Native toUganda
RegionMainly in Busoga region
Native speakers
3.1 million (2014 census)[1]
  • Gabula
  • Lamogi
  • Tenga
  • Kenyi
Official status
Official language in
Major language of Uganda, official status unclear/pending...
Regulated byLusoga Language Authority (LULA) (Uganda)
Language codes
ISO 639-3Either:
xog – Soga
lke – Kenyi

Soga, or Lusoga, is a Bantu language spoken by the Soga people of the Busoga region in Eastern Uganda. With over three million speakers, it is one of the major languages of Uganda, after English, Swahili, and Luganda. However, it is largely restricted to the Busoga region, which is mainly within the natural boundaries of Lake Victoria to the south, Lake Kyoga to the north, the Nile river to the west and the Mpologoma ('Lion') river to the east of Namutumba district. It is tonal.

History and development

The Soga language is very similar to the neighbouring languages Luganda and Gwere as all 3 descend from a common ancestor language (Proto-North Nyanza).

The written form of Soga is only as recent as the arrival of the Arab and European traders and missionaries. It first appeared in print in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Soga is used in some primary schools in Busoga as pupils begin to learn English, an official language of Uganda. It is also taught in secondary schools and is offered as a course subject in tertiary institutions such as Busoga University, Kyambogo University and Makerere University.


Soga has several dialects dating to the intermingling of people during the early migration period of the 17th and 18th centuries. There were so many dialects that it was difficult to reach agreement on the correct way to spell or pronounce certain words. For instance, in the north of Busoga, there is an 'H' in many words which does not appear in dialects of southern Busoga. Thus Busoga was divided into two dialect zones. Across the northern zone, the dialects Lulamogi and Lupakoyo were spoken. Lupakoyo closely resembled Nyoro. It had a close belt of Runyoro associated dialects running east from Bunyoro, across the northern region of Buganda, across northern Busoga and through Bugwere, which is east of Busoga. In the southern part of Busoga a dialect known as Lutenga was traditionally spoken which resembled Luganda. Related dialects were also spoken in the Ssese Islands, Buvuma Island and eastern Buganda.

But with the establishment of the Lusoga Language Authority (LULA), Busoga Kingdom has promoted a standardised Lusoga language. It has done research on the Lusoga language and published literature in Lusoga. Its publications can be found at the Busoga Cultural Centre Offices library located in the Nile garden in Jinja, Uganda. Others are available in bookshops throughout Busoga and in major bookstores in Kampala and other parts of the country. Some of the more accomplished Lusoga publications include a Lusoga Bible, grammar books, riddles, proverbs, several story books and dictionaries e.g. Eibwanio English/Lusoga – Lusoga/English dictionary. A limited online version is available.



Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid ɛ ɔ
Open a


Bilabial Labio-
Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
plain lab. pal. plain lab. plain lab. pal. plain lab. pal. plain lab.
Plosive voiceless p (t̪ʷ) t c k
voiced b () d̪ʷ d̪ʲ d ɟ ɡ ɡʷ
prenasal vl. ᵐp ᵐpʷ ᵐpʲ ⁿt̪ ⁿt ⁿtʷ ⁿtʲ ᶮc ᵑk ᵑkʷ
prenasal vd. ᵐb (ᵐbʷ) (ᵐbʲ) ⁿd̪ ⁿd̪ʷ ⁿd̪ʲ ⁿd ⁿdʷ ⁿdʲ ᶮɟ ᵑɡ ᵑɡʷ
Nasal m n̪ʷ n̪ʲ n ŋ (ŋʷ)
Fricative voiceless f s (ʃ) h
voiced β βʷ βʲ v z ɣ
prenasal vl. ᶬf ⁿs ⁿsʷ
prenasal vd. ᶬv (ᶬvʷ) ⁿz (ⁿzʷ)
Flap ɺ ɺʷ ɺʲ
Semivowel j w

Sounds in parentheses are attested, but rare.[3]

Writing system

Soga alphabet[4]
a b bw by c d dh e f g gh ŋ gw h i j gy
k kw ky l m mb mp mw n nd ndw nf nh nhw nw nk nkw
o p th r s shy sy t tw ty u v w y z zw zy

Basic grammar and vocabulary

In common with other tonal Bantu languages, Lusoga has a noun class system in which prefixes on nouns mark membership of one of the noun genders. Pronouns, adjectives, and verbs reflect the noun gender of the nominal they refer to. Some examples of noun classes:

Possessive prefixes

In the Bantu languages around the Lake Victoria region in Uganda, nouns are reflected mainly by changing prefixes: human beings are indicated by the prefix Ba- (plural), and Mu- (singular), and the name of the country Bu-.

