This map shows the extent of the Manding cluster within the Mandé Language Family
Click on the map to see a language or section in more detail.
Manding is the largest language/dialect cluster of West Africa, with the total number of speakers exceeding 20 million. It is a typical dialectal continuum where sharp linguistic boundaries are rare, and language differences accumulate gradually with geographic distance. Within this continuum, several poles of gravity can be singled out: Maninka of Guinea, Standard Bamana, Mandinka, interethnic Jula, and Marka-Dafing. These poles can be referred to, with some reservations, as "languages."1 There are variants, such as Xasonka or Mauka, which cannot be compared to Bamana or Mandinka in their sociolinguistic weight, but still autonomous enough to be considered as "languages" from the viewpoint of both the identity of their speakers and their linguistic difference from other Manding variants. And there are numberless intermediary dialects that cannot sometimes be attached to one of the "languages" being intermediary between two (or even three) different poles of gravity within the continuum.
We tried to reflect this very challenging reality in the maps. So, sometimes one won't find language boundaries between what is usually believed to be separate languages. Passage from one linguistic pole of gravity to another will be pictured by a gradual change of colors for dialectal areas.
1For discussion on the current linguonymes for the Manding variants, see: V. Vydrine. Who Speaks "Mandekan"? A Note on Current Use of Mande Ethnonyms and Linguonyms. // MANSA Newsletter, 29, Winter 1995-96, pp. 6-9. The same text was included into the "Introduction" to the "Manding-English Dictionary (Maninka, Bamana)" (Vol. 1. St. Petersburg: Dimitry Bulanin Publishing House, 1999, 315 p., by the same author).