Nuer Field Project

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

Lesson 31

In the next 2 lessons there is an explanation of the constructions [di̲], [mïth], and [wïnïth], meaning "how", "which?" and "where?"

Someone comes and tells you of a conversation he has just had with a 3rd person who perhaps is at your door, and you go to find out for yourself because it isn't clear, or he hasn't explained enough to suit you. So you begin by saying:

You: Ï̲ di̲?
What is it you were saying?
3rd Person: Ki̲i̲m! Ɣä̲n ta̲a̲ kɛ riɛk. Cä̲ gatdä̲ nöŋ duɛ̲l wal mïn wa̲a̲r ru̲n kä̲ cɛ maath, kä̲ tä̲ä̲mɛ ci̲ duŋdɛ wä̲ di̲t puɔ̲nydɛ.
Doctor! I have trouble. I brought my child to the clinc this morning and he drank, but now his (condition) went big (has increased) in his body.
You: Kä̲ gatdu̲ ɛ gat ïmïth? Ci̲ gaat ti̲ nyïn ŋuan bɛ̲n walɛ.
But your child is which child? Many children came today.
  Cɔalɛ ï̲ di̲, ɛn gat?
How is he called, the child?
Person: Cɔalɛ i̲ di̲, ɛn gat?
He is called Deŋ. Deŋ Köör.
You: Kä̲ du̲ŋdɛɛŋu̲? Du̲ŋdɛ kiɛ̩l kiɤ ɤ ŋu̲?
And what is his (condition)? Is his (condition) a cough or what?
Person: Ɣɔ̲ɔ̲n, du̲ŋdɛ kiɛ̩l.
Yes, his (situation) is a cough.
You: Kä̲ jɛn a ni̲ tä̲ä̲mɛ, ɛn gat puɔ̲nydɛ?
And where is he now, the child himself?
Person: Jɛn a wanɔ.
He is here.
You: Wïnïth?
Person: Jɛn a thaar jiaath ɛmɔ.
He is under that tree.
You: Ɣɔ̲ɔ̲n, kä̲ wër, no̲o̲ni̲ jɛ wanɛmɛ.
Yes, and go, bring him here.
Person: Bä̲ jɛ wä̲ nööŋ.
will go bring him.



  1. This consonant is a voiced th- and is spoken in the position of the tongue for the English word "the".
  2. Practice drills.


  1. [di̲] is an interrogative word. It is not a pronoun. It is commonly translated to mean: "how?" "how's that?" (meaning you didn't hear), "what do you mean?", "how many?", or "how much?". The meaning depends on the context and/or the grammatical environment.
    1. In an elliptical sentence [i̲ di̲?] which means "how's that?", "what were you saying?". The full sentence would be [Ɛ jï̲n ï̲ di̲? ] and finds its meaning in whatever the [ï̲] refers to. As for example, what do you think about it? What do you say about it? How do you feel about it? In other words, the setting defines the meaning.
    2. In accompaniment with the numbers particle [da̲ŋ] to mean "how much?" [da̲ŋ] may be omitted.
      • [Ti̲ti̲ kɛ yio̲w da̲ŋ di̲?] -- These are with how much money? i.e. How much do these cost?
      • [Go̲o̲ri̲ pɛ̲k da̲ŋ di̲? (or) Go̲o̲ri̲ pɛ̲k di̲?] -- You want the limit how much? i.e. How much do you want?
    3. With the noun [guä̲th] -- places to mean "how many times?". e.g. [Ci̲ bɛ̲n kɛ guä̲th di̲?] -- You came with how many times? i.e. How many times did you come?
    4. With the Nuerized Arabic word [thaa] -- watch, to mean "what time is it?"
      • [Ɛ thaa di̲ tä̲ä̲mɛ?] -- What time is it now?
      • [Ci̲ bɛ̲n kɛ tha di̲?] -- What time did you come?
    5. With the clausal particel [i̲] (implying "you tell me") following all aspects.
      • [Bi̲i̲ i̲ di̲?] -- How do you come?
      • [Ci̲ bɛ̲n ï̲ di̲?] -- How did you come?
      • [Bi̲ bɛ̲n ï̲ di̲?] -- How will you come?
    6. In the same type of construction as above with the verb [tɛ̲] -- exist/be, to mean "how is it?" "how is so and so?" etc. It is used when wanting to inquire as to someone's health or the state of something.
      • [Ti̲i̲ ï̲ di̲?] -- How are you?
      • [Tëë ï̲ di̲?] -- How is it, etc?
      • [Puɔ̲nydu̲ tëë ï̲ di̲?] -- How is your body?
  2. Notice in the dialogue that the verb [ɛ] is often omitted in the sentences initiated with [du̲ŋdɛ]. This is because the verb [ɛ] is slurred together with the [-dɛ], or else is simply dropped.
Nuer Field Project Nouns Verbs Verb Book Expressions Grammar Genesis Others