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Native to Kenya, Tanzania
Region East of Lake Victoria in Western Kenya and Northern Tanzania
Ethnicity Luo
Native speakers
4.2 million  (2009 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-2 luo
ISO 639-3 luo
Glottolog luok1236[2]

The Luo dialect, Dholuo (pronounced [d̪ólúô][3]) or Nilotic Kavirondo (pejorative Colonial term), is the eponymous dialect of the Luo group of Nilotic languages, spoken by about 6 million Luo people of Kenya and Tanzania,[4] 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), Radio Ramogi, Radio Lake Victoria, Radio Lolwe, Radio Osienala as well as newspapers such as Otit Mach, Nam Dar etc. Dholuo is heavily used online in specially dedicated sites as well as in social media.

Dholuo is mutually intelligible with Alur, Lango, Acholi and Adhola of Uganda. Dholuo and the aforementioned Uganda languages are all linguistically related to Luwo, Nuer, Bari, Jur chol of Sudan and Anuak of Ethiopia due to common ethnic origins of the larger Luo peoples who speak Luo languages.

It is estimated that Dholuo has 90% lexical similarity with Lep Alur (Alur), 83% with Lep Achol (Acholi), 81% with Lango, and 93% with Dhopadhola (Adhola). However, these are often counted as separate languages despite common ethnic origins due to linguistic shift occasioned by geographical movement.

Modern Foundations of Luo Literacy[edit]

Contains the area in which the Seventh-day Adventist British East Africa Mission worked. Rusinga Island and the town of Kisii are marked.

The foundations of the Dholuo written language and today's vibrant Dholuo literary tradition, as well as the modernization of the Jaluo people in Kenya begins in 1907 with the arrival of a Canadian-born Seventh-day Adventist missionary, Rev. Arthur Asa Grandville Carscallen, whose missionary work over a period of about 14 years along the eastern shores of Lake Victoria left an enormous legacy. This legacy continues today through the Obama family of Kenya and the Seventh-day Adventist Church to which the Obamas and many other Jaluo converted in the early part of the 20th century as residents of the region that Carscallen was sent to proselytize. On a global scale, the Obamas of Kenya are direct relatives of Barack Obama, president of the United States.[5]

From 1906-1921, Carscallen was superintendent of the Seventh-day Adventist Church's British East Africa Mission, and was charged with establishing missionary stations in eastern Kenya near Lake Victoria and proselytizing among the local population. These stations would include Gendia, Wire Hill, Rusinga Island, Kanyadoto, Karung, Kisii (Nyanchwa), and Kamagambo. In 1913, he acquired a small press for the Mission and set up a small printing operation at Gendia in order to publish church materials, but also used it to impact education and literacy in the region.

Over a period of about five years administering to largely Jaluo congregations, Carscallen achieved a mastery of the Dholuo language and is credited with being the first to reduce the language to writing, publishing the Elementary grammar of the Nilotic-Kavirondo language (Dhö Lwo), together with some useful phrases, English-Kavirondo and Kavirondo-English vocabulary, and some exercises with key to the same in 1910. Then, just a little more than two years later, the mission translated portions of the New Testament from English to Dholuo, which were later published by the British and Foreign Bible Society.[6]

The grammar textbook Carscallen produced was widely used for many years throughout eastern Kenya, but his authorship of it is largely forgotten. It was later retitled, Dho-Luo for Beginners, and republished in 1936. In addition to the grammar text, Carscallen compiled an extensive dictionary of "Kavirondo" (Dholuo) and English, which is housed at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, UK. Neither of these works has been superseded, only updated, with new revised versions of the linguistic foundation that Carscallen established in 1910.[7]



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 /j/, common in African orthographies; "th", "dh" are plosives, not fricatives as in Swahili spelling (but phoneme // can fricativize intervocalically).[8]

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) ᵑɡ (ng)
voiceless p (th) t c (ch) k
voiced b (dh)
d ɟ (j) ɡ
Fricative f s h
Trill r
Approximant w l j (y)

Phonological characteristics[edit]

Dholuo is a tonal language. There is both lexical tone and grammatical tone, e.g. in the formation of passive verbs.[9] 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/, /ɥ/.[10] Vowel length is contrastive.


Dholuo is notable for its complicated phonological alternations, which are used, among other things, in distinguishing inalienable possession from alienable. 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'[11]

Sample phrases[edit]

English Luo
Hello (how are you?) Misawa (idhi nade?)
I'm fine Adhi Maber
What is your name? Nyingi Ng'a?
My name is ___ Nyinga en ____
I am happy to see you Amor neni
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/riyo oinga
Thank you erokamano
Child nyathi
Student(university student) nyathi skul, japwonjre (ja mbalariany)
Come Bi
Go dhi
Take Kawo
Return Dwok
Come Back Dwogi
Sit bedi
Stand/stop chung' malo/wee
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 konya[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 there dwog kucha
Come back here dwog ka
Ask, Query Penj
Question Penjo
Run ring [Dinka]
Walk wuothi
Jump dum, [Alego/Seme] chikri
Rain koth
Sun chieng'
Moon duwe /duee
Stars Sulwe
Fish rech [Dinka]
Cold Koyo
Cold cool Ng'ich
I want to eat adwaro chiemo
Grandpa kwaro [Dinka] kwar
Grandma dayo [Dinka] day
White man ja rachar
Cow dhiang'
Sing wer [Dinka]
Song Wero
Good, Beautiful Ber,jaber
Bad Rach
Marriage Arus From Harusi Swahili for Marriage kend [Dinka], "keny" is the process, "thiek" is the marriage
Marry Wend
Tomorrow kiny
Today kawuono
Here Ka,Kae
There (close by) Kacha, Kocha
There (far) Kucho
Child nyathi
Money omenda, chung', oboke, sendi, pesa
Gun bunde
Gun fire mach bunde
Fire Mach
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. ^ Luo at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Luo (Kenya and Tanzania)". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Tucker 25
  4. ^ Ethnologue report for Luo
  5. ^ Peter Firstbrook, The Obamas: The Untold Story of an African Family. Crown Publishers, 2011. p. 106.
  6. ^ Firstbrook, Ibid., p. 126; Arthur Asa Grandville Carscallen, Elementary grammar of the Nilotic-Kavirondo language (Dhö Lwo), together with some useful phrases, English-Kavirondo and Kavirondo-English vocabulary, and some exercises with key to the same. London: St. Joseph's Foreign Missionary Society, 1910.; Dictionary of African Christian Biography — Arthur Asa Grandville Carscallen.
  7. ^ Arthur Asa Grandville Carscallen, Kavirondo Dictionary. Mimeographed, n.d. 374p. (SOAS Collections). Luo and English; Melvin K. Hendrix, An International Bibliography of African Lexicons. Scarecrow Press, 1982.
  8. ^ Tucker §1.43
  9. ^ Okoth Okombo §1.3.4
  10. ^ Tucker §1.3, §1.42
  11. ^ 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 9966-48-781-6.
  • Odhiambo, Reenish Acieng' and Aagard-Hansen, Jens (1998). Dholuo course book. Nairobi.

External links[edit]

Template:Languages of Tanzania

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