Niger Congo Languages

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The Niger-Congo languages - formerly also called Niger-Kordofan languages - form a family of nearly 1,400 languages ​​spoken by around 400 million people in western, central, eastern and southern Africa . The distribution area extends from the western tip of Africa near Dakar east to Mombasa and south to Cape Town .

The Niger-Congo is one of the four language units established by Joseph Greenberg in Africa. The others are Afro-Asian , Nilo-Saharan and the remainder of the Khoisan languages ( which do not form a genetic unit ) (the article African languages provides an overview ). The Niger-Congo languages ​​border on Afro-Asian languages ​​in the northwest and the extreme northeast, and Nilo- Saharan languages in the central and eastern Sudan areas . In the southwest, the Khoisan languages ​​form an enclave in the Niger-Congo area. The most important subgroup of the Niger-Congo are the Bantu languages , which are spoken in the southern part of the Niger-Congo area from eastern Nigeria to South Africa (see map). They belong to the ( hypothetical ) African macro family founded by Edgar Gregersen , the Congo-Saharan .

Dissemination of the Niger-Congo languages ​​and their subgroups
The Niger-Congo languages ​​(red and orange) within the other African languages
Distribution concentrated in the area of ​​Cameroon, Nigeria and Benin:
northwest corner of the Bantu area and the other Benue-Congo languages

About the designation

The name Niger-Kordofanisch, which was also used earlier and goes back to Joseph Greenberg (1963), suggests a division of the language family into Kordofan and the remaining Niger-Congo languages. Since all six primary branches of the Niger-Congo are now considered to be of equal importance, the original, more neutral designation Niger-Congo , which was also introduced by Greenberg in 1949, has become generally accepted again in the specialist literature.

Before Greenberg's work, the non-Bantu languages ​​of the Niger-Congo were referred to as West Sudan languages , the genetic relationship of which was recognized relatively late (Westermann 1927). The realization that the Bantu languages ​​are genetically related to the West Sudanese languages ​​only prevailed through Greenberg's work (since 1949), although Diedrich Westermann came to a similar view around the same time. Greenberg classified the Bantu languages ​​as a sub-sub-unit of the Niger-Congo, which appeared revolutionary in 1950, but is now generally accepted as applicable.

To the statistics

With 1,400 languages, which are divided into many thousands of dialects , Niger-Congo forms the most linguistic language family in the world, followed by Austronesian with 1,100 and the Trans-New Guinea Phylum with 550 languages. According to the number of its speakers (370-400 million), the Niger-Congo takes - but by far - the third place after the Indo-European (2.7 billion) and the Sino Tibetan (1.3 billion) a.

About 45% of the population of Africa (925 million, see article Africa ) speak a Niger-Congo language, 70% of all about 2,000 African languages belong to the Niger-Congo group, and it makes up almost a quarter of all languages ​​worldwide. The largest homogeneous subgroup of the Niger-Congo are the Bantu languages with 500 closely related languages ​​and 210 million speakers. The average number of speakers in the Niger-Congo languages ​​is just under 300,000, so the family is relatively diverse.

Major Niger-Congo languages

There are just over 20 Niger-Congo languages ​​with at least five million speakers, the majority of which are Bantu. Many of these "big" African languages are so-called vehicular languages that are not only native speakers to learn (as a first language), but by many speakers as a second- be purchased or third language, a communication in a larger area than the narrow language boundaries of individual ethnic groups and tribes across to enable. For some languages, the proportion of second speakers is greater than that of first speakers (e.g. Swahili ).

The Niger-Congo language with the most speakers is Swahili, which is spoken as the lingua franca of more than 80 million people in East Africa . In terms of size, the Nigerian Yoruba follows with 20 to 25 million speakers, which is counted as part of the Benue Congo . Fulfulde or Ful (ani) is a large dialect cluster of the Atlantic group in western Africa with over 20 million speakers. Igbo is spoken by almost 20 million people in southeast Nigeria ; like the Yoruba, it belongs to the Benue-Congo branch. Niger-Congo languages ​​with around 10 million speakers are Shona , Zulu , Nyanja , Lingala (all Bantu), Bambara in Mali , Akan or Twi-Fante in Ghana and Wolof in Senegal . Bambara, Twi-Fante and Wolof belong to different subgroups of the Niger-Congo. A list of all Niger-Congo languages ​​with at least three million speakers is included as an appendix to this article.

Classification overview

The following overview shows the classification of the Niger-Congo, which is currently generally accepted by research. It is based on Bendor-Samuel 1989 and Williamson-Blench (in Heine-Nurse 2000) and forms the basis of the entire article. Their historical development is presented in detail in the section "History of Classification".

