Piööcku Thuɔŋjäŋ: Let's Learn Dinka

"Sadly, we tend to disrespect our dead heroes, and worship our living traitors" –Acuil Deng.

The Evolution of the Dinka Sounds System

By Piööcku Thuɔŋjäŋ

As a pre-requisite for it to be considered as a written and spoken language, Dinka Language requires a sound system. There are four major sounds system in Dinka:

  • Breathy Vowels
  • Non-breathy Vowels
  • Dinka Tone i.e. high tone, low tone, mid/flat tone
  • Vowel length

Like most indigenous languages in Africa (except Amharic and Egyptian Coptic language), Dinka has been but an oral dialect till the arrival of the Christian Missionaries when it was then reconstructed and constituted as a written language. There were two major reasons for this quest: Translation of the Bible into the local dialects and evangelization of the local Dinka populations.

Dinka Alphabet

The first Christian Missionaries in Dinkaland came up with the following Dinka letters that were used to translate the first Bible into Dinka Language.

Aa             Ee                Ii               Oo                Uu

Ww           Yy               Bb               Pp                Mm

Nn             NHnh           Ŋŋ               NYny            Rr

Dd             DHdh           Tt                THth              Ll

Kk              Gg              Ɣɣ                Cc                 Jj

Ɛɛ                    Ɔɔ

Of these, the vowels are:

Aa             Ee                Ii               Oo                Uu

Ɛɛ                    Ɔɔ

While the consonants are:

Ww           Yy               Bb               Pp                Mm

Nn             NHnh           Ŋŋ               NYny            Rr

Dd             DHdh           Tt                THth              Ll

Kk              Gg              Ɣɣ                Cc                 Jj

           Breathiness of the Dinka Vowels

But as more DINKAS later embraced written Dinka Language and learn to read and write in Dinka, in their pursuit to understand the Bible, it soon became abundantly clear that the vowels, undifferentiated as they were, were not adequate to express and differentiate different Dinka Sounds System inherent in the spoken language.

For example, it was hard to differentiate between the following words, especially if and when not place in the right context:

Gam (faith, belief, midwifery)                                  Gam (to believe, to midwife)

Gak (name of a person, barrenness, plentiful)        Gak (crow)

Man (hatred)                                                                    Man (her/his mother)

Tak (thought, thinking)                                               Tak (spleen)

Cam (eating)                                                                    Cam (to eat)

Gaar (writing)                                                                 Gaar (sea shell)

Daau (rope)                                                                     Daau (calves)

Consequently, later Dinka writers like Job Malou, for example, introduced BREATHINESS into the vowels sounds. Thus, Dinka Vowel Systems was divided into two distinctive groups:

Non-Breathy Vowels (Akeer Dheu)

A         E            I            O           U         Ɛ            Ɔ

a          e             i            o             u          ɛ            ɔ

Breathy Vowels (Akeer Yäu)

Ä            Ë              Ï              Ö               Ɛ̈                 Ɔ̈

ä            ë              ï               ö               ɛ̈                  ɔ̈

The division of the Dinka Vowels into the breathy and non-breathy made it possible to read and differentiate the following words which had hitherto been confusing without the proper context in the reading:

Gäm (faith, belief, midwifery)                                   Gam (to believe, to midwife)

Gäk (name of a person, barrenness, plentiful)    Gak (crow)

Män (hatred)                                                                     Man (her/his mother)

Täk (thought, thinking)                                                Tak (spleen)

Cäm (eating)                                                                     Cam (to eat)

Gäär (writing)                                                                   Gaar (sea shell)

Dääu (Rope)                                                                      Daau (calves)

                                   Dinka Tonal System

Whereas the introduction of the breathiness and non-breathiness was a great milestone in the development of the Dinka language, it did not however solve all the inherent problems encounter in the writing, reading and speaking of the language. This was mainly because the tonal aspect of the Dinka language was overlooked, though recognized by various experts on the Dinka language.

Without the incorporation of the tone in Dinka language, the following words would be confusing and indistinguishable unless when spoken or read under the appropriate context, which, in most cases, does not happen.

