Nilotic Languages

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Nilotic Languages are a sub-family of languages within the larger Nilo-Saharan family of languages. They are spoken in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. There is disagreement about how many languages make up the Nilotic family, as few as 29 or as many as 63.[1] However, there is agreement that Nilotic languages fall within the Eastern Sudanic branch of Nilo-Saharan.

"At present, the number of speakers per Nilotic language ranges from about 3.5 million for Dholuo (found in western Kenya and Uganda), to 50 or fewer for some highly endangered languages. Most Nilotic languages are somewhere in between these two extremes, with a few hundred thousand speakers."[1]


"Long before there were written records, Nilotic peoples apparently migrated from the Nile River area as far south as the region of modern Tanzania. Some Nilotic groups had intensive contact with Cushitic (Afro-Asiatic) peoples, and with Niger-Congo peoples. This has resulted in mutual cultural and linguistic impact across Nilotic, Cushitic, and Niger-Congo language families."[1]

Branches Within the Nilotic Family

The Nilotic family is grouped into three branches, Eastern, Southern, and Western.

"The Eastern Nilotic branch of the family extends from Sudan down into Tanzania. Eastern Nilotic groups appear to have had extensive interaction with Southern Nilotic groups. As a result, they share many cultural and linguistic patterns in common. For example, in most languages of both Eastern and Southern Nilotic groups, sentences begin with the verb. Also, "Subject" and "Object" are usually distinguished by tonal patterns on nouns, and verb words are complex. Eastern Nilotic languages include Bari, Teso-Turkana and other closely related languages [or dialects], Otuxo, Maa, and now-extinct Ongamo.
"Southern Nilotic languages are spoken in Kenya and Tanzania. Some Southern Nilotic languages include Datoga, Pakot, Endo, Saboat, and Nandi. (The term "Kalenjin" is commonly applied to some of these languages.) Southern Nilotic groups appear to have had considerable contact with some Cushitic (Afro-Asiatic) language groups.
"Most Western Nilotic languages are spoken in Sudan, but they also extend into Ethiopia, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Kenya. Some Western Nilotic languages include Shilluk, Acholi, Dinka, Dholuo, Nuer and Lango. Western Nilotic languages usually have very short words, and sentences tend to have Subject-Verb-Object order."[1]

Nilotic Language Family Tree

Nilotic Languages are classified as follows:[2]

  • Nilo-Saharan (205)
    • Eastern Sudanic (106)
      • Nilotic (63)
        • Eastern (16)
          • Bari: Bari (Sudan), Kakwa (Uganda), and Mandari (Sudan)
          • Lotuxo-Teso (13)
            • Lotuxo-Maa (8)
              • Lotuxo (5)
              • Ongamo-Maa (3)
            • Teso-Turkana (5)
              • Teso (1)
              • Turkana (4)
        • Southern (16)
          • Kalenjin (14)
            • Elgon: Kupsabiny (Uganda) and Sabaot (Kenya)
            • Nandi-Markweta (10)
              • Kipsigis (1)
              • Markweta (1)
              • Nandi (7)
              • Terik (1)
            • Okiek: Okiek (Kenya)
            • Pokot: Pökoot (Kenya)
          • Tatoga: Datooga (Tanzania) and Omotik (Kenya)
        • Western (31)
          • Dinka-Nuer (7)
            • Dinka (5)
              • Dinka, Northeastern (Sudan)
              • Dinka, Northwestern (Sudan)
              • Dinka, South Central (Sudan)
              • Dinka, Southeastern (Sudan)
              • Dinka, Southwestern (Sudan)
            • Nuer: Nuer and Reel (both spoken in Sudan)
          • Luo (24)
            • Northern (18)
              • Anuak (1)
              • Bor (1)
              • Jur (1)
              • Maban-Burun (12)
              • Shilluk (1)
              • Thuri (1)
              • Unclassified (1)
            • Southern (6)
              • Adhola (1)
              • Kuman (1)
              • Luo-Acholi (4)

Resources and articles

Related Sourcewatch articles


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "The Nilotic Language Family ," Accessed December 6, 2011.
  2. Ethnologue Report for Nilotic, Accessed December 6, 2011.

External Resources

External Articles