|Region||East African Rift|
The name is variously spelled Datog, Tatoga, or Tatog. The Sukuma name Taturu is also sometimes used in English; the Swahili name Mang'ati comes from Maasai, where it means "enemy". However, it is not considered offensive to the Datooga, as there is a degree of pride in being the historic enemy of the Maasai. In addition, numerous tribal and dialectal names may be found for the people or language as a whole.
The Datooga are one of the least educated peoples in Tanzania, and there is almost no literacy in the language; literacy in Swahili is 1%, and no more than 10% of Datooga have more than a smattering of spoken Swahili. However, one or two dialects have been written.
Dialect diversity is great enough to make mutual intelligibility difficult, and Blench (2000) lists East Datooga and West Datooga as distinct languages. Dialects are often assumed to correspond to the seven Datooga tribes, but the speech of the Gisamjanga (Kisamajeng, Gisamjang) and the Barabaig, for example, are very close, and can be considered a single dialect. The other dialects, with alternate spellings, are:
- Barabayiiga (Barabaig, Barabayga, Barabaik, Barbaig)
- Tsimajeega (Isimijeega)
- Rootigaanga (Rotigenga, Rotigeenga)
- Buraadiiga (Buradiga, Bureadiga)
- Bianjiida (Biyanjiida, Utatu)
Ethnologue 16 mentions several other varieties of uncertain nature: Darorajega, Gidang'odiga, Bisiyeda, Daragwajega, Salawajega, Ghumbiega, Mangatiga, the last presumably just the Maasai and Swahili name. The suffixes -da and -ga on these names and many Datooga nouns are equivalent to English the .
Datooga has been strongly influenced by South Cushitic languages previously spoken in the area where Datooga has taken over. This is especially apparent in the vowels, which are the five-vowel /a e i o u/ system of the Cushitic languages rather than the nine-vowel system based on tongue-root vowel harmony found in most Nilotic languages. In turn, Datooga has strongly influenced the Iraqw language which has occupied much former Datooga territory and has absorbed Datooga through intermarriage; for example, the Iraqw use Datooga vocabulary for poetic language.
Datooga has a verb-initial word order, but the relative order of subject and object reflects pragmatic concerns. Grammatical case is marked by tone in a marked nominative system. Numbers follow nouns, and question words come at the end of a clause. The numeral system is vigesimal, but domestic animals are counted in pairs, so that the word used for 'five' when counting other objects means 'ten' when referring to goats or cattle.
Final vowels are often devoiced, as may be the consonants which proceed them, which is why Barabayiiga for example is commonly transcribed as Barabaik.
Bajuta Datooga is typical. The consonants are as follows:
Plosives are devoiced word-finally and when adjacent to another plosive or a fricative. Datooga [dɑtˑɔːkɑ̥] is underlyingly /tattooka/ (or equivalently /daddooɡa/); the voiceless [t] is longer than a voiced [d]. There is also no distinction between [h] and a zero onset to a syllable.