Dinka language

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Native toSudan, South Sudan
EthnicityDinka people
Native speakers
1.3 million (ca. 2008-2016; some figures undated)[1]
Latin (Dinka alphabet)
Language codes
ISO 639-2din
ISO 639-3din – inclusive code
Individual codes:
dip – Northeastern (Padang)
diw – Northwestern (Ruweng)
dib – South Central (Agar)
dks – Southeastern: Bor, which also includes


Hol, Twi
dik – Southwestern (Rek & Twic)
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.

Dinka (natively Thuɔŋjäŋ, Thuɔŋ ee Jieng or simply Jieng) is a Nilotic dialect cluster spoken by the Dinka people, the major ethnic group of South Sudan. There are several main varieties, Padang, Rek, Agaar, Bor, Hol, Twic East, Twic, which are distinct enough (though mutually intelligible) to require separate literary standards. Jaang, Jieng or Monyjieng is used as a general term to cover all Dinka languages. Recently Akutmɛ̈t Latueŋ Thuɔŋjäŋ (the Dinka Language Development Association) has proposed a unified written grammar of Dinka.

The language most closely related to Dinka is the Nuer language. The Luo languages are also closely related. The Dinka vocabulary shows considerable proximity to Nubian, which is probably due to medieval interactions between the Dinka people and the kingdom of Alodia.[2]

The Dinka are found mainly along the Nile, specifically the west bank of the White Nile, a major tributary flowing north from Uganda, north and south of the Sudd marsh in South Kordofan state of Sudan as well as Bahr el Ghazal region and Upper Nile state of South Sudan.

Linguistic features[edit]



There are 20 consonant phonemes:

Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Stop p b t d c ɟ k ɡ
Fricative ɣ
j w
Rhotic ɾ


Dinka has a rich vowel system, with thirteen phonemically contrastive short vowels. There are seven vowel qualities plus a two-way distinction in phonation. The underdots, [◌̤], mark the breathy voice series, represented in Dinka orthography by diaereses, ⟨◌̈⟩. Unmarked vowels are modal or creaky voiced.

Front Back
plain breathy plain breathy
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open-mid ɛ ɛ̤ ɔ ɔ̤
Open a

Four phonetic phonations have been described in Dinka vowels: modal voice, breathy voice, faucalized voice, and harsh voice. The modal series has creaky or harsh voice realizations in certain environments, while the breathy vowels are centralized and have been described as being hollow voiced (faucalized). This is independent of tone.[3]

On top of this, there are three phonemically contrastive vowel lengths, a feature found in very few languages.[3] Most Dinka verb roots are single, closed syllables with either a short or a long vowel. Some inflections lengthen that vowel:

  • /lèl/ 'isolate\2sg'
  • /lèːl/ 'isolate\3sg'
  • /léːl/ 'provoke\2sg'
  • /lèːːl/ 'provoke\3sg'
short ràaan ā-lèl "You are isolating a person (ràaan)."
long ràaan ā-lèel "He is isolating a person."
overlong lràaan ā-lèeel "He is provoking a person."


The extensive use of tone and its interaction with morphology is a notable feature of all dialects of Dinka. The Bor dialects all have four tonemes at the syllable level: Low, High, Mid, and Fall.[3]

In Bor proper, falling tone is not found on short vowels except as an inflection for the passive in the present tense. In Nyaarweng and Twïc it is not found at all. In Bor proper, and perhaps in other dialects as well, Fall is only realized as such at the end of a prosodic phrase. Elsewhere it becomes High.

In Bor proper and perhaps other dialects, a Low tone is only phonetically low after another low tone. Elsewhere it is falling, but not identical to Fall: It does not become High in the middle of a phrase, and speakers can distinguish the two falling tones despite the fact that they have the same range of pitch. The difference appears to be in the timing: with Fall one hears a high level tone that then falls, whereas the falling allophone of Low starts falling and then levels out. (That is, one falls on the first mora of the vowel, whereas the other falls on the second mora.) This is unusual because it has been theorized that such timing differences are never phonemic.[4]


This language exhibits vowel ablaut or apophony, the change of internal vowels (similar to English goose/geese):[5]

Singular Plural gloss vowel alternation
dom dum 'field/fields' (o–u)
kat kɛt 'frame/frames' (a–ɛ)


Linguists divide Dinka into five languages or dialect clusters corresponding to their geographic location with respect to each other:

Northeastern and western:

  • Padang da Ayuel jiel (Abiliang, Nyiël, Ageer, Dongjol).
  • Luäc da (Akook, Wieu, Aguer)
  • Ngok de Jok (Upper Nile)
  • Rut
  • Thoi


  • Ngók de Jok Athuorkok (Abiei)
  • Ngok de Jok da Awet
  • Kuel of Ruweeng (Panaru, Aloor and Paweny)

South Central:

  • Aliap
  • Ciëc (Jang)
  • Gok
  • Agar
  • Apaak of Yirol west.


