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Iraqw language

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Title: Iraqw language  
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Subject: Haplogroup T-M184, South Cushitic languages, German East Africa, Hadza language, Tanzania
Collection: Languages of Tanzania, South Cushitic Languages
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Iraqw language

Kángw Iraqw
Native to Tanzania
Region Arusha Region
Ethnicity Iraqw
Native speakers
460,000 (2001)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 irk
Glottolog iraq1241[2]

Iraqw is a Cushitic language spoken in Tanzania in the Arusha and Manyara Regions. It is expanding in numbers, as the Iraqw people absorb neighboring ethnic groups. The language has a large number of Datooga loanwords, especially in poetic language. The Gorowa language to the south shares numerous similarities and is sometimes considered a dialect.


  • Phonology 1
    • Vowels 1.1
    • Consonants 1.2
  • Morphology 2
    • Noun morphology 2.1
      • Gender 2.1.1
      • Number 2.1.2
    • Construct case suffixes and gender linkers 2.2
  • Syntax 3
    • Noun phrases 3.1
    • Sentences 3.2
  • References 4
  • External links 5



Whiteley (1958) lists the following vowel phonemes for Iraqw. All of the vowels except /ə/ occur in both short and long versions:

Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e ə o
Open a


Whiteley (1958) and Mous (1993) list the following consonants:

Iraqw consonant phonemes
  Labial Alveolar Palatal /
Velar Uvular Pharyn
Central Lateral
Nasal m n         ŋ ng            
Plosive p b t d         k ɡ q   ʕ /   ʔ '  
Affricate     ts   tl   ch                  
Fricative f   s   ɬ sl   ʃ sh   x       ħ hh   h  
Trill     r                        
Approximant         l j y w            

In the popular orthography for Iraqw used in Lutheran and Catholic materials, the sound ɬ is spelled sl and ʕ is spelled / (Mous 1993:16).


Noun morphology


Nouns in Iraqw have three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. The gender of a noun can be deduced from the type of agreement that it triggers on other elements in the sentence, but the agreement system is unusual, and obeys the following principle (Mous 1993:41):

  • Masculine nouns require the masculine form of the verb
  • Feminine nouns require the feminine form of the verb
  • Neuter nouns require the plural form of the verb

The masculine, feminine, and plural forms of the verb are identified by the form the verb takes when the subject is pronoun which is a.) a third person masculine singular ('he'), b.) a third person feminine singular ('she'), or c.) a third person plural ('they').

Masculine verb forms
Daaqay i giilín i giilín
boys(MASC) S.3 fight:3.SG.M S.3 fight:3.SG.M
'The boys are fighting' 'He is fighting'
Feminine verb forms
Hhayse i harweeriiríin i harweeriiríin
tails(FEM) S.3 make:circles:3.SG.F S.3 make:circles:3.SG.F
'The tails are making circles' 'She is making circles'
Neuter verb forms
Hhayso i harweeriiríná' i harweeriiríná'
tail(NEUTER) S.3 make:circles:3.SG.PL S.3 make:circles:3.SG.PL
'The tail is making circles' 'They are making circles'

There are several unusual things that are worth noting. One is that 'tail' is neuter in the singular and feminine in the plural; despite this, the plural verb form is used for 'tail', since it is neuter, and neuters use the plural verb form. Another is that the verbs do not agree with their subjects in number, so the masculine plural daaqay 'boys' takes the masculine form of the verb, not the plural form of the verb.


Nouns typically have separate singular and plural forms, but there are a large number of distinct plural suffixes. Mous (1993:44) reports that there are fourteen different plural suffixes. The lexical entry for a noun must specify the particular plural suffix it takes.

The gender of a plural noun is usually different from the gender of the corresponding singular. Compare the following singular and plural nouns, with their genders:

singular singular gender plural plural gender meaning
awu m awe f bull
bila' m bil'aawe f cliff
nyaqot m nyaqootma' f colobus monkey
hhampa m hhampeeri n wing
tlanka f tlankadu n bridge
lama f lameemo n lie
slanú m slaneemo n python
xweera n xweer(a)du n night

While it is not possible to predict the gender of a noun or which plural suffix it will take, the form of the plural suffix determines the gender of the plural noun. So, for example, all plural nouns with the /-eemo/ suffix are neuter (Mous 1993:58).

Construct case suffixes and gender linkers

The gender of a noun is important for predicting the construct case suffix and the gender linker that it will use. When a noun is directly followed by

  • an adjective
  • a possessive noun phrase
  • a numeral
  • a relative clause
  • a verb

then a construct case suffix must appear after the noun. The construct case marker is /-ú/ or /-kú/ for masculine nouns; /-Hr/ or /-tá/ for feminine nouns; and /-á/ for neuter nouns (Mous 1993:95-96):

hhart-á baabú-'ee'
stick-construct:neu father-1sgPoss
'the stick of my father'
waahlá-r ur
python-construct:fem big
'big python'
an-á hiim-ú urúux
1sg-S:1/2 rope-construct:masc pull:1sg
'I pull the rope'

The gender linkers are similar to the construct cases suffixes, but appear between the noun and other suffixes (such as the demonstrative, indefinite, and possessive suffixes). The following example shows masculine, feminine, and neuter nouns before the 'their' possessive suffix and the demonstrative -qá' 'that (far, but visible)' (Mous 1993:90-92)

masculine feminine neuter
mura' 'stomach' hasam 'dilemma' hhafeeto 'mats'
muru-'ín 'their stomach' hasam-ar-'ín 'their dilemma' hhafeeto-'ín
stomach:M-3plPoss dilemma-F-3plPoss mats:N-3plPoss
muru-qá' 'that stomach' hasam-ar-qá' 'that dilemma' hhafeeto-qá' 'those mats'
stomach:M-that dilemma-F-that mats:N-that


Noun phrases

The noun comes first in the noun phrase, and precedes possessors, adjectives, numerals, and relative clauses. An element called the construct case suffix appears between the noun and these modifiers, as discussed in the Morphology section above:

hhart-á baabú-'ee'
stick-construct:neu father-1sgPoss
'the stick of my father'
waahlá-r ur
python-construct:fem big
'big python'


An Iraqw sentence contains a verb in final position, and an auxiliary-like element called the 'selector'. Either the subject or the object of the sentence may precede the selector (Mous 2004:110), and the selector agrees with the preceding noun. So in the first example below, iri shows agreement with /ameenirdá' 'that woman', and in the second example, uná shows agreement with gitladá' :

/ameeni-r-dá' i-ri tsuwa fa/ar /agagiin.
woman-F-that 3-narrative:past for.sure food:F:CON eat:impf:3s
'And that woman was surely eating.'
('aníng) gitla-dá' 'u-na aahhiit
I man-that obj:M-past hate:1sg
'I hate that man.'


  1. ^ Iraqw at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^
  • Mous, Maarten. 1993. A grammar of Iraqw. Hamburg: Buske.
  • Mous, Maarten, Martha Qorro, Roland Kießling. 2002. Iraqw-English Dictionary. With an English and a Thesaurus Index. Cushitic Language Studies Volume 18.
  • Whiteley, W.H. 1958. A short description of item categories in Iraqw. Kampala:East African Institute of Social Research.

External links

  • Iraqw language topical vocabulary list (from the World Loanword Database)
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