|Introduction||Elements of Luganda Orthography|
|The Vowels||The Consonants|
|Verbalizing the Consonants||The Semi-Vowels|
|Combination of Dissimilar Consonants||Stressing Consonants|
|Some Special Cases||Word Separation|
|Basic Luganda Grammar||A Luganda Phrasebook|
|Help The Luganda Society||Other Sites in or About Luganda|
|Featured book: 'Luganda Proverbs' by Ferdinand Walser.|
|Report of All-Baganda Conference on Standard Orthography (In Luganda)|
The following discussion is neither meant to be a grammar nor a dictionary of the language. The focus is solely on how the language is written (i.e. transcribing sound into alphabetic characters). The first writing clearly was a pilot venture, an improvisation by the early missionaries, who tried to put the language in a written form so that their work among the Baganda would be made easier. The creation of written Luganda words mainly depended on the interpretation and impression that the ears of these foreign listeners, had of the Luganda word sounds. It was not surprising that Speke spelt Kyabaggu (Chabagu). Looking at the earlier prints by various writers such as Speke, Stanley and others would confirm the suspicion that each wrote according to the interpretation his ears perceived. It was therefore necessary to undertake a serious study of the sounds in the Luganda language in order to be able to formulate a proper phonetic system that would help in transferring the sound of words into proper alphabetical symbols that would be meaningful in written form.
The first writers however, were faced with a problem since many of them were not linguists and the Luganda language was starkly different, without any linguistic similarity with their mother tongues. It became an academic adventure for them, trying to correlate the linguistic features of their native languages with the sounds they were simply detecting in the Luganda words. These efforts were necessary because the task of imparting the Christian norms and social standards of their home base to the Baganda demanded a system of communication in a medium that was natural and easily understandable in Buganda. A system of writing in vernacular was therefore developed and for the first time the Luganda word sounds were represented in alphabetical symbols.
Back to outline
a, (as in attempt)
e, (as in employ)
i, (as in import)
o, (as in only)
u, (as in blue)
These are the only sound symbols that create meaning in any written Luganda word. Without them, the consonants do not convey any meaningful communication. The vowels however, on their own can represent communicative sound symbols. For example;
'aa.' (Symbol of showing or demonstrating)
'ee?' or 'uu?' (form of answering)
'ii!' or 'oo!' (exclamation remarks).
The vowels are called "enjatuza" (letters that make sound in a word) or "empeerezi" (letters that serve the consonants with sounds to create words). Luganda vowel sounds can be either short or long. In general, the short sound is represented by a single vowel while the long sound is represented by double vowels. Note that the double vowel denotes a long sound, as opposed to a repetitive sound. Let us cite a few examples;
'a' in bana vs baana (four vs children). The 'a' is short in bana but long in baana.
'e' in sera (dance the dance of the wizards) vs seera (overcharge). The 'e' is short in sera but long in seera.
'i' in sira (mingle, 'herbal') vs siira (walk slowly). The 'i' is short in sira but long in siira.
'o' in kola (work or do) vs koola (weed, 'verb'). The 'o' is short in kola but long in koola.
'u' in tuma (send) vs tuuma (name, 'verb'). The 'u' is short in tuma but long in tuuma.
It is important to note that changing the length of the vowel sound in general also changes the meaning of the word as the above examples clearly illustrate. Since Luganda follows a 'cv' (consonant/vowel) pattern in its word order, vowels are critical ingredients in every written word.
Exception: A long vowel is not written double when it occurs at the beginning or end of a word. For example, we write abo (those - the a is long). However, an exception to the exception is yee (yes). Note that words consisting of vowels only are not affected by this.
Back to outline
w, y, c, h,
b, p, f, v, m,
d, t, l, r, n, ny (the 'ny' combination is a special case considered to be a single consonant)
z, s, j, g, k, ng (the 'ng' combination can sometimes represent a single consonant)
The 'ng' sound when it is a single consonant is sometimes represented by a special character that does not appear in the Latin alphabet. Sometimes this difficulty is handled by writing the consonant as ng' (with the apostrophe) to distinguish it from the different sound resulting from the combination of the two consonants n and g but this practice is not universal. Thus the ng combination in printed form can sound two different ways. For example ngalabi (a type of drum) and ngaali (the crested crane) form different sounds. Thus, ngaali may sometimes be written ng'aali to denote the corresponding special ng sound. The actual appearance of this character when used is shown in the following image.