Overall classification of the Niger-Congo according to Williamson-Blench 2000

It has not yet been definitively clarified whether the Benue-Congo and Northern Bantoid groups form genetic units . The linguistic and statistical properties of the subgroups are presented in the section "Niger-Congo and its sub-units".

Niger-Congo as a genetic unit

Given the size of the Niger-Congo with 1,400 languages, it is not surprising that it has not yet been possible to reconstruct a proto-language for the entire family . The research capacity alone was missing to carry out this project. This fact was - and still is occasionally - used as an argument by opponents of a genetic unity in the Niger-Congo. So the question arises: Is the Niger-Congo a genetic unit , so that the lexical and grammatical similarities go back to a common predecessor language, or is it just a collection of typologically similar language groups that mutually more or less strongly through areal contact have influenced?

The answer from the experts in Niger-Congo research is clear today: the similarities in grammar and vocabulary can only be explained by a genetic relationship. Three features are of particular importance:

Nominal class system

Structure and function

The Niger-Congo languages ​​have a distinct system of nominal classes in many branches , which defines the affiliation of all (or most) nouns of a language to a class. These classes usually appear as singular - plural pairs for countable nouns , and as individual classes for mass denominations, liquids and abstracts. The class is marked (identified) by affixes to the noun - the class affixes - mostly by prefixes , sometimes by suffixes and very rarely by infixes . The class membership of the noun often exerts a concordance forced to subordinate components of the noun phrase ( genitive attribute , adjective attribute , numerals , possessive , Demonstrativa ) and / or to the predicate of the sentence which the noun of a subject has. Specific affixes to the attributes and the verb are often used to mark this concordance, and sometimes the concordance affixes are even identical to the class affixes of the noun.

The nominal class system is most clearly pronounced in the Bantu languages , in other branches of the Niger-Congo it has been reshaped or reduced, in some cases the system has also been completely lost, e.g. B. in the Mande languages . For these branches, other criteria for genetic affiliation to the Niger-Congo must then be used.

Nominal classes in the Bantu languages

To clarify the terms nominal classes, class prefixes and concordance , some examples from the Bantu languages ​​are given below, in which these phenomena are most clearly recognizable. There were about twenty nominal classes in Proto-Bantu . This number has been retained in some of today's Bantu languages ​​(e.g. in Ganda ), in others it has been reduced to around ten classes. In Bantu, the nominal classes are marked exclusively by prefixes. There is concordance of the noun with its additions in the noun phrase and between the subject noun and verb in the sentence, but the concordance prefixes of a class can be different for nouns, numerals , pronouns and verbs.

Nominal classes in the Ganda

  • to the root ganda :
    • mu-ganda "a Ganda"> ba-ganda "the Ganda people" (plural of the mu class)
    • bu-ganda "the land of the Ganda"
    • lu-ganda "the language of the Ganda"
  • to the root -ntu :
    • mu-ntu "human"> ba-ntu "human"
    • gu-ntu "giant"> ga-ntu "giant"

Further examples from Swahili show the widespread doubling in the singular and plural classes .

Singular - plural - class pairs in Swahili

  • m-tu "person"> wa-tu "people"
  • ki-tu "thing"> vi-tu "things"
  • ji-cho "eye"> ma-cho "eyes"
  • u-fumbi "valley"> ma-fumbi "valleys"

Concordance in the Bantu languages

To demonstrate nominal classes and concordance behavior, some further examples from Swahili follow.

Concordance in the noun phrase

When using adjectives, numeral words and demonstrative pronouns, the following sequence results in a noun phrase in Swahili: noun + adjective + numeral + demonstrative . All members of a noun phrase are subject to class concordance. Here are a few examples:

  • m-tu m-kubwa "big person" ( m-tu "human", kubwa "big")
  • wa-tu wa-kubwa "big people" (the wa class is the plural of the m class)
  • ki-kapu ki-kubwa "large basket" ( ki-kapu "basket")
  • vi-kapu vi-kubwa "large baskets" (the vi- class is the plural of the ki class)
  • ki-kapu ki-dogo ki-le "that little ( -dogo ) basket"
  • vi-kapu vi-dogo vi-tatu vi-le "those three ( -tatu ) little baskets"
  • wa-tu wa-zuri wa-wili wa-le "those ( -le ) two ( -wili ) good ( -zuri ) people"

Here all concordance markers are identical to the class prefix of the noun. This is why one speaks of alliteration .