Kɔc (people)                                                   Kɔc (to stitch/mend sth)                                                                                                                Kïït (type of plant)                                      Kïït (comparison, letters, colors)

Kït (letter, color)                                        Kït (colors, letters)

Kiir (river)                                                    Kiir (to fill sth up)

Lueth (lie)                                                   Lueth (lies)

Ruɛ̈ɛ̈ny (dishonest person)               Ruɛ̈ɛ̈ny (dishonesty)

Luɛɛk (in the cattle barn)                Luɛɛk (servanthood)

Waar (shoe)                                       Waar (change)

Wut (cattle camp)                          Wut (ostrich)

Wuur (your dad)                           Wuur (to make dough)

Kɔ̈m (insect)                                   kɔ̈m (way of carrying a baby)

Kɔm (kind of seat)                      Kɔm (limping)

Rɔu (hippo)                                   Rɔu (dried tree)

Lek (pestle)                                 Lek (type of fish)

Aba (I will)                                  Aba (you will)

Aca (I have)                                 Aca (you have)

Yith (well)              Yith (climbing)                   Yith (facts)

Mac (fire)               Mac (to tie a cow to a peg)      Mac (male name of a person)

Dum (farms)           Dum (to trample on sth)        Dum (action of trampling on sth)

Lëk (pestles)            Lëk (types of fish)               Lëk (to confess sth)

In order to rectify this persistent problem, tone must be adopted in the Dinka language. There are three pitches in Dinka: high tone [ ˊ ], low tone [ ` ] or [ ˎ ], and mid/flat tone [ ˉ ]. The introduction of Tonal System in Dinka helps to ease confusing experience in the aforementioned words as shown below:

Kɔˊc (people)                                     Kɔˉc (to stitch sth)

Kïˉït (type of plant)                        Kïˊït (comparison, letters, colors)

Kïˋt (letter, color)                           Kïˊt (colors, letters)

Kiˋir (river)                                       Kiˊir (to fill sth up)

Lueˋth (lie)                                       Lueʹth (lies)

Ruɛ̈ʹɛ̈ny (dishonest person)              Ruɛ̈`ɛ̈ny (dishonesty)

Luɛʹɛk (in the cattle barn)               Luɛˋɛk (servanthood)

Waˉar (shoe)                                       Waˊar (change)

Wuˊt (cattle camp)                            Wuˉt (ostrich)

Wu`ur (your dad)                           Wuʹur (to make dough)

Kɔ̈ˉm (insect)                                   kɔ̈ˋm (way of carrying a baby)

Kɔʹm (kind of seat)                          Kɔˉm (limping)

Rɔˉu (hippo)                                    Rɔ`u (dried tree)

Aˉba` (I will)                                   Aˉbaˊ (you will)

Aˉca` (I have)                                Aˉcaˊ (you have)

Aˉba` ɣä`äc (I will carry …)                Aˉbaˊ ɣä’ä’c (you will carry …)

Le`k (pestle)           Leˉk (type of fish)                 Leˊk (to confess)

Yi`th (well)              Yiˉth (climbing)                   Yiˊth (facts)

Duˉm (farms)           Du`m (to trample on sth)        Duˊm (action of trampling on sth)

Lë`k (pestles)            Lëˉk (types of fish)               Lëʹk (to throw at)

Maˋc (fire)               Maˉc (to tie a cow to a peg)      Maˊc (male name of a person)

This area about tone in Dinka is murky as much research and analysis remain to be done and presented to the public. However, according to the report of the work done by Job Malou, one of the indigenous pioneers of the Dinka language, there are few words we can definitely identify such as those mentioned above plus the rest.

It is my hope though that as more Dinka speakers become more attracted to, and active in, the advancement of their native tongue, it is a matter of time and effort before Tone/pitch become a central part of the written and read Dinka, much as vowel breathiness has become an indispensable part of the written Dinka.

             Dinka Vowels Length

The other essential aspect of Dinka language is the varied length of the vowels. Unlike the breathiness and the tone of the vowels, this feature is easy and non-controversial.

Nyaŋ (male name, crocodile)             Nyaaŋ (female name of person, color)

Gak (crow)                                                 Gaak (sea shell)

Yak (drought, name of person)        Yaak (absence of rain, drought)

Dai (old woman)                                     Daai (watching)

Mäth (smoking, friend)                       Määth    (friendship)

Bai (failure to see or discern)            Baai (home, family, country, nation, homeland)

Tem (cut it—as in command)            Teem (s/he cut it)

Complete Modern Standard Dinka Alphabet

Therefore, according to the above analysis, below are the complete lists of the modern standard Dinka Alphabet:

