Dagbani language

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Region Ghana
Ethnicity Dagomba people
Native speakers
800,000  (2004)[1]
Nanuni (Nanumba)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 dag
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Dagbani (Dagbane), also known as Dagbanli and Dagbanle, is a Gur language spoken in Ghana which is closely related to and mutually intelligible with the Moore language of Burkina Faso (the Mossi people being an offshoot of the Dagomba), the Mampruli language and Nanumba, which are also spoken in Northern Region, Ghana. Dagbani is also mutually intelligible with the Dagaare and Waala languages, spoken in Upper West Region of Ghana, and the Frafra language, spoken in Upper East Region of Ghana. Its native speakers are primarily of the Dagomba people, but Dagbani is also widely known as a first language in the Northern Region of Ghana. It is a compulsory subject in Primary and Junior Secondary School in the Dagbon Kingdom, which covers the eastern part of the region.



Dagbani has eleven phonemic vowels: six short and five long vowels:

Front Central Back
High i ɨ u
Mid e o
Low a
Front Central Back

Olawsky (1999) has the schwa in place of /ɨ/, unlike other researchers on the language who use the more articulatorily higher /ɨ/. Allophonic variation based on tongue-root advancement is well attested for 4 of these vowels: [i] ~ [ɪ], [e] ~ [ɛ], [u] ~ [ʊ] and [o] ~ [ɔ].


Bilabial Labiodental Alveolar Palatal Velar Labial-velar
Stop Voiceless p t k k͡p
Voiced b d ɡ ɡ͡b
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ ŋ͡m
Fricative Voiceless f s
Voiced v z
Lateral l
Approximant ʋ r j


Dagbani is a tonal language in which pitch is used to distinguish words, as in gballi [ɡbálːɪ́] (High-High) 'grave' vs. gballi [ɡbálːɪ̀] (High-Low) 'zana mat'.[2] The tone system of Dagbani is characterized by two level tones and downstep (a lowering effect occurring between sequences of the same phonemic tone).

Writing system[edit]

Dagbani is written in a Latin alphabet, but the literacy rate used to be only 2–3%. This percentage is bound to rise as Dagbani is now a compulsory subject in primary and junior secondary school all over the Dagbon. The orthography currently used represents a number of allophonic distinctions; tone is not marked.


a b ch d dz e ɛ f g gb ɣ h i j k kp l m n ny ŋ o ɔ p r s sh t u w y z ʒ


Dagbani is agglutinative, but with some fusion of affixes. The constituent order in Dagbani sentences is usually agent–verb–object.


  1. ^ Dagbani at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Olawsky 1997
  • Blench, Roger (2006) 'Dagbani plant names' (unpublished circulation draft)
  • Olawsky, Knut J. (1999). Aspects of Dagbani grammar, with special emphasis on phonology and morphology. München: LINCOM Europa. 
  • Olawsky, Knut J. (2003). "What is a word in Dagbani?". In R. M. W. Dixon and Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald. Word: A Cross-Linguistic Typology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 205–226. 
  • Olawsky, Knut (1997) 'Interaction of tone and morphology in Dagbani' (unpublished)

External links[edit]