Concordance between subject and predicate

In languages ​​with a pronounced system of nominal classes, the class of the subject must be congruently taken up by the predicate of a sentence , so there is also concordance here. The following examples from Swahili show the principle:

ki-kapu ki-kubwa ki-me-fika
ki- basket ki- large ki- perfect arrival
"The big basket has arrived"

Note: same class prefixes ki- for nouns and verbs, so-called alliteration .

m-toto m-kubwa a-me-fika
m- child m- large a-me- arrive
"The big child has arrived"

Note: verbal a- prefix corresponds to the nominal m- class; thus different prefix morphemes with the same class.

wa-tu wa-zuri wa-wili wa-le wa-me-anguka
wa- man wa- good wa- two wa- those wa-me- fall down
"Those two good people have fallen down"
wa-geni wa-zungu w-engi (<* wa-ingi) wa-li-fika Kenya
wa- stranger European wa- many wa- past marker - arrive wa- Kenya
"Many Europeans arrived in Kenya"

The meaning categories of the nominal classes

The individual classes originally had a clearly defined field of meaning, e.g. B. People, animals, plants, mass terms, liquids, place names, abstracts etc. The associated affixes were probably meaningful morphemes in the pre-Niger Congo , which were then grammaticalized in the Proto-Niger Congo , so that their etymology is no longer recognizable . After all, there is still a similarity between personality class affixes and personal pronouns in some languages.

Although the class affiliation of nouns in today's Niger-Congo languages ​​is very difficult to determine semantically , a list of the fields of meaning of the individual nominal classes has been drawn up in many research papers on this topic. Hendrikse and Poulos (1992), cited here from Nurse (2003), give a summary of these results, especially for the Bantu languages. The meaning fields are summarized in the table in the next section. A look at this table shows that the meaning fields of the individual classes overlap, e.g. B. Animals can be assigned to classes 3-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-10 and others. Thus, it is almost never possible to predict which class a noun of a certain meaning category belongs to. The names of persons, which are almost always assigned to classes 1 (singular) and 2 (plural), are an exception. Otherwise the class of a noun is a lexical characteristic.

Formal similarity of the class affixes

The argument often put forward by the opponents of a genetic unit in the Niger-Congo that nominal class systems are only typological features without genetic relevance and that they are also common in almost all African languages is wrong in the opinion of almost all specialists in this language group. On the contrary, the systems of nominal categorization are very different in the African languages. So that has Afro Asian one genus System , North Khoisan a small number of nominal classes that are not marked on the noun, Central Khoisan turn a gender system with feminine, masculine and neuter. Some groups of Nilo-Saharan have simple nominal class systems, which could be an indication of a distant relationship between Niger-Congo and Nilo-Saharan (see below "Niger-Congo and Nilo-Saharan"). Of course there are also nominal class systems in other parts of the world, for example in the Caucasian , Australian and - especially pronounced - in the Yenisan languages.

The decisive factor for the genetic relationship, however, is the fact that the class affixes in the individual branches of the Niger-Congo show a match or similarity in form and meaning , i.e. they must be a common inheritance from the common proto-language .

Class affixes in the branches of Niger-Congo and the fields of meaning of the classes in Bantu

class Proto-
Kordof. Atlant. Gur Kwa Need Meaning field of the class in Bantu
1 mu-, u- gu-, w- . u O- u- human beings, personifications, kinship terms
2 ba- b- ba- ba ba- ba- Class 1 plural
3 mu-, gu- gu- . ŋu O- u- Natural phenomena, body parts, plants, animals
4th mi-, gi- gi- . ŋi i- i- Class 3 plural
5 i-, di- j-, li- e-de- di . li Natural phenomena, animals, body parts, pairs, derogatives
6th ma-, ga- m-, ŋ- a-ga- n / A . a- Plural of grades 5 and 14 ; Bulky terms, liquids, times
7th ki- . a-ka- . ki- ki- Body parts, tools, insects; Diseases and a.
8th bi- . . . bi- bi- Class 7 plural
9 n-, ji- . in- . . i- Animals; also people, body parts, tools
10 n-, ji- . a-na- . . i- Classes 9 and 11 plural
11 you-, lu- . u-you- . . lu- long, thin things, elongated body parts; Languages, natural phenomena, etc. a.
12 tu- . . si ti- ti- Plural classes 13 and 19
13 ka- . . ka ka- ka- Diminutiva, derogativa; but also augmentatives
14th bu- . u-bu- bu bu- bu- Abstracts, properties, collectives
15th ku- . . ku ku- ku- Infinitives; some parts of the body, e.g. B. Arm , leg
19th pi- . V-pV- fu . . Diminutive (sg.)

This table is based on Bendor-Samuel 1989 (comparison of the affixes in several branches) and on Hendrikse and Poulos 1992 (fields of meaning of the classes in Bantu). The notes have been omitted for simplicity. The table clearly shows that the affixes of comparable classes also show recognizable similarities in terms of their shape in the individual branches of the Niger-Congo. This is a strong indication of the common origin of these morphemes from the Proto-Niger-Congo and thus for the genetic unity of the Niger-Congo languages.