Kïïtdït/cïïtdïtke Thuɔŋjäŋ

A               E                  I                  O                 U

W              Y                  B                 P                 M

N               NH               Ŋ                 NY               R

D               DH               T                 TH                L

K               G                  Ɣ                  C                 J

Ɛ                    Ɔ

Kïïtthii/cïïtthiike Thuɔŋjäŋ

a             e                   i                   o                   u

w            y                   b                   p                  m

n             nh                 ŋ                   ny                 r

d             dh                  t                   th                  l

k              g                   ɣ                   c                   j

ɛ                   ɔ

(Amatnhomde Kïït/cïïtke Thuɔŋjäŋ)

Aa             Ee                Ii               Oo                Uu

Ww           Yy               Bb               Pp                Mm

Nn             NHnh           Ŋŋ               NYny            Rr

Dd             DHdh           Tt                THth              Ll

Kk              Gg              Ɣɣ                Cc                 Jj

Ɛɛ                    Ɔɔ

Of these, the vowels are:

Aa             Ee                Ii               Oo                Uu

Ɛɛ                    Ɔɔ

While the consonants are:

Ww           Yy               Bb               Pp                Mm

Nn             NHnh           Ŋŋ               NYny            Rr

Dd             DHdh           Tt                THth              Ll

Kk              Gg              Ɣɣ                Cc                 Jj

Akeer Dheu.

A        E            I            O           U         Ɛ            Ɔ

a          e             i            o             u          ɛ            ɔ

Akeer Yäu

Ä            Ë              Ï              Ö               Ɛ̈                 Ɔ̈

ä            ë              ï               ö               ɛ̈                  ɔ̈


Akeer Lɔɔc

Ww          Yy          Bb            Pp          Mm           Nn

Ŋŋ           Rr           Dd            Tt           Ll             Kk

Gg               Ɣɣ                Cc                 Jj


Akeer Dhëŋ.

NHnh                 NYny                  DHdh                      THth

Akeer Nhial [ ˊ ]

aˊ         eˊ           iˊ          oˊ           uˊ          ɛˊ          ɔˊ

äˊ              ëˊ                 ïˊ                 öˊ             ɛ̈ˊ                ɔ̈ˊ


Akeer Piiny [ ˋ ]

aˋ        eˋ           iˋ          oˋ          uˋ            ɛˋ               ɔˋ

äˋ          ëˋ            ïˋ             öˋ               ɛ̈ˋ               ɔ̈ˋ

NB: Akeer piiny could still preferably be represented by this sign [ˎ] i.e. aˎ  eˎ  iˎ  oˎ  uˎ  ɛˎ  ɔˎ and so forth.

Akeer Mim [ ˉ ]

aˉ          eˉ            iˉ              oˉ          uˉ          ɛˉ          ɔˉ

äˉ        ëˉ            ïˉ             öˉ             ɛ̈ˉ                 ɔ̈ˉ

You might be wondering if all these Dinka letters are part and parcel of my Dinka Book, Piööcku Thuɔŋjäŋ. The answer is yes and no. While Akeer Dheu, Akeer Yäu, Akeer Lɔɔc, and Akeer Dheŋ are found in book one of Piööcku Thuɔŋjäŋ, the other three new types of Akeer—Akeer Nhial, Akeer Piiny, and Akeer Mim—are not there. I left them out because I was not able to get the symbols ( ʹ  `  ˉ ) on the current Dinka Keyboard from Tavultesoft Keyman Desktop.

I am in touch with the Tavultesoft Keyman Desktop to incorporate the characters so that they should appear on top of the letters instead of the current position, which is sideway. That is not how the characters should appear! I used them here just to make the point of their existence and importance in the development of the Dinka language.

I hope to see and read your comments before updating the page;

Thanks,

Piööcku Thuɔŋjäŋ,

Washington DC, USA

January 15, 2012.

The Evolution of the Dinka Sound System.pdf The Evolution of the Dinka Sound System.pdf
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6 thoughts on “The Evolution of the Dinka Sounds System

  1. caren jebichii on said:

    Hi all

  2. Thank you for the brilliant article. Will at present more daily . Greetings from Cologne

  3. Robin on said:

    Very good information. I am an Australian who travels to Sudan on business. Thank you for providing this valuable resource.

  4. thuch de kennedy khot on said:

    thanks for bringing the language back on form. may God bless you.

  5. Absolutely right ” PÖÖCKU THUONGJÄNG”. This language I value it as a very unique language, but some ignore it and there is no way u can tell us anything if u don’t know this language even though u have PHD. Thank u for make it reach google, I really really appreciated your effort, keep up the move guys I salute u again

    AKOM AKOI AKOM ATEM

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