Nuer Field Project

Nouns Verbs Verb Book Expressions Pedagogical Grammar of Nuer Translation of Genesis in Nuer Others

Lesson 6

This lesson covers 2 more questions and is a continuation of Lesson 4 and 5. The scene is a hot day when you are pushing to get some work done before you go on vacation. A little urchin comes along "window shopping" as it were, and sounds something like this:

Urchin: Maali̲, kuäär?
Are you at peace, chief?
You: Ɣɔ̲ɔ̲, maalä̲.
Yes, I am at peace.
Urchin: Kuä̲ä̲r, lɛli̲ ni̲ ŋu̲?
Chief, What are you doing?
You: Gatdä̲, ɤä̲n ta̲a̲ kɛ la̲t.
My child, I have work. i.e. I am busy.
Urchin: Wi̲i̲ ni̲?
Where are you going?
You: Ɣä̲n wa̲a̲ kä̲ Malakal.
I am going to Malkal.
Urchin: Ɣɔ̲ɔ̲, gɔaaɛ kuä̲ä̲r. Ku̲ wä̲ kɛ mal.
Oh, it is good chief. Just go with peace.
You: Ɛ jɛn gatdä̲, ku̲ wä̲ kɛ mal bä̲.
It is so my child, just go with peace also.
N.B. Don't be misled, he won't leave that soon, but this suffices for the lesson.


  1. Note that the predominant sounds in this conversation are [a], [a̲], and [ä̲]. Endeavor to hear breathiness where there is any, and length of vowels.
  2. In the word [gatdä̲], note that the "t" is lost in pronunciation in favor of "d".
  3. Practice the phonetic drills.


  1. The meaning of the verb [lɛli̲] is the general idea of doing, be it work, sleep, play or nothing at all. There is another verb [la̲t] which denotes actual labor.
  2. [Ɛ jɛn] is the Nuer equivalent of "okay". Say it whenever you mean "okay".
  3. [kä̲ Malakal] means either "to" or "from" Malakal depending on the context -- or the look on your face.
  4. The verbs [ta̲a̲], [wa̲a̲], and [ba̲a̲] are irregular in their conjugated form. There is nothing especially difficult about them, it is just a matter of understanding how they differ from the majority of verbs. Here they are in the singular.
    1st per. ta̲a̲ I exist wa̲a̲ I go ba̲a̲ I come
    2nd per. ti̲i̲ you exist wi̲i̲ you go bi̲i̲ you come
    3rd per. tëë he exists wëë he goes bëë he comes
    In order to ask the question "where", just say the word [ni̲] at the end of any of these verbs. So [tëë ni̲?] means "where does he exist i.e. live?" [wi̲ ni̲] means "Where are you going?" [bi̲i̲ ni̲?] means "where are you coming from?"
  5. The meaning of the verb "to exist" is separated into two thoughts. One is the idea "to exist", "to be", "to live". This is expressed by the use of this verb plus a noun in the locative case or by a place word. The other meaning is "to have something" which is expressed by the use of this verb immediately followed by the preposition [kɛ], plus a noun (or pronoun). (In some instances [kɛ] is omitted) These sentences literally say, "I exist with work" and "you exist with cow."
  6. NOUNS: Note the word for "child" is [gat]. [dä̲] "my" is the 1st singular personal possessive adjuctival ending on a singular noun.
  7. PARTICLES: [ni̲] in the sentence [lɛli̲ ni̲ ŋu̲̲?] is a particle and does not mean "where" in this case. It is used unsparingly in this language to emphasize the word or phrase following it. It has the power to define or to point out resulting in clearer communication and definition between speaker and hearer.
    e.g. [Göörä̲ ni̲ ji̲] points out that I want you and not somebody else. It is not compulsory to use [], but it is a highly favored word in the language. (E. Nuer)
  8. TONE: Go back to Lessons 4 and 5 and together with this lesson study the tone patterns. This is very important. The orthographic key to tone is : Lo ˎ̲ Hi ˏ̲ Mid ˍ̲
  9. [rɛci̲] -- inside, and [raar] -- outside, are nouns in the locative case used as adverbs. cf. precis.
Nuer Field Project Nouns Verbs Verb Book Expressions Grammar Genesis Others