Nubi language

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Nubi Arabic
Native to Uganda, Kenya
Native speakers
42,000 (2002–2009)[1]
Arabic-based creole
  • Nubi Arabic
Early form
Language codes
ISO 639-3 kcn
Glottolog nubi1253[2]
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The Nubi language (also called Ki-Nubi) is a Sudanese Arabic-based creole language spoken in Uganda around Bombo, and in Kenya around Kibera, by the descendants of Emin Pasha's Sudanese soldiers who were settled there by the British colonial administration. It was spoken by about 15,000 people in Uganda in 1991 (according to the census), and an estimated 10,000 in Kenya; another source estimates about 50,000 speakers as of 2001. 90% of the lexicon derives from Arabic,[3] but the grammar has been simplified,[4] as has the sound system. Nubi has the prefixing, suffixing and compounding processes also present in Arabic.[5]

The Nubi speakers are Kakwa who came from the Nubian region, first into Equatoria, and from there southwards into Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Ida Amin who was Kakwa, recruited the Kawa and Nubians to his army, to kill Acholi and Lango people.[6][7]

Jonathan Owens argues that Nubi constitutes a major counterexample to Derek Bickerton's theories of creole language formation, showing "no more than a chance resemblance to Bickerton's universal creole features" despite fulfilling perfectly the historical conditions expected to lead to such features.[citation needed]



Front Back
High i u
Mid e o
Low a


Bilabial Labiodental Dental Alveolar Postalveolar
or palatal
Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
Stops and
Voiceless p t k (q)
Voiced b d ɡ
Nasals m n ɲ
Fricatives Voiceless f (θ) s ʃ (x) (ħ) h
Voiced v (ð) z
Trill/Flap r
Lateral l
Semivowels j w

In Arabic words, /q θ ð x ħ/ may be used in religious contexts, or by educated Arabic speakers. Otherwise, they are normally replaced by /k t d h h/, respectively.

Text sample[edit]

"'Ina 'kan 'g-agara, ba'kan lisa 'kan 'ana 'g-agara fu 'bombo 'sudanis, 'ina 'kan 'endi 'din te min 'subu, 'asede 'din te min 'subu 'de, 'ana 'agara 'owo, ke na 'kelem ja fu 'wik 'way je'de, 'ana 'g-agara 'wwo 'mara tinen, 'yom 'tan 'de."

Note especially "'wik" (week), which is from English.


  • Heine, Bernd (1982) The Nubi Language of Kibera – an Arabic Creole. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer.
  • Boretzky, N. (1988). "Zur grammatischen Struktur des Nubi". Beiträge zum 4. Essener Kolloquium über Sprachkontakt, Sprachwandel, Sprachwechsel, Sprachtod, edited by N. Boretzky et al., 45–88. Bochum: Brockmeyer.
  • Luffin, X., Un créole arabe : le kinubi de Mombasa, Kenya, Munich, Lincom Europa, 2005 (470 p.)
  • Luffin, X., Kinubi Texts, Munich, Lincom Europa, 2004 (173 p.)
  • Luffin, X., Les verbes d’état, d’existence et de possession en kinubi, Zeitschrift für Arabische Linguistik, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz, 43, 2004 : 43–66
  • Musa-Wellens, I. (1994) A descriptive sketch of the verbal system of the Nubi language, spoken in Bombo, Uganda. MA thesis, Nijmegen.
  • Nhial, J. "Kinubi and Juba Arabic. A comparative study". In Directions in Sudanese Linguistics and Folklore, S. H. Hurriez and H. Bell, eds. Khartoum: Institute of African and Asian Studies, pp. 81–94.
  • Owens, J. Aspects of Nubi Syntax. PhD thesis, University of London.
  • Owens, J. (1985). "The origins of East African Nubi". Anthropological Linguistics. 27: 229–271. 
  • Owens, J. (1991). "Nubi, genetic linguistics, and language classification". Anthropological Linguistics. 33: 1–30. 
  • Owens, J. (1997) "Arabic-based pidgins and creoles". Contact languages: A wider perspective, edited by S.G. Thomason, 125–172. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Wellens, Dr. I.H.W. (2001) An Arabic creole in Africa: the Nubi language of Uganda (Doctoral dissertation, Nijmegen).


  1. ^ Nubi Arabic at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Nubi". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Ineke Wellens. The Nubi Language of Uganda: An Arabic Creole in Africa. BRILL, 2005 ISBN 90-04-14518-4
  4. ^ Clive Holes (2004). Modern Arabic: Structures, Functions, and Varieties. Georgetown U P. p. 421. ISBN 9781589010222. Retrieved 2017-03-23. 
  5. ^ Umberto Ansaldo; Stephen Matthews; Lisa Lim (2007). Deconstructing Creole. John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 290. ISBN 9789027229854. Retrieved 2010-01-20. 
  6. ^ Mutibwa, Phares Mukasa (1992-01-01). Uganda Since Independence: A Story of Unfulfilled Hopes. Africa World Press. ISBN 9780865433571. 
  7. ^