  • Bor
  • Twic (Twi)
  • Nyarweng
  • Hol


  • Rek
  • Abiëm
  • Aguók
  • Apuk
  • Awan
  • Kuac
  • Lóu
  • Luäc/Luänyjang
  • Malual (Malualgiėrnyang)
  • Paliët
  • Paliëupiny
  • Twïc

These would be largely mutually intelligible if it were not for the importance of tone in grammatical inflection, as the grammatical function of tone differs from one variety to another.

See Ethnologue online map of Sudan for locations of dialects.

Writing system[edit]

Dinka has been written with several Latin alphabets since the early 20th century. The current alphabet is:

a ä b c d dh e ë ɛ ɛ̈ g ɣ i ï j k l m n nh ny ŋ t th u w o ö ɔ ɔ̈ p r y

Variants in other alphabets include:

Current letter Alternatives
ė ("e" with a dot on top)
h, x, q
ȯ ("o" with a dot on top)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dinka at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
    Northeastern (Padang) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
    Northwestern (Ruweng) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
    South Central (Agar) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
    Southeastern: Bor, which also includes Nyarweng, Hol, Twi at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
    Southwestern (Rek & Twic) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Beswick 2004, p. 21.
  3. ^ a b c Remijsen, Bert (2013). "Tonal alignment is contrastive in falling contours in Dinka" (PDF). Language. 89 (2): 297–327. doi:10.1353/lan.2013.0023. hdl:20.500.11820/1a385cb5-78ab-44d7-adec-93744524bc3d. S2CID 144514695.
  4. ^ Silverman, Daniel (1997). "Tone sandhi in Comaltepec Chinantec". Language. 73 (3): 473–92. doi:10.2307/415881. JSTOR 415881.
  5. ^ After Bauer 2003:35

Other resources[edit]

  • Andersen, Torben (1987). "The phonemic system of Agar Dinka". Journal of African Languages and Linguistics. 9: 1–27. doi:10.1515/jall.1987.9.1.1. S2CID 143964845.
  • Andersen, Torben (1990). "Vowel length in Western Nilotic languages". Acta Linguistica Hafniensia. 22 (1): 5–26. doi:10.1080/03740463.1990.10411520.
  • Andersen, Torben (1991). "Subject and topic in Dinka". Studies in Language. 15 (2): 265–294. doi:10.1075/sl.15.2.02and.
  • Andersen, Torben (1993). "Vowel quality alternation in Dinka verb inflection". Phonology. 10 (1): 1–42. doi:10.1017/S095267570000172X. JSTOR 4615426.
  • Beltrame, G. (1870). Grammatica della lingua denka. Firenze: G. Civelli.
  • Beswick, Stephanie (2004). Sudan's Blood Memory. University of Rochester. ISBN 1580462316.
  • Malou, Job (1988). Dinka Vowel System. Summer Institute of Linguistics and the University of Texas at Arlington Publications in Linguistics. Vol. 82. ISBN 0-88312-008-9.
  • Mitterrutzner, J. C. (1866). Die Dinka-Sprache in Central-Afrika; Kurze Grammatik, Text und Worterbuch. Brixen: A. Weger.
  • Nebel, A. (1979). Dinka–English, English–Dinka dictionary (2nd ed.). Bologna: Editrice Missionaria Italiana.
  • Nebel, A. (1948). Dinka Grammar (Rek-Malual dialect) with texts and vocabulary. Verona: Instituto Missioni Africane.
  • Trudinger, R. (1942–44). English-Dinka Dictionary. Sudan Interior Mission.
  • Turhan, Sedat; Hagin, Sally (2005). Milet Picture Dictionary English-Dinka. Milet.

External links[edit]