Lugbara language

Native to Uganda, DR Congo
Ethnicity Lugbara
Native speakers
1.7 million (2001–2004)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Either:
lgg  Lugbara
snm  Southern Ma'di
Glottolog lugb1240  (Lugbara)[2]
sout2828  (S. Ma'di)[3]

Lugbara is the language of the Lugbara people. It is spoken in the West Nile region in northwestern Uganda, as well as the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Orientale Province.[4]

Classification and dialects

The Aringa language, also known as Low Lugbara, is closely related, and sometimes considered a dialect of Lugbara.[5] Some scholars classify the Lugbara language itself as a dialect of the Ma'di language, though this is not generally accepted.[6] An SIL survey report concluded that the Okollo, Ogoko, and Rigbo dialects, called "Southern Ma'di", should be classified as dialects of Lugbara.


Lugbara was first written by Christian missionaries in 1918, based on the Ayivu dialect. In 2000, a conference was held in the city of Arua in northwestern Uganda regarding the creation of a standardised international orthography for Lugbara.[7]

In education

In 1992, the Government of Uganda designated it as one of five "languages of wider communication" to be used as the medium of instruction in primary education; however, unlike the other four such languages, it was never actually used in schools.[7] More recently it was included in the curriculum for some secondary schools in the West Nile region, including St. Joseph's College Ombaci and Muni Girls Secondary School, both in Arua District.

Pronunciation guide

Lugbara phrases are spoken in several dialects (clan-wise) but the Muni (Ayivu) version, from which many of the explanations below are based, is the one approved for teaching in schools. The language has diphthong clusters and other noteworthy phonetics including the following:

aa as in bat, for example embataa

c as in church, for example Candiru (which is also spelt Chandiru)

dj as in jilt, for example odji, the ‘d’ is silent

ee as in emblem, for example Andree

gb as in bend, for example gbe, the ‘g’ is silent.Gb in Lugbara does not have an equivalent in English.What stands out in these Sudanic languages is the special manner in which 'kp,gb,'d,'b,'y,'w are pronounced.

i as in inn, for example di-i

oa as in oar, for example Adroa

oo as in old, for example ocoo, othertimes oo as in food, for example ‘doo

uu as in chew, for example cuu

z as in jean after n, for example onzi. Otherwise, most times remains z as in zebra, for example Ozu and when the first letter of a word.


The Lugbara alphabet has 28 letters minus ‘q’ and ‘x’ (Alamakanda in Aringa language), which means 24 like in English and four unique ones namely: ‘b like in ‘bua, ‘d like in ‘dia, ‘w like in ‘wara and ‘y like in ‘yetaa. Letters are pronounced as follows: Ah, Ba, Cha, Da, Eh, Fa, Ga, Ha, Ie, Ja, Ka, La, Ma, Na, Oh, Pa, Ra, Sa, Ta, Uoo, Va, Wa, Ya, and Za.

Some words are borrowed from other languages, for example Safari (journey) from Swahili, Buku (book) from English, Kandi (ball) from Lingala, etc.[8] Also in the vocabulary, there are several words that have varied meanings when pronounced differently, for instance Oli can mean air, wind (also Oliriko), whistle, cut or roll.


Number Translation
11. Modri drini alu
12.Modri drini iri
13.Modri drini na
20.Kali iri
21.Kali iri drini alu
22.Kali iri drini iri
23.Kali iri drini na
30.Kali na
40.Kali su
100.Turu alu
200.Turu iri
300.Turu na
1,000.Alifu alu
1M.Milioni alu

