MANDE.

I’ve been interested in West Africa, and specifically the Mali Empire and the Mande culture it helped spread throughout the region, for thirty years now, ever since a dear friend (hi, Lisa!) asked me to study Bambara with her to help her prepare for a trip to Mali (which she didn’t end up making). I also had a friend who went regularly to that part of the world to import beads and who told wonderful stories about his adventures, so between the two of them they got me hooked. But one thing I found confusing was the nomenclature: there’s Mande (also spelled Mandé), Manden, Manding, Mandinka, Maninka, Mandingo, Malinke, and Mali itself, which (as it turns out) is a variant of the same term, as the OED explains:

the place name Mali, probably < French Mali < Arabic Mālī (also in form Māllī (14th cent.)), probably < Soninke *Malli < Manding *Mandeŋ, the name of the traditional Manding homeland (see Mande n. and adj.). Compare Fula Mali (Mɛli, Malel) the Mande people. The older form of the place name, Melli, is probably < Italian Melli (1550 in Leo Africanus) < Arabic Māllī (perhaps via Spanish or Maghribi Arabic *Mēllī).

If we follow their advice and “see Mande n. and adj.,” we find:

< Mande (also Manden), the name of the traditional Manding homeland on the Upper Niger (in Manding dialects Mandeŋ, Mandẽ, or Mandiŋ; the form Mande is of limited distribution). [...] For other forms derived from the same Manding root see Mali adj. and n.2, Malinke n. and adj., Manding n. and adj., Mandingo n. and adj., Mandinka n. and adj., and Maninka n.

For some historical info to tie it all together, here’s a passage from George E. Brooks’s Landlords and Strangers: Ecology, Society, and Trade in Western Africa, 1000-1630:

[T]he differentiation of Mandekan languages from other languages of the Northern Mande subgroup (that is, Soninke, Susu/Jallonke/Yalunka, and Vai/Kono) probably occurred during the latter part of the c. 700–c. 1100 wet period and reflected linguistic adaptations to historical developments. By the close of this era, groups speaking Northern Mande languages were widely dispersed: north to south from Saharan oases to trading communities along the upper Niger and upper Senegal rivers and their tributaries and east to west across extensive territories wherever traders and smiths had been accepted by communities in need of their services.
The land between the bends of the Niger and Senegal rivers, home of Mande speakers from ancient times, was the area in which Mandekan languages evolved. Based on analyses of linguistic data, Charles S. Bird hypothesized that proto-Mandekan developed approximately 1,000 years ago in a triangular-shaped area “stretching perhaps from Segou in the north down to the headwaters of the Niger in the south and across to the Faleme in the west” (1970: 149). This territory was traversed by many caravan and riverine trade routes and encompassed the Bambuk and Boure goldfields, the most productive in western Africa. Near the southern angle of the triangular Mandekan homeland is the Mande, an area along the upper Niger River that is recognized as the cultural heartland of the Mandekan world. The Mande is bordered on the north and west by the Manding Mountains, foothills of Futa Jallon, and extends south to approximately Kouroussa and east to the Sankarani River (Bird 1970: 149). Mandekan means “the language of the Mande,” and people speaking Mandekan languages call themselves Mandekalu, “the people of the Mande,” thereby tracing their origins to this heartland (Bird 1970: 146).
Bird speculated that “a form of proto-Mandekan came into being as a trade language and that, in a shift of cultural focus, the simplified rules of the trade language becaem the norms for the entire society” (1970: 154). The development of syntactic regularity and simplicity resulted from — and ultimately was strengthened by — the need for Mandekan speakers to communicate with people speaking other Mande languages or belonging to other language groups that they encountered in their far-ranging commercial diaspora. Circumstances changed with the conquests by the horse warriors [in the c. 1100–c. 1500 dry period] for they imposed Mandekan languages in conquered areas.[...]
From west to east there are three principal Mandekan languages: Mandinka; Maninka, including Kuranko; and Bamana, including Dyula.

Just yesterday, when I was thinking about this mess, I realized that there was a very similar situation in Europe, with Slav, Slavic, Slavonic, Slovak, and Slovene. To make things worse, ‘Slovakia’ in Slovak is Slovensko. Linguistics isn’t for the weak or slothful.

Comments

  1. It seems that in some circles “Mandingo” became synonym for “African”, as in the fictitious “Mandingo fighting” in Django Unchained. I guess a rough analogy would be the Arabs’ use of “Franks” for all Europeans, or many other “we’ll call all of them by the group we know the best” situations. (“Allemani” for Germans, etc.)

  2. “Just yesterday, when I was thinking about this mess, I realized that there was a very similar situation in Europe, with Slav, Slavic, Slavonic, Slovak, and Slovene.”
    Yep. Another one is the Gael,Gall,Gaul,Galicia, Galicia, Galatia, Wallach, Wallace mash-up – doublets, false friends, weird coincidences and some actual valid information tucked in here and there.