Self-standing pronouns

Always attached to a verb




Greeting in Soga is accomplished just as it is in western countries. However, it assumes a more personal nature and just as in the West, its form depends on the time of the day and the elapsed time since the last contact with the greeter.

The following dialogue illustrates the basic form to greet a peer or an elder in a respectful manner:

Person A:
Wasuzotya (osiibyotya) ssebo (nnyabo)? – 'How did you sleep/(How was your day), sir (madam)?'
Person B:
Bulungi, wasuzotya (osiibyotya) ssebo (nnyabo)? – 'Well, how did you sleep (how was your day), sir (madam)?'
Person A:
Bulungi ssebo (nnyabo) – 'Well, sir (madam)'

The personal nature of the greetings ensues when the individual being greeted chooses to answer the question instead of merely responding with good or fine. It is somewhat like being asked, "how do you do?" and responding, "how do you do?" However, in Soga, the individual being greeted is free to actually delve into the fine details.

Additionally, simply drop sir/madam to achieve the same effect as in English. The above dialog only addresses greeting one person because some words change into multiple others e.g. wasuzotya is the combination of a singular prefix (wa – 'you'), word (sula – 'sleep'), and singular postfix (otya – 'how did') spoken as one with a plural form that subsequently becomes mwasuze mutya, which is composed of two distinct words emerging from two different plural prefixes, a word, and the plural form of the postfix. It is sometimes impossible to not separate the plural form.


Some common verbs

When conjugating the verb, remove oku and replace it with the required pronoun i.e. n, o, a, tu, mu, ba.


1–10 11–19 20–29 30–39 40–49
1 – ndala 11 – ikumi na ndhala 20 – abiri 30 – asatu 40 – anha
2 – ibiri 12 – ikumi na ibiri 21 – abiri na ndhala 31 – asatu na ndhala 41 – ana na ndhala
3 – isatu 13 – ikumi na isatu 22 – abiri na ibiri
4 – inha 14 – ikumi na inha
5 – itaanu 15 – ikumi na itaanu
6 – mukaaga 16 – ikumi na mukaaga
7 – musanvu
8 – munaana
9 – mwenda
10 – ikumi

After 1 to 10 and 20, 30, 40, the other numbers build off the same pattern.

50–99 100–500 500–900 1,000–5,000 5,000–10,000
50 – ataanho 100 – kikumi 600 – lukaaga 1,000 – lukumi 6,000 – kakaaga
60 – nkaaga 200 – bibiri 700 – lusanvu 2,000 – nkumi ibiri 7,000 – kasanvu
70 – nsanvu 300 – bisatu 800 – lunaana 3,000 – nkuni isatu 8,000 – kanaanha
80 – kinaanha 400 – bina 900 – lwenda 4,000 – nkumi ina 9,000 – kenda
90 – kyenda 500 – bitaanu 5,000 – nkumi itaanu 10,000 – mutwaalo

Telling the time

Hours of darkness in Soga correspond to p.m. to include early morning hours. Essentially, the number representing the current hour simply subtracts six from the number in English. A Musoga waking up at what English speakers would call 10:15 a.m. would instead say essawa erii ikumi na ibiri munkyo ('the time is 4:15 in the morning'). Time is said using the word essaawa, e.g., essaawa ndala – 7 o'clock.


General phrases and vocabulary

See also


  1. ^ Soga at Ethnologue (22nd ed., 2019) Closed access icon
    Kenyi at Ethnologue (22nd ed., 2019) Closed access icon
  2. ^ Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  3. ^ Nabirye, Minah; De Schryver, Gilles-Maurice; Verhoeven, Jo (2016). Lusoga (Lutenga) (2nd ed.). Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 46: Illustrations of the IPA. pp. 219–228.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location (link)
  4. ^ Wambi Gulere 2012.