Kuteb language

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Native to Nigeria, Cameroon
Region Taraba State
Ethnicity Kuteb people
Native speakers
46,000 (2000)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 kub
Glottolog kute1248[2]

Kuteb (Also known as Kutep or Ati) is a Jukunoid language of Nigeria, spoken by the Kuteb people, with a thousand-or-so speakers across the border in Cameroon.


In Kuteb, there are 27 consonant phonemes, 12 vowels , and five tones.[3]


In Kuteb, there are two different sets of vowels, oral, and nasal. Phonemically, each set has six different vowels. In total, there are 12 separate phonemes. The status of ɨ being a phoneme in Kuteb is uncertain. This phoneme only occurs in closed syllables, some noun prefixes, and in verbal reduplication where there is neutralization of u and i.[3]

Table of vowel phonemes in Kuteb
Oral Vowels Nasal Vowels
Front Central Back Front Central Back
Close i










Close Mid e








Near Open ae




Open a





Kuteb has 27 different consonant phonemes. The italicized entries are found in common loan words, or, in the case of /v/ and /z/, subdialectical variation. Like most Jukunoid languages, Kuteb has velarized consonants. In one study, these are included not as modifications on the base-phoneme, but as their own separate sound.[4][5]

Table of consonant phonemes in Kuteb
Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m


n, nn [note 1]






Plosive voiced b






unvoiced p
















Affricate ts


Fricative voiced v






unvoiced f








Approximant y




Flap r


Lateral-Approximant l



In Kuteb, there are either four or five different tones, depending on how they are counted. The tones that are accepted by multiple studies are the low (unmarked), mid (¯), high (´), and falling (ˆ) tones.


According to Roger Blench, there are five different tones in Kuteb, these are: low (unmarked), mid (¯), high (´), falling (ˆ), and rising (ˇ). The fifth tone, (rising) is only created through sandhi changes that affect some vocabulary after an "upstep".[3] According to W.E. Welmers, this sandhi change does not occur, and if it did, only the pronunciation would change, not the written diacritic as well.[6]


Syllabic boundries[edit]

In Kutep, like in other Jukunoid language, most consonantal phonemes can either be labialized or palatal. If these changes are taken to be consonantal phonemic clusters, the syllabic boundaries are as follows:[7]

N - syllabic nasal, V - vowel, C - consonant
Kuteb (divided syllabically) Kuteb English Translation
N ḿ.m ḿm no
V u.fu ufu door
CV come
CVC mūm mūm dig
CCV u.kwe ukwe chief
CCVC kwáb kwáb try

Sandhi changes[edit]

The letter ⟨w⟩ in the Kuteb language retains its status as a voiced labio-velar approximant, as in uwé ‘face’ or in wōm ‘dry’ - though, when ⟨w⟩ is included in clusters with a palatal consonant (/c, j, sh, nj/) /w/, due to sandhi changes, becomes a voiced or voiceless labiodental release.

Distribution of Consonants[edit]

In Kuteb, there are many consonant clusters that can exist, though, most of these occur between word boundaries, though, some of these do occur in single-syllable isolation - these syllables are listed below. Theoretically though, any combination of syllable-final consonants (see below) followed by any syllable-initial consonant is possible. It is likely, however, that reduction would occur, as in the word ushitong ‘soup-stirrer’ (from shir and utoŋ) in which the /r/ has been dropped. Also, when final ⟨nn⟩ [note 1] stems precede stems beginning with ⟨n⟩, the double ⟨nn⟩+⟨n⟩ is reduced to just ⟨n⟩. This effect can be shown in words such as munae (munn-náe) ‘be abundant,’ and in munji (munn-nji) ‘forget.’[8]

In CV positions, the following consonants are used:[8]

  • p ts t c k   b (d) (g)    mb nd nj ŋg    f s sh h   v z   nz     m n ŋ   r l

While in C(C)VC final positions, the following are used instead:

  • b r g m n* ŋ*

And the following are used in CC clusters:

  • With Cw: pw, mbw, bw, fw, mw, sw (?), cw, njw, jw, shw, kw, ngw, and ŋw [note 2]
  • With Cy: py, mby
  • With Ck: pk, tk, fk, sk
  • With Cg: mbg, ndg

Consonant Clusters[edit]

In 1964, Peter Ladefoged recorded the phonetics of multiple West African languages. One of these languages was Kuteb, and these were his findings:[9]

Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Post-Palatal Velar
With /w/ With /y/ With /ɣ/ or /x/
pw py px ts tx tɕf kw
mbw mby mbɣ ndz ndɣ ndʒ ndʑv ŋgw
bw by dʑv (gw)
fw fy fx sk ʃf
mw my (mɣ) nay ŋw


  1. ^ a b In the standard Kuteb orthography, ⟨n⟩ is used initially and medially for /n/, while ⟨nn⟩ is used finally
  2. ^ Roger Blench notes that ⟨ŋ⟩ and ⟨ng⟩ are equivalent in the standard orthography. Here, both ⟨ŋw⟩ and ⟨ngw⟩ are listed as separate phonemes, though, the difference between them is not given


  1. ^ Kuteb at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Kutep". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ a b c Blench, Roger. Kuteb grammar. p. 19
  4. ^ Kiyoshi, Shimizu (1980). Comparative Jukunoid. Vienna, Austria: Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Afrikanistik und Ägyptlogie der Universität Wien. p. 66. 
  5. ^ Blench, Roger. Kuteb grammar. p. 20
  6. ^ Welmers, W.E. (1948). The Phonology and Morphology of Kuteb (unpublished). Sudan United Mission. pp. 105 & 173. 
  7. ^ Blench, Roger. Kuteb grammar. p. 53-54
  8. ^ a b Blench, Roger. Kuteb grammar. p. 37-38
  9. ^ Ladefoged, Peter (1964). A phonetic study of west African languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University. p. 31. ISBN 0-521-06963-7. 

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