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Dinka language

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Title: Dinka language  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Languages of South Sudan, Kenyan Australian, Languages of Sudan, African Australian, Demographics of South Sudan
Collection: Languages of South Sudan, Languages of Sudan, Western Nilotic Languages
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Dinka language

This article is about the language, for the ethnic group see Dinka.

Pronunciation [t̪uɔŋ.ɟa̤ŋ]
Native to South Sudan and neighboring areas
Ethnicity Dinka people
Native speakers
unknown (1.4 million cited 1982–1986; some figures undated)[1]
Latin alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-2 din
ISO 639-3 dininclusive code
Individual codes:
dip – Northeastern (Padang)
diw – Northwestern (Ruweng)
dib – South Central (Agar)
dks – Southeastern (Bor, Twic, Nyarweng & Hol)
dik – Southwestern (Rek & Twic)

Dinka, or Thuɔŋjäŋ, is a Nilotic dialect cluster spoken by the Dinka people, the major ethnic group of South Sudan. There are five main varieties, Ngok, Rek, Agaar, Twic, Dinka Leekrieth and Bor, which are distinct enough to require separate literary standards and thus to be considered separate languages. Jaang or Jieng is used as a general term to cover all Dinka languages. Rek is the standard and prestige dialect.

The closest non-Dinka language is Nuer, the language of the Dinka's traditional rivals. The Luo languages are also closely related.

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 1
    • Phonology 1.1
    • Morphology 1.2
  • Tones 2
  • Dialects of Dinka 3
  • Writing Dinka 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Other resources 7
  • External links 8

Linguistic features


There are 20 consonant phonemes:

Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Stop p b t d c ɟ k ɡ
Fricative ɣ
j w
Rhotic ɾ

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

There may be other distinctions. The Dinka southeastern dialect is known to contrast modal voice, breathy voice, faucalized voice, and harsh voice in its vowels, in addition to its three tones. The ad hoc diacritics employed in the literature are a subscript double quotation mark for faucalized voice, [a͈], and an underline for harsh voice, [a].[2] Examples are:

Voice modal breathy harsh faucalized
Bor Dinka tɕìt̪ tɕì̤t̪ ì tɕì͈t̪
Meaning diarrhea go ahead scorpions to swallow


This language exhibits vowel ablaut or apophony, the change of internal vowels (similar to English goose/geese, though this is historically an umlaut):[3]

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


Dinka is a tonal language.

Dialects of Dinka

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

Northeastern and -western: Abiliang, Nyiël, Dongjol, Luäc, Ngok Lual Yak, Ageer, Rut, Thoi, Alor, Ngók Deng Kuol, Panaru, and Paweny.

South Central: Aliap, Ciëc, Gok, and Agar

Southeastern: Bor, 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 Dinka

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


  1. ^ Dinka at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
    Northeastern (Padang) at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
    Northwestern (Ruweng) at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
    South Central (Agar) at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
    Southeastern (Bor, Twic, Nyarweng & Hol) at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
    Southwestern (Rek & Twic) at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Edmondson, Jerold A.; John H. Esling (2005). The valves of the throat and their functioning in tone, vocal register, and stress: laryngoscopic case studies. 
  3. ^ After Bauer 2003:35

Other resources

  • 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.
  • Deng, Makwei Mabioor (2010). Piööcku Thuoŋjäŋ: The Elementary Modern Standard Dinka (Multilingual Edition), Xlibris, ISBN 1-4500-5240-1.
  • 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
  • Tuttle. Milet Picture Dictionary English-Dinka. (at

External links

  • OpenRoad page on Dinka
  • Dinka Language Institute (Australia) (DLIA) multilingual site on Dinka, including in Dinka
  • PanAfrican L10n page on Dinka
  • Dinka alphabet on
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