Dogon Languages
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Dogon Languages
EthnicityDogon people
Linguistic classificationNiger-Congo
  • Dogon
Map of the Dogon languages.svg
Map of the Dogon languages
  Plains Dogon - Jamsai, Toro Tegu, Western Plains (Togo Kan, Tengu Kan, Tomo Kan)
  Escarpment Dogon - Toro So, Tommo So, Donno So
  West Dogon - Duleri, Mombo, Ampari-Penange, Budu
  North Plateau Dogon - Bondum, Dogul
  Nanga languages - Nanga, Bankan Tey, Ben Tey, Yanda

The Dogon languages are a small closely-related language family that spoken by the Dogon people of Mali and may belong to the larger Niger-Congo family. There are about 600,000 speakers of its dozen languages. They are tonal languages, and most, like Dogul, have two tones, but some, like Donno So, have three. Their basic word order is subject-object-verb.


The evidence linking Dogon to the Niger-Congo family is weak, and their place within the family, assuming they do belong, is not clear.[] Various theories have been proposed, placing them in Gur, Mande, or as an independent branch, the last now being the preferred approach. The Dogon languages show no remnants of the noun class system characteristic of much of Niger-Congo, leading linguists to conclude that they likely diverged from Niger-Congo very early.[]

Roger Blench comments,[2]

Dogon is both lexically and structurally very different from most other [Niger-Congo] families. It lacks the noun-classes usually regarded as typical of Niger-Congo and has a word order (SOV) that resembles Mande and ?j?, but not the other branches. The system of verbal inflections, resembling French is quite unlike any surrounding languages. As a consequence, the ancestor of Dogon is likely to have diverged very early, although the present-day languages probably reflect an origin some 3-4000 years ago. Dogon languages are territorially coherent, suggesting that, despite local migration histories, the Dogon have been in this area of Mali from their origin.


Dogon is certainly a well-founded and coherent group. But it has no characteristic Niger-Congo features (noun-classes, verbal extensions, labial-velars) and very few lexical cognates. It could equally well be an independent language family.

The Bamana and Fula languages have exerted significant influence on Dogon, due to their close cultural and geographical ties.

Blench (2015) suggests that Bangime and Dogon languages may have a substratum from a "missing" branch of Nilo-Saharan that had split off relatively early from Proto-Nilo-Saharan, and tentatively calls that branch "Plateau".[4]


The Dogon consider themselves a single ethnic group, but recognise that their languages are different. In Dogon cosmology, Dogon constitutes six of the twelve languages of the world (the others being Fulfulde, Mooré, Bambara, Bozo and Tamasheq).[5] Jamsay is thought to be the original Dogon language, but the Dogon "recognise a myriad of tiny distinctions even between parts of villages and sometimes individuals, and strive to preserve these". (Hochstetler 2004:18)

The best-studied Dogon language is the escarpment language Toro So (T?r? s) of Sanga, due to Marcel Griaule's studies there and because Toro So was selected as one of thirteen national languages of Mali. It is mutually intelligible with other escarpment varieties. However, the plains languages--Tene Ka, Tomo Ka, and Jamsay, which are not intelligible with Toro so--have more speakers, and Jamsay and Tommo so are most conservative linguistically.

Calame-Griaule appears to have been the first to work out the various varieties of Dogon. Calame-Griaule (1956) classified the languages as follows, with accommodation given for languages which have since been discovered (new Dogon languages were reported as late as 2005), or have since been shown to be mutually intelligible (as Hochstetler confirmed for the escarpment dialects). The two standard languages are asterisked.

Douyon and Blench (2005) report an additional variety, which is as yet unclassified:

Blench noted that the plural suffix on nouns suggests that Budu is closest to Mombo, so it has been tentatively included as West Dogon above. He also notes that Walo-Kumbe is lexically similar to Na?a; Hochstetler suspects it may be Na?a. The similarities between these languages may be shared with Yanda. These are all extremely poorly known.

Pre-Dogon language

Bangime language (aka Ba?g?ri m?), formerly considered a divergent branch of Dogon, turns out not to be Dogon at all, and is possibly a language isolate (Blench 2005b). Blench believes that it is a remnant of the pre-Dogon languages of the area; the Dogon appear to have been in the area for many thousands of years.

Additionally, Blench (2015)[6] suggests that there is a Nilo-Saharan substratum in the Dogon languages, with the Nilo-Saharan substrate being a currently extinct branch of Nilo-Saharan that Blench tentatively refers to as "Plateau."


