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Morphophonemic Reforms in Thuɔŋjaŋ Orthography: An Excerpt from “Thuɔŋjaŋ Cidmende” – A Rebuttal

Rebuttal to Thuongjang Cidmende, by Jok Gai Anai (PDF copy)

By Jok Gai Anai, Juba, South Sudan

The Proposed Nilerian Script

December 21, 2016 (SSB) — Few days ago I had the good fortune of coming across a carefully crafted radical proposal for writing of the Dinka Language by a learned colleague named Aleu Majok and his team member Maawan Gordon Muortat and their associates Makwei Mabioor Deng and Santino Miabek Dau. Given the importance that the language holds in Culture and Human Progress, anything that may alter the course of the language needs to be taken seriously. It is within this context that I have chosen to engage the above mentioned gentlemen in a full rebuttal.

I will approach this from the point of view of my personal knowledge and encounter with the language. I will leave out researched work and available literature on Thuongjang to another day when time permits. I do not consider myself an expert in Thuongjang but I believe I have had enough interaction with written Thuongjang since childhood that my views may help in promoting Thuongjang – which I believe is the core desire of the proponents of Thuongjang Cidmende

I am also not a trained linguist so I will leave out a deeply technical approach until I have had the time to engage in academic work of this nature. For the purpose of this rebuttal, my English and Thuongjang language skills are sufficient to enable me understand the position of the proponents of Thuongjang Reforms. For the purpose of clarity, the proponent’s words are italicized and indented to the right by one tab while my counter arguments are in normal text.

It is true that some reforms in written Thuongjang are long overdue. On that we agree but which reforms exactly? My understanding of your position paper is that you are in favor of totally discarding the existing Thuongjang Alpahbet. If we take this as the premise, it would be unprecedented. Thuongjang as I know it is very rich and complex. If for instance we were to consider all the nuances, Thuongjang Alphabet would be very long and confusing. I suppose that was a consideration the pioneers of written Thuongjang might have made to come up with 27 letters of the Alphabet. The other six letters (Akeer yau) are variants. I have never fully considered them as part of the alphabet. But if you may, then we have 33 alphabets

From the Introductory paragraph on Page 2, the writer had this to say:

Nevertheless, discussions and proposals for reforms have so far focused on mostly the vowel system (representation of tones and length, having had the breathiness aspect already settled by Dhuruai’s umlauted vowels). The morphophonemic anomalies which form part of the reforms proposed in “Thuɔŋjaŋ Cidmende¨”, a radical proposal for a total revision and revamping of Thuɔŋjaŋ orthography and grammar, have not been raised or addressed anywhere in the available literature on  the language. This note, an excerpt from “Thuɔŋjaŋ Cidmende”, provides a brief explanation and illustration on only the morphophonemic reforms on [b, p], [d, t], [dh, th], [k, g], [u, w] and [i, y] as codas in lone morphemes (or single basic word unit) and for [u, w] and [i,y] as nuclei (or median letters in words).

I do not believe serious morphophonemic anomalies exist that will warrant total revision and revamping of Thuongjang grammar. For example what may be needed is proper understanding of the letters of the Thuongjang Alphabet for which you have proposed the reforms such as [b, p], [d, t], [dh, th], [k, g], [u, w] and [i, y]. As it shall become clearer in the following paragraphs, I would like to bring to your attention that although softness of tone in the pronunciation of a particular Alphabet may make it sound like the other, for example, [b,p], the logic does break down in subsequent usage of the word especially in its grammatical application

Credibility of the Reforms

For the benefit of readers, I would like to, first and foremost, underline that I am not a linguist nor did I have a conventional training in this field to speak with authority on these proposed reforms. But usually linguists work with native speakers of a language in issues like these. Hence, as a passionate and analytical native speaker, I will attempt to illustrate the logic that necessitates these reforms which I believe are necessary to adopt if we are to retain the authenticity and ease the grammar of the language, Thuɔŋjaŋ. Radical as they may be, I hope they will be understandable and sensible to other native speakers. [Aleu Majok, Page 2]

I agree with you that credibility is as important as any reform desired. In this case, your credibility stems from the fact that you are a native speaker of the language for which these reforms are desired, and one that is very passionate about it for that matter. However, another minimum requirement here would be the written works in Thuonngjang. This is to say that the Reformer would be required to have a mastery of the language as to be able to write articles, books and/or express ideas exclusively in Thuongjang without the aid of another language.

If you write the language long enough, you will gain the leverage to reform it without the risk of future Linguistic Failure/Language Crash as your experience would have been maximal. In the absence of individual training in the Linguistics or the inability to write fluently in Thuongjang, one would still be able to engage in the Reforms as a purely academic matter if and when their subjects of study are those who have written extensively in Thuongjang and/or have proven understanding of the language in a peer reviewed system

I share in your passion to improve our language. As you present your logic for the reforms, I will put forward counter arguments on Thuongjang authenticity and grammar while working with you on areas for which we agree to reform

Furthermore, the proposal on these reforms is a conclusion of observational and intuitive research work done with many Muɔnyjieeŋ/Jieeŋ; those who are literate in other languages as well as Thuɔŋjaŋ and those who are completely illiterate (only monolingual in spoken Thuɔŋjaŋ). While the former group may sometimes have their pronunciations corrupted under the influence of second languages they are literate in, observations from the latter group remarkably manifest and support the validity of these reforms. It is therefore helpful to refer to this group where further investigations and substantiation are needed. [Aleu Majok, Page 2]

This is true. The Dinka who are literate in other languages may not be a reliable research group as their pronunciations may be corrupted. However, the observatory research on the monolingual Thuongjang speakers may need further research because in most other languages, words may or may not be spelled as exactly as they sound. As we know it, this is too common in both English and French and that has not necessitated reforms. In Thuongjang, this is less common, in fact almost non-existent. But vowel breathiness is quite an issue that can cause spelling distress

Another point to underscore is that, unlike dialect-specific spelling and other grammatical issues, these observations cut across all dialects and are in no way dialect constrained (at least as far as I have noted from my discussion with speakers of different dialects). [Aleu Majok, Page 4]

You are right; there should be no dialect constraints in the writing of Thuongjang. Differences in dialect are minor issues which do not interfere with language structure. For example in American English, we have organise while the same word is spelled organized in British English. Likewise in Thuongjang, kiir (river) is acceptable in certain dialects while ciir (river) is acceptable to others. This is only a spelling difference which doesn’t change word and sentence structure in any significant way

Significance of the Reforms and the Position of the Linguists

“Thuɔŋjaŋ Cidmende” is inspired by the need to write Thuɔŋjaŋ as much exact as the native speak it (what we speak is what we write and what is written is what is spoken). Doing this does not only achieve maximum word clarity possible but it also conserves the natural phonology and phonetics of the language. In part, there is an agreement on this among many linguists and writers who researched into Thuɔŋjaŋ.

Duerksen (1994) and Ladd (2012) summarise this into four principles.

Principle 1: “represent linguistic distinctions to the greatest extent possible”.

Principle 2: “don’t change more than necessary”.

Principle 3: “don’t use symbols that may cause technical problems”.  

Principle 4: a unified orthography for all dialects

“Thuɔŋjaŋ Cidmende” is in accord with Principles 1 and 4, although in a different approach, but disregards the rest on the basis of significance of the reforms. The morphophonemic reforms herein illustrated and the concept of “The New Thuɔŋjaŋ Alphabet” which is based on the Nilerian script (also a new script invented for the purpose of correctly writing South Sudanese languages starting with Thuɔŋjaŋ) are directly and sharply contentious with Principles 2 and 3 respectively. Thus, the radical characterisation others have already made of these reforms. [Aleu Majok, Page 3] 

As you have mentioned, it is true that your proposal is so radical as to depart from Principle 2 and 3. You are exactly proposing to change more than is necessary which is very harmful for a language still under development. It also appears that in ambitiously wanting to write Thuongjang Cidmende, you will be tempted to use lots of symbols which will cause technical problems in violation of Principle 3

On Principle 1, Linguistic Distinction in Thuongjang has been represented by, for example, the inclusion of two extra letters of the alphabet “ɛ” and “ɔ. These two letters are variants of the ‘e’ and “o” which are only distinctive to Thuongjang in sound and content

On Principle 4, we are totally in agreement that a unified orthography for all dialects be developed. This has been long overdue and it is time, we do it with the greatet urgency that it deserves. There is consensus among Thuongjang enthusiasts that Rek is somewhat a standard version of all the other dialects within Thuongjang. After wide ranging interactions with speakers of Padang Dialect, I also add that a future unified Thuongjang orthography will borrow heavily from Padang Dialect

On the proposal for the New Thuongjang Alphabet based on the Nilerian Script, rather than the Latin alphabet, I will reserve my comments until further research. I disagree with the premise that we need a new Alphabet for writing Thuongjang. If reasonable ground exists, which doesn’t exist at the moment, for a change in Thuongjang Alphabet then a discussion on whether to retain Latin or move to a new Nilerian Script will be reopened. For now, I maintain that Thuongjang can be improved but with the existing Latin alphabet in place

The situation and Manifestation

Situation 1: Misplaced use of devoiced for voiced plosives when they function as codas in lone morphemes, bound morphemes or in compound words containing either lone/bound morphemes or both. 

Situation 2: Misplaced use of [u] for [w] and [i] for [y] when they function as medians in form of diphthongs words. 

From the Muɔnyjang phonological point of view, there is no logic in the current spelling for the existence of the above situations in the Latin-based Thuɔŋjaŋ orthography. Yet, phonemes or rather letters involved in Situation 1 play a crucial role in Thuɔŋjaŋ grammar as will be shown shortly. Treating them as now done in the current spellings presents enormous morphological challenges in proper and common nouns, for example, Luɛɛth Majok Akuei (pronounced as Luenh Majoŋ Akuei) and amadic (from amat yic) respectively [Aleu Majok, Page 3]

On the contrary, I find that the logic holds for the current spellings in Thuongjang. As a matter of Spelling Rules in current Thuongjang Orthography, words ending in “th” pronounced “tha” or an equivalent “s” sound in English do change their ending to “nh” in pronunciation only. Likewise words ending in “k” do change their endings to “ng”or “ŋ” in pronunciation but not written form: e.g Luɛɛth Majok Akuei becomes Luɛnh e Majoŋ Akuei as you correctly put it. Your other example amat (meeting) and amatic or amat yic (in the meeting) is a different case all together. This falls under the rules of truncated compound words in Thuongjang. Amatic is an appropriate truncated version of amat yic (amatyic would be wrong because Thuongjang orthography DOES NOT allow a consonant after a consonant)

Let us apply your logic for a new Thuongjang orthography to the above situation: Luɛɛdh Majog Akuei would still become Luɛnh Majoŋ Akuei as precisely as it is pronounced. And amad (meeting) would still become amadic or amad yic. Suffices to say, your proposed changes in spellings do not carry corresponding changes in Thuongjang grammar

Let me provide a few more examples:

  1. Thukul (school). The “th” in the beginning can be pronounced as a soft or hard “s”and would still be correct
  2. Thon (bull). The “th” in the beginning is better pronounced as a hard “s”
  3. Ajith (chicken), lueth (lie), cath (walk), etc. The “th” in the end carries a hard “s” sound. The hard “s” sound makes “th” sound like a “dh” but they are very distinctive
  4. Dhuk/dhok (boy). This is a clear case for the use of “dh”. If you were to change “th” to “dh”in word endings, what does the letter “th” become?

