Gur languages

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The Gur languages or Voltaic languages form a sub-unit of the North Volta-Congo branch of the Niger-Congo languages .

The approximately 75 Gur languages ​​are spoken by a total of around 15 million people in a contiguous territory that stretches from southeast Mali to northern Ivory Coast , Ghana , Togo and Benin to Burkina Faso and Nigeria .


The name "Gur" was proposed by Gottlob Krause in 1895 , as some languages ​​in this group have the first syllable Gur- (e.g. Gurma, Gurunsi, Gurenne). The term "Voltaisch" refers to the Volta river , it is mainly used in the French technical literature ( langues voltaïques ).

Major Gur languages

By far the most important Gur language is the Mòoré , the language of the Mossi (with 7 million speakers, including second speakers). It is the main lingua franca of Burkina Faso and is also spoken in Mali , Togo , Benin and the Ivory Coast . Other important Gur languages ​​with at least 500,000 speakers are Dagaari , Frafra , Dagbani , Kusaal , Gurma , Konkomba , Tem ( lingua franca in Togo), Kabiyé , Lobiri and Bariba . The major languages ​​are listed in the following classification.

Classification of the Gur languages

The genetic unity of the core group “Central Gur” has long been undisputed, the affiliation of individual languages ​​outside this core is still unclear. In the past, the Dogon and Senufo languages were also counted among the Gur languages ​​(e.g. Bendor-Samuel 1971, De Wolf 1981), Dogon is now more an isolated primary branch of the Niger-Congo, Senufo as a parallel branch of the Gur within of the North Volta Congo. The genetic proximity of the Gur languages ​​to the Kwa and Benue Congo languages gave rise to the introduction of the Volta-Congo unit within the Niger-Congo .

Classification of the Gur languages ​​(based on Manesssy 1975)

The following smaller individual languages ​​are also included in the Gur with reservation: Teen-Loma , Tiefo, Tusia, Viemo , Wara-Natioro.

Linguistic characteristics

Almost all Gur languages ​​have a nominal class system , most of them show concordance . On average there are 11 nominal classes, which are marked by suffixes , some languages ​​(e.g. Tem) still have class prefixes for frequently occurring nouns. The word order in the sentence is SVO, postpositions are usually used, only "with" is a preposition in many Gur languages . Genitive attributes and possessive pronouns come before the noun, which they define more precisely, adjective attributes , demonstratives and numerals follow their nouns, although there is not always concordance. Some adjectives have independent singular and plural class prefixes that are not in concordance with the noun. Most Gur languages ​​are tone languages with two to three pitches, the Bariba even has 6 differentiated, meaning-relevant tone variants. An example of a Gur language without distinctive pitches is Koromfe .


  • Joseph Greenberg: The Languages ​​of Africa. Mouton, The Hague and Indiana University Center, Bloomington 1963.
  • Bernd Heine and others (ed.): The languages ​​of Africa. Buske, Hamburg 1981.
  • Bernd Heine and Derek Nurse (eds.): African Languages. An Introduction. Cambridge University Press 2000.
  • John Bendor-Samuel (Ed.): The Niger-Congo Languages: A Classification and Description of Africa's Largest Language Family. University Press of America, Lanham, New York, London 1989. Therein: Tony Naden: Gur.
  • Patrick Bennett and Jan Sterk: South Central Niger-Congo: A Reclassification. Studies in African Linguistics. 1977.

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