Verbal extensions

With various suffixes on the verbal stem , derived verbs ( derivatives ) can be formed in all Niger-Congo languages . In this way, causative , intransitive , reciprocal (reciprocal action), beneficial , reflexive (action relates to the acting person), passive and other meanings are derived from a basic verb . Some of the derivative endings show a similar form in several branches of the Niger-Congo with the same function, so they have developed from common proto-language predecessors (see E. Voeltz: Proto-Niger-Congo Verb Extensions 1977). Two examples from the Bantu languages :

The proto-linguistic reciprocal marker ( reciprocal = reciprocal ) " -ana " has been preserved in many Bantu languages, e . B.

  • Swahili : pend-ana "love one another"
  • Lingala : ling-ana "love one another"
  • Zulu : bon-ana "see each other"
  • Ganda : yombag-ana "fight with each other"

The causative marker “ -Vsha ” appears as -Vsha in Swahili, -ithia in Gikuyu, -isa in Zulu, -Vtsa in Shona, -Vsa in Sotho and -isa in Lingala. ("V" here stands for any vowel.)

Common basic vocabulary

The following table gives some examples of word equations that encompass all the main branches of Niger-Congo and especially Kordofan . Unfortunately, with the current state of research, it is not yet possible to use a reconstructed proto - lexeme for every major subunit of the Niger-Congo . For this reason, languages ​​are selected (and indicated) in each subgroup that have the corresponding word in a similar phonetic form. The sources are Westermann 1927, Greenberg 1963, Blench 1995 and Williamson 2000.

Word equations of the Niger-Congo

group black blood arc dog Ear, listen Leg foot mouth
Kordofan piim ( Lafofa ) nyi (Lafofa) thai (Tegem) bwa (Eliri) geenu ( Talodi ) kpaga ( koalib ) ŋger (Rashad)
Mande biine ( Soninke ) ɲemi (Wan) sa ( Boko ) gbɛɛ (tura) . keŋ ( Vai ) well ( Kpelle )
Atlantic bir ( Temnish ) ɲif (Safut) ta ( Gola ) o-bol ( Pepel ) kenu (gola) ekpa (Gola) o-nyââ (Gola)
Ijoid bire ( Defaka ) . tei (Kolok.) e-bere (Defaka) naa ( Ijo ) . .
Kru . ɲimo ( Kuwaa ) tâ (Seme) gbe (Guere) noa (Grebo) . ŋo ( pray )
Gur biri ( Birifor ) ɲim (Bieri) ta-mo ( Dgare ) baara ( moors ) nuu (Lobiri) kparaɤa (Lorhon) .
Adamawa-Ub. vir (Pangseng) ngia ( Gbaya ) ta (Mumuye) bwe (Yungur) t-naa (Zing) kanga (Mba) nyaa (zing)
Kwa bile ( agni ) ŋga (Edile) to ( Baule ) gba (ebrie) nu ( Logba ) akpa (Logba) nɛɲ (Adyukru)
Benue Congo virki ( Dakoid ) egya ( Nupe ) o-ta (piti) ebua ( Efik ) nu ( Igbo ) okpa (Igbo) inwa (Efik)
Proto-Bantu pi (r) ŋinga taa bua . kono nua

The word equations listed do not contain common “all-African” words such as B. for "know", "buy", "knee", "neck" or "neck", "tongue", "tooth", "moon", "stone" or "hill" and the like. a. which of course cannot contribute anything to the genetic question (they are at best an indication of even larger kinship units). Overall, the available etymological material is very extensive (several hundred word equations are considered certain), but only relatively few also contain Kordofan representatives.

Notes on phonology

Since there has not yet been a comprehensive reconstruction of the Proto-Niger-Congo, no definitive phoneme list of the proto-language can be presented. Therefore, here are just a few remarks on phonology (based on Bendor-Samuel 1989).

Root structure

The root structure of the Proto-Niger-Congo seems to have been KVKV (K = consonant, V = vowel), as attested in the Mande, Ijoid and Bantu. In other groups it was simplified by changing the sound . Verbs often have a KV suffix that is used to form verbal derivatives (see "Verbal Extension" above), nouns originally have a class prefix of the form KV or V. This results in the following basic forms:

  • Noun: (K) V-KVKV
  • Verb: KVKV [-KV]

Consonant inventory

In 1983 Stewart reconstructed the following consonants for the Proto-Volta-Congo, the largest primary branch of the Niger-Congo:

Reconstructed consonants of the Proto-Volta-Congo

labial alveolar palatal velar labiovel.
Stops voiceless p t c k kp
Stops voiced b d j G gb
Nasals m n ɲ . ŋm
Approximants w ɫ y . .

