Dinka language

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Native toSudan, South Sudan
EthnicityDinka people
Native speakers
1.3 million (ca. 2008-2016; some figures undated)[1]
Latin alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-2din
ISO 639-3dininclusive code
Individual codes:
dip – Northeastern (Padang)
diw – Northwestern (Ruweng)
dib – South Central (Agar)
dks – Southeastern: Twi


dik – Southwestern (Rek & Twic)
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Dinka (natively Thuɔŋjäŋ, Thuɔŋ ee Jieng or simply Jieng) is a Nilotic dialect cluster spoken by the Dinka people, the major ethnic group of South Sudan. There are several main varieties, Padang, Rek, Agaar, Awiel, Twic Mayardit, Hol, Nyarweng, Twi and Bor, which are distinct enough (though mutually intelligible) to require separate literary standards. Jaang, Jieng or Monyjieng is used as a general term to cover all Dinka languages. Rek is the standard and prestige dialect.

The language most related to Dinka is Nuer, the language of the Dinka's traditional rivals; the Luo languages are also closely related. The Dinka vocabulary shows considerable proximity to Nubian, which is probably due to medieval interactions between the Dinka people and the kingdom of Alodia.[3]

The Dinka are found mainly along the Nile, specifically the west bank of the White Nile, a major tributary flowing north from Uganda, north and south of the Sudd marsh in southwestern and south central Sudan in three provinces: Bahr el Ghazal, Upper Nile and Southern Kurdufan.

Linguistic features[edit]



There are 20 consonant phonemes:

Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Plosive p b t d c ɟ k ɡ
Sonorant w l ɾ j ɣ


Dinka has a rich vowel system, with at least thirteen phonemically contrastive vowels; the underdots ([◌̤]) indicate "breathy" vowels, represented in Dinka orthography by diaereses (⟨◌̈⟩):

Front Back
plain breathy plain breathy
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open-mid ɛ ɛ̤ ɔ ɔ̤
Open a

On top of this, there are three phonemically contrastive vowel lengths, a feature found in very few languages.[4] Most Dinka verb roots are single, closed syllables with either a short or a long vowel; some inflections lengthen that vowel:

  • /lèl/ 'isolate\2sg'
  • /lèːl/ 'isolate\3sg'
  • /léːl/ 'provoke\2sg'
  • /lèːːl/ 'provoke\3sg'
short ràaan ā-lèl "You are isolating a person (ràaan)."
long ràaan ā-lèel "He is isolating a person."
overlong lràaan ā-lèeel "He is provoking a person."

Voice quality is also a factor, with four different phonetic types present: modal voice, breathy voice, faucalized voice, and harsh voice in its vowels. Of these, only modal and breathy are phonologically contrastive.[5][failed verification]


The extensive use of tone and its interaction with morphology is a notable feature of all dialects of Dinka; the Bor dialects all have four tonemes at the syllable level: Low, High, Mid, and Fall.[6]

In Bor proper, falling tone is not found on short vowels except as an inflection for the passive in the present tense. In Nyaarweng and Twïc it is not found at all. In Bor proper, and perhaps in other dialects as well, Fall is only realized as such at the end of a prosodic phrase. Elsewhere it becomes High.

In Bor proper and perhaps other dialects, a Low tone is only phonetically low after another low tone. Elsewhere it is falling, but not identical to Fall: It does not become High in the middle of a phrase, and speakers can distinguish the two falling tones despite the fact that they have the same range of pitch; the difference appears to be in the timing: with Fall one hears a high level tone that then falls, whereas the falling allophone of Low starts falling and then levels out. (That is, one falls on the first mora of the vowel, whereas the other falls on the second mora.) This is unusual because it has been theorized that such timing differences are never phonemic.[7]


This language exhibits vowel ablaut or apophony, the change of internal vowels (similar to English goose/geese):[8]

Singular Plural gloss vowel alternation
dom dum 'field/fields' (o–u)
kat kɛt 'frame/frames' (a–ɛ)


Linguists divide Dinka into five languages or dialect clusters corresponding to their geographic location with respect to each other:

