Acholi dialect

Open vowel Kuku dialect Acholi people
Native toUganda, South Sudan
Native speakers
1.5 million (2000-2014)[1]
  • Labwor (Thur)
  • Nyakwai
  • Dhopaluo (Chope)[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-2ach
ISO 639-3Either:
ach – Acholi
lth – Thur
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Acholi (also Akoli, Acoli, Acooli, Atscholi, Shuli, Gang, Lwoo, Lwo, Lok Acoli, Dok Acoli) is a Southern Luo dialect spoken by the Acholi people in the districts of Gulu, Kitgum and Pader (a region known as Acholiland) in northern Uganda. It is also spoken in South Sudan in Magwi County Eastern Equatoria states.

Song of Lawino, well known in African literature, was written in Acholi by Okot p'Bitek, although its sequel, Song of Ocol, was written in English.[2]

Acholi, Alur, and Lango have between 84 and 90 per cent of their vocabulary in common[3] and are mutually intelligible.[dubious ] However, they are often counted as separate languages because their speakers are ethnically distinct. Labwor (Thur), once considered a dialect of Acholi, may not be intelligible with it.[4]


Acholi has vowel harmony: all vowels in a word have to belong to a single class (e.g. [kojo] the cold vs. [kɔjɔ] to separate). There are two sets of five vowels, distinguished by the feature [+/-ATR].

[-ATR] vowels in Acholi
Front Central Back
Near-close ɪ ʊ
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a
[+ATR] vowels in Acholi
Front Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open ɑ
Acholi consonants
Labial Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
plain lab.
Stop voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡ
Affricate voiceless t͡ʃ
voiced d͡ʒ
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Rhotic r
Approximant l j w

/pʷ bʷ/ sounds may also sound as labial affricates [pf bv].[5]

Acholi is a tonal language. Thus, some words may be distinguished by tone alone, e.g. bèl (low) 'wrinkled' vs. bél (high) 'corn' and kàl (low) 'place enclosed by a palisade' vs. kál (high) 'millet'. Tone furthermore plays a role in verb conjugation.

Recent work

The above were the old work of the missionaries Alfred Malandra and Crazzolara published in 1955. However, a more up-to-date Acholi orthography by Janet Lakareber shows that a vowel in Acholi language has more than two pronunciations.[6] A monosyllabic word in Acholi has 14 different pronunciations. This is explained in the nine books of Acoli Accented Orthography.[citation needed]

Notes and references


  1. ^ Heron, G.A., 1972, Introduction p.8 in p'Bitek, Okot, 1984.
  2. ^ Ladefoged et al., 1972:80.


  1. ^ Acholi at Ethnologue (22nd ed., 2019)
    Thur at Ethnologue (22nd ed., 2019)
  2. ^
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Acoli". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ Malandra, Alfred (1955). A New Acholi Grammar. Kampala: Eagle Press.
  6. ^ "Acoli Accented Orthography with diacritical marks". Retrieved 3 May 2019.