Situation 1: Misplaced use of devoiced for voiced plosives when they function as codas in lone morphemes, bound morphemes or in compound words containing either lone/bound morphemes or both. 

This situation will be explained by looking at the devoiced-voiced plosive pair [devoiced, voiced] and the vowel-semivowel pair [vowel, semivowel]. That is, [p, b], [c,j], [t,d], [k, g], [th, dh], [i,y] and [u, w] respectively. The first letter from each of these pairs – [p, b], [c, j], [t,d], [k, g], [th, dh], [i,y] and [u, w] – is currently incorrectly written as a finale in lone words or compound words. 

For example: 

Lone words: tiɔp (pasted soil), loc (peg), dit (bird), tiok (mud), dhieth (birth), luɔi (work) and baau (lake) 

Compoubd words: rapdit (wild corn grass), apuɔcthiak (bride), miɛtpuo¨o¨u (happiness),

muɔɔkmeth (babysitting), jiɛthpuoou (shock), baaiciɛlic (courtyard), akeunhom (neighbourhood).

According to “Thuɔŋjaŋ Cidmende”, these words, considering correction to Situation 1 only, should be spelt as:

 Lone words: tiɔb, loj, did, tiog, dhiedh, luɔy and baaw 

Compound words: rabdid, apuɔjthiag, miɛdpuoow, muɔɔgmeth, jiɛdhpuoow, baayciɛlij and akewnhom.[Aleu Majok, Page 3-4]

Except for the [i,y] and [u, w] pair, the first letter from each of the other pairs is a strongly devoiced plosive for example the “p” in  [p,b] is devoiced while “b” is voiced. Sometimes it may look like one should be substituted for the other but that is not the case. It boils down to how we pronounce the words as you have provided them in the above examples. As you have mentioned elsewhere in this document, we have these same problems in English and other languages. This is not enough ground for reforms

Let us pick the [t,d] pair and subject it to your new logic: Tit (wait) becomes tid while tit yen/xen/an (wait for me) becomes tid yen/xen/an (wait for me). In pronunciation, tit yen/xen/an truncates to titɛɛn/titaan. If you truncate (and truncations are way too common in Thuongjang) tid yen/xen/an to tidɛɛn/tidaan, that is a totally different word. This is to say that the voiced/devoiced vowel apparent confusion is a necessary nuance of the language itself

On [k,g] pair: Xok (cows). Xokiic (among the cows). Xogiic will have no meaning

Combined Corrections for Situation 1 and Situation 2  

The above words, after a combined correction of both situations, can be correctly spelt as we speak them as follows: tyɔb, loj, did, tiog, dhyedh, lwɔy,  baaw, rabdid,

apwɔjthyag, myɛdpwoow, mwɔɔgmedh, jyɛdhpwoow, baaycyɛlij

More examples of new spellings based on these reforms. 

[p, b]: Warrab, Alyab, Matyɔb, alyaab, akob, arob, tab, lab, deb, rub, yieb, ajyeb, etc

[c, j]: Kwajjog, Cyej, Kyej, Akuj, cwej, wej, waj, moj, lɔɔj, kɔj, kɔɔj, dhij, pij, dɔj, laj, etc  

[t,d]: Dud, Akod, gud, gaad, wid, bud, amad, pwood, dwod, adeed, kwɛɛd, awed, etc

 [k, g]: Rumbeg, Dug, Gagrial, thɔg, dhɔg, dhag, wag, leg, tig, myog, ɣog, lug, etc 

[th, dh]: thidh, widh, wadh, lwadh, lwɛɛdh, apedh, nyidh, kwedh, weedh, podh, etc

[i,y]: Ayiɛɛy, Byɔɔr, Abyɛy, Pyɔk, kwyɛg, pyen, cyeen, byaar, yay, rwaay, cwaay, etc 

[u,w] Twij, Makwey, Alew, Ayiy, kwaar, kwɔɔd, kwej, yweg, awoow, mɔw, paw, piw, etc [Aleu Majok, Page 4]

These spellings are based on a new Thuongjang Alphabet whose rules you have not defined for your readers. In the existing Thuongjang Alpabet, a consonant cannot follow another consonant in a word for example in tyɔb, “t” and “y” are consonants, in dhyedh, “dh” and “y” are consonants, in lwɔy, “l” and “w” are consonants, in apwɔjthyag, “j”, “th” and “y” are consonants (Three consonants consecutively is quite out of place). The rest follow the same

However, I will pick out a few more:

In Warrab, this is a compound word meaning war e rap (the pool of the dura or the pool where dura grows).  In Thuongjang, when the last letter of the first word in a compound word is the same as the first letter of the last word in the compound word, you drop one of those letters. Therefore war rap becomes Warap. On the same note, thok kuo/kua (our goats) becomes thokuo/thokua (our goats)

Other compound words like Kuacjok can also be spelt Kuajok, omitting a “c” and both spellings are correct

As can be seen, these spellings are obviously strange and may invoke a spontaneous resistance. But if we look carefully, we can realize the logic. For example, Twic is one of the only few old reformed spellings after changing over time from Tuic and now finally to Twij. It is therefore puzzling how the diphthong “ui” was only changed in Twic and the same was not applied in other situations now corrected. Another example is that of Aliab. Clearly, the same situation in Aliab and Twij is just as correct as in other words/names. Of all diphthongs, the only exceptional cases are “uɔ”, “uo”, “uɔ”, “uo¨”where substituting “w” for “u” does not give equal phones, for instance, in Kuɔl. However, the difference is allophonic just as in English /k/ phoneme in “key’ and “cook”. So, it may appear to non-native speakers that these pairs are different when occurring as codas in words but if we examine the spoken sounds of the natives, it can be seen that these pairs exactly form or somewhat make up allophones of the voiced letter. The same thing occurs in Arabic and English where speakers of these languages cannot differentiate between [“b” & “p”] and [“k” & “kh”] respectively. But this case in Thuɔŋjaŋ is unique in two ways; (1) the devoiced-voiced pair form distinct phonemes when occurring as onsets in words but not when codas and (2) while occurring as codas, the voiced letter predominates such as in dhiedh (birth) and tid (wait). In this case, thus, choosing to end words with voiced letters is more correct and preferable for grammatical reasons and morphological uniformity (simplicity of spellings). Hence, the need to eventually adopt these reforms. [Aleu Majok, Page 5]

I would say that the resistance does not arise from the strangeness of the proposed spellings but rather from the fact that the logic does not hold for the most part. For example you have just made an erroneous assumption that the spelling “Twic” and “Aliab” are reformed and accepted over time. The same applies to the “Tonj”, “Abyei” spellings and a few others. They are spelt like that by English speakers. In Thuongjang, the correct spellings are “Tuic, “Aliap” and “Abiɛi” respectively. For Tonj, I would spell it “Tony” but I know it might have been a corrupted version of a Thuongjang word. If I know the exact word that was originally misspelled, I would write it exactly as it were. These word spellings have not been accepted. We have not had a Language Congress to approve and reject certain spellings. We have also not had any Peer Reviewed Thuongjang Journals which could substitute for the absence of a language Congress.

Your proposal is not robust enough since you have based it mainly on the Spelling. The Spelling is a very small component of the language. If you choose to pursue these sorts of reforms, a properly developed Alphabet is a prerequisite. This alphabet will then get subjected to rigorous Language labs for a long period of time. This process of course requires that one be well versed with infinite amounts of vocabulary in almost all the Thuongjang dialects, a fascinating Academic Work in my view

Significance of the proposed morphophonemic reforms 

Until this far, a sense may have been made of these reforms or reservations may still persist on how logical and significant they are to adopt them. To shed more light, further elaboration and illustrations are made as follows.  

I will begin this with a personal experience which triggered the wondering that eventually led to lending my efforts to seeking solutions to the spelling and pronunciation disparities as in Situations 1 and 2 and other phonemic challenges covered in “Thuɔŋjaŋ Cidmende”.There is a misconception among many Thuɔŋjaŋ speakers about knowledge of English alphabet relative to Thuɔŋjaŋ. Many Jieeng, after learning English, think that they can spell Thuɔŋjaŋ words. In fact even though one has learned the alphabets of the two languages, it is still not enough to spell Thuɔŋjaŋ words correctly. One needs to exert a little more reading and writing efforts and when one does so with some keen attention, some anomalies will begin to surface. Here is my trigger; pronunciation of English “foot” and “food”.  Without my realization, I used to pronounce both of them as “food”. In fact I pronounced everything that ends with‘t’ such as ‘cat’, ‘rat’, etc as though they ended with ‘d’. This is not to mention non-Muɔnyjang phonemes such as /v/, /f/, /sh/, /z/, /s/ which give tremendous pronunciation challenges to the Nilotes (esp the Muɔnyjaŋ, Naadh, Luo, Collo, etc).  [Aleu Majok, Page 5]

I totally agree. Just like some of us spend 16-20 years in English schools but still we may not even spell all English words correctly, it would be naïve for English-educated Thuongjang speakers to assume that they can be fluent in Thuongjang without practicing it. You are right that as one writes and practices Thuongjang for a long period of time, the subtleties and indeed some anomalies of the language become clearer. All Latin-based languages including English have these problems

Tracing and preserving potential historical and etymological relations between dialects/languages

In another remarkable show of evolution of dialects, Jangawil speakers (Malwal, Abiem, Koŋdeer, Bwɔncwai and Ajak) pronounce the same word as “dhied”. This is similar to the Ŋɔɔg pronunciation of “nom” rather than “nhom” as in most of the dialects. This shows that /d/ and /n/ may have evolved from /dh/ and /nh/ phonemes respectively with the passage of time or it may be the other way round. Since both “d” and “dh” are voiced plosives, it is impalpable to reckon that /d/ evolve from “th”, a devoiced plosive. This reveals to us very important historical and etymological information that will be useful in the studies of variations in dialects and their possible origins. The same can be said of the relation between Thuɔŋjaŋ and other languages of the Nilotic family. However, if we do not adopt morphophonemic reforms as explained above, then we are running a risk of losing this historical connection between dialects/languages as pronunciations will eventually shift with time in accordance to written form chosen. It is therefore vital that these reforms are adopted however strange they may look. [Aleu Majok, Page 6]

As I shall talk about it shortly under Dialect Harmonization, this is a very important area that needs lots of work in written Thuongjang. As people migrate outwards from each other, dialects and languages change as well due to distance and environmental interactions. If these dialects are not harmonized, they can possibly grow into distinct languages over a span of time. So regardless of Orthographic Reform, Dialect Harmonization is a necessity

Enhancing marking apophony in proper nouns and reducing variety of morphological forms of the same words 

Where the plosive pairs function as codas in words or morphemes in compound words, it would be grammatically and practically convenient to decide that only the voiced plosives should be codas. With that decided it would be easier to develop means of marking plosive-nasal changes as a result of possessives, adjectives or numbers following proper nouns as in Majak Atem, ApugPadɔj, GɔgMacaar, Majogdid and Makethacood respectively pronounced as Majang Atem, ApungPadɔj, GɔŋMacaar, Majoŋdid and Makɛnhacood. These changes in proper nouns are summarized in Table 2 below.  

