Tennet language

Native to South Sudan
Region Eastern Equatoria, Lafon County
Ethnicity Tennet
Native speakers
10,000 (2009)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 tex
Glottolog tenn1246[2]

Tennet (also Tenet (early language survey),[3] and Irenge (to the Lopit people)[4]) is a Nilo-Saharan, Eastern Sudanic, Surmic language spoken by the Tennet people. The Tennet home area is a group of five villages at the northern end of the Lopit mountains, 65 kilometers northeast of Torit.



Tennet Consonants[5]
Labial Dental Alveolar Postalveolar/
Len For Len For Len For Len For Len For
Stop voiceless p p: t t: ʈ k k:
voiced ɓ b: ɗ d: ɠ g:
voiceless t:ʃ
voiced v v: ð ð: d:ʒ ɣ
Nasal m m: n n: ɲ ŋ ŋ:
Flap/Trill r r:
Approximant w w: l l: j j:

Note that most consonants are members of a fortis/lenis pair, and that fortis may be realized phonetically in several ways: lengthening, change from ingressive to egressive, trilling, devoicing, and fricative hardening (becoming a stop).[6] Note also that the fortis counterpart of the voiced velar fricative [ɣ] has been omitted. In Randal (1995),[7] the consonant chart includes it to show the consonants in the Tennet orthography. The fortis counterpart of [ɣ] is omitted here because it is phonetically identical to the fortis counterpart of [k].


Tennet has five [+ATR] vowels and five corresponding [-ATR] vowels. The vowels are /i/, /e/, /a/, /o/, /u/, and in the current orthography, [+ATR] vowels are marked with an underline.[8] Tongue height may vary slightly without affecting the [ATR] quality of a vowel, so unlike certain West African languages (e.g. Akan and Igbo),[9] the [+ATR] /e/, for example, may actually be slightly lower than the [-ATR] /e/. The [+ATR] feature spreads from right to left, so a [+ATR] suffix will cause the vowels in a [-ATR] stem to become [+ATR]. Tennet uses [ATR] to mark lexical and grammatical distinctions.[10]

Any of the ten vowels may be lengthened. In the orthography, vowels are doubled to show length.[11]

Tennet has two level tones and a falling tone. A rising tone is treated as a low-high sequence, because it occurs only on long vowels. In the current orthography the high tone is marked with an acute accent, falling is marked with a circumflex, and low is unmarked.[12] Tone often marks grammatical relations and occasionally marks lexical distinctions.[13]


Like its closer Surmic relatives, Tennet uses multiple strategies to mark number on nouns.[14]

The number marking system is quite similar to that of Murle, for which Arensen[15][16] has proposed semantically based categories to group nouns that use the same strategy for marking number.

Tennet has a marked nominative system, where a noun takes a suffix when it is the subject of either a transitive or intransitive verb. A noun serving as a direct object is unmarked, and so are citation forms.[17]

In an equational clause with an implicit "be" verb, both nouns are left unmarked (the accusative form).[18]

Like other Surmic languages, Tennet uses a modified vigesimal counting system. "Six" is derived from "five and one," "seven" from "five and two," etc. "Ten" is a new word, followed by "ten and one," "ten and two," up to "ten and five and four," after which is a new word for "twenty," which means "a person" (10 fingers and 10 toes). "Forty" is "two people," sixty is "three people," etc.

Syntax and Typology

Tennet has a basic VSO word order.[19] As is the case with other Surmic languages, Tennet's word order for interrogative clauses is typologically surprising. Greenberg's Universal 12 predicts that for VSO languages, interrogative words will be sentence-initial,[20] but Tennet and its relatives have sentence-final interrogative words.[21]

The language has a category of words that have been analyzed as postpositions. If that is what they are, Tennet syntax contains another typological anomaly, since Greenberg's Universal 9 predicts prepositions for VSO languages. However, these postposition candidates also have some noun-like characteristics (case marking), and certain constructions containing indisputable nouns parallel the apparent postpositional constructions quite nicely.[22]


  1. Tennet at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Tennet". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Tucker (1956)
  4. Randal (1995:1)
  5. Randal (1995:5)
  6. Randal (1998:221)
  7. Randal (1995:5)
  8. Randal (1998:220)
  9. Kenstowicz (1979:247-248)
  10. Randal (1995:10)
  11. Randal (1995:11)
  12. Amargira (2011)
  13. Randal (1995:74)
  14. Randal (1995:30)
  15. Arensen (1992)
  16. Arensen (1998)
  17. Randal, S. (2000:70)
  18. Randal, S. (2000:72)
  19. Randal (1995)
  20. Greenberg (1966:111)
  21. Arensen, et al. (1997:77)
  22. Randal, A. (2000:64)


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