GSE Graduate Student Research

Document Type

Book Chapter

Date of this Version



2017. Orthography, Standardization and Register: The Case of Manding. In P. Lane, J. Costa, & H. De Korne (Eds.), Standardizing Minority Languages: Competing Ideologies of Authority and Authenticity in the Global Periphery (pp. 175–199). New York, NY: Routledge.

The Open Access version of this book, available at, has been made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives 4.0 license.


Since at least the rise of nineteenth-century European nationalism, Westerners have in large part judged languages by whether they are written and standardized (Anderson 2006; Bauman and Briggs 2000; Blommaert 2006; Flores 2014). As the colonial era came to an end across much of the world in the 1960s, this tendency intermingled with the rising interest in development: what would be the place of the long minoritized indigenous languages of Africa, Asia and Latin America in the educational and political projects of postcolonial states? In Africa in particular, this led to a flourish-ing of orthographies for a large number of languages which had previously been excluded from domains of government and schooling. The initiatives of the post-independence period, however, did not lead to one single orthography, script or standard for many of these languages. This chapter examines one such case, the West African trade language of Manding, which is written in at least three distinct scripts today: Arabic, N’ko (ߏߞߒ) and Latin. Emerging respectively from before, during and after colonial rule, these three writing systems are variably embraced and wielded by distinct West African actors today.



Date Posted: 11 January 2018