Luo language

Luo language
Spoken in  Kenya
Region East of Lake Victoria in Western Kenya and Northern Tanzania
Ethnicity Luo
Native speakers 4.4 million  (no date)
Language family
Language codes
ISO 639-2 luo
ISO 639-3 luo

The Luo language, Dholuo (pronounced [d̪ólúô][1]) or Luo proper, is the eponymous language of the Luo group of Nilotic languages, spoken by about 4.4 million Luo people of Kenya and Tanzania,[2] who occupy parts of the eastern shore of Lake Victoria and areas to the south. It is used for broadcasts on KBC (Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, formerly the Voice of Kenya) and Radio Ramogi. Dholuo is closely related to Lango, Acholi, and Adhola of Uganda. It is somewhat more distantly related to Luwo, also a Western Nilotic language, spoken in Sudan.




Dholuo has two sets of five vowels, distinguished by the feature [+/-ATR].

[-ATR] vowels in Dholuo
Front Central Back
Near-close ɪ ʊ
Mid ɛ ɔ
Open ɐ
[+ATR] vowels in Dholuo
Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e o
Open a


In the table of consonants below, orthographic symbols are included between parentheses if they differ from the IPA symbols. Note especially the following: the use of ‘y’ for IPA [j], common in African orthographies; 'th, dh' are plosives, not fricatives as in Swahili spelling (but phoneme /d̪/ can fricativize intervocalically).[3] When symbols appear in pairs, the one to the right represents a voiced consonant.

Phonetic inventory of consonants in Dholuo
Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ (ny) ŋ (ng')
Plosive prenasalized mb (mb) nd (nd) ɲɟ (nj) ŋg (ng)
voiceless p t̪ (th) t c (ch) k
voiced b d̪ (dh)
d ɟ (j) g
Fricative f s h
Trill r
Approximant w l j (y)

Phonological characteristics

Dholuo is a tonal language. There is both lexical tone and grammatical tone, e.g. in the formation of passive verbs.[4] It has vowel harmony by ATR status: the vowels in a noncompound word must be either all [+ATR] or all [-ATR]. The ATR-harmony requirement extends to the semivowels /w, y/.[5] Vowel length is contrastive.


Dholuo is notable for its complicated phonological alternations, which are used, among other things, in distinguishing inalienable possession from alienable, e.g. The first example is a case of alienable possession, as the bone is not part of the dog.

chogo guok
bone dog
'the dog's bone' (which it is eating)

The following is however an example of inalienable possession, the bone being part of the cow:

chok dhiang'
bone (construct state) cow
'a cow bone'[6]

Sample phrases

English Luo
Hello (how are you?) Msawa (idhi nade?)
I'm fine Adhi Maber
What is your name? Nyingi Ng'a
My name is ___ Nying'a en ____
I am happy to see you Amor Kaneni
Good morning oyawore
Good afternoon Oimore
God bless you Nyasaye ogwedhi
Good job/work Tich maber
Goodbye Oriti
I want water adwaro pi
I am thirsty riyo deya / riyo maka
Thank you erokamano
Child nyathi
Student(university student) nyathi skul, japwonjre (ja mbalariany)
Sit bed
Stand/stop chung'
Hunger kech
I am starved kech kaya
Father wuor [Dinka] wur
Mother min [Dinka] mor
God Nyasaye
Lord (God) Ruoth (Nyasaye)
God is good Nyasaye Ber
help kony [Dinka] ba kony
Man dichuo
Woman dhako
Boy wuoyi
Girl nyako [Dinka] nya
Book buk, [Alego/Seme] buge
Youth rawera
Pen kalam
Shorts siruari
Trousers long' siruach long'
Table mesa
Plate san
Lock rarind OR ralor
Leader jatelo,
Bring kel
Go dhi
Go back dog
Come back dwog
Run ring [Dinka]
Walk wuoth
Jump dum, [Alego/Seme] chikre
Rain koth
Sun chieng'
Moon duwe
Fish rech [Dinka]
I want to eat adwaro chiemo
Grandpa kwaru [Dinka] kwar
Grandma dayo [Dinka] day
White man ja rachar/ odiero
Black man ja rateng'
Car nyamburko
Cow dhiang'
Sing wer [Dinka]
Marriage keny [Dinka], "keny" is the process, "thiek" is the marriage
Tomorrow kiny
Today kawuono
Child nyathi
Money omenda, chung', oboke, sendi, pesa
Gun bunde
Gun fire muoch bunde
I want ugali Adwaro Kwon
Maize/corn oduma, bando
Maize and beans nyoyo
Taxi matatu (Swahili)
Farm Puodho (Alego-Ndalo)
Dig Puro/Kunyo
Fly (in the air) fuyo
Fly(Insect) Lwang'ni
Stream/River Aora
Lake Nam
Ocean Ataro


  1. ^ Tucker 25
  2. ^ Ethnologue report for Luo
  3. ^ Tucker §1.43
  4. ^ Okoth Okombo §1.3.4
  5. ^ Tucker §1.3, §1.42
  6. ^ Tucker A. N. A Grammar of Kenya Luo (Dholuo). 1994:198.


  • Gregersen, E. (1961). Luo: A grammar. Dissertation: Yale University.
  • Stafford, R. L. (1965). An elementary Luo grammar with vocabularies. Nairobi: Oxford University Press.
  • Omondi, Lucia Ndong'a (1982). The major syntactic structures of Dholuo. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer.
  • Tucker, A. N. (ed. by Chet A. Creider) (1994). A grammar of Kenya Luo (Dholuo). 2 vols. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.
  • Okoth Okombo, D. (1997). A Functional Grammar of Dholuo. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.
  • Odaga, Asenath Bole (1997). English-Dholuo dictionary. Lake Publishers & Enterprises, Kisumu. ISBN 9966487816.
  • Odhiambo, Reenish Acieng' and Aagard-Hansen, Jens (1998). Dholuo course book. Nairobi.

External links

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