Table 2: Markable

Case Terminal Plosives Alternate letters (Nasals) Marks Used
1 p,b M Mark 1
2 th,dh Nh Mark 2
3 c,j Ny Mark 3
4 k,g Ng Mark 4
5 t, d, w, y, ɣ N Mark 5
6 Terminal vowels N Mark 5
7 Internal vowels One vowel omitted Mark 6
8 Internal vowels Two vowels omitted Mark 7

[Aleu Majok, Page 6 – 7]

I have finally come to the gist of your proposal; that it would be easier for marking plosive-nasal changes to show possessiveness with regards to proper nouns.

Nothing in the current setup prevents the nasal marks to be applied as is. It is not any easier to apply an apostrophe to a “g” to make it a “ŋ” in order to show possessiveness than it is to apply the same to a “k” for the same purpose. Let us test your logic using Majak Atem (Majaŋ Atem – meaning Majak of Atem or Majak born of Atem): If we choose to use a nasal change marker, the apostrophe, then Majak’ Atem (Majak of Atem) will be the same as Majag’ Atem (Majag of Atem). That has not made our language any easier. The “g” and the “k” are all consonants in Thuongjang and none would easily substitute the other. The notion that probably a “g” looks closer in appearance to an “ng” or “ŋ” is born out of your knowledge of other languages especially English

This is an area I agree with you on though: the premise that we need some plosive-nasal change markers in Thuongjang. I would support some markers after thorough studies, like some that you have outlined above. However, overdoing it could also cause other unintended problems.

The other option that is widely in use is pronouncing those names as though there is possessiveness involved, for example Aleu Majok instead of Alen e Majok.  All peoples other than the Muonyjang/Jieng are currently using this system to refer to us and it works fine in my opinion.

To close this part, every language has its uniqueness which is teachable to any new learner of the same. Therefore the plosive-nasal changes are as unique to Thuongjang and may be appreciated for whatever those changes are.

More Examples

[b] à Ɣɔg ace la rabiij

      à Joŋ ace lam e weŋ cwed

[th] à Koor ace taj ne kwedhic

     à Manh a anyaar acii koor cam

[d] à Piw atɔw ne gudij

     à Kon a anyaar athieg apɛ

[j]  à Dhɔg ace rej taaw ne majij

     à Mony did akɔm ne way

[g] à Tig ahɛɛj maaw ne gorogij

     à Dhoŋ e Deŋ abioog ne thog

[y] à Kɔm ace loony ne cwaayiij

     à Yan e Kerismas aye looy akolnin 25 e Nyedh

[w] à Tɔŋ ace thɔɔr akewij

     à Arwɔn tog yen ace thow arwɔɔdhiij 

[Aleu Majok, Page 8]

The above examples would correctly be read as follows:

More Examples

[p] à Ɣɔk ace la/lɔ rapiic

      à Joŋ ace lam e weŋ cuet

[th] à Koor ace tac/tɛc ne kueethic

     à Manh/mɛnh anyaar acii koor cam

[t] à Piu atɔu ne gutic

     à Kon anyaar athiek apɛi

[c]  à Dhɔk ace rec taau ne macic

     à Mony dit akɔm ne waai

[k] à Tik aƔɛɛc maau ne gorokic

     à Dhoŋ e Deŋ abiook ne thok

[i] à Kɔm ace loony ne cuaaiyiic (This is a very notable word combination)

     à Yan (e) Athiɛɛi aye looi akolnin 25 e Nyedh

[u] à Tɔŋ ace thɔɔr akeuyic (other dialects have akeu nyin or akeu nhom)

     à Aruɔn tok yen ace thou aruɔɔthiic

CONCLUSIONS

I have responded to the proposed radical shift in Thuongjang Alphabet and written form based on my personal knowledge of the language as I speak and write it. I have written Thuongjang literally my entire life.

I have made a case against the proposal for the most part but I have also indicated a willingness to work on some aspects together with the proponents of the Reforms. I am impressed by the creativity and the thought process into the proposal but I believe I have enough experience with both written and spoken Thuongjang to know that the Reforms are out of context in most of the content. Much of the content is on the spelling. The spelling can be changed only through the change of the Latin-based alphabet. With more research work to be carried out, if the Nilerian Script (which I have not studied) becomes acceptable, then there will be room to discuss changes in spellings.

In summary, I believe that Reforms should focus on the following points:

I. The Dinka Language Development/Literacy

There is a pretty good reason why we learn to speak first before we are able to write. Language development depends entirely on how widely it is spoken and written. In the recent past, the Government of South Sudan made a policy that all local Languages are national languages and that they can be taught in schools as mandatory courses up to Primary 4. I believe that is a great starting point for literacy in Thuongjang. To encourage wide ranging literacy in the language, the following can be done:

  1. Developing Thuongjang literacy materials like kids’ books, themed cartoons, themed games
  2. Running Thuongjang themed kids summer camps
  3. Thuongjang essay competitions
  4. Magazines and Book Writing in Thuongjang
  5. Thuongjang Computer classes
  6. Creating incentives to encourage those who major in Languages and Linguistics to choose to specialize in Thuongjang leading to the award of Bachelor, Masters and PhD degrees

II. Dialect Harmonization

The Dinka have a variety of dialects, which sometimes can impede understanding amongst the various groupings for those who have not widely interacted within the different dialectal groupings. Dialect harmonization is therefore needed now not tomorrow.

There is a general consensus among the Jieng/Muongjang that Rek dialect is somewhat an acceptable benchmark. It tends to have wide ranging vocabulary than all the others. I will also add that the Padaang dialect will contribute greatly in the process of dialect harmonization. Although the Bor dialect is rich and widely written; oftentimes it runs short of new vocabulary thereby borrowing heavily from other languages. This shortage of vocabulary is easily solved by the Rek and Padang dialects

Dialect harmonization will take three forms:

  1. Harmonizing words that are spelled differently owing to different pronunciations. A typical example is Marial/Mariar. I personally have written it as Marial for a long time but my dialect pronounces it as Mariar and I pronounce it as such till today
  2. Harmonizing totally different words that carry the same meaning. Some flexibility will be exercised here. Some dialects that lack certain words will be asked to accept the words they don’t have and to put them into daily usage through literacy programs. Different words across dialects that carry same meaning can be maintained until some eventually die out on their own
  3. Setting a benchmark for accepting new words into common usage. For example when later confronted with new situations through the use of technology, how do we give names to things that are new to Thuongjang. This situation is the same with all languages. An established benchmark, however, would help in resolving any later impasse

III. The Dinka Language and the Church: Connecting the dots

Our Contemporary Civilization as the Dinka is based on the church. This started in December 1905 with the arrival of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) to Malek, Bor. The Missionary, Archibald Shaw thought it wise to train a few select Dinka people in order to write Thuongjang. One of these few was Gordon Apeec Ayom, who with Shaw ended up translating the Bible to Thuongjang

However, mass Christianization did not reach the Dinka villages until 1984 – 1990. This mass conversion to Christianity is attributable to RTD Rev Nathaniel Garang Anyieth. The Church was and still is an interested party to the advancement of the Dinka Language so that they can spread the word of God in both spoken and written forms with ease. It therefore devised a short curriculum which comprised of the teaching of the Alphabet, Buŋ Marial (Book of Marial) and then the Bible. Once you had reached the level of reading the Bible in Thuongjang, you were considered literate and therefore graduated. This Curriculum was also taught in IDP Camps across South Sudan and Sudan, and in the Refugee Camps where Dinka people could be found. Most Dinka people who currently speak and write Thuongjang fluently were and are in the church.

However, as is expected, this trajectory was not always smooth.  A lot of our young people found themselves highly educated in English and/or other languages but lacking in their own Dinka language. Through this process of educational and personal enlightenment, they instinctively make a personal commitment to contribute to the Development of the Dinka Language. This group has better knowledge, training and armed with the right tools to advance the language. But they lack the Linguistic Training and Foundation.

The key is to merge these two groups for maximum language progress to happen. We as young people with the right tools for doing this job should seek linguistic guidance from the Church and especially from those literate in Dinka only (Those of us who are multilingual can sometimes make linguistic mistakes unknowingly even though we are literate in Dinka). Suffices to say that the Church is a major stakeholder in any radical changes to written Thuongjang

IV. The Dinka Language and War Displacement

All languages suffer through wars and displacement. Consequently, our language also suffered a great deal in the Displaced and Refugee camps, and further aggravated by resettlement programs around the world. In the process, we have and will continue to have people who either speak very little or completely do not speak Dinka at all. This is normal to all peoples of the world. These people however, if they can find the right tools for speaking and writing Dinka, they will make a personal effort to do so just like we have non-Dinka people who fluently speak and write our language. The onus is therefore on the Dinka Language technologists and enthusiasts to avail language literacy programs to this group. The dice is cast and the roles are clear cut. This is an open area of academic research for which one can be awarded a University Degree

V. The Dinka Language and Technology

Today, we stay on our computers and on the net for the most part of the day. It also makes sense that as we stay on the net, we must be talking but in which languages are we talking?

About eight years ago, I was asked by a random web developer to help him set up a web/internet domain in Thuonggjang. Things like, how does a date and clock/time appear in written Thuongjang or especially in a Thuongjang web domain? This determines whether or not you get some weird symbols/marks on your Thuongjang. Things like punctuation marks (, . ? etc) which appeared trivial to me but after I started working on them, I realized how difficult, but vital, that process was. In short, some things got me defeated and I have no recollection of how the whole ended

A year or two later, an Australian software writer named Andrew Cunningham approached Deng Atem Garang, Daniel Akec Thiong and myself to help develop a Dinka keyboard. And if I remember correctly, Muorwel Ater was consulted in the background. Much of our discussions were happening on Facebook in order to encourage public consumption of information. We all did our small parts and today we have our keyboard

On the same breath, a few years later, Daniel Akec Thiong developed an online Dulek Magazine purely in Thuongjang. I personally contributed once or twice. If this would have continued, it would have been one great way to maintain an online Thuongjang presence.