Mukarovsky came to essentially the same results in 1977 for his "Proto-West-Nigritisch" (corresponds to the Niger-Congo without the Mande group). On the long way up to today's languages, these relationships naturally developed into very different sound systems in the individual groups . An example shows the consonant inventory of today's Bantu languages , in which the prenasalization (/ n- / or / m- / occurs in front of the introductory consonants, e.g. / t / becomes / nt /) plays a major role:

Consonant inventory of today's Bantu languages

labial alveolar palatal velar
voiceless plosives p t . k
voiced ejectives b d . G
voiced implosives ɓ ɗ . ɠ
Affricates . ts / dz tʃ / dʒ .
Approximants β l . ɣ
Nasals m n ɲ ŋ
Prenasalized 1 mp nt . ŋk
Prenasalized 2 . nts ntʃ .
Prenasalized 3 mb nd . ŋg
Prenasalized 4 . ndz ndʒ .

The ejectives correspond to the German pronunciation of b , d and g . Some southern Bantu languages ​​have also adopted their click sounds through contact with Khoisan languages . This mainly applies to languages ​​in Guthrie groups S40 and S50, especially Zulu (12 clicks) and Xhosa (15 clicks).


A system of up to ten vowels is assumed for the Proto-Niger-Congo (the Proto-Bantu kept seven of them). A type of vowel harmony is widespread in today's Niger-Congo languages , which is ideally defined by the two vowel classes / i, e, ə, o, u / and / ɨ, ɛ, a, ɔ, ʊ /. As a result of the vowel harmony, the vowels of the affixes of nouns and verbs are adapted to the coloring of the root vowel. However, this principle has very different applications in the individual subunits and languages ​​of the Niger-Congo. Vowel nasalization is common and has a phonemic meaning.

Audio language

One can assume that the Proto-Niger-Congo was a pronounced tonal language (which is of course only typologically , but not genetically relevant), since even today most of its branches have a meaning-differentiating system of two or three pitches. So are z. B. Over 95% of the Bantu languages ​​are tonal languages, the most famous being Swahili being an exception .

The following table gives an overview of the use of clay differentiation in the individual subgroups of the Niger-Congo. There are up to five different pitches: B high , T low , M medium ; in exceptional cases SH very high , ST very low .

Tonal systems in the Niger-Congo languages

branch H, T H, M, T SH, H, M, T SH, H, M, T ST
Kordofan almost all . . .
Mande Jula
Atlantic Sherbro
. .
Ijoid Ijo . . .
Kru . Godie
Gur Dagbani
Dowayo .
Kwa Ga
Sele .
Benue Congo Efik

The table is based on Bendor-Samuel 1989.

Niger-Congo and its sub-units

The Niger-Congo is - as the explanations in the previous section show - a genetic unit, i. H. a language family whose languages ​​have phonological , grammatical and lexical similarities which can only be explained by the fact that all languages are descended from a common ancestor language , the Proto-Niger-Congo . Joseph Greenberg took the most important - if not the first - step towards this realization in 1948, primarily on a lexical basis (with the controversial method of lexical mass comparison ). His results and subclassifications, which he summarized in his book from 1963, were corrected in detail, but are essentially still valid today and are the basis for future research. However, due to the huge extent of the Niger-Congo, no proto -language has been reconstructed for the entire family (the age of which is to be set at least 10,000 years), there are only reconstructions for individual subgroups, most thoroughly for the Bantu languages .

The primary branches of the Niger-Congo

According to the current classification by Williamson-Blench (in Heine-Nurse 2000), the Niger-Congo has the six primary branches or main units, namely Kordofan , Mande , Atlantic , Dogon , Ijoid and Volta-Congo , with the Volta-Congo in turn being the main one very many subunits, one of which is the Bantu . The following table shows the number of languages, the number of speakers and the geographical distribution of the primary branches.

The primary branches of the Niger-Congo

branch Number of
Number of
Main distribution area
Kordofan 23 0.3 million Sudan (State): Nuba Mountains
Mande 59 21 million West Africa: Mali, Guinea, Liberia, Ivory Coast
Atlantic 50 27 million West Africa: Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Sierra Leone
Dogon 1 0.6 million Mali, Burkina Faso
Ijoid 10 1.6 million Nigeria: Niger Delta
Volta Congo 1253 322 million West, Central and South Africa

The information on the number of languages ​​and speakers is based on the web link “Classification of Niger-Congo Languages” given below. The usual precautionary rules apply to these numbers (see the article Language families of the world in detail ).

Splitting off of the primary branches

It cannot be assumed that all primary branches split off from Proto-Niger-Congo at the same time . According to the current state of research (Williamson and Blench in Heine-Nurse 2000), based on comparative language studies, it is assumed that the Kordofan has separated as the first group, followed by the Mande and Atlantic branches (so far no time difference can be seen here ). The small groups Ijoid and Dogon then separated from this remainder, leaving behind the large primary branch Volta-Congo, which today makes up the core of the Niger-Congo.

