Nubian languages: an archive of languages and cultural material from Nubia

Nubian languages: an archive of languages and cultural material from Nubia

Language: Nobíin, Kenzi-Andáandi
Depositor: Kirsty Rowan, Herman Bell
Location: Sudan
Deposit Id: 0427
Grant id:
Funding body:
Level: Deposit

Group represented
Nile Nubian

Language information

The Nobíin Nubian language has a rich literary history, having appeared in a mainly Greek/Coptic-derived writing system from the eighth century to the early fifteenth century (making it one of the oldest alphabets in Africa). The rediscovery of the mediaeval Nubian alphabet in the late nineteenth century and impressive creation of grammars, dictionaries and collections of texts in the late twentieth centuries have supported the revival of this historic alphabet. However, it is still only used by a small number of enthusiasts.

The Nubian languages have been classified as Eastern Sudanic in the Nilo-Saharan phylum. There are two Nile Nubian languages:

  1. Nobíin was located on both sides of the Sudanese Egyptian border. It was traditionally located between the 3rd cataract of the Nile in northern Sudan and the village of Korosko [correctly pronounced Kuruskó] in Egyptian Nubia.
  2. Kenzi-Andáandi (Kenzi-Dungulāwī) were two mutually intelligible dialects located at the limits of the Nubian area along the Nile. Kenzi was traditionally located at the northern limit in Egyptian Nubia near Aswan. Andáandi was located at the southern limit in Sudanese Nubia upstream from the 3rd cataract.
Nubian languages are also spoken to the west of the Nile, especially Ajang in the Northern Nuba Mountains and Midob (Tiddin Aal in northern Darfur). There are Nubian communities of the diaspora in the UK, the USA, the Netherlands and the Arab world.

Special characteristics
The documentation is the primary repository for the toponymic nomenclature of Nile Nubian.

Deposit contents
The data will document many aspects of Nubian languages. Initially, the data (which will be of varying formats) seeks to document the endangered toponymy of the Nobíin Nubian language (ISO 639-3 fia) of southern Egypt/northern Sudan. Since the 1960s, there has been continuous forced migration of the Nubian people, and the resulting loss of their homeland has directly caused the severe endangerment of their toponymy and its related socio-cultural knowledge. The primary outcome of this documentation will be the creation of open access toponymic data which will be in three endangered languages: Nobíin Nubian, Andándi (Dungulāwī) Nubian and Kenzi Nubian. This investigation of toponyms aims to provide a much deeper insight into Nubian concepts of their traditional environment. The data of toponyms will be recorded and interpreted from songs, stories, descriptions of sacred and historic places, biographies and accounts of the variety of ways that Nubians interacted with their traditional lands. Toponyms are interpreted from multiple perspectives reflecting Nubian society and Nubian perceptions of their cultural heritage. The documentation will consist principally of Nubian language texts. Hitherto, most of the information on Nubian toponyms has been filtered through other languages, especially Arabic, with resulting distortion.
The data will document three endangered languages: Nobíin Nubian, Andáandi (Dungulāwī) Nubian and Kenzi Nubian, and hopes to include a fourth Nubian language, Ajang, of the Nuba Mountains in Western Sudan (Southern Kordofan). Further specific areas of Nubian documentation will be uploaded when available.

Other information
Prof Bell has been involved in the collection of Nubian toponyms since 1962. He earned a PhD in Nubian toponymy in 1968. He has published analyses of Nobiin Nubian toponymy with attention both to their philological and their sociolinguistic features. He has conducted fieldwork on all the Nubian languages including two which are now extinct (Birgid in Darfur and Haraza in northern Kordofan). He is an active member of the Working Group on Exonyms on the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names and published articles on Nubian toponymy with them each year. He has maintained close contact with the principal Nubians who are actively trying to revitalise their languages both in the Nile Valley and in the UK. In 2011, he was invited to speak at the First International Festival for Nubian Culture held in Sudanese Nubia near the submerged town of Wadi Halfa. He was a Sudan Expert for the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN) from 2000-2007 and a Consultant for the National Committee for Geographical Names, Sudan 2000-07. He has been a member of the UNGEGN Working Group on Exonyms since 2007.

Acknowledgement and citation

Users of any part of the deposit should acknowledge Herman Bell and Kirsty Rowan as the data collectors and researchers. Individual speakers whose words and/or images are used should be acknowledged by name and any other contributors who collected, transcribed or translated the data should be acknowledged by name. All information on contributors is available in the metadata.

To refer to any data from the corpus, please cite the corpus in this way:

Bell, Herman and Kirsty Rowan. Nubian languages: an archive of language and cultural material from Nubia. London: SOAS University of London, Endangered Languages Archive. URL: Accessed on [insert date here].


Collection online
Resources online and curated


Kirsty Rowan
Affiliation: SOAS University of London
Herman Bell
Affiliation: University of Exeter, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies

Deposit Statistics

Data from 2020 July 05 to 2020 July 05
Deposit hits:1
Downloaded files
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Showing 1 - 10 of 12 Items

This is a description of the folklore associated with the Aman Dogor creature in Nubian culture.

Recorded on: 2016-01-08

This deposit is the only known recordings of a wordlist from the Haraza Nubian language from Kordofan. The deposit consists of audio recordings of a wordlist, a description of the documentation fieldwork, a pdf of the wordlist with comparative analysis with other Nubian languages, and a newspaper article in Arabic which contains photos of the interviewee and the documentation team along with a report on the project. The audio files of Umm Darag were taken down in this neighbouring community and elicited the words for 'water'.

Recorded on: 2018-04-12

Recordings in video and audio of list of toponyms pronunciation in Nobiin Nubian. Pdf includes the list of corresponding toponymic data from Arabic/Ancient Egyptian

Recorded on: 2016-01-08

An historical personal account of being at a Nubian school in the 1950s and being taught by the famous Nubian musician Mohamed Wardi. An account of how singing and music were introduced.

Recorded on: 2016-01-08

Old Nubian text 'the prayer of the cross' elicited in Nobiin Nubian pronunciation with English explanation/translation and discussion

Recorded on: 2016-01-08

A description of the Nubian proverb/wisdom saying 'the donkeys' of Aber'. Given in Nubian and explained in English.

Recorded on: 2016-01-08

An explanation of the folklore associated with snakes and scorpions in Nubian culture.

Recorded on: 2016-01-08

A description of how the devil appears in Nubian folklore. Contains a description and translation in English.

Recorded on: 2016-01-08

A description of the islands of Sawarta and Sai in Nobiin. The video contains an English description and translation.

Recorded on: 2016-01-08