There is currently a website that goes by the name Pioocku Thuongjang: Let us learn Dinka which provides online resources on the Jieng/Muonyjang and their language. There are many other resources out there for which Thuongjang can be advanced technologically

Technology is a great way to advance Thuongjang and it would be a great service if our young people can pick up interest to write software and become web developers in Thuongjang. You can even make a living out of it

Jok Gai Anai is a practicing Electrical Engineer with interests in Business, New Technologies and Dinka Language Development. He may be contacted at jok.aluel@gmail.com

Morphophonemic Reforms in Thuɔŋjäŋ Orthography: An Excerpt from “Thuɔŋjäŋ Cïdmënde”

Morphophonemic Reforms in Thuɔŋjäŋ Orthography: An Excerpt from “Thuɔŋjäŋ Cïdmënde” by Aleu Majok Aleu (PDF copy)

By Alëw Majɔg Alëw, Malaysia

nilerian-script

“Ideas are constructed in specific languages, and if we believe that ideas are important in development, in the determination of relations of wealth, power and values in a society, then … we cannot divorce issues of language and writing from issues of wealth, power and values” and as such, the contemporary African intellectuals “…will grow their roots in African languages and cultures. They will also learn the best they can from all world languages and cultures. They will view themselves as scouts in foreign linguistic territories and guides in their own linguistic space. In other words, they will take whatever is most advanced in those languages and cultures and translate those ideas into their own languages. They will see their role as that of doing for African languages and cultures what all writers and intellectuals of other cultures and histories have done for theirs”, Ngugi wa Thiong’o

1.0 Introduction

Whereas Thuɔŋjäŋ is arguably one of the few written and well researched South Sudanese languages, a host of orthographic challenges remain unresolved. These challenges are rooted in the unmarked phonemes and inaccurate morphophonemic designations that emanated from earlier missionary work in the language. There is a general consensus among a handful of western linguists, who researched into the language, on the approach that any new orthographic reforms, necessary as most of them content, should follow.

Nevertheless, discussions and proposals for reforms have so far focused on mostly the vowel system (representation of tones and length, having had the breathiness aspect already settled by Dhuruai’s umlauted vowels). The morphophonemic anomalies which form part of the reforms proposed in “Thuɔŋjäŋ Cïdmëndë”, a radical proposal for a total revision and revam of Thuɔŋjäŋ orthography and grammar, have not been raised or addressed anywhere in the available literature on  the language. This note, an excerpt from “Thuɔŋjäŋ Cïdmënde”, provides a brief explanation and illustration on only the morphophonemic reforms on [b, p], [d, t], [dh, th], [k, g], [u, w] and [i, y] as codas in lone morphemes (or single basic word unit) and for [u, w] and [i, y] as nuclei (or median letters in words).

Credibility of these reforms

For the benefit of readers, I would like to, first and foremost, underline that I am not a linguist nor did I have a conventional training in this field to speak with authority on these proposed reforms. But usually linguists work with native speakers of a language in issues like these. Hence, as a passionate and analytical native speaker, I will attempt to illustrate the logic that necessitates these reforms which I believe are necessary to adopt if we are to retain the authenticity and ease the grammar of the language, Thuɔŋjäŋ. Radical as they may be, I hope they will be understandable and sensible to other native speakers.

Furthermore, the proposal on these reforms is a conclusion of observational and intuitive research work done with many Muɔnyjiëëŋ/Jiëëŋ; those who are literate in other languages as well as Thuɔŋjäŋ and those who are completely illiterate (only monolingual in spoken Thuɔŋjäŋ). While the former group may sometimes have their pronunciations corrupted under the influence of second langauges they are literate in, observations from the latter group remarkably manifest and support the validity of these reforms. It is therefore helpful to refer to this group where further investigations and substantiation are needed.

Another point to underscore is that, unlike dialect-specific spelling and other grammatical issues, these observations cut across all dialects and are in no way dialect constrained (at least as far as I have noted from my discussion with speakers of different dialects).

1.2 Significance of the reforms and the position of the linguists

“Thuɔŋjäŋ Cïdmënde” is inpired by by the need to write Thuɔŋjäŋ as much exact as the native speak it (what we speak is what we write and what is written is what is spoken). Doing this does not only achieve maximum word clarity possible but it also conserves the natural phonology and phonetics of the language. In part, there is an agreement on this among many linguists and writers who researched into Thuɔŋjäŋ. Duerksen (1994) and Ladd (2012) summarise this into four principles.

Principle 1: “represent linguistic distinctions to the greatest extent possible”.

Principle 2: “don’t change more than necessary”.

Principle 3: “don’t use symbols that may cause technical problems”.

Principle 4: a unified orthography for all dialects

Thuɔŋjäŋ Cïdmënde” is in accord with Principles 1 and 4, although in a different approach, but disregards the rest on the basis of significance of the reforms. The morphophonemic reforms herein illustrated and the concept of “The New Thuɔŋjäŋ Alphabet” which is based on the Nilerian script (also a new script invented for the purpose of correctly writing South Sudanese languages starting with Thuɔŋjäŋ) are directly and sharply contentious with Principles 2 and 3 respectively. Thus, the radical characterisation others have already made of these reforms.

The Situation and Manifestation

Situation 1: Misplaced use of devoiced for voiced plosives when they function as codas in lone morphemes, bound morphemes or in compound words containing either lone/bound morphemes or both.

Situation 2: Misplaced use of [u] for [w] and [i] for [y] when they function as medians in form of diphthongs words.

From the Muɔnyjäng phonological point of view, there is no logic in the current spelling for the existence of the above situations in the Latin-based Thuɔŋjäŋ orthography. Yet, phonemes or rather letters involved in Situation 1 play a crucial role in Thuɔŋjäŋ grammar as will be shown shortly. Treating them as now done in the current spellings presents enormous morphological challenges in proper and common nouns, for example, Luɛɛth Majök Akuëi (pronounced as Luenh Majöŋ Akuëi) and amadic (from amat yic) respectively.

Situation 1: Misplaced use of devoiced for voiced plosives when they function as codas in lone morphemes, bound morphemes or in compound words containing either lone/bound morphemes or both.

This situation will be explained by looking at the devoiced-voiced plosive pair [devoiced, voiced] and the vowel-semivowel pair [vowel, semivowel]. That is, [p, b], [c, j], [t,d], [k, g], [th, dh], [i,y] and [u, w] respectively. The first letter from each of these pairs – [p, b], [c, j], [t,d], [k, g], [th, dh], [i,y] and [u, w] – is currently incorrectly written as a finale in lone words or compound words.

For example:

Lone words: tiɔp (pasted soil), löc (peg), dit (bird), tiök (mud), dhieth (birth), luɔi (work) and baau (lake)

Compound words: rapdit (wild corn grass), apuɔcthiak (bride), miɛtpuööu (happiness), muɔ̈ɔ̈kmeth (babysitting), jiɛthpuööu (shock), baaiciɛlic (courtyard), akeunhom (neighbourhood).

According to “Thuɔŋjäŋ Cïdmënde”, these words, considering correction to Situation 1 only, should be spelt as

 Lone words: tiɔb, löj, did, tiög, dhiedh, luɔy and baaw

Compound words: rabdid, apuɔjthiag, miɛdpuööw, muɔ̈ɔ̈gmeth, jiɛdhpuööw, baayciɛlij and akewnhom.

Situation 2: Misplaced use of [u] for [w] and [i] for [y] when they function as medians in form of diphthongs in words.

This situation manifests in kuaj (leopard), kuad (related or ethnic group), kuej (refusal), kuɛdh (satisfaction), kuël, etc. The correct forms of which are kwaj, kwad, kwej, kwɛdh, kwël respectively.

Combined Corrections for Situation 1 and Situation 2

The above words, after a combined correction of both situations, can be correctly spelt as we speak them as follows: tyɔb, löj, did, tiög, dhyëdh, lwɔy,  baaw, rabdid, apwɔjthyag, myɛdpwööw, mwɔ̈ɔ̈gmedh, jyɛdhpwööw, baaycyɛlij

More examples of new spellings based on these reforms.

[p, b]: Warrab, Alyab, Matyɔb, alyääb, aköb, arob, tab, lab, deb, rub, yiëb, ajyëb, etc

[c, j]: Kwajjög, Cyëj, Kyëj, Akuj, cwëj, wëj, waj, moj, lɔ̈ɔ̈j, kɔj, kɔ̈ɔ̈j, dhïj, pïj, dɔj, laj, etc

[t,d]: Dud, Aköd, gud, gääd, wid, bud, amad, pwööd, dwöd, adeed, kwɛɛd, awed, etc

 [k, g]: Rumbeg, Dug, Gagrial, thɔ̈g, dhɔ̈g, dhäg, wag, leg, tig, myög, ɣög, lug, etc

[th, dh]: thidh, widh, wadh, lwadh, lwɛɛdh, apedh, nyidh, kwëdh, wëëdh, podh, etc

[i,y]: Ayiɛ̈ɛ̈y, Byɔ̈ɔ̈r, Abyɛy, Pyɔk, kwyɛg, pyën, cyëën, byaar, yay, rwääy, cwaay, etc

[u,w] Twij, Makwëy, Alëw, Ayiy, kwaar, kwɔɔd, kwej, yweg, awööw, mɔ̈w, päw, piw, etc

As can be seen, these spellings are obviously strange and may invoke a spontaneous resistance. But if we look carefully, we can realize the logic. For example, Twic is one of the only few old reformed spellings after changing over time from Tuic and now finally to Twij. It is therefore puzzling how the diphthong “ui” was only changed in Twic and the same was not applied in other situations now corrected. Another example is that of Aliab. Clearly, the same situation in Aliab and Twij is just as correct as in other words/names. Of all diphthongs, the only exceptional cases are “uɔ”, “uo”, “uɔ̈”, “uö” where substituting “w” for “u” does not give equal phones, for instance, in Kuɔl. However, the difference is allophonic just as in English /k/ phoneme in “key’ and “cook”.

So, it may appear to non-native speakers that these pairs are different when occurring as codas in words but if we examine the spoken sounds of the natives, it can be seen that these pairs exactly form or somewhat make up allophones of the voiced letter. The same thing occurs in Arabic and English where speakers of these languages cannot differentiate between [“b” & “p”] and [“k” & “kh”] respectively. But this case in Thuɔŋjäŋ is unique in two ways; (1) the devoiced-voiced pair form distinct phonemes when occurring as onsets in words but not when codas and (2) while occurring as codas, the voiced letter predominates such as in dhiëdh (birth) and tid (wait).