Northeastern and western: Padang da Ayuel jiel (Abarlang, Nyiël, Ageer, Dongjol). Luäc da (Akook, Wieu, Aguer), Ngok de Jok (Upper Nile), Rut, Thoi, Western: Ngók de Jok Athuorkok (Abiei), Ngok de Jok da Awet and Kuel of Ruweeng (Panaru, Aloor and Paweny)

South Central: Aliap, Ciëc (Jang), Gok, and Agar

Southeastern (Bor): Bor (Bor Super, Bor proper, Bor South, Bor Asili), Ngok-Alual/Padang da Ayuel Jiel (Hol, Nyaarweng, and Twïc)

Southwestern: Rek, Abiëm, Aguók, Apuk, Awan, Kuac, Lóu, Luäc/Luänyjang, Malual (Malualgiėrnyang), Paliët, Paliëupiny, Twïc

See Ethnologue online map of Sudan for locations of dialects.

Writing system[edit]

Dinka has been written with several Latin alphabets since the early 20th century; the current alphabet is:

a ä b c d dh e ë ɛ ɛ̈ g ɣ i ï j k l m n nh ny ŋ t th u w o ö ɔ ɔ̈ p r y

Variants in other alphabets include:

Current letter Alternatives
ė ("e" with a dot on top)
h, x, q
ȯ ("o" with a dot on top)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dinka at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Northeastern (Padang) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Northwestern (Ruweng) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    South Central (Agar) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Southeastern: Twi Nyarweng Hol at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Southwestern (Rek & Twic) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Dinka". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Beswick 2004, p. 21.
  4. ^ Remijsen, Bert (2013). "Tonal alignment is contrastive in falling contours in Dinka" (PDF). Language. 89 (2): 297–327. doi:10.1353/lan.2013.0023.
  5. ^ Remijsen, Bert (2013). "Tonal alignment is contrastive in falling contours in Dinka" (PDF). Language. 89 (2): 297–327. doi:10.1353/lan.2013.0023.
  6. ^ Remijsen, Bert (2013). "Tonal alignment is contrastive in falling contours in Dinka" (PDF). Language. 89 (2): 297–327. doi:10.1353/lan.2013.0023.
  7. ^ Silverman, Daniel (1997). "Tone sandhi in Comaltepec Chinantec". Language. 73 (3): 473–92. doi:10.2307/415881. JSTOR 415881.
  8. ^ After Bauer 2003:35

Other resources[edit]

  • Andersen T. (1987). "The phonemic system of Agar Dinka". Journal of African Languages and Linguistics 9, 1–27.
  • Andersen T. (1990). "Vowel length in Western Nilotic languages". Acta Linguistica Hafniensia 22, 5–26.
  • Andersen T. (1991). "Subject and topic in Dinka". Studies in Language 15, 265–294.
  • Andersen T. (1993). "Vowel quality alternation in Dinka verb inflection". Phonology 10, 1–42.
  • Beltrame, G. (1870). Grammatica della lingua denka. Firenze: G. Civelli.
  • Beswick, Stephanie (2004). Sudan's Blood Memory. University of Rochester. ISBN 1580462316.
  • Deng, Makwei Mabioor (2010). Piööcku Thuoŋjäŋ: The Elementary Modern Standard Dinka (Multilingual Edition), Xlibris, ISBN 1-4500-5240-1.[self-published source]
  • Malou, Job. (1988) Dinka Vowel System. Summer Institute of Linguistics and the University of Texas at Arlington Publications in Linguistics. ISBN 0-88312-008-9.
  • Mitterrutzner, J. C. (1866). Die Dinka-Sprache in Central-Afrika; Kurze Grammatik, Text und Worterbuch. Brixen: A. Weger.
  • Nebel, A. (1979). Dinka–English, English–Dinka dictionary. 2nd. ed. Editrice Missionaria Italiana, Bologna.
  • Nebel, A. (1948). Dinka Grammar (Rek-Malual dialect) with texts and vocabulary. Instituto Missioni Africane, Verona.
  • Trudinger. R. (1942–44). English-Dinka Dictionary. Sudan Interior Mission
  • Turhan, S. and S. Hagin. (2005) Milet Picture Dictionary English-Dinka. (at WorldLanguage.com).

External links[edit]