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Region Tanzania
Ethnicity Sukuma
Native speakers
5.4 million  (2006)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-2 suk
ISO 639-3 suk

Sukuma is a Bantu language of Tanzania, spoken in an area south east of Victoria Nyanza in a country between Mwanza, Shinyanga, Lake Eyasi and 2 degrees 20 minutes south, 55 degrees east.[3] In an orthography using roman script without special letters, and resembling that used for Swahili, it has been used in Bible translation [4] and in religious literature.[5]

Dialects (KɪmunaSukuma, GɪmunaNtuzu/GɪnaNtuzu, Jìnàkɪ̀ɪ̀yâ/JimunaKɪɪyâ) are easily mutually intelligible.[6]


There are seven vowel qualities, which occur long and short:[7]

i ii u uu
ɪ ɪɪ ʊ ʊʊ
e ee o oo
a aa

/ɪ ʊ/—which are written ĩ ũ—may be closer to [e o], and /e o/ closer to [ɛ ɔ].

Sukuma has gone through Dahl's Law (ɪdàtʊ́ 'three', from proto-Bantu -tatʊ) and has voiceless nasal consonants.

m̥ m n̥ n ɲ̊ ɲ ŋ̊ ŋ ŋ̊ʷ ŋʷ
mp mb ɱf ɱv nt nd
ns nz
ɲc ɲɟ
ŋk ŋɡ
p b t d
tʷ dʷ
c ɟ k ɡ kʷ ɡʷ
ɸ β f v s z
sʷ zʷ
ʃ h hʷ
l j w

It is not clear whether /c ɟ/ should best be considered stops or affricates, or whether they are even palatal.

Syllables are V or CV. There are four tones on short vowels: high, low, rising, and falling.


The following description is based on JinaKɪɪya dialect. One of the characteristics of this dialect is that the noun-class prefixes subject to Dahl's Law have been leveled to voiced consonants, and no longer alternate.

Noun concord

Sukuma noun-class prefixes are augmented by pre-prefixes a-, ɪ-, ʊ-; these are dropped in certain constructions. The noun classes and the agreement they trigger[8] are as follows.[7] Attested forms in other dialects are added in parentheses.

(For compatibility, /j/ is transcribed y.)

Class Prefix Example noun Adj. conc. Possessive Subject Object 'one/two X' 'this X' Semantic field
1 ʊ-mu mùùn̥ʊ̀ 'person' m- o- a- m- ʊ̀mô ʊ̀yʊ̀ human
2 a-βaa- βààn̥ʊ̀ 'persons' βa- βa- βa- βa- βaβɪlɪ àβà
3 ʊ-m- ntɪ̌ 'tree' m- go- gʊ- lɪ- gʊ̀mô ʊ̀yʊ̀ trees, etc.
4 ɪ-mi- mɪ̀tɪ̌ 'trees' mi- ya- i- i- ɪ̀βɪ̀lɪ́ ɪ̀yɪ̀
5 ɪ-lɪ- (ɪ) liisǒ 'eye' ɪ- lɪ- lɪ- lɪ- lɪ̀mô ɪ̀lɪ̀ body parts, food, common objs,
(pl.) liquids
6 a-ma- mɪ̀sǒ 'eyes' ma- a- a- ga- àβɪ̀lɪ́ àyà
7 ɪ-ɟi- (kɪ) Jìsùgǔmà 'Kɪsukuma' ɟi- ɟa- ɟi- ɟi- ɟı̀mô ɪ̀ɟì things, language, body parts, etc.
8 ɪ-ɟi- (sɪ) ɟítáβò 'books' ɟi- ɟa- ɟi- i- ɟìβɪ̀lɪ́ ɪ̀ɟı̀
9 ɪ-n- nùúmbà 'house' n- ya- i- i- yɪ̀mô ɪ̀yɪ̀ common objects, animals, fruits, etc.
10 ɪ-n- mbʊ̀lǐ 'goats' n- ɟa- ɟi- ɟi- ɪ̀βɪ̀lɪ́ ɪ̀ɟì
11 ʊ-lʊ- lʊ̀gòyè 'rope' lu- lo- lu- lu- lʊ̀mô ʊ̀lʊ̀ common objects, body parts, etc.
12 a-ga- (ka) gàɪǎ 'a little dog' ga- ga- ga- ga- gàmô àkà diminutives[9]
13 ʊ-dʊ- (tʊ) dʊ̀ɪǎ 'little dogs' dʊ- do- dʊ- dʊ- dʊ̀mô ʊ̀tʊ̀
14 ʊ-βʊ- βʊ̀sààdǔ 'sickness' βʊ- βo- βʊ- βʊ- βʊ̀mô ʊ̀βʊ̀ abstractions, insects, etc.
15 ʊ-gʊ- (kʊ) gʊ̀tʊ̌ 'ear' gʊ- go- gʊ- gu- gʊ̀mô ʊ̀yʊ̀ body parts and infinitives
16 a-ha- hààn̥ʊ̀ 'place' ha- ha- ha- ho- hàmô àhà location
17 a-gʊ- (kʊ) gʊ̀gàbáádi 'on the cupboard' gʊ- ya- gʊ- ko-  ? ʊ̀kʊ̀
18 ʊ-mu- mʊ̀gàbáádi 'inside the cupboard' m- ya- mu- mo-  ? ʊ̀mù

