Native toUganda, South Sudan
Native speakers
1.5 million in Uganda (2014 census)[1]
27,000 in South Sudan (2000)[1]
  • Labwor (leb Thur)
  • Nyakwai
  • Dhopaluo (Chope)
Language codes
ISO 639-2ach
ISO 639-3Either:
ach – Acholi/ Acoli
lth – Thur
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A man speaking Acholi.

Acholi (also Leb Acoli, or Leb Lwo) is a Southern Luo dialect spoken by the Acholi people in the districts of Gulu, Kitgum, Amuru, Lamwo, Agago, Nwoya, Omoro and Pader (a region known as Acholiland) in northern Uganda. It is also spoken in South Sudan in Magwi County, Eastern Equatoria.

Song of Lawino, well known in African literature, was written in Acholi by Okot p'Bitek, although its sequel, Song of Ocol, was written in English.[1]

Acholi, Alur, and Jo Padola have between 84 and 90 per cent of their vocabulary in common[2] and are mutually intelligible.[dubious ] However, they are often counted as separate languages because their speakers are ethnically distinct. Labwor (Thur), once considered a dialect of Acholi, may not be intelligible with it.[2]


Acholi has vowel harmony: all vowels in a word have to belong to a single class (e.g. [kojo] the cold vs. [kɔjɔ] to separate). There are two sets of five vowels, distinguished by the feature [+/-ATR].

[-ATR] vowels in Acholi
Front Central Back
Near-close ɪ ʊ
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a
[+ATR] vowels in Acholi
Front Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open ɑ
Acholi consonants
Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar
plain lab.
voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡ
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Rhotic r
Approximant l j w

/pʷ/ and /bʷ/ sounds may also sound as labial affricates [pf] and [bv].[3]

Acholi is a tonal language. Thus, some words may be distinguished by tone alone, e.g. bèl (low) 'wrinkled' vs. bél (high) 'corn' and kàl (low) 'place enclosed by a palisade' vs. kál (high) 'millet'. Tone furthermore plays a role in verb conjugation.

Recent work

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The above were the old work of the missionaries Alfred Malandra and Crazzolara published in 1955. However, a more up-to-date Acholi orthography by Janet Lakareber shows that a vowel in Acholi language has more than two pronunciations.[4] A monosyllabic word in Acholi has 14 different pronunciations. This is explained in the nine books of Acoli Accented Orthography.[5]

Notes and references


  1. ^ Heron, G.A., 1972, Introduction p. 8 in p'Bitek, Okot, 1984.
  2. ^ Ladefoged et al., 1972:80.


  1. ^ a b Acholi/ Acoli at Ethnologue (23rd ed., 2020) Closed access icon
    Thur at Ethnologue (23rd ed., 2020) Closed access icon
  2. ^ "Registration authority request for change of language code" (PDF).
  3. ^ Malandra, Alfred (1955). A New Acholi Grammar. Kampala: Eagle Press.
  4. ^ "Acoli Accented Orthography with diacritical marks". Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  5. ^ "Acoli Accented Orthography with diacritical marks". Retrieved 3 May 2019.