Native toKenya and Tanzania
RegionNyanza province of Kenya and Mara Region of Tanzania
Native speakers
4.2 million (2009 census)[1]
Latin, Luo script
Language codes
ISO 639-2luo
ISO 639-3luo

The Dholuo dialect (pronounced [d̪ólúô][2]) or Nilotic Kavirondo, is a dialect of the Luo group of Nilotic languages, spoken by about 4.2 million Luo people of Kenya and Tanzania,[3] who occupy parts of the eastern shore of Lake Victoria and areas to the south. It is used for broadcasts on Ramogi TV and KBC (Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, formerly the Voice of Kenya).

Dholuo is mutually intelligible with Alur, Acholi, Adhola and Lango of Uganda. Dholuo and the aforementioned Uganda languages are all linguistically related to Dholuo of South Sudan and Anuak of Ethiopia due to common ethnic origins of the larger Luo peoples who speak Luo languages.

It is estimated that Dholuo has 93% lexical similarity with Dhopadhola (Adhola), 90% with Leb Alur (Alur), 83% with Leb Achol (Acholi) and 81% with Leb Lango. However, these are often counted as separate languages despite common ethnic origins due to linguistic shift occasioned by geographical movement.

Literacy (Of the Luo from South Nyanza)

Contains the area in which the Seventh-day Adventist British East Africa Mission worked. Rusinga Island and the town of Kisii are marked.

The foundations of the Dholuo written language and today's Dholuo literary tradition, as well as the modernization of the Joluo people in Kenya, began in 1907 with the arrival of a Canadian-born Seventh-day Adventist missionary Arthur Asa Grandville Carscallen, whose missionary work over a period of about 14 years along the eastern shores of Lake Victoria left a legacy. (This applies only to the Luo of Southern Nyanza, which are to the East of Lake Victoria). This legacy continues today through the Obama family of Kenya and the Seventh-day Adventist Church to which the Obamas and many other Joluo converted in the early part of the 20th century as residents of the region that Carscallen was sent to proselytize. The Obamas of Kenya are relatives of former US president Barack Obama.[4]

From 1906 to 1921, Carscallen was superintendent of the Seventh-day Adventist Church's British East Africa Mission, and was charged with establishing missionary stations in eastern Kenya near Lake Victoria and proselytizing among the local population. These stations would include Gendia, Wire Hill, Rusinga Island, Kanyadoto, Karungu, Kisii (Nyanchwa), and Kamagambo. In 1913, he acquired a small press for the Mission and set up a small printing operation at Gendia in order to publish church materials, but also used it to impact education and literacy in the region.

Over a period of about five years administering to largely Jaluo congregations, Carscallen achieved a mastery of the Dholuo language and was credited with being the first to reduce the language to writing, publishing the Elementary grammar of the Nilotic-Kavirondo language (Dhö Lwo), together with some useful phrases, English-Kavirondo and Kavirondo-English vocabulary, and some exercises with key to the same in 1910. Then, just a little more than two years later, the mission translated portions of the New Testament from English to Dholuo, which were later published by the British and Foreign Bible Society.[5]

In 2019, Jehovah’s Witnesses released the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures in the Luo language. The bible translation seeks clear, modern expression[6] and it's distributed without charge, both printed and online versions.

The grammar textbook Carscallen produced was widely used for many years throughout eastern Kenya, but his authorship of it is largely forgotten. It was later retitled, Dho-Luo for Beginners, and republished in 1936. In addition to the grammar text, Carscallen compiled an extensive dictionary of "Kavirondo" (Dholuo) and English, which is housed at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, UK. Neither of these works has been superseded, only updated, with new revised versions of the linguistic foundation that Carscallen established in 1910.[7]



Dholuo has two sets of five vowels, distinguished by the feature [±ATR] which is carried primarily on the first formant. While ATR is phonemic in the language, various phonological vowel harmony processes play a major role and can change the ATR of the vowel at output. A current change in certain dialects of Dholuo is that certain pronouns seem to be losing the ATR contrast and instead use [±ATR] in free variance.[8]

[−ATR] vowels in Dholuo
Front Central Back
Near-close ɪ ʊ
Mid ɛ ɔ
Open ɐ
[+ATR] vowels in Dholuo
Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e o
Open a


In the table of consonants below, orthographic symbols are included between angle brackets following the IPA symbols. Note especially the following: the use of ⟨y⟩ for /j/, common in African orthographies; ⟨th⟩, ⟨dh⟩ are plosives, not fricatives as in Swahili spelling (but phoneme // can fricativize intervocalically).[9]

Phonetic inventory of consonants in Dholuo
Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m ⟨m⟩ n ⟨n⟩ ɲ ⟨ny⟩ ŋ ⟨ngʼ⟩
Plosive prenasalized ᵐb ⟨mb⟩ ⁿd ⟨nd⟩ ᶮɟ ⟨nj⟩ ᵑɡ ⟨ng⟩
voiceless p ⟨p⟩ ⟨th⟩ t ⟨t⟩ c ⟨ch⟩ k ⟨k⟩
voiced b ⟨b⟩ ⟨dh⟩ d ⟨d⟩ ɟ ⟨j⟩ ɡ ⟨g⟩
Fricative f ⟨f⟩ s ⟨s⟩ h ⟨h⟩
Trill r ⟨r⟩
Approximant w ⟨w⟩ l ⟨l⟩ j ⟨y⟩

Phonological characteristics

Dholuo is a tonal language. There is both lexical tone and grammatical tone, e.g. in the formation of passive verbs.[10] It has vowel harmony by ATR status: the vowels in a noncompound word must be either all [+ATR] or all [−ATR]. The ATR-harmony requirement extends to the semivowels /w/, /ɥ/.[11][clarification needed] Vowel length is contrastive.


