Field Site Location

The Endangered Status of Uncunwee

The urgency of the documentation of Uncunwee and other indigenous languages in Sudan is reflected by several facts. First, due to heavy pressure from Arabic, the lingua franca and only official language in Sudan, the indigenous languages, which have low status and lack official support, are severely threatened by extinction (Mugaddam & Dimmendaal 2006). In the ethnolinguistically highly heterogeneous Nuba Mountains there are several factors that work to spread the use of Arabic at the expense of Uncunwee and other indigenous languages. Perhaps the two most powerful causes of this shift are the high percentage of ethnically and linguistically mixed marriages and the high degree of labor and forced migration to cities such as Khartoum and Cairo. The language shift from Uncunwee to Arabic is attested both by the high percentage of children whose first language is Arabic rather than Uncunwee and by the dwindling number of monolingual Uncunwee speakers (Patriarchi & Rottland 1995).

Though there are no current reliable estimates of the number of Uncunwee speakers, it is likely that there are fewer than the 16,000 speakers estimated by Stevenson in 1984. Most significantly, we have noticed a trend in even the remotest Uncu villages of young mothers raising their children as monolingual Arabic speakers. Given this and other previously-mentioned conditions, it is appears that Uncunwee is in serious danger of becoming moribund, where no Uncu children will be native speakers of the language, and of moving in the end stage of language obsolescence.


Mugaddam, Abdel Rahim, & Dimmendaal, Gerrit J. (2006). Sudan: linguistic situation. In Keith Brown (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of Languge and Linguistics 12, pp. 265-270. Oxford: Elsevier.

Patriarchi, C., & Rottland, R. (1995). Sprachkenntnis und Sprachgebrauch in den Nubabergen. Im M. Wauschkuhn, & K. Wohlmuth (Eds.) Die Sudanforschung in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland: Ergebnisse der Bremer Tagung 1993 (pp. 201-227). Munster: LIT Verlag.

Stevenson, R. C. (1984). The Nuba people of Kordofan Province. Graduate College Publications. Monograph 7. Khartoum: University of Khartoum.