Native toSouth Sudan, Ethiopia
EthnicityMurle people
Native speakers
196,000 (2017)[1]
nearly extinct in Ethiopia
  • Olam (Ngalam)
  • Omo
Latin (in South Sudan)
Language codes
ISO 639-3mur

Murle (also Ajibba, Beir, Merule, Mourle, Murule) is a Surmic Language spoken by the Murle people in the southeast of South Sudan, near the Ethiopian border. A very small number of Murle live across the border in southwestern Ethiopia.

The basic word order for Murle clauses is VSO (verb–subject–object).[2] The morphology of the verb agrees with the person and number of the subject, and can also indicate that of the object. Some typologically exceptional points of grammar are discussed by Arensen, et al., such as that VSO languages have been predicted to not have postpositions or final interrogatives.[3]

Marking of number on nouns in Murle is complex, with no single suffix being generally productive. Some nouns are marked with a singulative suffix, some with a plural suffix, some with both, and a few with irregular stems for each number. Arensen has proposed a set of semantically based categories (such as association with men, or with weather and seasons) to try to predict which suffixes will be used (1992, 1998).

Payne (2006)[4] has proposed analyzing some cases as examples of subtractive morphology. Payne proposes that these two forms exemplify how Murle plurals can be predicted from singular forms, but not vice versa.

onyiit 'rib' onyii 'ribs'

rottin 'warrior' rotti 'warriors'

However, the same final consonants are found in productive marking of singulative number in Majang, another Surmic language, e.g. ŋɛɛti-n 'louse', ŋɛɛti 'lice'.[5] Also, final -t has been shown to be a singulative suffix in Murle and other Surmic languages,[6] fitting the pattern of T for singular and K for plural pointed out by Margaret Bryant.[7] If these final consonants are analyzed as singulative suffixes, it means that the claim of unusual discovery of subtractive morphology in Murle is incorrect. Rather, Murle is shown to have a frequent pattern of singulative suffixes.

The New Testament has been translated into the Murle language.



Labial Dental Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar
voiceless p t k
voiced b d g
implosive ɓ ɗ̠ ɠ
Fricative v ð z
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Trill r
Lateral l
Approximant w j


Front Back Front Central Back
Close i u ɪ ʊ
Mid e o ɛ ɔ
Open a

Vowel length is also distinctive.[8]


  1. ^ Murle at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) Closed access icon
  2. ^ (Arensen 1982)
  3. ^ Arensen, Jon, Nicky de Jong, Scott Randal, Peter Unseth. 1997. "Interrogatives in Surmic Languages and Greenberg's Universals", Occasional Papers in the Study of Sudanese Languages 7:71–90.
  4. ^ Payne, Thomas (2006). Exploring language structure : a student's guide. Cambridge, UK New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 44, 45. ISBN 0-521-67150-7.
  5. ^ p. 124; Bender, M. Lionel. 1983. Majang phonology and morphology. In Nilo-Saharan Language Studies, ed. by M. Lionel Bender, 114-147. East Lansing: Michigan State University.
  6. ^ p. 86. Unseth, Peter. 1988. Majang nominal plurals, with comparative notes. Studies in African Linguistics 19.1:75-91.
  7. ^ Bryan, Margaret. 1959. The T/K languages: A new substratum. Africa 29:1-21.
  8. ^ Yigezu, Moges (2005). Aspects of Murle phonology. In Journal of Ethiopian Studies XXXVIII. pp. 115–129.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)