It is extremely difficult to provide information on the absolute chronology of the splits. The Proto-Niger-Congo has an age of at least 10,000, the last great breakaway from the Volta-Congo - the emergence of the Bantu languages ​​- is around 3000 to 2500 BC. BC. In between - i.e. within a period of at least 5,000 years - the splitting off of the primary branches must be positioned in the order described above. Ehret gives the following approximate dates (in Heine-Nurse 2000): almost 10,000 years ago the Kordofan split off, 8,000 years ago the Mande and Atlantic split off, 6,000 years ago the Ijoid and Dogon split off and the Volta-Congo started to expand.

Original home

References to the original home of Niger-Congo are extremely sparse in the literature. The area of ​​western Sudan (i.e. sub-Saharan western Africa), where the Niger-Congo languages ​​still show their greatest diversity, is likely . The Kordofan, which is located far to the east, must then go back to a very early emigration, or the original home extended to the Nile, which is rather unlikely. The spread over the whole of central, eastern and southern Africa took place almost exclusively through the speakers of the Bantu languages ​​(see the article Bantu languages ​​in detail ).


Kordofan is a small group of around 25 languages ​​with a total of 320,000 speakers spoken in the Nuba Mountains area of the Republic of Sudan . The name "Kordofanisch", introduced by Joseph Greenberg in 1949, is not particularly fortunate because the Nuba Mountains do not belong to Kordofan (Kurdufan), but only border it. The Cordofan language area is an exclave of the otherwise largely contiguous Niger-Congo area, it is surrounded by Nilo-Saharan languages (Nubian, Nyimang, Temein, Daju languages) and Arabic . The more important languages ​​are Koalib, Tira, Moro, Dagik-Ngile and Tegali, each with around 30-40,000 speakers. None of kordofanische language has been a comprehensive grammatical description, a reconstruction of the Proto-Kordofanischen ( proto-language of kordofanischen languages) was so far only possible approaches.

Kordofan was the first group to split off from the Niger-Congo and has only relatively few features in common with other Niger-Congo languages. However, these are sufficient to make belonging to the Niger-Congo family probable based on current knowledge. Greenberg (1963) and Schadeberg (1981) showed that the nominal class affixes of the Kordofan languages ​​can be regularly related to those of the other Niger-Congo languages. However, the lexical similarities between Kordofan and the rest of the Niger-Congo are rather small, so that a residual doubt remains as to the classification of the Kordofan languages.

Nominal prefixes of the Kordofan languages ​​in comparison (Schadeberg 1981)

Language group Grade 1
man, woman
Grade 3
tree, wood
Class 4
plural to 3
Class 5
head, name
Class 6
plural to 5
Grade 7
blood, water
Kordofan gu-, w-, b- gu-, w-, b- j-, g- li-, j- ŋu-, m- ŋ-
Atlantic gu- gu- ci- de- ga- ma-
Gur -a -bu -ki -de -a -ma
Kwa O- O- i- li a- n-
Benue Congo u- u- ti- li a- ma-
Bantu mu- mu- mini di- ma- ma-

The nominal class system is different in the Kordofan languages. In some languages ​​there are systems with around 15 classes with different prefixes for singular and plural for countable objects or beings. Only proper names and kinship terms are not prefixed, the plural formation of kinship terms is done using suffixes . In the individual nominal classes, very heterogeneous things are sometimes summarized, so that one can hardly speak of fields of meaning (at least they are no longer recognizable). In other languages ​​the nominal classes are completely absent, the plural is formed by a vowel prefix and / or the suffix. The prefixing class languages ​​usually also have concordance , i.e. That is, the subject- dependent words of a sentence have formatives that match the subject's class prefixes.

Verbal extensions are common in all Kordofan languages, but they are usually innovations (new formations that do not come from the Proto-Niger-Congo). The sentence order is usually SVO (subject-verb-object), only prepositions are used. In the noun phrase , the specific noun comes first, its extensions and additions (attributes, possessive, numerals and demonstrative) follow.


The Mande languages ​​- like the Kordofan - also split off from the other Niger-Congo languages ​​relatively early and have a number of specific features, in particular they have no nominal classes . Nevertheless, their affiliation to the Niger-Congo is now considered certain, even if similarities with the Songhai, which is now classified as Nilo-Saharan , have been established by several researchers. As a group of related languages, the Mande languages ​​were identified as early as the 19th century. In 1854, Sigismund Wilhelm Koelle was the first to use the name "Mandenga" for this group, which goes back to local names.

