Ethnologue divides Dida into two groups, Yocoboué Dida (101,600 speakers in 1993) and Lakota Dida (93,800 speakers in 1993), which are only marginally mutually intelligible and best considered separate languages. Each is dialectically diverse: Yocoboué (Yokubwe) consists of the Lozoua (Lozwa) and Divo dialects (7,100 and 94,500 speakers), and Lakota the Lakota (Lákota), Abou (Abu), and Vata dialects. The prestige dialect is the Lozoua speech of the town of Guitry.
Yocoboué is also known as Guitry, Yocoboue, Yokouboué, Gakpa, Goudou (Gudu), and Kagoué (Kagwe). Lakota is also known as Dieko, Gabo, Satro, Guébie (Gebye), Brabori, and Ziki.
The Dida lects have consonant and vowel inventories typical of the Eastern Kru languages. However, tone varies significantly between dialects, or at least between their descriptions. The following phonology is that of Abu Dida, from Miller (2005).
Dida has a ten-vowel system: nine vowels distinguished by "tenseness", likely either pharyngealization or supra-glottal phonation (contraction of the larynx) of the type described as retracted tongue root, plus an uncommon mid-central vowel /ə/.
The non-contracted vowels are /i e a o u/, and the contracted vowels /eˤ ɛˤ ɔˤ oˤ/. (These could be analyzed as /iˤ eˤ oˤ uˤ/, but here are transcribed with lower vowels to reflect their phonetic realization. There is no tense contrast with the low vowel.) The formants of the tense vowels show them to be lower than their non-tense counterparts: the formants of the highest tense vowels overlap the formants of the non-tense mid vowels, but there is visible tension in the lips and throat when these are enunciated carefully.
Dida has a number of diphthongs, which have the same number of tonal distinctions as simple vowels. All start with the higher vowels, /i eˤ u oˤ/, and except for /a/, both elements are either contracted or non-contracted, so the pharyngealization is here transcribed after the second element of the vowel. Examples are /ɓue˨teoˤ˥˩/ "bottle" (from English), /pa˨ɺeaˤ˨˩/ "get stuck", and /feɔˤ˥˩/ "little bone".
Dida also has nasal vowels, but they are not common and it is not clear how many. Examples are /fẽˤː˥/ "nothing", /ɡ͡boũ˧/ "chin", /pɔõˤ˥˧/ "25 cents" (from English "pound"). In diphthongs, nasalization shows up primarily on the second element of the vowel.
Vowel length is not distinctive, apart from phonesthesia (as in /fẽˤː˥/ "nothing"), morphemic contractions, and shortened grammatical words, such as the modal /kă˥/ "will" (compare its likely lexical source /ka˧/ "get").
The consonants are typical for Eastern Kru:
|Plosive/affricate||p b||t d||t͡ʃ d͡ʒ||k ɡ||kʷ ɡʷ||k͡p ɡ͡b|
|Fricative||f v||s z||ɣ|
Syllables may be vowel only, consonant-vowel, or consonant-/ɺ/-vowel. /ɺ/ is a lateral approximant [l] initially, a lateral flap [ɺ] between vowels and after most consonants ([ɓɺeˤ˥] "country"), but a central tap after alveolars ([dɾu˧] "blood"). After a nasal (/m/, /ɲ/, /ŋ/), it is itself nasalized, and sounds like a short n. There is a short epenthetic vowel between the initial consonant and the flap, which takes the quality of the syllabic vowel that follows ([ɓᵉɺeˤ˥] "country"). Flap clusters occur with all consonants, even the approximants (/wɺi˥/ "top"), apart from the alveolar sonorants /n/, /ɺ/ and the marginal consonant /ɣ/, which is only attested in the syllable /ɣa/.
/ɓ/ is implosive in the sense that the airstream is powered by the glottis moving downward, but there is no rush of air into the mouth. /ɣ/ occurs in few words, but one of these, /ɣa˧/ "appear", occurs in numerous common idioms, so overall it's not an uncommon sound. It is a true fricative and may devoice to [x] word initially. /kʷ/ and /ɡʷ/ plus a vowel are distinct from /k/ or /ɡ/ plus /u/ and another vowel. They may also be followed by a flap, as in /kʷɺeˤ˥/ "face".
When emphasized, zero-onset words may take an initial [ɦ], and initial approximants /j/, /w/ may become fricated [ʝ], [ɣʷ]. /w/ becomes palatalized [ɥ] before high front vowels, or [ʝʷ] when emphasized.
Dida uses tone as a grammatical device. Morpho-tonology plays a greater role in verb and pronominal paradigms than it does in nouns, and perhaps because of this, Dida verbs utilize a simpler tone system than nouns do: Noun roots have four lexically contrastive tones, subject pronouns have three, and verb roots have just two word tones.
There are three level tones in Abou Dida: high /˥/, mid /˧/, and low /˨/, with mid about twice as common as the other two. Speaker intuition hears six contour tones: rising /˧˥/, /˨˧/ and falling /˥˧/, /˥˩/, /˧˩/, /˨˩/. (The falling tones only reach bottom register at the end of a prosodic unit; otherwise the low falling tone /˨˩/ is realized as a simple low tone.) However, some of these only occur in morphologically complex words, such as perfective verbs.
Monosyllabic nouns contrast four tones: high, mid, low, and mid-falling: /dʒeˤ˥/ "egg", /dʒeˤ˧/ "leopard", /dʒeˤ˩/ "buffalo", /dʒeˤ˧˩/ "arrow", with high and mid being the most frequent.
- Charette, Monik (1984). "Analyse phonologique des emprunts en dida de Niakassé". Revue québécoise de linguistique (in French). Montreal: University of Quebec. 14 (1): 87–111.
- Kaye, Jonathan (December 1981). "Tone sensitive rules in Dida". Studies in African Linguistics (supplement 8): 82–85.
- Miller, Kirk (2005). The Tones of Abou Dida. (MA thesis). Santa Barbara: University of California.