Murle language

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Native toSouth Sudan, Ethiopia
EthnicityMurle people
Native speakers
(60,000 cited 1982)[1]
nearly extinct in Ethiopia
  • Olam (Ngalam)
  • Omo
Latin (in South Sudan)
Language codes
ISO 639-3mur

Murle (also Ajibba, Beir, Merule, Mourle,Murule) is a Nilo-Saharan Eastern Sudanic language spoken by the Murle people, spoken in the southeast of South Sudan, near the Ethiopian border. A very small number of Murle live across the border in southwestern Ethiopia.

They speak the Murle language, which belongs to the Southwestern branch of the Surmic languages group, within the larger Nilo-Saharan family.

The basic word order for Murle clauses is VSO (verb–subject–object).[3] The morphology of the verb agrees with the person and number of the subject, and can also indicate that of the object. Some typologically exceptional points of grammar are discussed by Arensen, et al., such as that VSO languages have been predicted to not have postpositions or final interrogatives.[4]

Marking of number on nouns in Murle is complex, with no single suffix being generally productive. Some nouns are marked with a singulative suffix, some with a plural suffix, some with both, and a few with irregular stems for each number. Arensen has proposed a set of semantically based categories (such as association with men, or with weather and seasons) to try to predict which suffixes will be used (1992, 1998).

Payne (2006)[5] has proposed analyzing some cases as examples of subtractive morphology. Payne proposes that these two forms exemplify how Murle plurals can be predicted from singular forms, but not vice versa.

onyiit 'rib' onyii 'ribs'

rottin 'warrior' rotti 'warriors'

However, the same final consonants are found in productive marking of singulative number in Majang, another Surmic language, e.g. ŋɛɛti-n 'louse', ŋɛɛti 'lice'.[6] Also, final -t has been shown to be a singulative suffix in Murle and other Surmic languages,[7] fitting the pattern of T for singular and K for plural pointed out by Margaret Bryant.[8] If these final consonants are analyzed as singulative suffixes, it means that the claim of unusual discovery of subtractive morphology in Murle is incorrect. Rather, Murle is shown to have a frequent pattern of singulative suffixes.

The New Testament has been translated into the Murle language.


  1. ^ Murle at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Murle". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ (Arensen 1982)
  4. ^ Arensen, Jon, Nicky de Jong, Scott Randal, Peter Unseth. 1997. "Interrogatives in Surmic Languages and Greenberg's Universals", Occasional Papers in the Study of Sudanese Languages 7:71–90.
  5. ^ Payne, Thomas (2006). Exploring language structure : a student's guide. Cambridge, UK New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 44, 45. ISBN 0-521-67150-7.
  6. ^ p. 124; Bender, M. Lionel. 1983. Majang phonology and morphology. In Nilo-Saharan Language Studies, ed. by M. Lionel Bender, 114-147. East Lansing: Michigan State University.
  7. ^ p. 86. Unseth, Peter. 1988. Majang nominal plurals, with comparative notes. Studies in African Linguistics 19.1:75-91.
  8. ^ Bryan, Margaret. 1959. The T/K languages: A new substratum. Africa 29:1-21.


  • Arensen, Jonathan E. 1982. Murle grammar. Occasional Papers in the Study of Sudanese Languages 2. Juba: Summer Institute of Linguistics and University of Juba.
  • Arensen, Jonathan E. 1988. "Names in the life cycles of the Murle". Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford 19: 125-130.
  • Arensen, Jonathan E. 1989. "On comparing language relationships: A case study of Murle, Kacipo and Tirma". Occasional Papers in the Study of Sudanese Languages 6: 67-76
  • Arensen, Jonathan E. 1991. Aspects of language and society among the Murle of Sudan. D.Phil. thesis. Wolfson College, Oxford University.
  • Arensen, Jonathan E. 1992. Mice are men: Language and society among the Murle of Sudan. International Museum of Cultures Publication, 27. Dallas: International Museum of Cultures.
  • Arensen, Jonathan E. 1998. "Murle categorization" in Gerrit Dimmendaal and Marco Last (eds.), Surmic Languages and Cultures. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag. pp. 181–218.
  • Lyth, R. E. 1971. The Murle Language: Grammar and Vocabulary. Linguistic Monograph Papers 7 Khartoum: University of Khartoum.
  • Miller, Cynthia. 1984. "Connectives in Murle epistolary discourse". Occasional Papers in the Study of Sudanese Languages 5: 81-134.
  • Unseth, Peter. 1986. "Word Order Shift in Negative Sentences of Surma Languages". Afrikanistische Arbeitspapiere 5: 135-143.
  • Unseth, Peter. 2007. "Murle language" in Siegbert Uhlig (ed.) Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, Vol 3. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. pp. 1076–1077.
  • Yigezu, Moges. 2001. A Comparative Study of the Phonetics and Phonology of Surmic Languages. Université Libre de Bruxelles.

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