  3. J.W. Brewer says:

    Another example of the phenomenon Lane is describing is the use (or supposed use, I haven’t gone back and fact-checked the anecdote . . .) by various tribes in the Pacific Northwest in the early 19th c. of “Bostons” to mean “white Americans.” Or the way “Holland” became a synonym for the Netherlands-as-a-whole. Although I think some modern slang usages of “Mandingo” may be somewhat narrower in semantic scope than simply treating it as a synonym for “African.” Consult urbandictionary at your own risk.

  4. Jeffry House says:

    In Latin America, almost any Arab is referred to as “Turco”, Turk. I am told that this is because the first Arabs in Latin America were Syrians and Lebanese, who, in the late 19th century, bore passports from the Ottoman Empire, headquartered in Turkey.

  5. JWB,
    “by various tribes in the Pacific Northwest in the early 19th c. of “Bostons” to mean “white Americans.”
    And with the normal shift in Lushootseed from nasal to voiced stops we get the form ‘bastid”. Sounds about right to me.
    We whites were aware of this shift, enough to backwards engineer names for borrowing, so we call the sDuw?absh (river) the “Duwamish” and the sDuqwalbu (another river) the “Snoqualmie”. Or maybe those whites just had Lummi(Xwlemi – you can see why we paled a little loose with the borrowing)guides.

  6. marie-lucie says:

    “Bostons” to mean “white Americans.”
    And (approximate pronunciations of) “King George” to mean “Britishers”.
    But “Indians” to mean “natives of North and South America” beats them all.

  7. SFReader says:

    Russians in Alaska called natives “Americans” and white Americans were called “Bostoners”.

  8. Even Polynesians were labeled ‘Indians’ in the eighteenth century.

  9. So the “Indies” were essentially everywhere except Europe, the Near East, maybe Africa….

  10. mollymooly says:

    How many nations and tribes use “people” as the demonym for themselves? That doesn’t leave much semantic space for everyone else.

  11. dearieme says:

    Mandeŋ, Mandẽ, make up your mind.

  12. Hah! For those who miss the reference: “Mandy, Make up your Mind” (Clarence Williams 1924, with vocal by the delightful Eva Taylor and an awe-inspiring solo by Sidney Bechet on the hardly ever heard bass sarrusaphone).

  13. “Cowboys” is the term I object to, not Indians.

  14. M-L, that’s the best example of all!
    Molly,
    “How many nations and tribes use “people” as the demonym for themselves? That doesn’t leave much semantic space for everyone else.”
    But it sure makes it a lot easier to explain to yourself why out-group people can’t just act “normal”. There’s the utility of that.
    SFReader,
    “Russians in Alaska called natives “Americans” and white Americans were called “Bostoners”.
    That’s all the Northwest Coast. I don’t think they ever had any reason to go inland. No sea otter furs.
    I think the English also called indigenous people “Americans” right up until the American Revolution, including ones who were born and raised in America and whose families had been in America sometimes seven or eight generations by that time. When “English” became the ethnicity that dared not say its name, English-(American)people patched over and starting calling themselves Americans.

  15. I believe some indians actually supported the colonists during the American War of Independence (=”some native ‘murcans supported the ‘murcan people during the Revolutionary War”), though God knows why since these were the exact people who were screwing the indians (them and those English who weren’t the ‘murcan people).
    starting calling themselves Americans
    Since it irritates everyone else in North & South America, isn’t it time to give up this “Americans” stuff? I use “US” as much as possible, but after 200-odd years you really need to find a word for who you are. I’d suggest “Cowboys” except native Americans might not like it.
    Though I wouldn’t call someone an indian nowadays if they didn’t like it, especially not a Pakistani, Bangla Deshi or Sri Lankan, I can’t see anything wrong in the Victorians calling non-European natives of a territory lower-case “indians”. Obviously, whatever its origin, no European thought these “natives” came from the Indian subcontinent, just as no one thinks of French beans or letters as actually coming from France. Incidentally is there an expression “native Canadian”? It would seem grossly patronising to me, since Canada is a political entity that was thrust upon these indians and not a geographical area. But if Canadians use “native American” because America is a geographical name, it’s all the more reason for USians to stop thinking of America as the name of their country.

