Introduction to Dagbani Language
Dagbani Language, also known as Dagbanli, belongs to the Gur language family and is spoken in Ghana and Northern Togo. The estimated number of native speakers is over 3,000,000.
In the Dagbon Kingdom, which encompasses the northeastern part of Ghana, Dagbani is a mandatory subject in primary and junior high schools. Among the ethnic groups overseen by the Yaa-Naa, the King of Dagbon, Dagbani holds the status of being the most widely-spoken language in northern Ghana.
Dagbani Language exhibits close linguistic relations and mutual intelligibility with the Mamprulli and Nanunli languages, also spoken in Ghana’s northeast and Northern Regions.
Additionally, it shares similarities with other languages in the same subgroup found in the region, including Dagaare and Wali languages spoken in the Upper West Region, as well as the Frafra language spoken in the Upper East Region of Ghana. Across the border in Togo, Dagbani is spoken in the Savanes Region, adjacent to Ghana.
Dagbani Language Dialects
The Dagbani language encompasses two primary dialects: the Nayahali dialect centered around the traditional capital town of Yendi, and the Tomosili dialect (also known as the Western dialect) centered in the administrative capital of the Northern Region, Tamale.
Additionally, the Nanunli dialect is spoken by the Nanumba ethnic group, which belongs to the Mole Dagomba subgroup. Although these dialects have variations in certain aspects such as root vowels and the pronunciation of specific nouns, they remain mutually understandable.
Notably, the terms Dagbani and Dagbanli, mentioned earlier as the names for the language, respectively correspond to the Eastern and Western dialect forms.
However, the Dagbani Orthography Committee has determined that “Dagbani” is used to refer to the language itself, while “Dagbanli” pertains to the associated life and culture. In spoken language, each dialect employs its respective form of the name for both functions.
Dagbani Language is a tonal language in which pitch is used to distinguish words, as in gballi [ɡbálːɪ́] (high-high) ‘grave’ vs. gballi [ɡbálːɪ̀] (high-low) ‘zana mat’.The tone system of Dagbani is characterized by two-level tones and downstep (a lowering effect occurring between sequences of the same phonemic tone).
Dagbani Language Written system
Ajami Script History
The Ajami script, believed to have emerged between the 10th and 16th centuries, was originally developed to promote Islam in West Africa. It is likely that the script was initially used to write old Amazigh and Kanuri languages. Over time, it became utilized for Hausa, Wolof, and Yoruba as well.
By the 17th century, Islamic scholars in Moliyili, an educational center established by the Moliyili Afanema, employed the Ajami script to publish religious texts, historical accounts, scientific writings, and poetry.
During the pre-colonial era, Qur’anic schools taught Muslim children Arabic, which consequently exposed them to the Ajami script. However, with the advent of Western colonization, a Latin-based writing system was adopted for Dagbani. As a result, the popularity of the Ajami script declined.
Dagbani Latin Script
Dagbani Language is primarily written using the Latin alphabet, with certain additions and modifications. These include the use of the apostrophe and the inclusion of letters such as ɛ, ɣ, ŋ, ɔ, and ʒ, as well as the digraphs ch, gb, kp, ŋm, sh, and ny.
The literacy rate for Dagbani used to be relatively low, ranging from 2% to 3%. However, with Dagbani now being a compulsory subject in primary and junior secondary schools throughout Dagbon, it is expected that the literacy rate will increase.
The current orthography, as established by the Orthography Committee in 1998, incorporates several allophonic distinctions. Notably, the tone is not marked in the written representation of Dagbani.
Dagbani Double Consonants
Dagbani has eleven phonemic vowels – six short vowels and five long vowels:
Dagbani Short Vowels
Dagbani Long vowels
The Dagbamba people have developed their own unique numbering system, which has existed alongside the Dagbani language for centuries. This system holds significant historical and cultural importance within the community.
In Dagbanli, numbers can be classified into two categories: counting numbers and non-counting numbers. The distinction between these two types primarily stems from their practical application in daily life, particularly when counting various items or objects.
|Number||Counting||Non-Counting (Daily Usage)|
|11||Pia ni yini||Pin yini|
|12||Pia ni ayi||Pin ayi|
|13||Pia ni ata||Pin ata|
|14||pia ni anahi||Pin anahi|
|15||pia ni anu||Pin anu|
|16||pia ni ayobu||Pin ayobu|
|17||pia ni apɔi||Pin apɔi|
|18||pishi ayi ka||Pin ayi ka|
|19||pishi yini ka||Pishi yini ka|
|21||pishi ni yini||pishi ni yini|
|22||pishi ni yi||pishi ni yi|
|23||pishi ni ata||pishi ni ata|
|24||pishi ni anahi||pishi ni anahi|
|25||pishi ni anu||pishi ni anu|
|26||pishi ni ayobu||pishi ni ayobu|
|27||pishi ni apɔi||pishi ni apɔi|
|28||Pishu Ani||Pishu Ani|
|29||Pishi awei||Pishi awei|
Preservation Efforts and Challenges
Like many indigenous languages, Dagbani faces challenges in the modern world. The influence of global languages and rapid urbanization pose threats to the vitality of the language. However, various initiatives have been undertaken to preserve and revitalize Dagbani. These efforts include the development of language learning resources, the establishment of language centers, and the promotion of language use in different domains.
The Importance of Preserving Dagbani Language
Preserving the Dagbani language is of immense importance for several reasons. Firstly, it serves as a vital component of the cultural identity of the Dagomba people, enabling the transmission of traditions, customs, and oral history.
Secondly, language preservation ensures intergenerational communication, fostering a sense of belonging and unity within the community. Lastly, maintaining Dagbani contributes to linguistic diversity, acknowledging the value of each language in the global mosaic of human expression.
The Dagbani language stands as a testament to the rich linguistic heritage of Ghana and Northern Togo. Its origins, dialectal variations, and unique linguistic features reflect the diversity and cultural significance of the Dagomba people.
While challenges persist, efforts to preserve Dagbani through education, documentation, and revitalization initiatives are ongoing. By valuing and safeguarding this language, we embrace the richness of human expression and honor the linguistic diversity that shapes our world.
Dagbani Oral literature