In this case, thus, choosing to end words with voiced letters is more correct and preferable for grammatical reasons and morphological uniformity (simplicity of spellings). Hence, the need to eventually adopt these reforms.

The second exception to the general trend of these reforms occurs when the diphthong containing “ i ” or “ ï ”  such as “ie”, “ia”, etc follows “y” in a word. In that case “ i ” or “ ï ”  are written, for example, in yiëb (axe) and Ayiɛɛy (name). However, there seem to be dialect differences in this case. That is, in some dialects, these can simply be “yëb” and “Ayɛɛy”. Either way, this becomes a different situation – that of dialects standardisation which is discussed separately outside this note. If, in dialects standardisation work, yiëb and Ayiɛɛy are maintained, then the current exception will prevail. Otherwise, yëb and Ayɛɛy will nullify the current exception in which case the trend will be uniform regardless.

 2.0 Significance of the proposed morphophonemic reforms

Until this far, a sense may have been made of these reforms or reservations may still persist on how logical and significant they are to adopt them. To shed more light, further elaboration and illustrations are made as follows.

I will begin this with a personal experience which triggered the wondering that eventually led to lending my efforts to seeking solutions to the spelling and pronunciation disparities as in Situations 1 and 2 and other phonemic challenges covered in “Thuɔŋjäŋ Cïdmënde”.There is a misconception among many Thuɔŋjäŋ speakers about knowledge of English alphabet relative to Thuɔŋjäŋ. Many Jiëëng, after learning English, think that they can spell Thuɔŋjäŋ words. In fact even though one has learn the alphabets of the two languages, it is still not enough to spell Thuɔŋjäŋ words correctly.

One needs to exert a little more reading and writing efforts and when one does so with some keen attention, some anomalies will begin to surface. Here is my trigger; pronunciation of English “foot” and “food”.  Without my realization, I used to pronounce both of them as “food”. In fact I pronounced everything that ends with ‘t’ such as ‘cat’, ‘rat’, etc as though they ended with ‘d’. This is not to mention non-Muɔnyjäng phonemes such as /v/, /f/, /sh/, /z/, /s/ which give tremendouss pronunciation challenges to the Nilotes (esp the Muɔnyjäŋ, Näädh, Luo, Collo, etc).

2.1 Easing grammar and reading

Figuring out the difference in pronunciation of words that end with “t” and “d” in English made me suspect something unique about our pronunciation of Thuɔŋjäŋ words that end with “t” or “d” and obviously with words that involve the five phonemes aforementioned. In reality, “t” or “ch” at the end of an English word does not sound the same way as in a Thuɔŋjäŋ word. Clearly ours is a “d” sound. Some linguists say, it is a weak “t”. Whether or not it is a weak “t”, the fact that we find a “d” phone when we pronounce words such as “amat/amad” in conjunction with another word or bound morpheme such as in “amadic”, is enough for us to take “amad” as the correct spelling.

This will save us many morphological variations in words and will definitely make a great advantage for our grammar and reading.  This situation with “t” and “d” is exactly the case with the rest of other similar letter pairs (plosives) earlier mentioned. For example no native Jiëëŋ ponounces “dhiëth” with the same sound of “th” as in the pronounciation of “birth”. Clearly we have a “dh” sound not a weak “th”.

2.2 Tracing and preserving potential historical and etymological relations between dialects/langauges

In another remarkable show of evolution of dialects, Jangawil speakers (Malwal, Abiëm, Koŋdeer, Bwɔncwai and Ajak) pronounce the same word as “dhiëd”. This is similar to the Ŋɔɔg pronunciation of “nom” rather than “nhom” as in most of the dialects. This shows that /d/ and /n/ may have evolved from /dh/ and /nh/ phonemes respectively with the passage of time or it may be the other way round. Since both “d” and “dh” are voiced plosives, it is impalpable to reckon that /d/ evolve from “th”, a devoiced plosive.

This reveals to us very important historical and etymological information that will be useful in the studies of variations in dialects and their possible origins. The same can be said of the relation between Thuɔŋjäŋ and other languages of the Nilotic family. However, if we do not adopt morphophonemic reforms as explained above, then we are running a risk of losing this historical connection between dialects/languages as pronunciations will eventually shift with time in accordance to written form chosen. It is therefore vital that these reforms are adopted however strange they may look.

2.3 Enhancing marking apophony in proper nouns and reducing variety of morphological forms of the same words

Furthermore Situation 1 also provides us with another important observation, how the plosive pairs transform into nasals as shown in Table 1 below.

Table 1: Plosive-Nasal Apophonic changes and phonological buccal positions

(1) Alphabetical Order Bilabial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar
(2) Plosives Devoiced p th t c k
Voiced b dh d j g
(3) Nasals m nh n ny ŋ

Where the plosive pairs function as codas in words or morphemes in compound words, it would be grammatically and practically convenient to decide that only the voiced plosives should be codas. With that decided it would be easier to develop means of marking plosive-nasal changes as a result of possessives, adjectives or numbers following proper nouns as in Majak Atëm, ApugPadɔj, Gɔ̈gMacäär, Majögdïd and Makethacööd respectively pronounced as Majang Atëm, ApungPadɔj, Gɔ̈ŋMacäär, Majöŋdïd and Makɛnhacööd. These changes in proper bouns are summarised in Table 2 below.

Table 2: Markable Apophonic Changes in Proper Nouns

Case Terminal Plosives Alternate Letters (Nasals) Marks Used
1 p, b M Mark 1
2 th, dh Nh Mark 2
3 c, j Ny Mark 3
4 k, g Ng Mark 4
5 t, d, w, y, ɣ N Mark 5
6 Terminal vowels N Mark 5
7 Internal vowels One vowel omitted Mark 6
8 Internal vowels Two vowels omitted Mark 7

In addressing apophony in proper nouns, seven symbolic marks to represent plosive-nasal apophonic changes are outlined in “Thuɔŋjäŋ Cïdmënde”. These marks are much easier to use when, as a general rule, “b”, “dh”, “d”, “j” and “g” are adopted as the only codas instead of their counterparts in their respective pairs. The marks are apically embedded on the letters that change to nasals to virtually tell a reader that a letter with such a mark is read as a particular nasal.

Assuming that an apostrophe (‘) is the mark that represents the change in Majag to Majang (g to ŋ), for example, then a “g with apostroph” (g’) is pronounced in two ways; (1) as a “g” when “ŋ” is not required due to absence of the possessive or adjective (when  written alone)  and (2) as a “ŋ” when it is required accordingly. For instance, Majag’ Atëm Majag and Majag’ Atëm Majag’ Atëm are virtually pronounced as Majang Atëm Majag and Majang Atëm Majang Atëm respectively.

However, these marks are part of the New Thuɔŋjäŋ Alphabet based on the Nilerian script. But they can be extended to the Latin-based orthography since they are only seven. The advantage of using these marks is that they help a reader knows where and which nasal should be pronounced while at the same time not significantly changing the form of the name. That is Majag’ is a lesser change than Majaŋ and much better than totally ignoring marking the nasal.

This would be a great improvement to Thuɔŋjäŋ grammar and at the same a preservation of this unique feature which is now ignored at the expense of its disappearance. Non-native learners of the language will also learn to call Muɔnyjäŋ names correctly unlike now where names of a person, for instance, Majög Maluɛɛdh Matiɔb Arou are pronounced as though they are four different people. More on this in “Thuɔŋjäŋ Cïdmënde”.

In the rest of the words other than proper nouns, all the different forms of words that arise as a grammatical requirement are written as spoken. For example moj, tig,akew, etc are written exactly in all their various forms. That is moj (mony, mwɔny), tig (tiŋ), akew(akewic).

More Examples

[b] àƔɔ̈g acë la rabiij

     à Jöŋ acë lam ë weŋ cwed

[th] àKöör acë täj në kwëdhic

     à Manh a anyaar acïï köör cam

[d] à Piw atɔ̈w në gudij

     à Kön a anyaar athieg apɛy

[j]  à Dhɔ̈g acë rej tääw në majij

     à Mony dïd akɔm në way

[g] à Tig ahɛ̈ɛ̈j määw në görögij

     à Dhöŋ ë Dëŋ abïöög në thög

[y] à Kɔ̈m acë lööny në cwaayiij

     à Yan ë Kërïsmäs aye looy akölnïn 25 ë Nyedh

[w] à Tɔŋ acë thɔ̈ɔ̈r akewij

     à Arwɔn tög yen acë thow arwɔɔdhiij

2.4 Basis for Thuɔŋjäŋ Alphabetical Order (Abeer ë Kïdjäŋ)

The information in Table 1 above also shows a remarkable trend that was used, in the New Alphabet, to establish Thuɔŋjäŋ Alphabetical Order (Abeer ë Kïdjäŋ), which is lacking in the current alphabet. This order follows the following precedence;

Vowels à Semivowels à Consonants

Within vowels the order goes as [a, ä, e, ë, ɛ, ɛ̈, i, ï, o, ö, ɔ, ɔ̈, u]  and within consonants, the order follows the buccal positions from lips to back of the mouth (velar) and from devoiced to voiced in each group. That is, w.y, ɣ, b, p, m, th, dh, nh, t, d, n, c, j, ny, k, g, ŋ, l, r. These buccal positions are shown in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: Phonological buccal positions (order from lips to velum)

All together and based on the current 33 letters, Thuɔŋjäŋ Alphabetical Order (Abeer ë Kïdjäŋ) is now established as follows.

a, ä, e, ë, ɛ, ɛ̈, i, ï, o, ö, ɔ, ɔ̈, u, w, y, ɣ, b, p, m, th, dh, nh, t, d, n, c, j, ny, k, g, ŋ, l, r

3.0 Other Reforms Covered in “Thuɔŋjäŋ Cïdmënde”

Apart from the morphophonemic reforms discussed here, other orthographic reforms and proposals on approaches towards dialects standardisation are presented. These include the following.

