NíKo before and after its Unicode
It is a great
pleasure for me to be here with you today. In this presentation one shall focus
on some of the new things invented not only relating to information computer
technology as a new revolution but also concerning many programmers in the
field of programming today. Ėthe NíKO as one of the dominating and widely spoken
languages in west Africa and also as one of the writing systems in Africa.
For that being
the case our todayís presentation is going to focus on the circumstances
surrounding NíKO language before itís was introduced in the Unicode. Therefore,
this presentation will be dealing with four main points to introduce the
different stages preceding the NíKo implementation of Unicode. These stages are
important because of the fact that NíKo is an important language in 9 different
West African countries with over 30 million speakers.
These points include the followings:
(A) The earlier stages of NíKOís life that include a brief history
of NíKO such as its invention ,its naming , its spread by Fode Solomana Kanteh,
His followers and their works.
(B) The stage in which many contacts are made to Unicode NíKO passing through
all necessary transactions and ISO protocols until it was finally accepted and
recommended in a conference in the city of Paris 13-15/9/05.
(C) The final stage is the one that concerns all of us in this conference which
is to localize modern digital devices, and software. This localization is of a
great benefit particularly in places where NíKO is widely spoken in Africa which
can create huge markets for companies and programmers working in that field.
what we are going to be dealt with from the previously mentioned points
1-the earlier stages of NíKOíS life:
As any new
invention, NíKO alphabet was not created in vain but it was preceded by many
tries and efforts at all levels social, cultural and educational levels. In many
MANDEN territories, there were insufficient options to preserve MANDEN culture
due to the decline of MANDEN social norms and traditional rules which were made
in the conference of KRUKANFUA by SUNJATA to govern and control the system in
the empire of Mali -1236 ending with the failure of MANDEN people to transcribe
and write their language by using well known alphabets like Arabic, Vaie or
This inability of using foreign alphabets to write NíKO doesnít mean that those
alphabets are poor and that they cannot be considered in any way as a weak point
in those particular alphabets. The fact that foreign alphabets were not suited
to write NíKO language cannot be seen as a weak point in MANDEN culture.
Particularly in those days when you have many social classes in MANDEN society
each social class has its own specific task to perform such as DONSOLOU the
hunters to secure the nation and jelis to preserve and pass legends and sagas
from generation to generation plus religious men to teach the young generation
the important thing now to be noticed is that after the decline of most of the
social norms and the classical order of MANDEN society.
realized that the only way to preserve our culture was to write it down. That is
why the genius FODE SOLOMANA KANTE worked for seven years to find a solution to
this huge problem (inability to write our language by using our own letters).
Out of the
seven years he spent four years trying to use Arabic alphabet to transcribe NíKO
(1941-1945). He found out that Arabic lacked the ability to accurately
transcribe Maninkakan language. Then he spent another three years trying to use
the Latin alphabets which also gave the same negative result (1946-1948).
Through all these experiments he had gained a lot of experience and he had also
discovered many things about why these alphabets were unable to write NíKO
language. In these experiments the alphabet of Vaie was not taken into
consideration due its lack of flexibility in spite of its numerous letters that
exceed 215 letters.
Finally in 1949, an independent brand new alphabet for NíKO people was invented
by FODE SOLOMANA KANTE that contained all the positive sides of various
alphabets plus many new trends to fully suit our language. He named it NíKO
which was derived from the mother tongue it self the language of SUNJATA and
many West Africans Ė the NíKo.
Before we talk about different stages in development of NíKo with efforts of
great researchers and the Unicode organization, allow me to give you a brief
explanation on the meaning of this short word Ė NíKo:
NíKo is two partial compound word (Ní) which means ĎIí and (KO) which means
ďsayĒ thus you have NíKO=I say with this meaning the word points to two
different aspects :
integrated writing system that can be used by all the African languages. It
includes vowels , consonants and all diacritical marks to symbolize different
kind of tones.
NíKO is the name of the language that is spoken by MANDEN people.
international writing system NíKO is the alphabet invented by FODE SOLOMANA
KANTE in the year 1949 with 27 letters which are classified into:
Nineteen consonants =
diacriticals for the tones three of which are used for the short tones
for long tones one mark for Ėnasalization
and two dotted mark that does not specify
any tone its only job is to convert vowels to consonants a task that has a
these nine diacriticals you have three that convert main consonants to
another consonants which is close to it in terms of tones
from this point FODE SOLOMANA KANTE was able
to solve all problems facing him not only in transcribing and writing languages
that have not many tones but also languages with lot of tones and sounds. In
NíKO the evidence is that any vowel sound can be pronounced in sixteen different
Thus writing different sounds using similar letters does not occur in NíKO due
to these four aspects of NíKO: vowels, consonants, neutral and diacritics that
organize the writing system and give NíKO its unique nature. KANTE was able to
transcribe 8520 syllables by joining these four elements it takes only 45
letters to transcribe.
This NíKO alphabet gives us in its one syllable what we can get in four syllable
in other alphabets. From 8520 syllables that NíKO alphabet is capable of
writing NíKo speakers use only 2150. Therefore, there is a great chance that
other African languages to be written with NíKO without any modification or
Among the characteristics of NíKO as writing system is that any single syllable
contains four different elements that give it its special appearance and
pronunciation and these four elements are the (vowels, consonants and
That also gives the writer the ability to write down not only sounds and their
diacritics but also with all their tones that are firmly related to them.
Writing NíKO in the aspect of orientation is some how similar to Arabic hence it
also starts from right to left. The difference however is that in NíKO you have
vowels, consonants and diacriticals which are not available in Arabic.
Building words with NíKO alphabet has some kind of similarity with Latin for its
letters contain vowels and consonants; however the difference is the additional
diacritics that are found in NíKO. Additionally, there is a difference in their
orientations from ďright to leftĒ (RTL script).
In this case NíKO has a kind of hidden force that is extracted from various
languages such as English and Arabic.
Like Arabic, it has dynamical generalization of letters hence a letter can be
automatically change to another letter by placing a mare dot or two dots at the
same time it has a similarity with Latin in terms of flexibility in building
syllables by using vowels and consonants.
Apart from all these it has a special taste that gives its unique
characteristics, which makes NíKO an integrated African alphabet which is used
in nine West African countries (Guinea, Mali, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Senegal,
Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
All these countries are member states of ECOWAS and ECOMOG
world NíKO people are called in different name such as:
MANINKA, BAMBARA, MANDINGO, and JULA.
MANDEN and MALINKE are
mostly used by the French while MANDINGO is used mostly in English at any rate
there may be a difference in names but the meaning is the same that is
ďChildren of the KingísĒ (MAAN) &( DEN ) and we all do understand each other in
spite of differences in dialects .