Temne language

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Native toSierra Leone
RegionCentral Sierra Leone
Native speakers
2.5 million (2006)[1]
Official status
Official language in
 Sierra Leone
Language codes
ISO 639-2tem
ISO 639-3tem

Temne (also Themne, Timne; IPA: [t̪emnɛ][missing the tones]) is a language of the Mel branch of the Niger–Congo language family, spoken in Sierra Leone by about 2.5 million first-language speakers. One of the country's most widely spoken languages, it is spoken by 36% of the country’s population.[citation needed] It also serves as a lingua franca for an additional 1,800,000 people living in areas near the Temne people. It is closely related to the neighboring Kissi language.

It is related to the Baga languages spoken in Guinea and to Sherbro spoken in Sierra Leone. Themne speakers live mostly in the Northern Province and Western Area (Freetown and its environs) of Sierra Leone. Temne speakers can also be found in all 14 districts of Sierra Leone. Temne people can be found in a number of other West African countries as well, including Guinea and The Gambia. Some Temnes have also migrated beyond West Africa seeking educational and professional opportunities, especially in Great Britain, the United States, and Egypt.


Temne is a tonal language, with four tones. Among consonants, Temne distinguishes dental and alveolar, but, unusually, the dental consonants are apical and the alveolar consonants are laminal (and slightly affricated), the opposite of the general pattern, though one found also in the nearby language Limba.[3] [4]


Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive voiceless p t k
voiced b d gb
Fricative f s ʃ h
Nasal m n ŋ
Trill r
Lateral l
Approximant w j


Front Mid Back
Close i u
Close-mid e ə o
Open-mid ɛ ʌ ɔ
Open a


The alphabet of Temne includes the following characters and digraphs:[4]

a ʌ b d e ɛ ə f gb h i k l m n ŋ o ɔ p r s t th u w
A Ʌ B D E Ɛ Ə F Gb H I K L M N Ŋ O Ɔ P R S T Th U W

Earlier, Ȧȧ was used instead of Ʌʌ


  1. ^ Temne at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Timne". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Ladefoged, Peter; Maddieson, Ian (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 23, 42. ISBN 978-0-631-19815-4.
  4. ^ a b Peace Corps, 1987, Sierra Leone Temne Language Manual.
  5. ^ Kanu, Sullay M.; Tucker, Benjamin V. (2010). "Temne". Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 40 (2): 249. doi:10.1017/S002510031000006X.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)


  • Bai-Sharka, Abou (1986) Temne names and proverbs (Stories and songs from Sierra Leone vol. 19). Freetown: People’s Educational Association of Sierra Leone.
  • Kamarah, Sheikh Umarr (2007) A descriptive grammar of KʌThemnɛ (Temne). Munich: Lincom Europa.
  • Peace Corps (1987) Sierra Leone Temne Language Manual. Washington, DC: Peace Corps.
  • Turay, Abdul Karim (1989) Temne stories. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.
  • Wilson, W.A.A. (1961) An outline of the Temne language. London: University of London / SOAS.
  • Yillah, M. Sorie (1992) Temne phonology and morphology [Unpublished thesis. New York: City University of New York]. Ann Arbor: UMI.

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