Who is this Dictionary for?

The Nkonya dictionary is designed with three main users in mind. The first is an Nkonya speaker who wants to know how to say an Nkonya word or expression in English. He or she can use the search capability to look up the English definition of the Nkonya word or phrase.

An English speaker can either search for an English word or browse for it. The Browse English gives the Nkonya equivalent of English words sorted alphabetically in English.

Someone studying linguistics will be interested in the detailed pronunciation of the Nkonya words, and the origins of the words.

Dialects in the Dictionary

There are two main dialects of spoken Nkonya: Southern and Northern. Early in the life of the Nkonya Project, the chiefs and elders of all the towns of Nkonya assigned elders to serve as members of an independent committee to determine the rules for writing Nkonya. The Nkonya Orthography Committee set down rules for how the dialects would be unified in standard written Nkonya. Those rules are available here. The standard form is a blend of both dialects but is easily understood by readers who speak either.

Both dialect forms are included in the dictionary. The main entry in the dictionary is in the standard form. The dialect variant will be in a separate entry that points to the main entry. The examples are written in the standard form. The audio samples are in the dialect of the person who provided them. Where the dialect of the audio differs from the unified orthography, this is noted.

Here are some examples where the audio is in the Northern Dialect and is different from the standard spelling. The most noticeable place is in the past forms of verbs. The Northern Dialect uses -yɛ- instead of -lɛ- for the simple past and -ya- instead of -la- for the past perfect. See the examples in the table below. Also, the Northern Dialect uses -ɔ- before kp in some places where the standard spelling is -ɛ-. There is an example below.

Difference Example
Example Sentence
-lɛ- / -yɛ- Ɔlɛklɛdɩ. Ɔyɛklɛdɩ. In entry for klɛdɩ
 -la- / -ya- Ɩlapɛ kɔɔ.  Ɩyapɛ kɔɔ. In entry for kɔɔ
 -ɛkp- / -ɔkp  ... fɔ́dʋ mʋ a, fɛ́kpada.  ... fɔ́dʋ mʋ a, fɔ́kpada. In entry for kpada

Page 2 of the Nkonya Phonology gives more detail about dialects and where they are spoken.

History of the Dictionary

“There's no such thing as an unabridged dictionary.”
― Jack Lynch, The Lexicographer's Dilemma


This dictionary has been a work in progress for over twenty years. It has been published on the web for over a decade on the Nkonya Language Website. The version there is a previous version of this dictionary.

There have been two publications available: one as printable PDFs and the other a series of linked web pages.

Two major versions of the dictionary were published, with different semantic domain categories. The original semantic domain scheme was devised by Dr. Tony Naden. In 2016, the semantic domain categories were changed to the one documented at

Over the years the data in the dictionary has been managed by the Linguist's Toolbox program. The raw Toolbox files have been available publicly at

In 2017, the Nkonya dictionary was converted to the SIL Fieldworks Language Explorer (FLEx). The Toolbox version of the dictionary was frozen in September 2017. All future work on the dictionary will be done using FLEx.

Future Plans

There is a proverb in Nkonya, Bʋ tɛlɩɩ oyi nɔhɛsʋ kun tswiihɛ – "They stand on a crooked stick to cut a straight one." The meaning of the proverb is that one must accept something less than perfect in order to get something better. Rather than wait until the dictionary is perfect, we have decided to publish it in its current form.

Here are some of improvements that we plan for the dictionary:

  • In 2014, a workshop was held to enhance the dictionary. Not all of the entry information from that workshop has been added.
  • Some of the entries need links (synonym, antonym, generic/specific, compare, etc) to other entries. Some have incorrect links.
  • There are many idioms and words used in the ongoing Old Testament translation that should be included in the dictionary.
  • Audio recordings of many of the entries and example sentences have been made. These recordings are being linked into the dictionary.
  • Some example sentences are redundant.
  • Some entries need example sentences.
  • Illustrations should be added to some entries.