Karamojong (ŋaKarimojoŋ / ŋaKaramojoŋ)

ŋaKarimojoŋ is a Nilotic language of the Nilo-Saharan language family. It is spoken by at least 370,000 people in Uganda – the ŋiKarimojoŋ (or ŋiKaramojoŋ) people. The name means roughly "the old men sat down", and dates from a time of migration 300 or more years ago, when this group refused to travel further on (to what is now Teso).

The ŋiKarimojoŋ are a cattle-keeping people practising transhumance (the moving of livestock between different grazing grounds in a seasonal cycle). This is reflected in the language, as are their traditional religious beliefs. Settled cultivation is relatively recent, and thus words associated with this are usually borrowed from neighbouring languages, or from languages introduced by, or as a result of, colonialism – English, luGanda, kiSwahili. Modern technical words come from these latter also.

Closely related languages and dialects are spoken by many more peoples, including the Jie, ŋiDodos, iTeso (Uganda), ŋiTurkana, iTesyo (Kenya), Jiye, ŋiToposa, (southern Sudan), also by at least one tribe in Ethiopia.

These peoples are part of the "Karimojong Cluster" of Nilotic tribes (also known by some as the Teso Cluster).

Karamojong pronunciation

Karamojong pronunciation

Download an alphabet chart for Karamojong (Excel)

ŊaKarimojoŋ is a verb-initial language. Verb forms differ in aspect rather than tense; first person plural personal and possessive pronouns has inclusive and exclusive forms. Nouns and pronouns have gender prefixes, which can change meaning, eg ekitoi (m) means tree or medicine obtained from a tree / bush, akitoi (f) means log or firewood, and ikitoi (n) means twigs used for lighting cooking fires. The neuter often implies a diminutive – edia means boy and idia means little boy. There are no articles.

Pronunciation is phonetic (similar to Spanish), except as otherwise noted. There are no letters "F", "H" "Q", "X" or "Z" (but see next paragraph). "Ŋ" (or "ng" – as in "singing") and "Ny" are consonants in their own right. Sometimes "P" sounds more like "F" in English (so, when learning English, ŋaKarimojoŋ speakers sometimes confuse these sounds). "L" and "R" are NOT confused. There is tendency to mouthe a silent "O" or "U" on the end of some words ending with consonants. Adjacent vowels are usually pronounced without diphthongs.

The Roman alphabet is used, orthography rules were established by Missionaries in the 1960s. These rules varied slightly between the mainly British Anglicans and the mainly Italian Roman Catholics (RC). The most obvious example of this is the sound which is halfway between an "S" as in "sausage" and" th" as in "think". This was tendered by the Anglicans as "th" and the RCs as "Z". These days both "S "and "th" are used.

Rules also varied also between different people writing down different languages. For example, most Nilotic languages in and around Uganda spell the sound 'ch' as in church "c", whereas in the Bantu languages, at least in Uganda (and excluding kiSwahili), this sound is spelled "ky" (as in Burmese).

There is some confusion between the use of "I" and "Y" where there is a vowel following. General tendency is to assume that the "Y" sound comes from the conjunction of the vowels rather than being a separate letter, but not exclusively. But sometimes there are very similar words with different meanings: edia means boy, edya however means vegetables and any difference in pronunciation has little to do with the "y". Somewhat differently, akimat means old woman, or, to drink. If you say acamit ayoŋ akimat you are saying you want the old woman rather than you want to drink, so in this case the infinitive is rather oddly replaced by the vocative, thus acamit ayoŋ tomat to avoid confusion when you need a drink.

Almost all plural nouns are pre-fixed with ŋa (f) or ŋi (m & n). Special uses of these can be seen above for the language and people. There are generally suffixes on plural nouns which, to the learner at least, have little regularity, for example emong / ŋimongin – ox / oxen and akai / ŋakais - house/s, or even removal of last letter, thus emoru / ŋimor – mountain/s and aberu / ŋaber(u) – woman / women.

Most traditionally known liquids such as water, ŋakipi, and milk, ŋakile, are feminine plural (though the eng prefix has been lost in some dialects) whereas more recently introduced liquids such as (bottled) beer – ebiya are masculine singular. Male names mostly begin with "Lo" whilst female names begin with "Na", thus Lokiru and Nakiru are a boy and a girl born at the time of rain. In other Nilotic languages in the region, this rule applies without the "L" and "N".

Some commmon words and phrases

Ejoka? - Hello! [literally "Is it good?"]
Ejok-nooi - Hello! [response]
alakara (nooi) - Thank you (very much) [literally "I am (very) happy"]
Ie-ia? (papa/toto/ikoku)? - How are you (father/mother/child)?
Ikianyun! - See you! (as "good-bye")
Ngai ekonikiro? - What is your name?
Ee - Yes
Mam! - No!
Akuj - God (apparently feminine - also means "north" and "up")
Ŋakipi - Water
Akim - Fire
Akine - Goat
emoŋin - Ox
emusugut (m sing), amusugut (f sing) - White person
Ai ilothi iyoŋ? or ai ilosi iyong? - Where are you going?

The main books written in the language are the New Testament, published in significantly different Anglican and RC versions in the 1960s, and a joint one published in the early 1990s. More recently there have been some educational books and there are various grammars and dictionaries produced mainly by RCs. The Old Testament is in process with a number of books already completed.

Information compiled by Nick Jewitt, who has worked with the ŋiKarimojoŋ and speaks some of their language.


Information about the Karamojong language and people

Nilo-Saharan languages

Acholi, Alur, Aringa, Ateso, Avokaya, Baka, Bari, Beli, Bongo, Daza, Dholuo, Dinka, Dongotono, Fur, Gumuz, Jur Modo, Kanuri, Karamojong, Keliko, Komo, Lango, Lotuko, Lokoya, Lopit, Lugbara, Maasai, Ma'di, Mandari, Morokodo, Moru, Narim, Nuer, Nobiin, Old Nubian, Olu'bo, Shilluk, Toposa, Turkana, Uduk, Wa'di, Zaghawa, Zarma

Languages written with the Latin alphabet

Page last modified: 23.04.21


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