An informal joint project between Yale and Harvard, regarding N’ko

Do you remember our “Map Challenge” on this blog from a few years ago?  That was in the N’ko script, used for Mande languages in Guinea, Mali, and elsewhere in West Africa.  Since that time, a relevant romanization table has been approved by the American Library Association and the Library of Congress, and has become available as a support to cataloging materials in N’ko.  Nafadji Sory Condé has written a helpful book on the subject of N’ko, in French.  Meanwhile, OCLC took the step of supporting full Unicode, including the N’ko range.

These developments prompted discussions between catalogers and other librarians at Harvard and Yale, who together with faculty thought it would now be possible to create MARC catalog records that would include the N’ko script.  I brought the subject up with Bassey Irele and Boubacar Diakité, a lecturer in N’ko at Harvard; Bassey introduced us to Naun Chiat Chew and Isabel Quintana, who helped to keep the ball rolling as we went through a bibliography of Valentin Vydrin looking for matches to existing Romanized records.

As a result, there are now about sixty records that have been produced, held by either Harvard, Yale, or both institutions, and have made their way into OCLC’s Worldcat, where they can be searched and downloaded by other institutions.  One example is “ߖߌ߬ߓߙߌ߬ߓߊ ߝߊ߬ߛߊ” (“Jìbìrìba fàsa”):;;  More fine-tuning is needed to ensure that the linking is being handled correctly, but it gives you a sense of how the project results have been turning out so far.

Hopefully, the results are supportive of the establishment of proof of concept, not only for N’ko, but in working out arrangements for other additional scripts as well.  Feel free to pass along your questions and comments.


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2 thoughts on “An informal joint project between Yale and Harvard, regarding N’ko

  1. Awesome news! Thanks for all the hard work.

    Note that using linguistic nomenclature, N’ko is primarily used for Manding and not for Mande languages (that would include the larger family of non-mutually intelligible languages such as Susu and Soninke).

    Another challenge (pointed out in Vydrin’s bibliography piece) is how to deal with the variable use of names — for instance, I typically transliterate Kantè’s name as Sulemaana Kantè (Sùlèmáaná Kántɛ́, if you mark the H and L tones on all syllables) since that is the most common usage in my personal archive of N’ko books (though far from the only — even in N’ko orthography). I’m sure that librarians have thought about this issue in other cases though and have solutions though!

    • Hi Coleman, Thanks for the clarifications. I have it on my radar to submit a subject authority proposal for Manding languages, which if approved by the Library of Congress would allow for better nomenclature of the table. Transliteration should follow the approved table, even if it results in something that diverges a little from the most common usage seen in practice. This will generate some variability in names, but that is where name authority record work becomes useful, for building in cross-references.

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