Comparison of numerals in individual languages:[7]

Language 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Dogulu Dom (1) tm néé?è táándù k?s kúlè s?w sèèlé tùùw p?l
Dogul Dom Dogon (2) tomo n?i?e taandu kso n'n? kuloi si seele tuw? pl
Tommo So Dogon tíí (túm as a modifier) néé tààndú n?y ?n kúlóy sy ?á?ìrà túww pl
Donno So Dogon tí (for counting), túru ly tà:nu này nùmoro / nn? kúlóy / kulei sy ?à?ara tùo / tu plu
Jamsay Dogon túrú ly / ly t?:n / tà:n n?y? / này? * n?:y? / nù:y? kúróy sûy? ?á:rà lá:rúwà / lá:rwà prú
Toro So Dogon (1) tíì (for counting), túrú lj tàánú nàjí nùmr kúlòj sj ?áárà túw prú
Toro So Dogon (2) tíírú (for counting), túrú léí táánú náí númrn kúlóí ?á?árá túw plú
Toro Tegu Dogon túrú ly t?:lí n?y? * n?:y? kúréy sóy? ?á:rà lá:rà pró
Bankan Tey Dogon tùmá j?j tà:ní nìj? nùmm?j? kúròj síjj? ?á:ràj tè:súm p:rú
Ben Tey Dogon tùm: y?y tà:nú n?:y? nùm?y? kúròy súyy? ?á:rày tè:s?m prú
Mombo Dogon y:tá:ù / tí:tà (in counting) n:á tá:ndì k:j nú:mù kúléy? s:lì sé:lè tó:wà p:lù
Najamba-Kindige kúndé nô:j tà:ndî: k:dj nùmî: kúlèj swj sá:?ì: twâj píjlì
Nanga Dogon tùmâ w?j tà:nd?: nj? nìm?: kúrê súj ?á:r tè:s?: p:rú
Togo Kan Dogon (1) ly tàán, tàánú n?y? nún kúréé s? sìláà túwáà prú
Togo Kan Dogon (2) lyì tánn ná?ì núm kúlèn s sílà túwà plì
Yanda Dom Dogon tùmá: n: / nó tá:ndù cz nûm kúlé sw: sá:?è twâ: píyél

See also


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Dogon". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Dogon Languages Archived June 15, 2013, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved May 19, 2013
  3. ^ Roger Blench, Niger-Congo: an alternative view
  4. ^ Blench, Roger. 2015. Was there a now-vanished branch of Nilo-Saharan on the Dogon Plateau? Evidence from substrate vocabulary in Bangime and Dogon. In Mother Tongue, Issue 20, 2015: In Memory of Harold Crane Fleming (1926-2015).
  5. ^ The last is not mentioned in Hochstetler's sources.
  6. ^ Blench, Roger. 2015. Was there a now-vanished branch of Nilo-Saharan on the Dogon Plateau? Evidence from substrate vocabulary in Bangime and Dogon. Mother Tongue, Issue 20, 2015: In Memory of Harold Crane Fleming (1926-2015).
  7. ^ Chan, Eugene (2019). "The Niger-Congo Language Phylum". Numeral Systems of the World's Languages.


  • Bendor-Samuel, John & Olsen, Elizabeth J. & White, Ann R. (1989) 'Dogon', in Bendor-Samuel & Rhonda L. Hartell (eds.) The Niger-Congo languages: A classification and description of Africa's largest language family (pp. 169-177). Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America.
  • Bertho, J. (1953) 'La place des dialectes dogon de la falaise de Bandiagara parmi les autres groupes linguistiques de la zone soudanaise,' Bulletin de l'IFAN, 15, 405–441.
  • Blench, Roger (2005a). "A survey of Dogon languages in Mali: Overview". OGMIOS: Newsletter of Foundation for Endangered Languages. 3.02 (26): 14-15. Retrieved ..
  • Blench, Roger (2005b) 'Ba?gi me, a language of unknown affiliation in Northern Mali', OGMIOS: Newsletter of Foundation for Endangered Languages, 3.02 (#26), 15-16. (report with wordlist)
  • Calame-Griaule, Geneviève (1956) Les dialectes Dogon. Africa, 26 (1), 62-72.
  • Calame-Griaule, Geneviève (1968) Dictionnaire Dogon Dialecte t?r?: Langue et Civilisation. Paris: Klincksieck: Paris.
  • Heath, Jeffrey (2008) A grammar of Jamsay. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Hochstetler, J. Lee; Durieux, J.A.; E.I.K. Durieux-Boon (2004). Sociolinguistic Survey of the Dogon Language Area (PDF). SIL International. Retrieved .
  • Plungian, Vladimir Aleksandrovi? (1995) Dogon (Languages of the world materials vol. 64). München: LINCOM Europa
  • Williamson, Kay & Blench, Roger (2000) 'Niger-Congo', in Heine, Bernd and Nurse, Derek (eds) African Languages - An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University press, pp. 11-42.

External links

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