Greetings and other phrases

Lugbara English
Mi ifu ngoni?How did you wake up?/ Good morning!
Ngoni?How are you?
[Ma] Muke![I’m] Fine!
Ma azoru!I’m sick!
Mi aa ngoni?Good afternoon!
Ayiko ni ma fu!Happiness is killing me!/ I’m happy!
Abiri ni ma fu(fu)!Hunger is killing me!/ I’m hungry!
Sawa si?What time is it?
Sawa alu o’bitisi.7 AM in the morning [To tell time, you mention the number on the opposite side of the clock. Sawa iri is 8 O’clock, Sawa na is 9 O’clock, etc.]
Sawa modri drini alu ondresi5 PM in the evening
Mi efi!Come in!
Ife mani ‘yi!Give me water!
Iko ma aza!Help me!
Mi a'bua ozi si?How much do you sell bananas?
Ajeni si?How much [is the price]?
Ale Obangulu!I want mashed whiteants!
Ma mu Gili Gili-a ngoni?How do I get to Gili Gili?
Arojo ngwa?Where is the drugshop?
Mi ru adi-i?What is your name?
Ma ru Joel-i!I’m called Joel!
Awa’di fo!Thanks!
Ale mi ra!I love you!
Ma enga Ombaci-a.I’m from Ombaci.
Ma mu kanisa-a.I’m going to church.
Mi ma agi!You are my friend!
Ma mu Ariwara-a ngoni?How do I get to Ariwara?
Mosikiti ngwa?Where is the mosque?
Mi ma ji Ragem-a ra?Can you take me to Ragem?
Iji ma Ediofe-a!Take me to Ediofe!
Ba mucele ozi ngwa?Where is rice sold?
Aje/ andru/ drusi/ droziYesterday, today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow
Ila muke!Sleep well!
Ale ra!I want! [The word 'ra' after a verb denotes positivity.]
Ale ku!I don't want! [The word 'ku' after a verb denotes negativity.]


Grandfather (a’bi)

Grandmother (dede, e’di)

Grandson (nvia)

Granddaughter (zia)

Father (ati, ata)

Mother (andri, andre, ayia)

Husband (agupi)

Wife (oku)

Son (agupiamva, nvi)

Daughter (zamva, zi)

Brother (adrii)

Sister (amvii)

Uncles (atapuruka, [maternal - adro, paternal - adropi])

Aunts (andrapuruka)

Cousin (atapurumva)

Cousin brother (atapuruka anzi)

Cousin sister (atapuruka ezopi)

Nephews (adro anzi)

Nieces (adro ezoanzi, ezaapi)

Father-in-law (anya)

Mother-in-law (edra)

Brother-in-law (otuo)

Sister-in-law (onyizi)

Days of the week

1 week (Sabatu alu, sabiti alu)

A day is called O’du in Lugbara.

Sunday (Sabatu, sabiti, yinga, yumula)

Monday (O’du alu)

Tuesday (O’du iri)

Wednesday (O’du na)

Thursday (O’du su)

Friday (O’du towi)

Saturday (O’du azia)


The simplest way to refer to months (Mba in Lugbara) is to use numbers, for example January is Mba Alu, February is Mba Iri, May is Mba Towi and so on. But below is the other Latinized (and seasonal) way of mentioning them.

Januari (Oco ‘dupa sere)

Feburili (Kulini)

Marici (Zengulu)

Aprili (Ayi – Wet season)

Mayi (Mayi)

Juni (Emveki)

Julayi (Irri)

Agoslo (Iripaku)

Sebitemba (Lokopere)

Okitoba (Abibi)

Novemba (Waa)

Desemba (Anyu fi kuma)

Common signs

Lugbara English


Eka (red)

Imve (white)

Imve silili, imve whilili (very pure white)

Ini (black)

Inibiricici, inicici (very dark)

Emvesi-enisi (black and white)

Foro [foro] (gray)

Foroto (grayish)


Lugbara English
Osu(Beans, Kaiko in Terego dialect)
Buruso, burusu(Guinea peas)
Onya(White ants)
Ope(Guinea fowl)
Ti eza(Cow Meat)

Learning more

To study Lugbara, you might need a language teacher or guide but knowing the pronunciation basics and vocabulary preferably from a dictionary can give you a very good start. Practice by talking to natives physically or online and listening to Lugbara music.

See also


  1. Lugbara at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Southern Ma'di at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Lugbara". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Southern Ma'di". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. Gordon, Raymond (2005). "Lugbara language". Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Dallas, Texas: SIL International.
  5. Boone, Douglas; Watson, Richard (1999). "Moru–Ma'di Survey Report" (PDF). SIL Electronic Survey Reports SILESR 1999-001.
  6. Blackings, Mairi; Nigel Fabb (2003). A Grammar of Ma'di. Mouton de Gruyter. p. 1. ISBN 3-11-017940-7.
  7. 1 2 Da Fonseca, N. "Writing unwritten languages". UNESCO.
  8. Ngaka, Willy; O'du'bua, Edward; Ongua, Paul Iga (2009). Lugbara - English Dictionary. Fountain Publishers.

Further reading

Lugbara language test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator
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