(i) Orthographic Reforms

  1. Nilerian Script based orthography
  2. Representing the unmarked phonemes (tones & vowel length)
  3. Marking Apophony (Nasals) in proper nouns
  4. Morphophonemic reforms in Thuongjang Orthography

(ii) Dialects Standardisation

  1. Harmonising dialect phonemic and semantic differences
  2. Establishing standard grammar and language of formality
  3. Compiling idioms, proverbs, wise sayings & phrasal verbs
  4. Compiling tongue twisters, myths, legends, folklores & short stories

Section (i) (a) addresses the phonemic deficiencies in the current Latin-based alphabet and on top provides a unique opportunity for the adoption of  the reforms since the script is new and therefore reforms such as those in 1 (c) and (d) would not be seen as strange as they are in the Latin-based script. The challenge it presents, however, is that of increased number of letters; 46 letters owing to breathiness and vowel length and 72 letters (inclusive of two level tones), 98 letters (inclusive of three level tones) and 124 (inclusive of four  level tones). Given the linguistic complexity of tones across different dialects, the Nilerian Script Team currently works on the 46 letter proposal to achieve a reasonable and practical ideal Thuɔŋjäŋ orthography based on the Nilerian script. More on Section (i) and Section (ii) is elaborated in “Thuɔŋjäŋ Cïdmënde” and “The Nilerian Script” forthcoming.

As part of appreciation of breathiness and vowel length at three levels (very long, long and very short), it is recommended that every Thuɔŋjäŋ writer practices writing Job Dhuruai;s umlauted letters and “very long” length, usually indicated by a double vowel.  Fortunately, free keyboard software on both computer and smartphone platforms is now available. Thus, instead of Reng, Agar, Bor, Ngok, Mabior, Macar, Madol, etc, these should be correcty written as Rɛ̈ŋ (or Rɛ̈ng), Agaar, Boor, Ŋɔɔg (or Ngɔɔg), Mabiöör, Macäär, Maadöl respectively.

 4.0 Conclusion

As shown, the proposed morphophonemic reforms with plosive, radical as they seem, seek to address the spelling and grammatical anomalies which have persisted in the current orthography as a result of the approach followed by the earlier writers and which has not been corrected thus far. The reforms are significant in many ways; correcting and simplifying Thuɔŋjäŋ grammar and reading by the learners, preserving potential historical and etymological relations between dialects/langauges, enhancing marking of apophony in proper nouns and reducing formation of a variety of morphological forms of the same words and forms the basis for Thuɔŋjäŋ Alphabetical Order (Abeer ë Kïdjäŋ). It is therefore imperative to adopt them. The real adoption of these reforms will be achieved once the Nilerian-based orthography is formally endorsed by the speech community and other stakeholders in South Sudan.

To many, the Nilerian-based Thuɔŋjäŋ orthography is the final solution to the orthorgraphic challenges in the language while to others, it could impede literacy in the language. But adopting it is justifiable as can be seen from the reasons and illustrations earlier stated and in “The Nilerian Script”. There is not much of the development in Thuɔŋjäŋ that will be lost once the orthographic shift is made. There are many cases where this was successfully done with already established orthographies, for instance Russia and Bulgaria among others, where orthographies were changed from Latin to Cyrillic. Also many Central Asian countries have gone through multiple orthographic transitions involving Arabic, Latin and Cyrillic. Yet, those languages were more established than Thuɔŋjäŋ. It can therefore be done in Thuɔŋjäŋ.

About Author: Alëw Majɔg Alëw studies chemical engineering at Petronas University of Technology, Malaysia. He is a proponent of radical reforms in Thuɔŋjäŋ orthography including the introduction of the new script, Nilerian Script, and the New Thuɔŋjäŋ Alphabet based on that script. As part of the Nilerian Script Team, Alëw and Maawan Mwɔrtad (UK) currently work on the New Thuɔŋjäŋ Alphabet and Nilerian keyboard. He can be reached at: aleumajok1@gmail.com  

5.0 References

Fatima, H. (2004). Modern Development in the Dinka language.

Ladd, D. (2012). Orthographic reform in Dinka: some general considerations and a proposal

A Summary of the Orthographic Statement and Description of the new Muonyjang (Dinka) Script

The new Muonyjang (Dinka) Script: A Summary of the Orthographic Statement and Description drawn from the forthcoming book, “Identity and Language” by Alëu Majɔk Alëu.

The New Muonyjang (Dinka) Script (PDF)

Dinka Script

Dinka Script

0. Introduction:

This summary (paper) is purposed to explain the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions that may be asked about the new Muonyjang script well ahead of the publication of the book, ‘Identity and Language’, from which it was derived. In it the author explains why we need a new script – not just any script but that which will be native only to the Muonyjang language in particular and South Sudanese languages at large. He also explains how the script characters were created and can be written – the orthographic statement and orthographic description respectively.

With this paper, therefore, the author discloses to other writers/experts – who may be exerting efforts in the development of the Muonyjang language – and the public the idea of this new script so well in time that their views may be collected much earlier and collaboration may be made. It may then be brief to the experts and lengthy to the public audience, but it is hoped that it will address some questions that might have been raised before by those who, by chance, could have come across the script and those yet to get it.

For a comprehensive and detailed insight to the script, the upcoming book is the best alternative.

1 .0 The Script Basis – Summarized Orthographic Statement

The new Muoyjang alphabet is based on the Nilerian Script which, too, is not only new but is yet in proposition. The birth of the script derives from the orthographic challenges (high degree of ambiguity among words) that have been faced in developing the Muonyjang language using the Latin script as a basis. Over the years, some considerable efforts were exerted in trying to resolve these challenges once and for all. Although the solutions put forward did not resolve all the challenges, considerable improvement was made. The addition of two extra vowels (ε and ɔ) in 1938 as well as the introduction of Kïd ë yäu (aker yäu) by Job Dhurwaai Malou in 1978 were very crucial.

Nevertheless, much still remains to be done in many areas of the language to put things right. Some of these areas are tone marking, standardizing spellings on the basis of the real Muonyjang phonemes and establishing some standards that would harmonize the constituent variant dialects among others. The same ambiguity faced before introduction of kïd ë yäu would be prevalent if no viable and practical solutions are found to the remaining challenges.  This therefore brings the question; “Is the Latin script sufficient and suitable to attain these viable and practical solutions?” Experience with diereses  (kïd ë yäu), which in terms of graphemes, are a result of manipulation of the Latin script shows that practicality with the manipulated letters (with aumlets or diacritics) is too low or mostly lacking among the literate native speakers especially in writing by hand.

Furthermore, for Thong Muonyjang speakers, to assert that the most widely used Latin alphabet eases learning of Thong Muͻnyjäng is in itself delusional because it is through its use that now exist so many of them who think or claim that they know the language when actually they know little or none of it. A few will admit this at a surface talk but majority would acknowledge it when getting down to practice and the real nature of the language (its morphophonology). Thus, since entering literacy (writing) in late 1920s, the Muonyjang language has not yet developed even to half of the kind of development anticipated. Rather, more than three quarters of the literate speakers still cannot write it well. So, the adoption of the Latin script for Thong Muonyjang was neither a part of globalizing it nor was it for suitability to the language. It was just a matter of chance (missionaries who adopted it being literate in Latin-script-using languages).

The same situation (little knowledge of Thong Muonyjang and no practical writing of diereses among the literate speakers) is certainly looming or will worsen in the event that manipulation of the Latin script continues to account for the tonal aspect. It is in the face of this reality that some academicians/writers, among them myself, have had the opinion that taking on a completely new script is a felt need for the Muonyjang language.

When an alphabet is borrowed to represent a language other than it did originally—as has been done with the Latin alphabet for many languages, or Japanese Katakana for non-Japanese words—it often proves defective in representing the new language’s phonemes. And as it has been observed, therefore, the Latin script, in its basic form, cannot sufficiently suit Thong Muonyjang (Dinka Language). It may be used to write Thong Muonyjang but with a very high degree of defectiveness just as it is the case in English – something that the new script seeks to address.

As a matter of fact, even English has many considerable difficulties using the Latin script although script change cannot be considered as a solution. This is because, over the years of its development (trying to adopt to the Latin script to suit its phonology rather than adopting it and importing many loanwords), so much work was done that even if the script remains unsuitable, it is better to be maintained. It is owing to this that English has remained a highly non-phonemic alphabetic language and is thus by far contrastive to Thong Muonyjang.  For example, the English phoneme /c/ has many graphemes – c, k, q, ck, ch – while the phoneme /j/ has j, g, dge, ge.  This complicates spelling, as one will have to remember which word uses which letters.

Also the use of the same graphemes, monographs or multigraphs, to represent more than one phoneme in English causes yet another problem in predicting correct pronunciations of words. For example, using <th> to represent the two phonemes in ‘think’ and ‘then’. One, therefore, has to learn these patterns through a lot of practice. These situations are very undesirable and are better avoided in a language, like Thong Muonyjang, which is still at its infant stage of development. Promisingly, Thong Muonyjang phoneme-grapheme correspondence is geared towards a one-to-one correspondence with the marking of breathiness and tone. But the new script best achieves this correspondence without messiness (due to diacritics stalking with aumlets) as can be encountered with trying to achieve the same through manipulation of the Latin script.

Therefore, rather than improvising the Latin script by applying diacritics or amulets to meet Thong Muonyjang phonemic demands, it is better to take on a different script preferably the one devised to suit its phonology, the Nilerian Script. This is to avoid diacritics and aumlets stalking which, in most cases, is hardly practical in handwriting as has been witnessed already with kïd ë yäu.

Truly, Finnish, Albanian and Georgian among others achieved nearly ideal phonemic orthographies through the application of diacritics and other markings to the Latin script. But that was primarily due to the fact that they had used the Latin script far too long – longer than it has been used for Thong Muonyjang – to change it. Even then, writings in such languages as above as well as in Vietnamese look very messy. On the other hand, Thong Muonyjang, based on the latin script and at its current stage, is only developed to less than a quarter of the development needed and so we lose little or nothing if we throw away the latin script and adopt a new script with better and easily practical solutions. Such a script ought not be borrowed but should be native only to Thong Muonyjang unless the power of innovation and arts is defeated.

1.1 Morphophonomics

The primary goal of the initiative of creating the new script for Thong Muonyjang is for it to be written with an ideal or a nearly ideal phonemic orthography. That is, to achieve as greatest clarity among words as possible. Other reasons such as prestige for having a script only native to Thong Muonyjang are secondary and consequential. So in regards to the primary goal, Job Dhurwaai Malou’s work has covered the ‘great’ part and what is now needed is either the ‘greater’ (more reduced ambiguity) or the ‘greatest’ and which has to be done with a new script other than the Latin.

With in-depth analysis of Thong Muonyjang phonology, thoroughly using intuition as a native writer, the author was able to identify, with certainty, six vowel phonemes from each of these undifferentiated vowel sounds (a, e, i, o, ε, ɔ) and four phonemes from ‘u’ after applying both breathiness and tone. Whereas he could use the same technique to arrive at 8 phonemes per each of some of the six undifferentiated vowel sounds above, not all of them seem to have 8 phonemes. Nevertheless, the author hypothesized that each of them can give rise to at most 8 separate phonemic distinctions while ‘u’ can have four. Based on this hypothesis, 52 vowel phonemes can be formed although some may have nearly the same distinctions. On the other hand, there are 20 very clear consonant phonemes as per the real Muonyjang phonology – that which is not diluted under Arabic or English influence. That is, the Muonyjang phonology in its purity as can be found perfectly with illiterate Muonyjieeng who are monolingual only in Thong Muonyjang. The total number of phonemes as per this hypothesis is 72; both of consonants and vowels or 77 including phonemes due to kïd ë nuëëd thok (for writing loanwords). Perhaps the number may be higher with better linguistic analysis and across different dialects. After all, the author’s intuition works no more beyond his dialect or sub-dialect.

