Tennet language

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Native to South Sudan
Region Eastern Equatoria, Lafon County
Ethnicity Tennet
Native speakers
10,000 (2009)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 tex
Glottolog tenn1246[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Tennet (also Tenet (early language survey),[3] and Irenge (to the Lopit people)[4]) is a Nilo-Saharan, Eastern Sudanic, Surmic language spoken by the Tennet people. The Tennet home area is a group of five villages at the northern end of the Lopit mountains, 65 kilometers northeast of Torit.



Tennet Consonants[5]
Labial Dental Alveolar Postalveolar/
Len For Len For Len For Len For Len For
Stop voiceless p p: t t: ʈ k k:
voiced ɓ b: ɗ d: ɠ g:
voiceless t:ʃ
voiced v v: ð ð: d:ʒ ɣ
Nasal m m: n n: ɲ ŋ ŋ:
Flap/Trill r r:
Approximant w w: l l: j j:

Note that most consonants are members of a fortis/lenis pair, and that fortis may be realized phonetically in several ways: lengthening, change from ingressive to egressive, trilling, devoicing, and fricative hardening (becoming a stop).[6] Note also that the fortis counterpart of the voiced velar fricative [ɣ] has been omitted. In Randal (1995),[7] the consonant chart includes it to show the consonants in the Tennet orthography. The fortis counterpart of [ɣ] is omitted here because it is phonetically identical to the fortis counterpart of [k].


Tennet has five [+ATR] vowels and five corresponding [-ATR] vowels. The vowels are /i/, /e/, /a/, /o/, /u/, and in the current orthography, [+ATR] vowels are marked with an underline.[8] Tongue height may vary slightly without affecting the [ATR] quality of a vowel, so unlike certain West African languages (e.g. Akan and Igbo),[9] the [+ATR] /e/, for example, may actually be slightly lower than the [-ATR] /e/. The [+ATR] feature spreads from right to left, so a [+ATR] suffix will cause the vowels in a [-ATR] stem to become [+ATR]. Tennet uses [ATR] to mark lexical and grammatical distinctions.[10]

Any of the ten vowels may be lengthened. In the orthography, vowels are doubled to show length.[11]

Tennet has two level tones and a falling tone. A rising tone is treated as a low-high sequence, because it occurs only on long vowels. In the current orthography the high tone is marked with an acute accent, falling is marked with a circumflex, and low is unmarked.[12] Tone often marks grammatical relations and occasionally marks lexical distinctions.[13]


Like its closer Surmic relatives, Tennet uses multiple strategies to mark number on nouns.[14]

  • Singular suffix: Nouns that refer to things that usually occur in groups (e.g. teeth, leaves)
  • Plural suffix: Nouns referring to things that usually occur singly (e.g. turtle, carotid artery)
  • Singular suffix to mark singular and plural suffix to mark plural (e.g. pipe, waterbuck)
  • Tone change
  • Stem change (rare)

The number marking system is quite similar to that of Murle, for which Arensen[15][16] has proposed semantically based categories to group nouns that use the same strategy for marking number.

Tennet has a marked nominative system, where a noun takes a suffix when it is the subject of either a transitive or intransitive verb. A noun serving as a direct object is unmarked, and so are citation forms.[17]

In an equational clause with an implicit "be" verb, both nouns are left unmarked (the accusative form).[18]

Like other Surmic languages, Tennet uses a modified vigesimal counting system. "Six" is derived from "five and one," "seven" from "five and two," etc. "Ten" is a new word, followed by "ten and one," "ten and two," up to "ten and five and four," after which is a new word for "twenty," which means "a person" (10 fingers and 10 toes). "Forty" is "two people," sixty is "three people," etc.

Syntax and Typology[edit]

Tennet has a basic VSO word order.[19] As is the case with other Surmic languages, Tennet's word order for interrogative clauses is typologically surprising. Greenberg's Universal 12 predicts that for VSO languages, interrogative words will be sentence-initial,[20] but Tennet and its relatives have sentence-final interrogative words.[21]

The language has a category of words that have been analyzed as postpositions. If that is what they are, Tennet syntax contains another typological anomaly, since Greenberg's Universal 9 predicts prepositions for VSO languages. However, these postposition candidates also have some noun-like characteristics (case marking), and certain constructions containing indisputable nouns parallel the apparent postpositional constructions quite nicely.[22]


  1. ^ Tennet at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Tennet". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Tucker (1956)
  4. ^ Randal (1995:1)
  5. ^ Randal (1995:5)
  6. ^ Randal (1998:221)
  7. ^ Randal (1995:5)
  8. ^ Randal (1998:220)
  9. ^ Kenstowicz (1979:247-248)
  10. ^ Randal (1995:10)
  11. ^ Randal (1995:11)
  12. ^ Amargira (2011)
  13. ^ Randal (1995:74)
  14. ^ Randal (1995:30)
  15. ^ Arensen (1992)
  16. ^ Arensen (1998)
  17. ^ Randal, S. (2000:70)
  18. ^ Randal, S. (2000:72)
  19. ^ Randal (1995)
  20. ^ Greenberg (1966:111)
  21. ^ Arensen, et al. (1997:77)
  22. ^ Randal, A. (2000:64)


  • Amargira, Adelino. 2006. "Derivational Forms and the Nature of Modifiers in Tennet," in Al-Amin Abu-Manga, Leoma Gilley, and Anne Storch (eds.), Insights into Nilo-Saharan Language, History and Culture: Proceedings of the 9th Nilo-Saharan Linguistics Colloquium, Institute of African and Asian Studies, University of Khartoum, 16–19 February 2004. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.
  • Amargira, Adelino. 2011. "The function of tone in Tennet," in Matthias Brenzinger (ed.), Proceedings of the 6th World Congress of African Linguistics Cologne 2009, Köln, Germany. Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.
  • 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. 181–218. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.
  • Arensen, Jonathan, 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. Nairobi: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
  • Greenberg Joseph. 1966. "Some universals of grammar with particular reference to the order of meaningful elements." In Joseph Greenberg, ed., Universals of Human Language, 73-113, 2nd ed. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Kenstowicz, Michael & Charles Kisseberth. 1979. Generative phonology. San Diego: Academic Press.
  • Randal, Allison. 2000. "Does Tennet have postpositions?" Occasional papers in the study of Sudanese languages. 8:57-66. Nairobi: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
  • Randal, Scott. 1998. "A grammatical sketch of Tennet," in Gerrit Dimmendaal (ed.), Surmic Languages and Cultures. 219–272. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.
  • Randal, Scott. 1995. "Nominal morphology in Tennet," M.A. thesis, University of Texas at Arlington.
  • Randal, Scott. 2000. "Tennet's ergative origins," Occasional papers in the study of Sudanese languages. 8:67-80. Nairobi: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
  • Tucker, Archibald N. & Margaret A. Bryan. 1956. The non-Bantu languages of northeastern Africa. "Handbook of African languages, 3." London: Oxford University Press for International African Institute.

External links[edit]