Native toSouth Sudan
Native speakers
4.2 million (2017)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-2din
ISO 639-3din – inclusive code
Individual codes:
dip – Northeastern (Padang)
diw – Northwestern (Ruweng)
dib – South Central (Gok, Agar, Ciec, Apaak and Aliap)
dks – Southeastern: (Bor, Nyarweng, Hol, Twi)
dik – Southwestern (Rek & Twic)
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Dinka (natively Thuɔŋjäŋ, Thoŋ ë Jieng or simply Jieng) is a Nilotic dialect cluster spoken by the Dinka people, a major ethnic group of South Sudan. There are several main varieties, such as Padang, Rek, Agaar, Ciec, Apaak, Aliab, Bor, Hol, Nyarweng, Twic Bor and Twic Mayardit, which are distinct enough (though mutually intelligible) to require separate literary standards. Jaang, Jieng or Muonyjieng is used as a general term to cover all Dinka languages. Recently Akutmɛ̈t Latueŋ Thuɔŋjäŋ (the Dinka Language Development Association) has proposed a unified written grammar of Dinka.

The language most closely related to Dinka is the Nuer language. 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.[2]

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 South Kordofan state of Sudan as well as Bahr el Ghazal region and Upper Nile state of South Sudan.

Linguistic features

See also: Dinka alphabet



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 thirteen phonemically contrastive short vowels. There are seven vowel qualities plus a two-way distinction in phonation. The underdots, [◌̤], mark the breathy voice series, represented in Dinka orthography by diaereses, ⟨◌̈⟩. Unmarked vowels are modal or creaky voiced.

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

Four phonetic phonations have been described in Dinka vowels: modal voice, breathy voice, faucalized voice, and harsh voice. The modal series has creaky or harsh voice realizations in certain environments, while the breathy vowels are centralized and have been described as being hollow voiced (faucalized). This is independent of tone.[3]

On top of this, there are three phonemically contrastive vowel lengths, a feature found in very few languages.[3] Most Dinka verb roots are single, closed syllables with either a short or a long vowel. Some inflections lengthen that vowel:

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."


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.[3]

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[4] 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 phonetically low only 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.[5]


This language exhibits vowel ablaut or apophony, the change of internal vowels (similar to English goose/geese):[6]

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:


South Central:




These would be largely mutually intelligible if it were not for the importance of tone in grammatical inflection, as the grammatical function of tone differs from one variety to another.

See Ethnologue online map of Sudan for locations of dialects.

Writing system

Main article: Dinka alphabet

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)

A Dinka alphabet based on the Nilerian script[clarification needed] has been created by Aleu Majok Aleu.[7]

In 2020 a new Dinka writing system (Nilotic Script) was introduced by Deng Chol, the new script is developed from ancient Meroëtic writing system, https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=pfbid0244koadcEeYxCqJ8L6s8LZq9DxfyFdfGo8YSamiMqz247YAewH7gQRSE3Uhz9tzAzl&id=111062937332780&mibextid=2JQ9oc

Sample Text

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[8]

Dinka:  Raan thök eben aye dhëëth ka lau nhöm kua thöŋ nhiim eyithiic, kua thɛ̈kic, kua ci yëknhiethku puou, ku bik cëŋ ka ke ye mith etik.

English:  All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

See also


  1. ^ Dinka at Ethnologue (26th ed., 2023) Closed access icon
    Northeastern (Padang) at Ethnologue (26th ed., 2023) Closed access icon
    Northwestern (Ruweng) at Ethnologue (26th ed., 2023) Closed access icon
    South Central (Gok, Agar, Ciec, Apaak and Aliap) at Ethnologue (26th ed., 2023) Closed access icon
    Southeastern: (Bor, Nyarweng, Hol, Twi) at Ethnologue (26th ed., 2023) Closed access icon
    Southwestern (Rek & Twic) at Ethnologue (26th ed., 2023) Closed access icon
  2. ^ Beswick 2004, p. 21.
  3. ^ a b c Remijsen, Bert (2013). "Tonal alignment is contrastive in falling contours in Dinka" (PDF). Language. 89 (2): 297–327. doi:10.1353/lan.2013.0023. hdl:20.500.11820/1a385cb5-78ab-44d7-adec-93744524bc3d. S2CID 144514695.
  4. ^ Sudan (1912). Reports on the Finance, Administration, and Condition of the Sudan. F. Nimr.
  5. ^ Silverman, Daniel (1997). "Tone sandhi in Comaltepec Chinantec". Language. 73 (3): 473–92. doi:10.2307/415881. JSTOR 415881.
  6. ^ After Bauer 2003:35
  7. ^ Majok, Aleu. "The New Muonyjang (Dinka) Script" (PDF).
  8. ^ "Omniglot". Retrieved 2023-08-13.

Other resources

  • Andersen, Torben (1987). "The phonemic system of Agar Dinka". Journal of African Languages and Linguistics. 9: 1–27. doi:10.1515/jall.1987.9.1.1. S2CID 143964845.
  • Andersen, Torben (1990). "Vowel length in Western Nilotic languages". Acta Linguistica Hafniensia. 22 (1): 5–26. doi:10.1080/03740463.1990.10411520.
  • Andersen, Torben (1991). "Subject and topic in Dinka". Studies in Language. 15 (2): 265–294. doi:10.1075/sl.15.2.02and.
  • Andersen, Torben (1993). "Vowel quality alternation in Dinka verb inflection". Phonology. 10 (1): 1–42. doi:10.1017/S095267570000172X. JSTOR 4615426. S2CID 62712266.
  • Beltrame, G. (1870). Grammatica della lingua denka. Firenze: G. Civelli.
  • Beswick, Stephanie (2004). Sudan's Blood Memory. University of Rochester. ISBN 1580462316.
  • Malou, Job (1988). Dinka Vowel System. Summer Institute of Linguistics and the University of Texas at Arlington Publications in Linguistics. Vol. 82. 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.). Bologna: Editrice Missionaria Italiana.
  • Nebel, A. (1948). Dinka Grammar (Rek-Malual dialect) with texts and vocabulary. Verona: Instituto Missioni Africane.
  • Trudinger, R. (1942–44). English-Dinka Dictionary. Sudan Interior Mission.
  • Turhan, Sedat; Hagin, Sally (2005). Milet Picture Dictionary English-Dinka. Milet.