Dogon languages

Dogon languages
Ethnicity: Dogon people
Linguistic classification: Niger–Congo
  • (unclassified)
    • Dogon
Plains Dogon
West Dogon (Budu)
North Plateau
Naŋa–Walo (Yanda)
? Ana Dogon
Map of Dogon languages (in Russian)
The grey dashed line is the escarpment.
The red dashed line the Burkina border.
The yellow eastern half is Jamsay; the grey N of it is uninhabited, and the yellow strip N of that, Tɔrɔ tegu.
The light yellow to the west are resp. Tene (Teŋu & Togo) and Tomo-kan.
The orange in the middle is Escarpment (Tɔrɔ sɔɔ below the escarpment, Tɔmmɔ sɔɔ & Donno sɔ above).
The green bits on the escarpment are (SW to NE) Yanda, Tebul, Naŋa.
The larger green areas to the N are (NE to SW) Bondum, Tiranige, Dogulu, Bunoge, Mombo, and Ampari.
The city to the west of Mombo (near edge of map) is Mopti.
Bangi-me is red.

The Dogon languages are spoken by the Dogon of Mali. There are about 600,000 speakers of a dozen languages. They are tonal languages, most like Dogul having two tones, some like Donno So having three.

The place of Dogon inside the Niger–Congo family is not clear, and the evidence linking them to Niger–Congo is weak. Various theories have been proposed, placing them in Gur, Mande, or as an independent branch, the last now being the preferred theory. 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. The basic word order is subject–object–verb.

Roger Blench comments,

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 Ịjọ, 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.

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



The Dogon consider themselves a single ethnic group, but recognize 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).[1] 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 (Tɔrɔ sɔɔ) 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. }}

  • Plains Dogon: Jamsai,* Tɔrɔ tegu, Western Plains (dialects: Togo kã, Tengu kã, Tomo kã)
  • Escarpment Dogon (dialects: Tɔrɔ sɔɔ,* Tɔmmɔ sɔɔ, Donno sɔ aka Kamma sɔ)
  • West Dogon: Duleri, Mombo, Ampari; Budu ?
  • North Plateau Dogon: Bondum, Dogul
  • Yanda
  • Nanga: Naŋa, Bankan Tey (Walo), Ben Tey
  • Tebul

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

  • Ana Tiŋa.

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

Pre-Dogon language

Bangi-me (aka Baŋgɛri mɛ), 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 thousand years.

See also

Languages of Mali


  1. ^ The last is not mentioned in Hochstetler's sources.


  • 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; Mallam Dendo (2005a). "A survey of Dogon languages in Mali: Overview". OGMIOS: Newsletter of Foundation for Endangered Languages 3.02 (26): 14–15. Retrieved 2011-06-30. .
  • Blench, Roger (2005b) 'Baŋgi 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 tɔrɔ: 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. SIL International. Retrieved 2011-06-30. 
  • Plungian, Vladimir Aleksandraovič (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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