niger–Congo family, such as the noun-class system. Blench regards it as an early branch that—like Ijoid and perhaps Dogon—diverged before this developed. However, Dimmendaal (2008) argues that the evidence for inclusion is slim, with no new evidence for decades, and that for now Mande is best considered an independent family.
Most internal Mande classifications are based on lexicostatistics, and the results are unreliable. See for example, Vydrin (2009), based on a 100-word list. The following classification from Kastenholz (1996) is based on lexical innovations and comparative linguistics; details of East Mande are from Dwyer (1989, 1996) [summarized in Williamson & Blench 2000].
Mande languages do not have the noun-class system or verbal extensions of the Atlantic–Congo languages and for which the Bantu languages are so famous, though Bɔbɔ has causative and intransitive forms of the verb. Southwestern Mande languages and Soninke have initial consonant mutation. Plurality is most often marked with a clitic; in some languages, with tone, as for example in Sembla. Pronouns often have alienable–inalienable and inclusive–exclusive distinctions. Word order in transitive clauses is subject–auxiliary–object–verb–adverb. Mainly postpositions are used. Within noun phrases, possessives come before the noun, adjectives and plural markers after, while demonstratives are found with both orders. (Williamson & Blench 2000).
Some cognates from D. J. Dwyer:
Note that in these cognates: 'salive' = 'mouth'+'water', 'milk' = 'breast'+'water', 'buck (he-goat)' = 'goat'+'male', 'ram' = 'sheep'+'male'.
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