Rutooro is spoken only in western Uganda. It is a Bantu language, of which there are dozens in sub-Saharan Africa countries, ranging from Senegal to Mozambique to South Africa (these languages are also known as “Niger-Congo”). All of these languages share the root “ntu” to mean “human being”; the word “bantu” means “people”.

African Language Groups

Most Ugandan languages are Bantu, including Luganda, Runyoro, Rutooro, Ruyankole, Rukiga, and Lusoga. Some languages in northern and northeastern Uganda are not Bantu but rather Nilotic.

Rutooro is a very old Bantu language, much older than Luganda, which is the primary Bantu language in Uganda. Rutooro is simpler than Luganda and considerably easier to learn. But Rutooro is not easy for speakers of European languages to master, mainly because Bantu languages have many complex rules for combining roots with prefixes and suffixes to indicate number, size, and tense. Still, Luganda and Rutooro share many words and phrases, and their underlying structures are essentially the same. They are about as similar to each other as Spanish and Italian are similar.

Some Languages of Uganda

Rutooro, unlike Luganda, is non-tonal and non-musical, which means that variations in pronunciation and sound do not change meaning. But unusual or incorrect pronunciation can make speech all but unintelligable to native speakers, just as Ugandan English can sometimes be very hard for native speakers of English to understand.

Rutooro is phonetic, meaning that there is only one correct pronunciation and one correct intonation for a given set of letters. Speakers of Bantu languages, however, do not have firm rules about certain aspects of pronunciation: they tend to interchange “b” and “v” sounds depending on highly localized customs. Similarly, they interchange “r” with “l” sounds, and “k” with “ch”. It takes practice to speak with consistently good intonation, and it takes experience with Batooro people themselves to use the locally accepted pronunciations.

Rutooro words and affixes (prefixes and suffixes) do not vary by gender, but they do vary by number and by size. For example, saying “good morning” to one person is “oraire ota”, but to several or many people it’s “muraire muta”. “Ekitaabu” is an average-size book and “akataabu” is a small book.