In pursuit of the primary goal of the initiative, therefore, a one-to-one phoneme-grapheme correspondence can then be applied to get 72 or 77 graphemes (glyphs or characters). To make such a change would be very radical and may be feared or resisted by many. But this is what can, most greatly, accomplish clarity which is now a problem in the language. Actually, the author also strongly recommends reform of spellings that are currently wrongly written due to incorrect allocation of letters to phonemes ( e.g wrongly considering phoneme /d/ as /t/ when appearing as a coda in a word) , ignorance of long vowels, improper grammar marking, et cetra. Such reforms may make the script change more radical but more suitable to the language’s phonemic realities.

So, to fully conform to the primary goal therefore, we can have 72 characters, the sum of those in the black, orange and green rectangles – in Chart 0 below- as per the real phonology of the language plus 5 characters (in the pink rectangle), here termed as kïd ë nuëëd thok. These are letters meant for helping to maintain pronunciation of foreign loanwords whose maintenance of their pronunciation is necessary, for example, ‘s’ in the word ‘Sudan’. To summarise, check Chart 0 and Table 0 below for these categories of characters and phonemes respectively.

Chart 0: Categories of the script characters.

Categories of the Script Characters

Categories of the Script Characters

Table 0: Phonemes’ categories.

Categories of Phonemes

Categories of Phonemes

Vowel phonemes due to high and low tones are easier to distinguish from one another and from those due to breathiness and non-breathiness (ɣεu).  But those due to flat tone are less distinguishable from those due to high and low tones. They tend to approach either the low or high tone phonemes and so need much care to be differentiated. Vowel phonemes due to descending tone are the least distinguishable from those due to high, low and flat tones. They require the greatest care and may be well distinguished using high techniques or intuitively by a few speakers. Their existence also seems to vary among dialects. Since the terminologies used to describe tones vary from one writer to another and given the fact that the author is not a linguistic expert but is just a highly passionate native writer, only using intuition to distinguish tones, it may be helpful to look at the following tone-labelled words in Table 1.

Table 1: Tones’ illustration

Tone Illustration

Tone Illustration

Note that without tones, ‘lek’ and lëk can have three and five meanings respectively, hence a lot of ambiguity.

As noted in Table 1, assigning characters to phonemes in the red or blue rectangles in Table 0 can achieve a much greater clarity – a nearly ideal phonemic orthography – while assigning characters to all the phonemes in either the green or brown rectangle would accomplish a highly phonemic orthography (of the greatest degree) for the Muonyjang language.

In the opinion of the author and in the view of practical attainment of the primary objective of the script (achieving as much greatest words clarity as possible), marking phonemes in either the red or blue rectangle in Table 0 would suffice. The rest of the vowel phonemes (about 24 or more) if not marked, would present some ambiguities but not significant. With this choice the number of letters/graphemes is, hence, reduced from 77/72 to 53/51 and so, if the orthography is based on this choice, it would be more practical in writing. But should the flat tone be considered, then assigning graphemes to each of the phonemes in the green rectangle in Table 0 (i.e glyphs in the yellow rectangles in Chart 0), a highly ideal phonemic orthography can be achieved although it will present some challenges putting it in practice as phonemic differentiation becomes quite challenging.

Therefore, based on this and as a matter of personal choice, the author established orthographic rules (characters’ behaviour and shapes due to joining) as well as ideas for rendering/computing for all the characters in the script except for those in the green rectangle in Chart 0. This is because, on the ground of difficulty using these characters in practice, the author already ruled out using them (marking descending tone). In this view, thus, experts (especially the natives), would, by consensus, make a choice for the number of letters from all of the glyphs categories except category marked with the green rectangle on Chart 0 or phonemes number in the brown rectangle in Table 0.  That is, the orthography will have 10 numeral glyphs and the number of letters/characters that correspond to the most preferable number of phonemes (51, 53 or 65) – preferable as in regards to clear phonemic distinctions that can practically be assigned  graphemes with less difficulty in reading and writing. 

2. The Alphabet Character Inventory

. Kïïd ëyam 01

. Kïïd ëyam 01

As mentioned in the foregoing section, only 63 glyphs for letters and 10 numeral characters are covered in this section. Refer to Chart 1 below. The numeral characters are not discussed much except to show that they are treated in a similar way as with Arabic numerals when counting tends to infinity. The glyphs for letters are, however, discussed in terms of joining with other characters, punctuation and case among other features.

As for the case issue, no particular capital and small letters as with ‘A’ and ‘a’ in the current Latin based alphabet. Rather, all characters are written in upper and lower cases only by varying the size from big to small respectively just the same way it is done for some letters such as ‘Z’ ‘z’, ‘W’ ‘w’, etc in the Latin script.

The same punctuation marks and similar rules are applied except possession marking. For example proper nouns, words beginning a sentence or coming after fullstop, question mark and exclamation mark are written with the first letter in upper case (bigger than the rest of the letters).

Chart 1: Characters of the script.

. Kïïd ëyam 01

. Kïïd ëyam 01

Analysing the glyphs, one might think that some were taken from other existing scripts. This is not so. They were rather created after considering some principles. Thus, the likeness of some characters with letters in other scripts such as the Latin came by coincidence. During glyphs creation, the following principles were employed.

1. The glyphs should resemble, to the greatest extent possible, objects used or associated with the Muonyjang people.

2. The glyph/grapheme and the first phoneme/letter (current Latin letter) in the name of the object whose shape the glyph represents should rhyme.

3. The glyphs should be presentable/elegant in writing and practically easy to write.

4. In the event that conformity with all the above principles complicates or discourages the idea of creating a native Muonyjang script, glyphs that do not conform to 1 and 2 but to 3 can be created, to the minimum extent, provided that they do not resemble any characters of at least the Latin script.

With the above principles, all the glyphs comply fairly well with Principle 3. However, only the glyph for the Latin ‘a’ and the consonant glyphs in the black rectangle excluding those in the red rectangle in Chart 0 conform to Principles 1 and 2. The glyphs in the red rectangles were created based on Principle 4 after exhausting all trials to create them in conformity with Principles 1, 2 and 3. All vowel glyphs except the glyph for ‘a’, by nature, do not comply with Principle 2. That is, vowels in Thong Muonyjang always function as nuclei and codas in syllables (middle and terminal letters in lone words) except ‘a’ which can be at the beginning, middle or end of a lone word.

As such, to say that the script characters are a result of copying from other scripts is a false preemptive assertion. There may be similarity or likeness of some glyphs with characters in other scripts but that is only by coincidence. After all, the phonemes marked by such characters in this script are or may not be the same as in those scripts.

It should also be borne in mind that objects from whose shapes the glyphs were taken are not only confined to the Muonyjang community. For example, cök käd (Y-shaped pole), whose shape is seen in the glyph for ‘c’ can be found in any community in the world. Perhaps, the Latin may have derived their letter ‘Y’ from the shape of ‘cök käd’ or from another situation. But the fact that we use the ‘cök käd’ shape in our script in a way relevant to our situation is what matters. Again, it would be unnecessary and impossible to explore all the existing scripts so that one can then settle down to create characters found no where in other scripts. My experience with the many versions of this script that I had created and used confirmed this. This is why the script came down to what now it is.

2.1 Characters’ Behaviour: Joining Rules

Before mentioning about joining, the directionality of this script is from left to right and top to bottom just like with the Latin script. With this in mind, joining between characters is governed by some rules. These rules are aimed at giving speed to handwriting and elegance to written text. They are based on the phonotactics or syllable structures of Thong Muonyjang which is almost entirely based on monosyllable, CV, structure where C and V stand for consonants respectively. Based on this, syllables occurring in free morphemes are either of CV, CVV, CVVV, CVVVV, CVC, CVVC or CVVVC structures. For example, as in ca (milk), piu(water), määu (alcohol in plural), cuaaï (soup), rap(sorghum), raan(person), dïäär (women) respectively and as per the current Latin based script and spellings. Ca, though, has another form, cang, in some dialects.

It is in line with this Muonyjang syllable structures that characters of the Nilerian script are designed to have consonant-vowel and vowel-vowel joining rules but no consonant-consonant joining as there are no CC syllables in free morphemes. However, there are CC structures in bound morphemes or compound words such as in Warrap, Monydhäär, nhomlääu, etc although such structures are currently very few, about less than or equal to 25% of all the words and are sometimes written as lone words.

Furthermore, for joining to be made, joining points need to be identified on a letter. These points may be:

★ ends of horizontal projections at the top mid-point and bottom; HT, HM & HB respectively

★ ends of vertical or nearly vertical projections at the top and bottom; VT & VB respectively

★ points on a straight surface at the top, mid and bottom of a letter; ST, SM, SB respectively.

The main rule is that joining occurs between HT & HT, HM & HM, HB & HB, HT & VT, HB & VB, HT & ST, HM & SM and HB & SB only. No joining occurs at curved or irregularly shaped(C), slanted (S) and round(R) surfaces. Examples of glyphs with HT, HM, HB, VT, VB, ST, SM, SB, C, S and R points are those representing the Latin letters of i, nh, ng, g, j, o, u, d, h, a & t respectively as indicated in Chart 2 below.

Chart 2: Nature of joining points/surfaces.

Nature of Joining Points

Nature of Joining Points

Note that some characters, although they have some of the above described joinable points, do not join. After careful analysis, these have been made exceptional to avoid similar shapes that result when they join with other characters with which they are similar. For example, glyphs representing the letters ‘ ï ‘ and ‘r’ are similar in shapes and could have many undifferentiable joined combinations. Hence, the glyph for letter ‘r’ which falls under the CV joining only does not join completely whereas the glyph for ‘ ï ‘, which has CV and VV joinings, joins in conformity with the applicable rules. Hence, when two characters, a consonant and a vowel, produce similar joined combinations, preference for joining is given to a vowel character. But when there are two vowel characters which produce similar joined combinations, the vowel with more occurrence naturally or more formidable or easy combinations is given preference for joining.

It is on these bases that there are the joining rules demonstrated in Charts 3, 4, 5 and 6 below. Note carefully which letters join to which and whether on the left or right, which letters join only on one side or do not join completely.

