Manding’s Islamic Scholarly Register: An Initial Look

A “way of speaking” particular to learned Muslims of West Africa.

As part of my work in the Ajami Lab, I am currently working to analyze and contextualize the existence and emergence of Manding’s scholarly Islamic register.

Manding is a West African trade language spoken by tens of millions of people. From one perspective, it is well documented. There are a range of linguistic grammars and dictionaries that describe both the four major varieties–Bambara, Jula, Maninka and Mandinka–as well as smaller local dialects.

While such studies are essential, they reduce variation in pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar to a question of dialectology. Differences in the ways that we speak with one another, however, are never just a question of dialect.

The associations of expressions and words– with “people from Bamako”, “young people”, or “Muslim scholars”, for instance–continually factor into how we speak at any one moment. In the simplest sense, registers are a tool to empirically categorize these associations. In a broader sense, they serve to offer accounts of how language is continually influenced by social relations and history.

In this light, I want to share some initial insights from my survey of some scholarship related to the Islamic scholarly register of Manding. Specifically, I want to extract some of the interesting examples from Tal Tamari’s 2013 article A Bamana Commentary on Sūrat Al-Wāqiʿa (Q. 56): A Linguistic and Stylistic Analysis from the Journal of Qur’anic Studies and compare them with examples taken from my own research with a scholar of the Kong Jula network in southwestern Burkina Faso.

Specialized Scholarly Lexicon

Based off of sura (56) from a full tafsir (Quranic exegesis) performed and recorded between 1992 and 1998, Tamari’s article offers an initial typology of the Manding scholarly lexicon. Specifically, she lays out 11 specific translation “strategies” of translation (Arabic to Manding) that are behind much of the “Specialized Scholarly Lexicon.”

Here, instead of focusing on the typology itself, I want to present a few cherrypicked examples that she lists in her article and that also pop up in my own research data.

In the four following examples, I list from left to right:

  • 1) the word
  • 2) info on a potential lay speaker of Jula’s interpretation of the word
  • 3) a gloss or info on the words usage in the scholarly Islamic Register

I then give an example excerpt from my own research in Burkina Faso followed by a literary English translation.

The semi-colons in the Jula fieldwork examples represent translation units that each corresponds with a particular Arabic segment in the Quran itself.

The abbreviation KJ stands for ‘Kong Jula’ and comes from Aby Sangaré’s 1984 thesis which includes a lexicon.


tìɲɛtigiLiterally ‘possessor of truth’(believer)

Ala tanla ko mɛlɛkɛw ma; á ye ne kibaruya; ni tɔgɔ nunu ye; ni aw (tun) kɛra; tiɲɛtigi ye
‘[God] said [to the Angels], “Inform Me of the names of these, if you are truthful.”‘ (2:31)


kánda* Not widely used

‘respond to “Salaam Aleykum”‘ (KJ)
(guide; protect)

Olu mɔgɔ nunu dɛ, olu bɛ kanda le ra, kanda min bɔra Ala yɛrɛ fɛ…
‘Those are upon [right] guidance from their Lord…'(2:5)


síndi*Not widely used

‘found; create’ (KJ)
(start; establish)

An bɛ sindi ni Ala tɔgɔ ye..
‘In the name of God…’ (1:1)


Here is one that is not in Tamari’s article but is in my data:

sárati*Held to be untranslatable(‘condition’ in Maninka)
Used to translate the Arabic inna (إِن)

Note that Tamari texts uses: I k’à dɔn ‘You should know’

Sárati; ni aw kɛra sikasikaya le kɔnɔ; kà bɔ fɛn na; ale Ala kà fɛn min jigi
‘And if you are in doubt about what We have sent down…’ (2:23)

Further Reading

Donaldson, Coleman. 2013. “Jula Ajami in Burkina Faso : A Grassroots Literacy in the Former Kong Empire.” Working Papers in Educational Linguistics 28 (2): 19–36.

Donaldson, Coleman. 2016. “Manding Reflexive Verb Constructions and Registers in Jula of Burkina Faso.” Mandenkan 56: 3–28.

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Coleman Donaldson (August 29, 2019). Manding’s Islamic Scholarly Register: An Initial Look. A-label: African Languages Between the Lines. Retrieved July 19, 2024 from

Author: Coleman Donaldson

Postdoc at the University of Hamburg interested in speech and literacy practices in Francophone and Manding-speaking West Africa.

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