What Languages Are Spoken In Mali?

The Tower of Africa in Bamako, Mali.
The Tower of Africa in Bamako, Mali.

Mali is a landlocked West African country. It is the 8th largest country in the African continent boasting an area of 1,240,000 km2. According to World Bank estimates, Mali had a population of 17.99 millions in 2016. Its economy is pegged on fishing and agriculture. In addition, it is the third largest producer of gold in Africa. The capital and the largest city in Mali is called Bamako. Mali is a multilingual country whose official language is French. It also has a deaf population which uses sign language to communicate.

French Language In Mali

The French language used in Mali was introduced by the French colonialists. It was retained as an official language when Mali attained its independence in 1960. French is the language used in government and in teaching the school curriculum in the education sector. In its use in schools, there is a new policy which demands that Malian languages should be used to teach students in their first grades. Thereafter, they can transition from the indigenous languages to French. French is mostly spoken by people who live in the urban centers. In most scenarios, French speaking Malians acquire it as a second language. For instance, in 1993, there were only 9,000 people who spoke French as a first language. The rest of the population spoke the Malian languages as their first language. However, the number of French speakers as the first language has increased over the years.

Native Languages Of Mali

There are several Malian ethnic groups namely Mande, Fula, Voltaic (Senufo/Bwa), Tuareg/Moor, and Songhai among others. The largest ethnic group in Mali is the Mande which are 50% of its total population. On the other hand, the second largest Malian ethnic group is Fula which is composed of 17% of the population. There are 13 national languages spoken in Mali. They include Bambara, Soninke, Hasanya Arabia, Bomu, Tamasheq, Songhay, Fulfulde, Bozo, Maninkakan, Dogon, Syenara, Mamara, and Xasongaxango. Besides the national languages, the Ethnologue has a record of 63 languages that are spoken in Mali. A large percentage (80%) of Malians speak Bambara as either their first or second language. Hence, the Bambara language is the most widely spoken native language. It is mainly spoken in the southern and central parts of Mali. Bambara originated from the Kingdom of Segou many centuries ago. Since it is popular among most Mali people, it is often used in trade.

Sign Languages Of Mali

The deaf population in Mali used sign language to communicate with each other. They also use sign language to acquire formal education. There are three types of sign languages used in Mali: American Sign Language (ASL), Tebul Sign Language, and Bamako Sign Language. ASL was introduced to Mali by an American missionary known as Andrew Foster. It is the one which is mostly used by the deaf population; threatening the Bamako Sign Language. The Bamako Sign Language was innovated in the urban centers in the after-work tea circles. On the other hand, the Tebul Sign Language is commonly used in a village in Mali where most people suffer from congenital deafness.


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