Branch of the Niger-Congo language family. Mande comprises 40 languages of West Africa with more than 20 million speakers in a more or less contiguous area of southeastern Senegal, The Gambia, southern Mauritania, southwestern Mali, eastern Guinea, northern and eastern Sierra Leone, northern Liberia, and western Côte d'Ivoire. Substantial numbers are also found in Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, and Burkina Faso; and there are very much smaller, isolated pockets in the region. The most significant subgroup is the Mandekan complexa continuum of languages and dialects, including those spoken by the Bambara, Malinke, Maninka, and Dyulaspoken from Senegal, The Gambia, and Guinea east through Mali to Burkina Faso. Mande, spoken in Sierra Leone, also has more than a million speakers. Several independent writing systems based on the syllable were developed by speakers of Mande languages. The best-known is the Vai script, but Mende, Loma, and Kpelle also have their own scripts.
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