Ma'di language

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Not to be confused with Southern Ma'di language.
Region Uganda, South Sudan
Ethnicity Madi
Native speakers
ca. 320,000  (2002)[1]
Adjumani (Oyuwi)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 mhi
Glottolog madi1260[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Ma'di language (pronounced [màɗí]) is found in Uganda and South Sudan. (The apostrophe before the letter d denotes it as an implosive). The Madi people refer to their language as Ma'di ti literally: Ma'di mouth.

The Ma'di people are found in Magwi County in the Sudan, and in Adjumani and Moyo districts in Uganda. The population is about 390,000 people (90,000 in the Sudan).

Ma'di language has mutual intelligibility with Olu'bo, Lugbara, Moru, Avokaya, Kaliko and Logo.


Most Ma'di people are bilingual. In Uganda, the educated class speak English as the second language. Some also speak Swahili. In South Sudan, the educated Ma'dis speak English and/or Arabic. The South Sudanese Ma'di also speak Juba Arabic, spoken in the South Sudan and not understood in the North. The form of Juba Arabic spoken by the Ma'di is influenced by Nubi/Kinubi spoken in Uganda among Moslems who are mainly descendents of Gordon's troops. Loanwords in Ugandan Ma'di are therefore mainly of English and/or Swahili origin and in Sudanese Ma'di of English and/or Juba Arabic origin.

There is an interesting linguistic interaction between the Ma'di, the Acholi and the Kuku (kuku). Most Ma'dis speak Acholi but hardly any Acholi speak Ma'di. This is possibly because during the first civil war in the Sudan, most Sudanese Ma'di were seuled among the Acholi in Uganda. Possibly for the same reasons, most Kukus speak fluent Ugandan Ma'di. but hardly any Ma'di speaks Kuku. It is still possible even today to find among the Sudanese Ma'di people who can trace their ancestry to the neighbouring tribes – Bari, Kuku, Pajulu. Acholi etc. Hardly any of them can now speak their 'ancestral' languages; they speak Ma'di only and have become fully absorbed into the Ma'di community.

Ma'di in the media
Printed material in Ma'di is scarce and hard to find. The only general published works in Ma'di are missionary publications such as the translation of the New Testament, and prayer and song booklets by the Catholic missionaries.

The Ma'di Ethnic and Heritage Welfare Association in Britain publishes a quarterly bilingual (English and Ma'di) paper called Ma'di Lelego.
In the spring 1998, Radio Uganda made the regular broadcasts in Ma'di (all programmes except 'Listeners' Favorite' last 15 minutes).
The programmes included:

  • Daily News in Ma'di
  • Religious Program
  • Veterans Assistance Board (program for laid off soldiers)
  • Talk Show, with Ma'di guest
  • Ma'di Traditional Music
  • Calling Farmers
  • Women's Program
  • Family Life Education
  • Health Program

Crazzolara claims (without very credible evidence) that there are linguistic traces of Ma'di found in Nilotic languages like Dinka (especially Atwot), Nuer and Lwo (Acholi, Alur and Lango) and among the Bantu (Nyoro and Ganda). There are also some claims which maintain that there are Acholi speaking clans in Pakele in Adjumani (in Adjumani District), whose Ma'di accent is said to be completely different from that of the other Ma'di in the area. In Adjumani itself, the Oyuwi (ojuwt) clans are said to speak three languages: Ma'di, Kakwa and Lugbara.


Ma'di is a tonal language, which means that meanings of words depend on the pitch. There are three tone levels (high, mid and low). The language has a number of implosives: /ɓ/ ('b), /ɗ/ ('d), /ʄ/ ('j), /ɠɓ/ ('gb). There are a number of secondarily (/kʷ/) and doubly articulated sounds (/ɡb/, /kp/) in addition to the singularly articulated sounds (/f/, /v/). The language also has glottal stops (/ʔ/) which can be found word medially and initially. There are ten vowels in the language, divided into +ATR /a, e, i, o, u/ and -ATR /a, ɛ, ɪ, ɔ, ʊ/.

[-ATR] vowels in Madi
. Front Central Back
Close ɪ ʉ ʊ
Mid ə
Low ɐ
[+ATR] vowels in Madi
. Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e o
Low a


Ma'di orthography
Currently there are two systems used in reading Madi. The old and the new system. The old system ignores tones completely hence making reading more difficult. The old system also uses only five vowels (a, e, i, o, u).

The new systems employs ten vowel (see the tables to the left). It also identifies four tones: high (close), mid, low and falling.

Pắ - leg [high tone]
pa - descendants of [ mid tone, unmarked]
Pá - pluck [low tone]
Sấ - time, clock [falling tone]

The examples below show how heavy and light vowels compare:

Ốpí - waist [heavy vowel; high tones]
Ópí - chief, king [light vowel; high tones]
mvự - drink [heavy vowels; mid tones]
mvu - jump, skip, gather [light vowels; mid tones]

A standard orthography was adopted following the recommendations of the Rejaf Language Conference of 1928. The policy then was to admit representative languages to be taught in schools. From the Eastern Sudanic languages were chosen Zande, Moru, Ma'di, Kreish and Ndogo. The rest of the languages were left to die. Government textbooks were supposed to be issued in these languages to be used in the schools. Subsequently Sir James Robertson, who succeeded Sir Douglas Newbold as the Civil Secretary, reversed in 1946 the policy of his predecessor which hitherto regarded South Sudan as a different social and political entity from Northern Sudan. This reversal saw the last governmental attempt to develop orthographies for the languages of the South Sudan, as the North has been hostile to them and has preferred the promotion of Arabic. From around 1987, The Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) started work on the orthography of the language culminating in the production of a primer in 1992


  • A'babiku, Rose 'A Key History of Ma'di
  • Blackings, M and Fabb N (2003) A Grammar of Ma'di: Mouton
  • Blackings, M (2011) Ma'di English - English Ma'di Dictionary. Lincom Europa.
  • Fuli, Severino (2002) Shaping a Free Southern Sudan: Memoirs of our struggle. Loa Parish.

Template:Languages of South Sudan


  1. ^ Ma'di at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Ma'di". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.