Chart 3: Joining Points. Points are indicated by red arrows while direction of the arrow shows the direction of the next letter with which joining is applicable.

Hòn ë nuëëd

Hòn ë nuëëd

Chart 4: Compatibly Joinable Letters (consonant-vowels) – The red letters are the focal ones to which the blue ones join on their left and right sides.

Consonant-Vowel Joining Point

Consonant-Vowel Joining Point

Chart 5: Compatibly Joinable Letters (vowels-vowels)

The New Dinka Script,  according to "Identity and Language" by Alëu Majɔk Alëu

The New Dinka Script, according to “Identity and Language” by Alëu Majɔk Alëu (page 1)

Chart 6: Compatibly Joinable Letters (vowels -vowels)

The New Dinka Script,  according to "Identity and Language" by Alëu Majɔk Alëu

The New Dinka Script, according to “Identity and Language” by Alëu Majɔk Alëu

2.2 Breathiness and tones marking

One other important behavioural feature about the vowel glyphs of the new script is that such aspects as breathiness and tone are marked by applying rotations and small changes to the primary vowel glyphs (those representing non-breathiness/ɣεu). For example, breathiness is marked by applying horizontal flip or lateral mirror reflection to all the primary vowel glyphs except for the glyph for ‘I’ where 180º rotation or inverted mirror reflection is applied. Other rotations and small changes are applied to kïd ë yäu, breathy vowel characters, and kïd ë ɣεu, non-breathy vowel characters, to attain their respective phonemic distinctive characters due to tones.

Plosives due to nasalization occurring in proper nouns are marked to a limited extent but significant. These are detailed in the book.

These styles of marking breathiness and tone, contrastive to the use of aumlets and diacritics, are easy to manage in computing. They also solve problems of diacritic congestion, as can be manifested in the modified Latin script, and make practical handwriting of breathy and tonal letters/characters easier.

Conclusion

In summary, this script solves most of the problems which now exist in the current Latin based alphabet. By adopting it, the new alphabet will be far more phonemic than ever before but with no messiness (stalking of breathy and tonal marks). Specifically, tone marking and phonemic reforms which come along with the script will resolve the problems of ambiguity and wrong spelling now prevalent in Thong Muonyjang.

The new script, however, may be misconceived to introduce bigger problems than those it is intended to solve. The fact that;

■ it is the first of its kind in the history of writing and development of the Muonyjang language and

■ it now introduces a higher number of letters in the alphabet than ever before, the script might be rightly deemed as strange. It might also be perceived as destructive to the literacy attained so far by the already literate speakers or impeding to the literacy campaigns now being waged.

However, not all that is strange is bad, difficult or impossible to master/achieve and so it will not help to give such criticism as to say it’s craziness for someone to create a script for Thong Muonyjang already written in the Latin based script.

Writing Thong Muonyjang with 51 or 63, 65 or 77 characters is not a problem if the nature (phonemic distinction) of the language demands it. With such a number of phonemes or letters, it is still not the only language with such a big number. What can be said about !Xoon (Taa) which has 164 phonemes (97 letters) or Amharic? And not only these there are many other languages with more than 40 characters/letters.

The fear for reduced literacy also should not be an issue as, when adopted, the new alphabet will be used along with the modified version of the Latin script until such a time when it can be used alone. Many languages that use their own peculiar scripts such as the Chinese, Japanese and many others still use modified Latin scripts alongside their native ones perhaps for correct writing of names when in Latin-script-using countries especially that Latin is the most widely used script in the world. This, though, does not mean that the native scripts are insignificant nor useless. They, indeed, are very important in writing languages they are native to.

For these reasons, all the world’s languages can never be written with the same letters while at the same time maintaining their featural uniqueness. Communities that cared to maintain their languages’ uniqueness, therefore, had to design their native scripts and rules of writing. As such it is not factual to say that having an alphabet that is only peculiar to a language can impede its development for if this was true, languages such as Chinese, Hebrews, Hindi and Thai among others wouldn’t have become as developed as they are today. So, a language’s unique alphabet doesn’t even discourage people from learning it at all. It is only the need and the chance of studying the language that matters. Having an alphabet in which so many languages are written doesn’t grantee easy learning or rapid spread of a language either.

The new script will, therefore, be used together with the current Latinized alphabet more especially at the genesis of its adoption and even later when the script would have been widely known just in a similar way Chinese now use the Latin script. As comments have shown, many people are just scared by its strangeness upon sight but it is not actually difficult to memorize characters of the new script in match with the Latin ones- it can take busy people less than or just a week to be able to read a text written in the new script.

As my sample teaching lessons have shown, those with determined will or zeal can read a text in the new script letters in just one day! So, it is only writing by hand that takes time to perfect as one must master all the joining rules. Again, this cannot be a problem as, once the script is computerized, one would just type and read typeset text easily. Hence leaving writing by hand a choice for the already literate adults among whom a vast majority cannot even write in Thong Muonyjang using the current Latinized script.

With the above said, therefore, any criticism the script should receive should centre around whether or not the solutions it brings as explained herein and the secondary benefits the community/nation can gain as put below are viable and practically sustainable not just in the short run but in a long term.

In addition to achieving the primary goal of words clarity, that is, solving ambiguity and wrong spelling problems, the new script, when adopted, will:

☆ perfect the grammar requirements, stress and tones, which are unpredictable with current Latinized alphabet.

☆ be native only to the Muonyjang community or South Sudan and will be a prestige to its people and the literate speakers of the language.

☆ unite, in ethnic diversity, all South Sudan’s indigenous languages and since majority of them (whose speakers actually constitute at least 75% of the national population) belong to the Nilotic family, it will solve the same problems it has in Thong Muonyjang since their phonologies are more or less the same.

☆be beneficial technologically (keyboard issues) for all the indigenous communities when nationalized and would make a great symbol of fame and national unity for South Sudan.

3. Comparison between a written text in the Nilerian script and texts in other scripts.

Note whether the Nilerian script although in handwritten text; resembles those scripts which are in typeset text and to what extent, is complicated and to what degree, looks ugly or beautiful.

The Nilerian Script Sample (Thong Muonyjang).

Dinka Script sample#4

Dinka Script sample#4

Hindi (Sample 1)

Hindi

Hindi

Hebrew (Sample 2)

Hebrew

Hebrew

Thai (Sample 3)

Thai

Thai

Chinese (Sample 4)

Chinese

Chinese

Russian (Sample 5)

Russian

Russian

Greek (Sample 6)

Greek

Greek

Amharic (Sample 7)

Amharic

Amharic

New Dinka Script Writing Samples

Writing Sample#1

Dinka Script sample#1

Dinka Script sample#1

Writing Sample#2

Dinka Script sample#2

Dinka Script sample#2

Writing Sample#3

Dinka Script sample#3

Dinka Script sample#3

Writing Sample#4

Dinka Script sample#4

Dinka Script sample#4

Writing Sample#5

Dinka Script sample#5

Dinka Script sample#5

Writing Sample#6

Dinka Script sample#6

Dinka Script sample#6

Writing Sample#7

Dinka Script sample#7

Dinka Script sample#7

Sample#8

Alëu Majɔk Alëu was formerly a medical student at University of Bahr el Ghazal – College of Medicine and Health Sciences, where his studies came to a stop in second year after the university could not operate following South Sudan’s independence. He is currently studying Chemical Engineering at Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS in Malaysia after winning the 2013 PETRONAS Scholarship.

Orthographic Reform in Dinka Language

Orthographic reform in Dinka: some general considerations and a proposal, by D. Robert LaddUniversity of EdinburghMarch 2012

Orthographic Reform in Dinka (PDF)

The New Dinka Script

Please click on the pictures for a better view of the characters

Kïïd ëyam ë Thong Muónyjäng (1)

The New Dinka Script, according to "Identity and Language" by Alëu Majɔk Alëu

The New Dinka Script, according to “Identity and Language” by Alëu Majɔk Alëu

Kïïd ëyam ë Thong Muónyjäng (2)

Kïïd ëyam ë Thong Muónyjäng

Kïïd ëyam ë Thong Muónyjäng

Ɣön ë nuëëd (Joining Points for the letters)

The New Dinka Script, according to "Identity and Language" by Alëu Majɔk Alëu

The New Dinka Script, according to “Identity and Language” by Alëu Majɔk Alëu

Kïïd ye nuèèd (Compatibly Joinable letters–Vowel to Vowel) page 1

Kïïd ye nuèèd (Compatibly Joinable letters–Vowel to Vowel) page 2

The New Dinka Script,  according to "Identity and Language" by Alëu Majɔk Alëu

The New Dinka Script, according to “Identity and Language” by Alëu Majɔk Alëu

Kïïd ye nuèèd (Compatibly Joinable letters–Consonant to Vowel)

The New Dinka Script,  according to "Identity and Language" by Alëu Majɔk Alëu

The New Dinka Script, according to “Identity and Language” by Alëu Majɔk Alëu

Loanwords in Dinka

Dear Muonyjang,

This may be one of the largest English-Dinka translation ever undertaken in the Dinka language. Please go through it and take note of the loanwords from English. It is uncertain however if loanwords from other languages, frequently used in verbal communication, are actually part of the official Dinka language.

Dinka in Australia.pdf Dinka in Australia.pdf
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For example, what is Research in Dinka? Is it Rïsäc/Rïthäc?

 

I will get in more loanable words after getting your responses.

Thanks,

Pioocku Thuongjang.

Modern Developments in the Dinka Language

Food for Thought!

This well researched article by Ms Helena Fatima Idris (2004) , a research thesis for her doctorate from the Department of Oriental and African Languages, Goteborg University, Sweden, contains a great deal of information about the Dinka people as well as the recent development in the Dinka Language (Thuɔŋjäŋ). Her introduction, for those already familiar with Job Malou’s Dinka Book, Dinka Vowels System, provide more insight into the composition of the Dinka people.

1. Modern Developments in Dinka Language (PDF)

2. Orthographic Reform in Dinka (PDF)

In the pages of my yet-to-be published Dinka book, The Dinka People of South Sudan, I have done more intensive and extensive research on the Dinka people. Though I have succeeded to get enough information on almost all the major five subdivisions of Muɔnyjäŋ/Jiëëŋ, I have not been successful enough to get adequate information about the division and structure of the Rek Dinka, one of the five braches of the Dinka People.

Please comment on this topic, it is very crucial that we the Dinkas, rather than the FatimaS, the JohnS, the MohammedS, the ObamaS  etc of the world, should be the one researching, writing, reading and talking in and about the Dinka Language.

I am interested to know your take on Ms Fatima,s assertion that Thuɔŋjäŋ has a number of “official” loanwords from other languages, namely English, Arabic etc. Supply relevant links too.

Enjoys!!

Piööcku Thuɔŋjäŋ.

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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