Dagbani language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Native speakers
3,160,000[1] (2013)
  • Nanuni (Nanumba)
  • Tomosili
  • Nayahali
Language codes
ISO 639-3dag
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Dagbani (or Dagbane), also known as Dagbanli and Dagbanle, is a Gur language spoken in Ghana. Its native speakers are estimated around 3,160,000. It is a compulsory subject in primary and junior high school in the Dagbon Kingdom, which covers the eastern part of the region.[1] Dagbani is the most widely spoken language in northern Ghana, especially among acephalous tribes overseen by the King of Dagbon, the Ya-Na.

It is closely related to and mutually intelligible with the Mampelle language, also spoken in Northern Region, Ghana. Dagbani is also similar to the other languages of the same subgroup spoken in this Region, the Dagaare and Waala languages, spoken in Upper West Region of Ghana, and the Frafra language, spoken in Upper East Region of Ghana.[3][4]


Dagbani has a major dialect split between Eastern Dagbani, centred on the traditional capital town of Yendi, and Western Dagbani, centred on the administrative capital of the Northern Region, Tamale. The dialects are, however, mutually intelligible, and mainly consist of different root vowels in some lexemes, and different forms or pronunciations of some nouns, particularly those referring to local flora. The words Dagbani and Dagbanli given above for the name of the language are respectively the Eastern and Western dialect forms of the name, but the Dagbani Orthography Committee resolved that “It was decided that in the spelling system <Dagbani> is used to refer to the ... Language, and <Dagbanli> ... to the life and culture”;[5][original research?] in the spoken language, each dialect used its form of the name for both functions.



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

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

Olawsky (1999) puts the schwa (ə) in place of /ɨ/, unlike other researchers on the language[6] who use the higher articulated /ɨ/. Allophonic variation based on tongue-root advancement is well attested for 4 of these vowels: [i] ~ [ɪ]/[ə], [e] ~ [ɛ], [u] ~ [ʊ] and [o] ~ [ɔ].


Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Labial-velar
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ ŋ͡m
Stop Voiceless p t k k͡p
Voiced b d ɡ ɡ͡b
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'.[7] The tone system of Dagbani is characterised by two level tones and downstep (a lowering effect occurring between sequences of the same phonemic tone).

Writing system[edit]

A teacher at School for Life, a project in northern Ghana

Dagbani is written in a Latin alphabet with the addition of the apostrophe, the letters ɛ, ɣ, ŋ, ɔ, and ʒ, and the digraphs ch, gb, kp, ŋm, sh and ny. The literacy rate used to be only 2–3%.[8][9] This percentage is expected to rise as Dagbani is now a compulsory subject in primary and junior secondary school all over Dagbon. The orthography currently used[10] (Orthography Committee /d(1998)) represents a number of allophonic distinctions. Tone is not marked.

a b ch d 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.


There is an insight into a historical stage of the language in the papers of Rudolf Fisch reflecting data collected during his missionary work in the German Togoland colony in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, especially the lexical list,[11] though there is also some grammatical information[12] and sample texts.[13] A more modern glossary was published in 1934 by a southern Ghanaian officer of the colonial government, E. Foster Tamakloe, in 1934,[14] with a revised edition by British officer Harold Blair.[15] Various editors added to the wordlist and a more complete publication was produced in 2003 by a Dagomba scholar, Ibrahim Mahama.[16] According to the linguist Salifu Nantogma Alhassan,[17] there is evidence to suggest that there are gender-related double standards in the Dagbani language with "more labels that trivialise females than males."[18] Meanwhile, the data was electronically compiled by John Miller Chernoff and Roger Blench (whose version is published online),[19] and converted to a database by Tony Naden, on the basis of which a full-featured dictionary is ongoing and can be viewed online.[20]

Dagbani language scholars[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Dagbani". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2017-05-25.
  2. ^ Naden, Tony (2014). Dagbani dictionary. Webonary.
  3. ^ Naden, Tony (1989). Gur. Lanham, MD: University Press of America. pp. 141–168.
  4. ^ Bendor-Samuel, John T. [ed.] (1989). The Niger-Congo Languages. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  5. ^ Committee, Dagbani Orthography (1998). Approved Dagbani Orthography. n/p (Tamale, N.R.): privately.
  6. ^ Hudu, Fusheini (2010). Dagbani tongue-root harmony: a formal account with ultrasound investigation. Vancouver: University of British Columbia.
  7. ^ Olawsky 1997
  8. ^ Denteh, A. C. (Andrew Crakye) (1974). Spoken Dagbani for non-Dagbani beginners. Pointer. OCLC 4602509.
  9. ^ Olawsky, Knut J. (2003-01-02), "What is a word in Dagbani?", Word, Cambridge University Press, pp. 205–226, doi:10.1017/cbo9780511486241.009, ISBN 978-0-521-81899-5
  10. ^ Sergio, Baldi; Adam, Mahmoud (2006). Dagbani basic and cultural vocabulary. Univ. degli Studidi Napoli "L'Orientale". p. 10. ISBN 9788895044071. OCLC 613117515.
  11. ^ Fisch, Rudolf (1913). "Wörtersammlung Dagbané-Deutsch". MSOS. 16: 113–214.
  12. ^ Fisch, Rudolf (1912). "Grammatik der Dagomba-Sprache". Archiv für das Studium Deutscher Kolonialsprachen. 14: 1–79.
  13. ^ Fisch, Rudolf (1913). "Dagbane Sprachproben". M. Veröfffentlich Vom Seminar für Kolonialsprachen in Hamburg. 8: beiheft.
  14. ^ Tamakloe, E.Foster [ed.] (1934). Dagomba Dictionary and Grammar. Accra: Government Printer.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  15. ^ Tamakloe, Emmanuel F. (1940). H.A.Blair (ed.). Dagomba (Dagbane) Dictionary. Accra: Government Printer.
  16. ^ Mahama, Ibrahim (2003). Dagbani-English Dictionary. Tamale, N/R: School for Life.
  17. ^ "About the author: Salifu Nantogma Alhassan". Equinox. Retrieved 27 February 2015.
  18. ^ Alhassan, Salifu Nantogma (October 2014). "Sexism and gender stereotyping in the Dagbanli language". Gender and Language. 8 (3): 393–415. doi:10.1558/genl.v8i3.393.
  19. ^ "Dagbani Dictionary" (PDF).
  20. ^ "Dagbani Dictionary progress" (PDF).

External links[edit]