Acholi dialect

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Native to Uganda, South Sudan
Ethnicity Acholi people
Native speakers
1.2 million (2002 census)[1]
  • Labwor
  • Nyakwai
  • Dhopaluo (Chope)[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-2 ach
ISO 639-3 ach
Glottolog acol1236[3]
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Acoli (also Acholi, Akoli, Acooli, Atscholi, Shuli, Gang, Lwoo, Lwo, Lok Acoli, Dok Acoli) is a Southern Luo dialect spoken by the Acholi people in the districts of Gulu, Kitgum and Pader (a region known as Acholiland) in northern Uganda. It is also spoken in southern Sudan in Magwi County Eastern Equatoria states

Song of Lawino, well known in African literature, was written in Acholi by Okot p'Bitek, although its sequel, Song of Ocol, was written in English[2].

Acoli, Alur, and Lango have between 84 and 90 per cent of their vocabulary in common[3] and are mutually intelligible.[dubious ] However, they are often counted as separate languages because their speakers are ethnically distinct. Labwor (Thur), once considered a dialect of Acholi, may not be intelligible with it.[4]


Acoli has vowel harmony: all vowels in a word have to belong to a single class (e.g. [kojo] the cold vs. [kɔjɔ] to separate). There are two sets of five vowels, distinguished by the feature [+/-ATR].

[-ATR] vowels in Luo
Front Central Back
Near-close ɪ ʊ
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open ɒ
[+ATR] vowels in Luo
Front Central Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open a

Acoli is a tonal language. Thus, some words may be distinguished by tone alone, e.g. bèl (low) 'wrinkled' vs. bél (high) 'corn' and kàl (low) 'place enclosed by a palisade' vs. kál (high) 'millet'. Tone furthermore plays a role in verb conjugation.

The above were the old work of the missionaries Alfered Malandra and Crazzolara published in 1955. However, a more up-to-date Acoli orthography by Janet Lakareber shows that a vowel in Acoli language has more than two pronunciations.[5] A monosyllabic word in Acoli has 14 different pronunciations. This is explained in the nine books of Acoli Accented Orthography.

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ Heron, G.A., 1972, Introduction p.8 in p'Bitek, Okot, 1984.
  2. ^ Ladefoged et al., 1972:80.


  1. ^ Acoli at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Acoli". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ "Acoli Accented Orthography with diacritical marks". Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  • Crazzolara, J.P. (1938) A study of the Acooli language. Grammar and Vocabulary. International Institute of African Languages and Cultures. London/New York/Toronto: Oxford University Press.
  • Kitching, Arthur Leonard (1932) An outline grammar of the Acholi language (first published 1907). London: Sheldon Press / Kampala: The Uganda Bookshop.
  • Ladefoged, Peter; Ruth Glick; Clive Criper; Clifford H. Prator; Livingstone Walusimbi (1972) Language in Uganda (Ford Foundation language surveys vol. 1). London/New York etc. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-436101-2
  • Malandra, Alfred (1955) A new Acholi grammar. Kampala: Eagle Press. Hathitrust record
  • Okidi, Festo (2000) Acholi for beginners: grammar, Acholi–English, English–Acholi. London: Pilato Books. ISBN 0-9539913-0-X
  • p'Bitek, Okot (1985) Acholi proverbs. Nairobi: Heinemann Kenya.
  • p'Bitek, Okot (1984) Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol. (African Writers Series, 266). London: Heinemann Educational.
  • Janet Lakareber (2011) Coono Leb Acoli (intro) Acoli Accented Orthography. London: GBILA. ISBN 978-0954932305

External links[edit]