  16. All: “Boston(ian)” was also a term used in Early Canadian French to refer to Americans, and I had always assumed that French-Canadian fur traders had introduced the term to the Pacific Northwest: I haven’t examined this systematically, but in general those native languages of the Pacific Northwest which use a reflex of “Boston” with this meaning always seem to have a few French loanwords as well.
    A very similar phenomenon involves “Montréal”, which in Plains Cree, for instance, was borrowed as /moniyaw/ and now is the generic term for “white, non-Indian” (since traders from Montreal were inded the first whites they came into contact with). In some Algonquian language(s) of the United States a reflex of “Montréal” came to have the meaning “New York”: the basic meaning being apparently “Major city where whites come from”.
    This kind of semantic extension of an ethnonym is common: I understand that to this day, in a number of West African languages, the term for “white, european” derives from the place-name “Portugal”: guess who the first Europeans encountered by coastal West Africans were?
    Mollylooly: calling yourself “People” is so common that a complete listing would be difficult to make! Among Algonquian-speaking tribes, for example, both the Illinois (originally recorded by the French, and thus originally pronounced something like /ilinwa/) and the Innu (of Québec and Labrador) both derive their ethnonym from Proto-Algonquian *ERENYIWA “person, human being”.
    Jim: “American” with the meaning “Native American” is still in use in some specialized contexts: “The International journal of American linguistics”, for example, is a journal whose focus is the *indigenous* languages of the Americas.

  17. Some early 20th century Hebrew I’ve seen uses יווני (/jevani/) ‘Greek’ to mean ‘gentile’, or at least ‘Russian’. I don’t know how common that usage was, if ever. The reference is probably to the Seleucid/Hashmonean era.

  18. Addenda:
    1-”Mollymooly”, not “Mollylooly”: dumb typo.
    2-Menominee (spoken in Wisconsin) is an Algonquian language (and there may be others) where a reflex of “Montréal” came to mean “New York City”
    3-Wolof (spoken in Senegal and The Gambia) has “Tugal” as its word for “Europe”, with “Portugaal” being the name of the country.
    4-Y: Your example is even better than you think, since Hebrew /jevani/ historically derives from the Greek form borrowed/adapted into English as “Ionian” (Asia Minor Greeks): their name came to mean “Greek” in many Middle Eastern languages (Turkish has “Yunanistan” as its word for “Greece”, for example), and apparently in early twentieth-century Hebrew its semantic scope was broadened yet again.

  19. J.W. Brewer says:

    “English” is still used by the (internally German-speaking) Amish and similar groups to mean “pretty much everyone living in the U.S. that isn’t us.” Or at least “the people we typically deal with in our particular part of the U.S. who aren’t us.” I suppose if you gloss it as “L1 Anglophone” rather than “someone whose ancestors once lived in England” it’s not a bad first approximation.

  20. Perhaps it’s speakers of English, rather than German, they mean.

  21. Oh, sorry. That’s what you’re saying.

  22. Arabs, or at least those of the Levant, sometimes refer (or referred) to any European as a “Frank”.

  23. AJP Crown: I believe some indians actually supported the colonists during the American War of Independence
    Mohawk Indian leader Joseph Brant supported the British against the French and later against the Americans. He’s a fascinating character; the Wiki entry says he met both George III and George Washington. Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital in Burlington, Ontario, is named after him.

  24. AJP Crown (Mrs) (Lady Crown of Theydon Bois) – i thought the Canadians call their indigenous peoples the First Nations? (there’s probably more to it than that.)
    And how come a few centuries’ precedent and near universal acceptance and usage in English isn’t enough reason to accept that “American” stuff? So it means something else in spanish, no one who doesn’t want to be is actually confused or insulted.

  25. “I believe some indians actually supported the colonists during the American War of Independence (=”some native ‘murcans supported the ‘murcan people during the Revolutionary War”), though God knows why since these were the exact people who were screwing the indians (them and those English who weren’t the ‘murcan people).”
    You are conflating a bunch of different polities into a construct called “Indians.” It should be no surprise that later on the Pawnee and Absaaloke allied with the US; all three had a common enemy in the Lakota-Cheyenne alliance and for the Pawnee and Absaaloke it was a matter of survival and resistance against the genocide that alliance had planned for them.
    But back to the American Revolution – viewd form the indigenous side it was a civil war among the englsih, and unfortunately for the Five Nations, closely allied to the English, it became a cold war within the Five Nations and it split the confederation. And remember, the Five nations had worked very hard over a period of centuries developing a whole lot of enemies just itching for a chance to strike back, and allying with one side of a civil war among the English to strike at the majority of the Five Nations was just too tempting.
    AJP,
    “Since it irritates everyone else in North & South America, isn’t it time to give up this “Americans” stuff? I use “US” as much as possible, but after 200-odd years you really need to find a word for who you are.
    “I’d suggest “Cowboys” except native Americans might not like it.”
    I saw a fight almost start in an enlisted club when a Brit (!) called a “USasian” a “Yank” and the USasian happened to be from an old Tidewater Virginai family, so it was a slur and a gross insult, rather like lumping all Europeans together and calling an Englishman a “Jerry”.
    And “USasian” happens to be a particularly laughable neologism. It’s the sort of term you find in use at Feministe
    http://www.feministe.us/blog/
    “”Since it irritates everyone else in North & South America, isn’t it time to give up this “Americans” stuff? ”
    I really could not care less what a Spanish speaker thinks of this or that usage in English. As for the Canadians, “American” seems to be what *they* call us, so that question is probably settled.

