Fur language

From Academic Kids

The Fur language (Fur ble fr or fraŋ ble, Arabic فوراوي Frw; sometimes called Konjara by linguists, after a former ruling clan) is the language of the Fur of Darfur in western Sudan. It belongs to the Fur branch of the Nilo-Saharan phylum. It has about 900,000 speakers (500,000 in 1983.)

Fur (ble fr)
Spoken in: Sudan, Chad
Region: Darfur
Total speakers: 0.5 million
Ranking: Not in top 100
Genetic classification: Nilo-Saharan


Official status
Official language of: -
Regulated by: -
Language codes
ISO 639-1-
ISO 639-2ssa
See also: LanguageList of languages

Missing image
Geographic distribution of Fur



The consonantal phonemes are:

  • Bilabial: f b m w
  • Dental/Alveolar: t d s n l r
  • Palatal: j y
  • Velar: k g (h) ŋ

z occurs only as an allophone of y. Arabic consonants are sometimes used in loanwords. /h/ is very rare.

The vowels are as in Latin: a e i o u. There is dispute as to whether the +ATR vowels ɛ, ɔ, ɪ, ʊ are phonetic variants or separate phonemes. /f/ varies along a range between [p] and [f]; thus some sources give the name of the language as pɔɔr.

There are two underlying tonemes, L (low) and H (high); phonetically, L, H, mid, HL and LH are all found.

Interestingly, metathesis is an extremely common, and regular, grammatical phenomenon in Fur; when a consonant pronoun prefix is prefixed to a verb that begins with a consonant, either the verb's first consonant is deleted or it changes places with the following vowel. Eg: lem- "lick" > -elm-; ba- "drink" > -ab-; tuum- "build" > -utum-. There are also a variety of assimilation rules.



Noun, and optionally adjective, plurals can be formed with -a (-ŋa after vowels): ldi "story" > ldiŋa "stories", "(a certain species of) antelope"> "antelopes"; bin "old" > bin "old (pl.)". This suffix also gives the inanimate 3rd person plural of the verb: liŋ "he bathes" > liŋa "they (inanimate) bathe", kaliŋa "they (animate) bathe".

Vowel-final adjectives can take a plural in -l, as well as -ŋa: lulla "cold" > lullal or lullaŋ "cold (pl.)". A similar suffix (metathesized and assimilated to become -l/-l/-l) is used for the plural of the verb in some tenses.

A few CVV nouns take the plural suffix H-ta; r "river" > rota "rivers"; ri "field" > rito "fields".

At least two nouns take the suffix -i: koor "spear" > koori "spears", nuum "mouse" > kuumi "mice".

Nouns with the singular prefix d- (> n- before a nasal) take the plural k-; these are about 20% of all nouns. In some cases (mostly body parts) it is accompanied by L. Eg: dilo "ear" > kilo "ears"; nuŋi "eye" > kuŋi "eyes"; dagi "tooth" > kgi "teeth"; drmi "nose" > krm "noses".

  • In some cases the singular also has a suffix , not found in the plural: daulaŋ "shoe" > kaula "shoes", droŋ "egg" > kr "eggs".
  • Sometimes a further plural suffix from those listed above is added: nunm "granary" > kunm "granaries", nuum "snake" > kuumi "snakes", dwwo "new" > kwwol "new (pl.)"
  • Sometimes the suffix -(n)ta, is added: dwr "porcupine" > kwrt "porcupines"; dw "tail" > kwnt "tails".
  • One noun, as well as the demonstratives and the interrogative "which", take a plural by simply prefixing k-L: uu "cow" > k; ei "which (one)?" > k "which (ones)?".
  • Several syntactic plurals with no singulars, mostly denoting liquids, have k-L-a; kw "blood", kr "water", kn "name, song".


The locative can be expressed by the suffix -le or by reversing the noun's final tone, eg: "house" > toŋ "at the house"; loo "place", krr "far" > loo krr-le "at a far place".

The genitive (English 's) is expressed by the suffix -iŋ (the i is deleted after a vowel.) If the relationship is possessive, the possessor comes first; otherwise, it comes last. Eg: nuum "snake" > nuumiŋ tb "snake's head"; jt "forest" > krab jtăŋ "animals of the forest".


Independent subject:

I ka we ki
you (sg.) ji you (pl.) bi
he, she, it ie they

The object pronouns are identical apart from being low tone and having -ŋ added to the plural forms.

Prefixed subject pronouns:

I - (triggers metathesis) we k-
you (sg.) j- you (pl.) b-
he, she, it - (causes vowel raising; *i-)</i> they (animate)
they (inanimate)
k- (+pl. suffix)
(*i-) (+pl. suffix)

Thus, for example, on the verb bu- "tire":

I tired m we tired km
you (sg.) tired jm you (pl.) tired bm
he/she tired bu they tired kmul

gi, described as the "participant object pronoun", represents first or second person objects in a dialogue, depending on context.

Possessives (singular; take k- with plural nouns):

my duiŋ our daŋ
your (sg.) diiŋ you (pl.) diŋ
his, her, its deeŋ their diŋ


The Fur verbal system is quite complicated; verbs fall into a variety of conjugations. There are three tenses: present, perfect, and future. Subjunctive is also marked. Aspect is distinguished in the past tense.

Derivational suffixes include -iŋ (intransitive/reflexive; eg lii "he washes" > liiŋ "he washes himself) and gemination of the middle consonant plus -/ (intensive; eg jabi "drop" > jappi/jabbi "throw down".)

Negation is done with the marker a-...-b surrounding the verb; a-bai-b "he does not drink".


Most adjectives have two syllables, and a geminate middle consonant: eg ppa "big", fkka "red", lmme "sweet". Some have three syllables: dkkure "solid".

Adverbs can be derived from adjectives by addition of the suffix -nd or L-n, eg: klle "fast" > kllend or klln "quickly".

Abstract nouns can be derived from adjectives by adding -iŋ and lowering all tones, deleting any final vowel of the adjective, eg: drro "heavy" > drrŋ "heaviness".


  • A. C. Beaton. A Grammar of the Fur Language. Linguistic Monograph Series, No. 1. Khartoum: Sudan Research Unit, Faculty of Arts, University of Khartoum 1968 (1937).
  • Angelika Jacobi, A Fur Grammar. Buske Verlag: Hamburg 1989.
  • Constance K. Lojenga & Christine Waag, "The Sounds and Tones of Fur", in Occasional Papers in the Study of Sudanese Languages No. 9. Entebbe: SIL-Sudan 2004.

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