Many kin terms have a reduced form of the nominal prefixes, zero and βa-, called class 1a/2a, as in mààyʊ̂ 'mother', βàmààyʊ̂ 'mothers'. Concord is identical with other class-1/2 nouns.

Singular/plural pairs are 1/2, 5/6, 7/8, 9/10, and 12/13; the locative classes 16, 17, 18 do not have plurals. Most others use class 6 for their plurals: 11/6, 14/6, 15/6, and also sometimes 7/6 and 12/6. There are also nouns that inflect as 11/4, 11/14, 14/10, and 15/8.

Verbal complex

Infinitive verbs have the form gʊ-object-ext-ROOT-ext-V-locative, where ext stands for any of various grammatical 'extensions', and -V is the final vowel. For example, with roots in bold and tone omitted,[7]

'To cut for him/her'
'To cut for each other'

-ĩl is the applicative suffix, translated as 'for'. The reciprocal prefix ĩ has fused into the infinitive .

'To get out there'

-mo is a locative 'inside', as in class 18 nominal concord.

Finite verbs have the form subject-TAM-ext-object-ROOT-ext-TAM-V. For example,

'They are feeding him/her'

The root iiš includes a fused causative suffix. Tense is marked by a prefix. The subject marker βa- shows that the subject is human plural, per the noun-concord table above.

'He found us'

Here tense is marked by a suffix.

'They helped each other/themselves'

Here the prefix is fused tense and reciprocal ĩ.

Language Identity[edit]

It is reported that although Sukuma is very similar to Nyamwezi the speakers themselves do not accept that they make up a single language.[10]


  1. ^ Sukuma at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  3. ^ Margaret Arminel Bryan, compiler, The Bantu Languages of Africa, Oxford University Press, 1959.
  4. ^ The Gospel in Many Tongues, The British and Foreign Bible Society, London, 1965.
  5. ^ Kitabo sha Sala na sha Mimbo, Diochesi ya Mwanza, edited / approved by Bishop Renatus Butibubage, 1963.
  6. ^ The prefixes kɪ-, gɪ-, ji- are dialectical variants.
  7. ^ a b c Rahma Muhdhar, 2006, Verb Extensions in Kisukuma, Jinakiiya dialect, MS dissertation, UDSM
  8. ^ Adjectival concord, possessive suffixes on nouns, subject and object suffixes on verbs, and the agreeing form of -mô 'one', -βɪ̀lɪ́ 'two', and 'this'
  9. ^ Including insignificance, derogation, (sg.) manner of doing
  10. ^ The Bantu Languages of Africa, as above.

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sukuma_language — Please support Wikipedia.
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