The approximately 60 Mande languages ​​are spoken by around 19 million people in the western Sudan region in the states of Mali , Guinea , Liberia , Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso . They are divided into two main branches, the larger West Mande branch with 16 million speakers (its core are the Manding languages) and East Mande with a total of only 2-3 million speakers. The most important Mande languages ​​are Bambara ( lingua franca in Mali with up to 10 million speakers including second speakers), Dioula or Jula (4 million including second speakers), Maninka (East Malinke) (2 million) and Mandinka (1st floor) , 2 million), all from the Manding main branch. Other million languages ​​are Mende (2 million), Soninke (1.1 million) and Kpelle (1 million). Dan or Yakuba (1 million speakers, Ivory Coast) is the largest language in the Eastern branch.

The Mande languages ​​have no nominal classes , which is why their affiliation with the Niger-Congo has been questioned more often. Most Mande languages ​​are tonal languages with up to three tone levels, the tone is also used to distinguish singular and plural and is tied to morphemes rather than individual syllables. There are free and bound nouns , the latter are always accompanied by a possessive pronoun ; this includes the relatives and names of body parts (basically "my, your ... hand", but not "the hand").


The 50 or so Atlantic languages ​​( originally called "West Atlantic" by Joseph Greenberg ) are spoken from the mouth of Senegal along the Atlantic coast to Liberia - especially in today's states of Senegal , Gambia , Guinea , Sierra Leone , Mali , Niger , Nigeria and Ghana and Burkina Faso - spoken by around 27 million people. By far the most important Atlantic language is Fulfulde (also called Ful, Fula, Fulani, Pulaar or Peul), whose dialects are spoken by 18 million native speakers and at least another 4 million secondary speakers. Other main North Atlantic languages ​​are Wolof , which is closely related to Ful (8 million with second speakers, the main language of Senegal), Serer-Sine with 1.2 million speakers and the South Atlantic Temne (1.5 million speakers, Sierra Leone).

The Atlantic is divided into three main branches: North-Atlantic with 24.5 million speakers the largest branch, South-Atlantic (2.5 million speakers) and the isolated language Bijago or Bissago , used by the Bijagos on Guinea-Bissau upstream Bissagos Archipelago and cannot be assigned to either of the two great branches. The Atlantic split off from the main line of the Niger-Congo at about the same time as the Mande languages.

The Atlantic languages ​​originally had a fully developed system of nominal classes , which was marked by prefixes and augments (prefixes) and acted on the entire sentence via concordance . The class prefixes were later often abraded and replaced by suffixes or augments. The change of the initial consonant has grammatical meaning, often it marks the plural formation . The usual sentence order is SVO (subject-verb-object), prepositions are usually used . In the noun phrase , the particular noun is usually in front, followed by its attributes and additions.

The similarity of some Atlantic class prefixes with those of Bantu speaks for the embedding of the Atlantic in the Niger-Congo :

  • Be plural of living beings, cf. Bantu ba-
  • mo-, wo- singular of living beings, cf. Bantu mu-
  • ma- collectives, cf. Bantu ma-


The Dogon is an isolated language within the Niger-Congo , which forms its own primary branch. All attempts to assign them to other groups in the Niger-Congo have so far failed. Dogon is spoken by around 600,000 people in Mali and Burkina Faso . The center of the Dogon culture is the Dogon country in central Mali with the capital Bandiagara (about 60 km east of the city of Mopti on the Niger ). Many Dogon - especially the men and young people - also speak the national language Bambara (a Mande language ). Whether the Dogon is a single language with many dialects, some of which are quite different, or a small language family with around five to eight languages, can hardly be finally decided.

The noun class system is received in the Dogon language remains, but there are no classes prefixes . Terms for human beings have special plural suffixes . The sentence position is SOV (subject-object-verb). The noun comes before its attribute , possessive , numerals and demonstrative .


Languages ​​and Ethnicities in Nigeria

Ijoid is a small family of around ten languages ​​spoken by around 1.6 million people in the Niger Delta, Nigeria . It consists on the one hand of the Defaka , which only has 200 speakers left, and on the other hand of the Ijo group . In addition to the actual Ijo (also Ijaw or Izon; 1 million speakers), these include Kalabari and Kirike, each with 250,000 speakers and six smaller languages.

The ijoid languages ​​are closely related to one another and - apart from the Defaka - form a dialect continuum . They differ significantly from the other Niger-Congo languages ​​in several features. The system of nominal classes is still preserved in remnants, new class suffixes were created for “human beings” . The pronouns have developed a pleasure system (masculine, feminine, partly neuter), which is otherwise completely unusual for Niger-Congo languages. As with the Mande languages and the Dogon, the sentence order is SOV (subject-object-verb), while otherwise SVO is preferred in Niger-Congo (see Claudi 1993).