  26. no one who doesn’t want to be is actually confused or insulted
    No one’s confused, s/o, people in the other countries in N & S America just don’t like it! It’s like indigenous peoples not liking being called indians or it’s like USians referring to Africans as “African-Americans” – it’s just thoughtlessly rude or aggressive, or whatever, when a whole bunch of people say ‘please stop doing that’, to simply ignore it. I’m frankly not sure how big a deal this is to people who live in Portuguese- or Spanish-American countries, or to Canadians. I’m sure it’s not the worst thing in the world, but since I’ve never met a USian who gave a rat’s bottom about it I like to bring it up now and again.

  27. Jim: “I really could not care less ”
    No. Exactly. That’s my point.

  28. people in the other countries in N & S America just don’t like it!
    Some don’t, but not very many, as far as I can tell (and I’ve been involved in extended discussions of this very issue on a site with lots and lots of non-US folks who had no hesitation about making their views known). Most people, quite reasonably, don’t give a damn. Those who do, of course, get quite exercised about it, but it is disingenuous to pretend that a personal gripe is a near-universal phenomenon.
    It’s like indigenous peoples not liking being called indians or it’s like USians referring to Africans as “African-Americans”
    No, it’s actually not like that at all.

  29. It’s like indigenous peoples not liking being called indians or it’s like USians referring to Africans as “African-Americans”
    No, it’s actually not like that at all.

    You’ve edited what I wrote: I said when a whole bunch of people say ‘please stop doing that’, it’s thoughtlessly rude to simply ignore it. So in that way, it’s exactly the same.
    I’ve been involved in extended discussions of this very issue on a site with lots and lots of non-US folks who had no hesitation about making their views known. Most people, quite reasonably, don’t give a damn.
    Glad you find that reasonable and I’ll just take your word for it, shall I?

  30. Khrun, I think there’s a big difference between exonyms and endonyms, between “Your name for my people is offensive to us, please stop using it” and “Your name for your people is offensive to us, please stop using it.” I don’t like being called Johnny or Jack, and if anyone did, I would complain. But I would never complain about other Johns who want to be known as Johnny or Jack.
    It’s a good thing independence arrived in the 18th century rather than the 21st, or we’d probably have to refer to our country internationally as “The Formerly British Republic in the Middle of North America”, or FBRMNA for short.

  31. Finally a reasonable argument from the US of A. Thanks, John.
    But this isn’t my fight. I don’t have anything to add. I wish I’d never brought it up. I’m outta here.

  32. I might mention that in Latin America people often use ‘norteamericanos’ to refer specifically to estadounidenses, thoughtlessly trampling the delicate sensibilities of Canadians and St.-Pierre-and-Miquelonians.
    One other specimen: ‘Jewish’ extends the meaning ‘descendant of the tribe of Judah’ (via the Kingdom of Judah, which also added the tribe of Benjamin), to refer to descendants of all Israelite tribes. I don’t believe the Samaritans call themselves Jews, though.

  33. J.W. Brewer says:

    As was noted above, lots and lots of endonyms around the world mean more or less “the people” or “human beings” or something like that. Taken at face value, these risk being inherently offensive to pretty much everyone else in the world. But we mostly put up with them, don’t we?

  34. J.W. Brewer says:

    Another example where the part has as it were displaced the whole (reverse synecdoche?) is how one piece of the Low Countries / Netherlands / Pays-Bas decided to call itself the United Provinces/Kingdom of the ditto (to the prejudice of Belgium and Luxembourg) and mostly seems to have gotten away with it. Although those Holland-et-al. people create all sorts of linguistic conundrums (in modern English the Dutch are not Deutsch and the Deutch are not Dutch, for example).

  35. Sorry for getting so testy, AJP. I guess it’s a touchy subject.

  36. In Ferdinand Lessing’s Mongol-English Dictionary I found old Mongol name for America – Xoitu Amerik-a jin Xolbugatu Ulus – United State of North America
    I suspect Russian influence (in 19th century, Russians called the country North-American United States)

  37. It’s not a wrong question, AJP Crown, but it wasn’t honestly asked. “‘murcans”? Really?

  38. I believe it was Frank Lloyd Wright who drew on Esperanto to speak of “Usonian architecture.”

  39. I ran into this delightful description today:

    “Will Rogers was first an Indian, then a cowboy, then a national figure, and now is a legend.”

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