The character looks the same when written in upper case or lower case.
Back to outline
Back to outline
Back to outline
'mpa' (give me)
'mbala' (I am counting)
'ndaba' (I am seeing)
'ntemye' (I have cut)
However, there are several nouns, adjective, adverbs and prepositions; i.e. names of people, places etc. that begin with the 'm' and 'n' as a nasal prefix:
The sound represented by 'ch' in English is written 'c' in Luganda. The letter combination 'ch' never occurs in Luganda. Some example words follow:
cwacwalika (throw yourself into a rage).
cuuma (smell bad)
The 'c' sound is very close to the 'ky' sound but the two should not be confused. Some examples of when 'ky' is used are given below:
kyange (it is mine),
kyokya (it is hot, or it burns)
The 'ki' sound can also be very similar to the 'c' and 'ky' sounds. Here are some examples of its usage:
Kibuuka (name of a person)
Kiggwe (name of a person)
Kibuli (name of a place)
kirye, (eat it)
However, the 'ki' in the second syllable aki(ki)rira or a(ki!)kirira (he/she represents) does not carry the same sound as the first 'ki' syllable.
The phonemes 'c', 'ky', and 'ki' are very similar. It is not easy to describe the sound in a written form so as to avoid the confusion. When in doubt, consult a dictionary.
The 'h' is a very rarely used in Luganda, the only use that easily comes to mind is the laughing sound 'ha ha ha'. Note that the letter combination 'ch' which occurs frequently in other Bantu languages is never used in Luganda.
Back to outline
kutta (to kill) vs kuta (to release)
mukka (smoke) vs muka (wife of)
bidde (let them come back) vs bide (bells)
Again notice that the change in emphasis can change the meaning of a word completely. It is also very common in Luganda to stress the first syllable in a word. Take a close look on the following;
mmamba (lung fish)
ffenna (all of us)
ttemankima (kind of snake)
vvaawo (get out of here)
nnima (I am digging)
Jjajja (grand parent)
The exception is the special consonant 'ny'. When this is stressed in a word, only the n part is written twice as in nny rather than nyny. One example is nnyonnyola (explain).
Back to outline
We have already discussed the long vowels in the word sounds and have looked at some relevant examples. It should be noted that long sounds in words can also be caused in different ways other than use of the long vowels. For example, if a nasal consonant is followed immediately by a non-nasal consonant, the combination forms a naturally long syllable in Luganda. There is no need for a double vowel before such a syllable. Consider the word owange (by the way). The long 'a' is caused by the last nasal 'ng'. This takes away the need for a double 'aa' before the 'ng' syllable. Take a closer look at these words as well:
ebbanga (space) ebba-nga
akambe (knife) aka-mbe,
ennanga (musical organ) enna-nga
kimpi (it is short) ki-mpi
kitanda (bed) kita-nda
tunda (sell) tu-nda
Note that the rule applies only when you have a nasal 'ng' syllable as a suffix. It is different where the nasal syllable is a prefix;
ntaalu (very unruly) nta-alu
nteeba (I am scoring) nte-eba
mbuuza (I am asking) mbu-uza
mpuuna (I am humming) mpu-una
Similarly the semi-vowel 'y' or 'w' in a word also naturally creates a long sound when it immediately follows another consonant. There is no need to double the vowel after such a combination. The difference here is that the long sound in the word is caused by the preceding syllable as in:
Mwami (Mister) Mwa-mi (do not use 'aa')
kikyamu (it is wrong) kikya-mu.
