Mende language

Mende /ˈmɛndi/[2] (Mɛnde yia) is a major language of Sierra Leone, with some speakers in neighboring Liberia. It is spoken by the Mende people and by other ethnic groups as a regional lingua franca in southern Sierra Leone. In southern Sierra Leone, it is the regional lingua franca that allows all tribes to communicate.

Mɛnde yia / 𞠣𞡓𞢱𞠗 / Mɛnde yia
Native toSierra Leone, Liberia
RegionSouth central Sierra Leone
EthnicityMende people
Native speakers
1.5 million (2006)[1]
  • Western Mande
Mende Kikakui script
Language codes
ISO 639-2men
ISO 639-3men
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Mende is a tonal language belonging to the Mande language family. Early systematic descriptions of Mende were by F. W. Migeod[3] and Kenneth Crosby.[4]

Written formsEdit

In 1921, Kisimi Kamara invented a syllabary for Mende he called Kikakui (𞠂𞠁𞠀 /  ). The script achieved widespread use for a time, but has largely been replaced with an alphabet based on the Latin script, and the Mende script is considered a "failed script".[5] The Bible was translated into Mende and published in 1959, in Latin script.

The Latin-based alphabet is: a, b, d, e, ɛ, f, g, gb, h, i, j, k, kp, l, m, n, ny, o, ɔ, p, s, t, u, v, w, y. [6][7]

Mende has seven vowels: a, e, ɛ, i, o, ɔ, u. [8][9]



Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive plain p t k
voiced b d ɡ
prenasalized m͡b n͡d ŋ͡ɡ
Fricative plain f s h
voiced v
Affricate plain k͡p
voiced d͡ʒ ɡ͡b
prenasalized ɲd͡ʒ ŋɡ͡b
Lateral l
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Approximant w j


Front Central Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a


In filmsEdit

Mende was used extensively in the films Amistad and Blood Diamond and was the subject of the documentary film The Language You Cry In.


  1. ^ Mende at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  3. ^ Migeod, F. W. 1908. The Mende language. London
  4. ^ Crosby, Kenneth. 1944. An Introduction to the Study of Mende. Cambridge University Press.
  5. ^ Unseth, Peter. 2011. Invention of Scripts in West Africa for Ethnic Revitalization. In The Success-Failure Continuum in Language and Ethnic Identity Efforts, ed. by Joshua A. Fishman and Ofelia García, pp. 23-32. New York: Oxford University Press.
  6. ^ Coble, Scott. n.d. "Mende." (accessed 8 October 2014)
  7. ^ "Langue : mende". Systèmes alphabétiques des langues africaines. Retrieved 2019-02-14.
  8. ^ A Mende Orthography Workshop: Ministry of Education, Freetown, January 21-25, 1980
  9. ^ Pemagbi, Joe. 1991. "A guide to Mende orthography." SLADEA.
  10. ^ Dwyer, David James (1969). Consonant Mutation in Mende. Michigan State University.

External linksEdit