Nilotic Languages

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Related to Nilotic language: Cushites

Nilotic Languages

 

a group of East African languages which, according to the classification of the American scholar J. Greenberg, belong to the Chari-Nile branch of the Nilo-Saharan macrofamily of languages.

The Nilotic languages are divided into two groups. The first group, the northwestern Nilotic languages (southern Sudan, northern Uganda, and the neighboring regions of Zaire, Kenya, and Ethiopia), includes the Dinka, Nuer, Shilluk, and Southern Luo (Acholi, Lango, Adola, Kumam, Alur, and Kenya Luo) languages. The second group, the southeastern Nilotic languages (western Kenya, northern Tanzania, eastern Uganda, and the southernmost part of the Sudan), includes the Bari, Lotuko (Lotuho), Teso, Karamojong, Turkana, Topotha, Masai, and Kalenjin (Pakot, or Suk, and Nandi-Kipsigi).

All Nilotic languages are tonal and have complex vowel systems with long and short vowels. The northwestern Nilotic languages distinguish vowels according to the presence or absence of secondary glottal articulation. Although they possess elements characteristic of analytic languages and have shown a tendency toward agglutination (of auxiliary words) in the formation of many grammatical categories (for example, person and number of the verb), the northwestern Nilotic languages retain the essential characteristics of inflectional languages: complex internal inflection of the vowels and, sometimes, consonants of the stem in word formation and in the formation of case and number in nouns and the categories of transitivity and intransitivity in verbs.

The southeastern Nilotic languages have a predominantly synthetic and partly inflectional morphology (including the category of gender). They are also called Para-Nilotic languages, and they were formerly referred to as the Nilo-Hamitic languages, based on the inaccurate assumption that they were related to the Hamito-Semitic languages.

REFERENCE

Tucker, A. N., and M. A. Bryan. Linguistic Analyses: The Non-Bantu Languages of North-Eastern Africa. London, 1966.

A. B. DOLGOPOL’SKII

References in periodicals archive ?
Languages: English (official); Luganda and Swahili widely used; other Bantu and Nilotic languages.
The only example of ergativity in Africa is to be found in the Western Nilotic languages, where Pari is ergative, but this is likely to be an innovation rather than a relic (Andersen 1988; Dixon 1994: 188f.