bwomu (for one, alone) bwo-mu
lwana (fight) lwa-na
twete (let us free ourselves) twe-te
Ddwaliro (hospital) Ddwa-liro
Ddwaniro (battle ground) Ddwa-niro
tyagira (walk with difficulty) tya-gira
kyalo (village) kya-lo
myala (streams) mya-la
An exception to this rule is that if the consonant preceding the semi-vowel is 'gg', then both single and double vowels are possible. Thus we have:
eggwolezo (court house)
eggwoolezo (customs house)
Note that since the combination 'ny' as in fact considered to be a single consonant, it is not affected by the above rules. Thus in ekinyumu both the 'i' and 'u' are short sounds. We can also have:
akunonye (he/she has come for you)
akunoonya (he/she is looking for you)
nyiiga (become annoyed)
Written words are usually assumed to be the direct reflection in alphabetical symbols of the sounds uttered, and conventional rules are set to give language a standard by which people can communicate. However, it is not uncommon that a mere arrangement of letters in a single unit, will not necessarily give the exact word sound required. Some language have instituted symbols like accents, in order to create a distinction that may exist between words with similar spelling but with different intonation and meaning. This has not been done in Luganda and consequently some confusion may arise for such words. To bring the point closer to home, let us look at the following examples:
mpanga (rooster) falling on the last syllable
Mpanga (place or personal name) rising on the last syllable
Lwanga (personal name) rising on the last syllable
Lwanga ( place name) falling on the last syllable
muweesi (black smith) falls on 'wee' and rises on 'si' syllables
muweesi (carrier) rising on both 'wee' and 'si' syllables
When spoken, these words sound distinct from each other and their meanings would be self evident. In written form however, the distinction is not evident and instead it has to be deduced from the context in which the words are used.
The use of the letters 'r' and 'l' in Luganda follows a special rule. Phonetically, the two are indistinguishable in Luganda words. In fact, the 'r' sound as in raspberry does not exist in Luganda. But a rule in spelling Luganda words calls for the use of the letter 'r' immediately following the vowels 'e' and 'i', whereas the letter 'l' is to be used in all other instances calling for the corresponding sound. The following are examples of the usage accepted in the standard orthography.
kolera (work for) ko (le) (ra)
wulira (listen) wu (li) (ra)
lulira (long umbilical cord) (lu) (li) (ra)
laalira (get stuck) (laa) (li) (ra)
bulirira (get lost for a while)
Note especially that in the last example, the syllable 'li' as compared with the syllable 'ri' in the same word 'bulirira' does not produce any phonetic difference. But the rules of orthography call for the indicated spelling.
Back to outline
ne, nga [narratives]
e, ku, mu, wa [locatives]
ba, bya, ga, gwa, ka, kya, lwa, lya, wa [genitives]
ba, bwa, bwe, bye, gwe, gye, nti, oti [relative object]
ggwe, nze, ye, yo [emphatic pronouns]
kyo, yo, ye [personal possessives]
kye, ye [copulatives]
The following are example usage of these forms.
Kintu ne Nnambi [conjunctive form]
natuukayo ne ndaba [narrative form]
ntudde ku ntebe [locative form]
omwana wa Musoke [genitive form]
omukazi gwe nsanze [relative form]
ggwe onomugambako [emphatic pronoun]
embwa yo [personal possessive form]
omulenzi ye mulalu [copulative form]
Notice that all these little words end in vowels. When these words precede a word starting with a vowel, their ending vowel is elided in speech. The elided vowel is dropped from the spelling and instead denoted by an apostrophe. This creates a long sound that is not represented by a double vowel. The exception to this is if the word is an emphatic pronoun (see example above). Examples of usage are given below:
omwenge n'ennyama [conjunctive form]
n'otema omuti [narrative form]
ew'omuyizzi [locative form]
Finally , some little words are used as suffixes. In such usage, these words are always attached to the word affected. The suffixes are:
ko, mu, nga, wo, yo.
Examples of usage are:
kumpiko (the place is a bit near)
nfumbeko (it is a little cooked)
nvuddewo (I have left this place)
natuukayo (I arrived there)
For additional information, check out the following references.
M.B. Nsimbi and J.D. Chesswas 'An explanation of the Standard Orthography of Luganda' 4th edition, Uganda Bookshop Press, Kampala, 1985.
John D. Murphy 'Luganda-English Dictionary' The Catholic Univeristy of America Press, Wahington, D.C. 1972