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Dahalik language

Dahaalik, Dahalik, Dahlak
Native toEritrea
RegionDahlak Archipelago
Native speakers
2,500 (2012)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3dlk
Linguistic map of Eritrea; Dahalik is spoken in the dark purple island region (the coastal region, a lighter shade of purple, is the Arabic-speaking area)

Dahalik (ዳሃሊክ [haka (na)] dahālík, "[language (of)] the people of Dahlak";[2] also Dahaalik, Dahlik, Dahlak) is an endangered Afroasiatic language spoken exclusively in the Dahlak Archipelago in Eritrea. Its speech area is off the coast of Massawa, on three islands in the Dahlak Archipelago: Dahlak Kebir, Nora, and Dehil.

Dahalik belongs to the Afro-Asiatic family's Semitic branch, a member of the Northern branch of the Ethiopic group, and is closely related to Tigre and Tigrinya. It is said to be not mutually intelligible with Tigre and, according to Simeone-Senelle, is sufficiently different to be considered a separate language.[3] However, there are those who disagree.[4]


Dahalik is spoken on the Dahlak Archipelago, an island group belonging to Eritrea in the Red Sea. On the archipelago, most people are speakers of Dahalik with smaller populations of Arabic and Afar native speakers. The situation is different for every village: Durrubishet and Dasquo have almost universal use of Dahalik, while other villages have a greater mix of languages. Most islanders are multilingual in Dahalik, Arabic, and Afar, while the language of education is Arabic. Most Dahalik men have regular contact with Arabic, Tigre, and Afar, and any mixed marriages usually result in the children learning two mother tongues. Dahalik speakers also consider their language to be a mix of Arabic, Tigre, and a small amount of Tigrinya. Overall, there are only a few elderly monolingual speakers of Dahalik. However, Dahalik speakers do have positive attitudes towards the language and see it as an essential part of their cultural identity.[5]



/ɛ/ might be another vowel. The vowel /ə/ only occurs in unstressed syllables.[5]

Front Back
Close i u
Open-mid e o
Open a


Dahalik has 21 consonants.[5]

Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
plain ejective
Plosive voiceless t c k q (ʔ)
voiced b d ɟ
Fricative voiceless f s ç (χ) ħ h
voiced ʝ (ʁ) ʕ ɦ
Nasal m n
Approximant l j w
Trill r
  • The voiced uvular fricative /ʁ/ is the most common articulation of /q/ in the intervocalic position, while the voiceless uvular fricative /χ/ is used after a fricative.
  • The velar fricative /x/ and the voiced alveolar sibilant /z/ are only used in loanwords from Arabic.
  • Except for /c/ in a few cases, there are no ejective consonants in Dahalik, and the degree of pharyngealization in /tʼ/ is weak.[5]



Dahalik has two different forms for second and third person pronouns, one masculine and one feminine.[5]

Singular Plural
masculine feminine masculine feminine
1st person ana neħna
2nd person enta enti intum intun
3rd person itu ita itun itan

Dahalik also has dependent (object) pronouns, suffixed to the end of the word.[5]

Singular Plural
masculine feminine masculine feminine
1st person -(h)e, -ni -(he), -ni -na
2nd person -ak -ik -kum -kan
3rd person -o, -(h)u -a -(h)um -(h)an


The word order of a simple sentence in Dahalik is subject–object–verb. For conditional subordinate clauses, the subordinating marker ('if' or something similar) is at the end of the clause or just before the verb in the subordinating clause.[5]


  1. ^ Dahalik at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016) Closed access icon
  2. ^ Marie-Claude Simeone-Senelle: Dahālík, a newly discovered Afro-Semitic language spoken exclusively in Eritrea Archived 2013-10-02 at the Wayback Machine (PDF), in:, 2005
  3. ^ *Simeone-Senelle, Marie-Claude. 2000. 'Situation linguistique dans le sud de l'Erythrée', in Wolff/Gensler (eds) Proceedings of the 2nd World Congress of African Linguistics, 1997, Köln: Köppe, p. 261–276.
  4. ^ Idris, S. M. 2012. Dahalik: An Endangered Language or a Tigre Variety? Journal of Eritrean Studies 6 (1): 51–74.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Simeone-Senelle, Marie-Claude. "A Survey of the Dahalik language, an Afro Semitic language spoken exclusively in Eritrea" (PDF). HAL.

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Dahalik language
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