1. Vowels

There are fourteen vowels in Dioula: seven oral vowels, which are written: a, e, ɛ, i, o, ɔ, u and seven corresponding nasal vowels, which are written: an, en, ɛn, in, on, ɔn et un. Below are examples highlighting each vowel:

a   abada   «jamais» (never)             an   balan      «balafon» (balafon)

e   bese     «machette» (machete)     en   kelen       «un» (one)

ɛ   bɛrɛ      «caillou» (stone)              ɛn   cɛncɛn     «sable» (sand)

   dibi      «l'obscurité» (darkness)    in   siirin       «conte» (folktale)

o   bolo     «main/bras»  (hand/arm)  on  kolon      «mortier» (mortar)

ɔ   kɔgɔ     «sel» (salt)                       ɔn  kɔlɔn       «puits» (well)

u   muso   «femme» (woman)            un  dundun    «tam-tam»


Besides single vowels, there are also long vowels in Dioula, as well as their nasal counterparts. Long vowels are indicated by doubling the vowels.

aa   baara     «travail» (work)                aan    saan      «l'année» (year)

ee   feereli     «vente» (sale)                 een    dee        «l'enfant» (child)

ɛɛ    hɛɛrɛ      «paix» (peace)                  ɛɛn    bɛɛn       «l'entente» (agreement)

ii     miiri       «pensée» (thought)           iin      siin        «le sein» (breast)

oo   kooro     «varan» (monitor lizard)    oon   boon      «la maison» (house)

ɔɔ    wɔɔrɔ     «six» (six)                       ɔɔn    dɔɔn      «la dance» (dance)

uu   duuru    «cinq» (five)                   uun   suun      «le jeûne» (young)

2. Consonants

Most of the consonants in Dioula are the same as in French. The sounds which are different from French are: c, j, ɲ, ŋ

c   cɛncɛn    «sable»  (sand)   (resembles the ch sound in the word "Chad")

j    jula        «dioula» (Dioula)   (resembles the j sound in the word "John")

ɲ   ɲinan      «année» (year)  (resembles the gn sound in the word "montagne" (mountain)

ŋ   ŋɔni       «épine»  (thorn)   (resembles the ng sound in the word "parking")

w   wari      «argent» (money)   (resembles the w sound in the word "water" (de l'eau)

y   yɔrɔ       «endroit» (place)  (resembles the y sound in the word "yogurt")


The g sound that occurs between two a, two o or two ɔ's may be pronounced like a French r [R] or a fricative [ɣ].


daga «cruche» (jug) is pronounced [daga] or [daɣa] or [daRa]

sogo «viande» (meat) is pronounced [sogo] or [soɣo] or [soRo]

mɔgɔ «personne» (person) is pronounced [mɔgɔ] or [mɔɣɔ] or [mɔRɔ]

The h sound is always pronounced fully aspirated (as in the English word "hot").

3. The tones

Dioula is a tonal language, which means that two words which are written with the same letters differ in meaning due to their tonal melody. In Dioula there are basically two tones: a high tone marked by the accent mark shown on this vowel (á), and a low tone marked as shown on this vowel (à). The combination of the two tones on a single syllable produces a falling or rising tone:

Low tone words:       High tone words:

sòo   «cheval» (horse)        sóo     «maison» (house)

bàa   «chèvre» (goat)        báa     «fleuve, mère» (river, mother)

cì      «briser»  (to break)   cí       «envoyer» (send)

dì     «comment» (how)     dí       «donner» (give)

Definite nouns are characterized by a contour tone on the last syllable (for example â, î, ê, ô, and û). Because of this, the orthography is written with double vowels on monosyllabic nouns. Definite nouns having only high tones will be written with these tones on the first and last syllables.


sóo [só] «une maison» (a house)  and   sóó [sóô]  «la maison» (the house)

báa [bá] «un fleuve» (a river)    and  báá  [báâ]   «le fleuve» (the river)

Definite nouns beginning with low tones and ending with a high tone on the last syllable will be written with only the high tone on the last syllable.


soo [sò] «un cheval» (a horse)   and  soó  [sòô]  «le cheval» (the horse)

baa [bà] «une chèvre» (a goat)  and  baá  [bàâ]   «la chèvre» (the goat)

4. Remarks

No words in Dioula begin with the letter "r". Borrowed words beginning with "r" undergo a transformation in which the first vowel of the word duplicates itself and jumps in front of the "r" to assimilate into Dioula.


«robe»     is written and pronounced as  ɔrɔbu  in Dioula

«rideau»  is written and pronounced as  irido    in Dioula

«radio»    is written and pronounced as arajo    in Dioula


The only plural marker in Dioula is "w". It is pronounced as [ù] at the end of nouns, adjectives and certain emphatic or insistent pronouns.

wulu  «chien»  (dog)  wuluw   «chiens» (dogs)

an     «nous simple» (simple "we")   anw       «nous emphatique» (emphatic "we")

The process of elision exists in Dioula in which a vowel is deleted. When the first word ends in a vowel and the following word begins with a vowel, a vowel is dropped.  That often happens when a vocalic pronoun (such as án or á) or those beginning by a vowel (alé), follow a word ending in a vowel, causing that vowel to drop. The apostrophe is used to show the elision.


N bi a fɛ.   N b’a fɛ.   «Je/auxilliare/lui/aime»«I/auxilliary/him/love»«Je le veux./Je l’aime.» (I love him. / I like him.)

Note: In the spoken form of Dioula you may hear

[srá] instead of [sírá]  «route» (road)

[flà]  instead of [fìlà]   «deux» (two)