Dholuo is notable for its complex phonological alternations, which are used, among other things, in distinguishing inalienable possession from alienable. The first example is a case of alienable possession, as the bone is not part of the dog.





(chok guok)


chogo guok

bone dog

'the dog's bone' (which it is eating)

The following is however an example of inalienable possession, the bone being part of the cow:


bone (construct state)



chok dhiang'

{bone (construct state)} cow

'a cow bone'[12]

Sample phrases

English Luo
hello misawa (ber)
How are you? Idhi nade? Intie nade?
I'm fine. Adhi maber.
What is your name? Nyingi ng'a?
My name is… Nyinga en…
I am happy to see you. Amor neni.
Where do you come from? In jakanye?
good morning oyawore
good evening oimore
God bless you. Nyasaye ogwedhi.
good job tich maber
Salvation resruok
goodbye oriti
I want water. Adwaro pi.
I am thirsty. Riyo deya. / Riyo omaka. / Riyo ohinga.
thank you erokamano
child nyathi
student (university student) nyathi skul, japuonjre (ja mbalariany)
come bi
go dhiyo
take kaw
return dwok
come back dwogi
sit bedi
stand / stop chung' / wee
hunger kech
I am starved. Kech kaya.
father wuoro [Dinka] wur
mother miyo [Dinka] mor mer
God Nyasaye, Nyakalaga, Were, Obong'o ( Different names associated with different attributes of God)
Lord (God) Ruoth (Nyasaye)
God is good Nyasaye ber
help kony [Dinka] ba kony
man dichuo
woman dhako
boy wuoyi (wuowi)
girl nyako [Dinka] nya
book buk, [Alego/Seme] buge
youth rawera
pen randiki
shorts onyasa
trousers long'
table mesa
plate tao
lock rarind, ralor
leader jatelo
bring kel
Go back there. Dog kucha.
Come back here. Duog ka.
ask / query penj
question penjo
run ringi [Dinka]
walk wuothi
jump dum / chikri [Alego/Seme]
rain koth
sun chieng'
moon dwe / duee
stars sulwe
ti work
fish rech [Dinka]
cold koyo
I want to eat. Adwaro chiemo.
I have something to say An gi wach
grandfather kwaro [Dinka] / kwar
grandmother dayo [Dinka] / day
white man ja rachar / ombogo / ja wagunda
cow / cattle dwasi / dhiang'
sing wer [Dinka]
song wer
good, beautiful ber, jaber
bad rach
marriage kend [Dinka], "keny" is the process, "thiek" is the marriage
marry kendo
tomorrow kiny
today kawuono
here ka / kae
there (close by) kacha / kocha
there (far) kucho
child nyathi
money omenda / chung' / oboke / sendi / pesa
gun bunde
gun fire maj bunde
start chaki
dream leki
stand chung'
abroad loka
talk wuo
sit bedi
praise pak
eat chiem
fire mach
I want ugali. Adwaro kuon.
maize, corn oduma, bando
maize and beans nyoyo
taxi matatu (Swahili)
farm puodho (Alego-Ndalo)
plough / dig out pur / kuny
flying (in the air) fuyo
fly (insect) lwang'ni
stream (river) aora
lake nam
ocean ataro
please asayi


  1. ^ Luo at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Tucker 25
  3. ^ Ethnologue report for Luo
  4. ^ Peter Firstbrook, The Obamas: The Untold Story of an African Family. Crown Publishers, 2011. p. 106.
  5. ^ Firstbrook, Ibid., p. 126; Arthur Asa Grandville Carscallen, Elementary grammar of the Nilotic-Kavirondo language (Dhö Lwo), together with some useful phrases, English-Kavirondo and Kavirondo-English vocabulary, and some exercises with key to the same. London: St. Joseph's Foreign Missionary Society, 1910.; Dictionary of African Christian Biography — Arthur Asa Grandville Carscallen.
  6. ^ "Jehovah's Witnesses Release Luo-Language New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures in Kenya".
  7. ^ Arthur Asa Grandville Carscallen, Kavirondo Dictionary. Mimeographed, n.d. 374p. (SOAS Collections). Luo and English; Melvin K. Hendrix, An International Bibliography of African Lexicons. Scarecrow Press, 1982.
  8. ^ Swenson, Janel (2015). "ATR Quality in the Luo Vowel System". Canada Institute of Linguistics, EWP. 1: 102–145 – via CanIL.
  9. ^ Tucker §1.43
  10. ^ Okoth Okombo §1.3.4
  11. ^ Tucker §1.3, §1.42
  12. ^ Tucker A. N. A Grammar of Kenya Luo (Dholuo). 1994:198.