Thok Naath
Native toSouth Sudan, Ethiopia
RegionGreater Upper Nile, Gambela Region
Native speakers
1.7 million (2017)[1]
  • Abigar
  • Cien
  • Dor
  • Eastern Jikany
  • Lou
  • Thiang
  • Western Jikany
Language codes
ISO 639-3nus
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

The Nuer language (Thok Naath)[2] ("people's language") is a Nilotic language of the Western Nilotic group. It is spoken by the Nuer people of South Sudan and in western Ethiopia (region of Gambela). The language is very similar to Dinka and Atuot.[3]

The language is written with a Latin-based alphabet. There are several dialects of Nuer, although all share one written standard. For example, final /k/, is pronounced in the Jikany dialect but is dropped in other dialects despite being indicated in the Nuer orthography used by all.


A phonological analysis has yet to be done. The following consonants may therefore not all be distinct.[4]

Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Plosive Voiceless p t c k
Voiced b d ɟ ɡ
Flap ɾ̪
Approximant w j h

Voicing is not distinctive at the end of a stem, regardless of whether it's at the end of a word or utterance. Consonant clusters due to suffixes tend to be simplified.

Dental consonants are written th dh nh in the practical orthography. /h/ is written ɣ.

Vowels may be long or short, modal or breathy voiced. The latter are written with an underscore in the practical orthography, except for u and ä /ə̤/, where there is no modal-voiced vowel to contrast.

Front Central Back
High i iː
i̤ i̤ː

ṳ ṳː
Close-mid e eː
e̤ e̤ː
o oː
o̤ o̤ː
Open-mid ɛ ɛː
ɛ̤ ɛ̤ː

ə̤ ə̤ː
ɔ ɔː
ɔ̤ ɔ̤ː
Near-low (æ æː
æ̤ æ̤ː)

{æ} is rare. (Curly brackets indicate the set of æ vowels.) Final {i} is always breathy voiced. There does not appear to be a distinction between short a and ə. Breathy {o} is pronounced [ʊ] or [ɵ].

Faust & Grossman did not find strong evidence for lexical or grammatical tone, with a few exceptions such as the 1sg suffix /ə̌/ and the plural suffix /nǐ/ ~ /ǐ/, which have a rising tone.


Ethnologue lists the following dialects of Nuer.

Nuer communities

A speaker of Nuer recorded in the United States.

There are different dialects spoken by Nuer groups living in various locations in South Sudan. Some of the Nuer people live in Western Ethiopia. They are called Jikany Nuer. The Nuer of the Upper Nile State are also called Jikany, and those in Jonglei State Lou, Gawaar, Thiang and Laak.

There are also seven counties inhabited by the other groups of Nuer in the western part of the Upper Nile Province currently known as Unity State Bentiu. These counties include:

Among the 120,000 people at the United Nations Protection of Civilians Site Bentiu, Nuer is the preferred language for radio and news.[5]

Nuer-speaking Sudanese refugees have formed a significant community in Omaha, Nebraska, United States.

Sample phrases

Nuer Naath dial diethɛ kɛ a lɔr kä päärkɛ kɛ ciaŋ malä a mäni cuŋkiɛn. Tekɛ kɛ ca̱r kɛnɛ nhök ti de lät kɛ raan kɛ dämaan a gɔa.

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”.

(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)[6]

Writing system

The alphabet of Nuer uses 39 distinct letters, shown below in uppercase (majuscule) and lowercase (minuscule) styles.[7]

A Ä B C D Dh E Ë Ɛ Ɛ̱ Ɛ̈ G Ɣ H I J
K L M N Ŋ Nh Ny O Ö Ɔ Ɔ̱ P R T Th U W Y
a ä b c d dh e ë ɛ ɛ̱ ɛ̈ g ɣ h i j
k l m n ŋ nh ny o ö ɔ ɔ̱ p r t th u w y

A line under a vowel, like a̱, means that it is pronounced with breathy voice. The vowels ä, u, and final i are always breathy. A doubled vowel, like in the word raan (person), means that vowel is long.[8] Nuer does have tone, but tone-based contrasts are not common.[4]


The writing system was adopted in 1928 with minor changes being added over the history of the language.[9] Both the Dinka and the Nuer agreed that their languages were so different that they could never share written languages, but they did come up with several common principles.[10]

Number Marking in Nuer Nouns

There are various methods of plural noun formation in the Nuer language. Generally speaking, plural nouns are formed from singular nouns with the addition of plural markings, and tone changes. Countable nouns, collective nouns, and mass nouns take markings to show a singular state. This means that every noun in the Nuer language can potentially appear in a singular or plural form. Loan words also follow this process.[11]

The most readily identifiable plural formation processes are: suffixation, vowel insertion, phonation, vowel quality change, final consonant alteration, vowel deletion, glide insertion, tone change, vowel lengthening, vowel shortening, suppletion, and zero or null formation, among other processes when the entire language is taken into account.[12]

The most basic plural suffix is the suffix -ni̱. This suffix is used after words that end in sounds other than [l] and [r]. Words that end in [l] and [r] take the suffix -i̱. However, apart from this suffix there are other methods to form plural nouns.[13]

See also

Further reading

  • Reid, Tatiana (2023). "Nuer". Illustrations of the IPA. Journal of the International Phonetic Association: 1–36. doi:10.1017/S0025100323000191, with supplementary sound recordings.


  1. ^ Nuer at Ethnologue (26th ed., 2023) Closed access icon
  2. ^ "WALS Online -Language Nuer". Retrieved 2016-10-29.
  3. ^ Trust, Gurtong. "Nuer (Naath)". Retrieved 2016-10-29.
  4. ^ a b Faust, Noam; Grossman, Eitan. Nuer (Western Nilotic): a preliminary survey.
  5. ^ "Bentiu UN Protection of Civilians (PoC) site - Unity State, South Sudan - Information Needs Baseline: September 2015" (PDF). Internews Humanitarian Information Service. Retrieved 2018-12-30.
  6. ^ "Nuer language and pronunciation". Retrieved 2016-10-29.
  7. ^ Hutchinson, Sharon Elaine (1996). Nuer Dilemmas: Coping With Money, War, and the State. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. xv–xvii. ISBN 978-0520202849. OCLC 31901593.
  8. ^ "The Sounds of the Nuer Language". Retrieved 2020-07-14.
  9. ^ "Nuer (Naadh)". Retrieved 29 October 2016.
  10. ^ Miner, Edward. "The development of Nuer Linguistics". Retrieved 29 October 2016.
  11. ^ Number marking in Nuer nouns, John Koang Nyang, Addis Ababa University,
  12. ^ Number marking in Nuer nouns, John Koang Nyang, Addis Ababa University,
  13. ^ Number marking in Nuer nouns, John Koang Nyang, Addis Ababa University,