Volta Congo

Overview and structure

The Volta-Congo is by far the largest and most complex primary branch of the Niger-Congo. The approximately 1250 Volta-Congo languages ​​are spoken in West, Central and all of South Africa. According to the current state of research (Williamson-Blench 2000), Volta-Congo consists of the two main branches North-Volta-Congo with 276 languages ​​and 28 million speakers and South-Volta-Congo (also Kwa-Benue-Congo ) with 977 languages ​​and almost 300 million speakers, including the Bantu languages .

North Volta-Congo is divided into the branches Kru, Gur, Senufo and Adamawa-Ubangi . They are spoken in West Africa from Liberia to Cameroon . The South Volta Congo, which is about ten times as large in terms of its number of speakers, has the main units Kwa (the "western Kwa" after Greenberg) and Benue-Congo, which in turn consists of the West-Benue-Congo (Greenbergs "East Kwa") and East -Benue-Kongo ("Benue-Kongo" after Greenberg) exists. Whether the Benue-Congo languages ​​as a whole - as generally accepted since Greenberg and presented in Bendor-Samuel 1989 - constitute a valid genetic unit has not yet been clearly clarified.

The approximately 75 (western) Kwa languages are spoken by 21 million in Ivory Coast , Ghana , Togo , Benin and Nigeria . West Benue Congo (consisting of Yoruboid, Edoid, Igboid, Nupoid, Idomoid and smaller groups) is spoken in Togo, Benin and southern Nigeria (73 languages ​​with 48 million speakers), East Benue Congo has a total of around 800 languages 225 million speakers and is divided into the two main groups Platoid (including Kainji, Plateau-Sprachen, Jukunoid ) and Bantoid-Cross . The latter consists of the cross-river languages and the bantoid languages . The Cross-River includes around 70 languages ​​with 6 million speakers; they are spoken in southeast Nigeria and Cameroon . The Bantoid contains all about 500 Bantu languages , plus some groups spoken in southern Nigeria and Cameroon ( Jarawoid, Tivoid, Beboid, Ekoid, grassland languages, etc.), which are closely related to the Bantu languages .

Further details about the Volta-Congo and its subgroups can be found in the following family tree, the table overview (number of languages ​​and speakers, geographical distribution) and the special articles on the main groups of the Volta-Congo.

Outline of the Volta Congo

It can be seen that the large group of Bantu languages ​​genetically represents only a sub-sub-unit within the Niger-Congo and Volta-Congo. The following table contains the number of languages ​​and speakers as well as the main distribution areas for the larger subgroups of the Volta-Congo branch.

The major subgroups of the Volta-Congo branch

Sub-branch Number of
Number of
Main distribution area
Kru 029 002.3 million Ivory Coast, Southern Liberia
Gur (Voltaic) 074 015 million Mali, Ivory, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Nigeria
Senufo 015th 002.7 million Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali, Ghana
Adamawa-Ubangi 158 007.6 million Nigeria, Cameroon, Central Africa, Chad, South Sudan
Kwa 075 021 million Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benein, Nigeria
Yoruboid 014th 022 million Southwest Nigeria, Benin, Togo
Edoid 026th 002.6 million Central-South Nigeria
Igboid 007th 019 million Southeast Nigeria
Nupoid 011 003 million West-Central Nigeria
Idomoid 009 001.1 million Southern Nigeria
Kainji 054 001 million Northwest and North-Central Nigeria
plateau 043 002 million North-Central Nigeria ( no genetic unit )
Cross river 065 005.6 million Nigeria: Cross River State; Cameroon
Dakoid 003 000.5 million East Nigeria
Tivoid 018th 002.4 million Eastern Nigeria, Western Cameroon
Grasslands 067 002.5 million West Cameroon
Bantu 487 210 million all of central and southern Africa

The term X-oid denotes a main language X with its closely related sister languages, e.g. B. Igboid is the group of languages ​​directly related to Igbo . As a rule, it is a dialect continua . Some researchers also consider such groups to be a single language.


The 30 or so Kru languages ​​belong to the North Volta-Congo branch; they are spoken by around 2.3 million people in the Ivory Coast and southern Liberia . The name "Kru" is obviously a corruption of the language name "Klao", favored by the English "crew", since the Kru people used to work often as sailors on European ships. Westermann (1927) and Greenberg (1963) included Kru among the Kwa languages, Bennet and Sterk (1977) relocated it to the North Volta-Congo branch. Kru is divided into an eastern and a western branch and three isolated languages.

Nominal class systems are hardly preserved in the Kru, the plural is formed by suffixes and changing the final vowel. There are concordance structures in the noun phrases . The Kru languages ​​make extensive use of verbal extensions, for example to form causatives , benefactives , incoatives and the passive . The personal pronouns differ in some languages feminine and masculine in the 2nd and 3rd person singular, otherwise there is no gender differentiation . The word order is SVO , there are postpositions used. While the “genitive attribute” and the possessive come before the specific noun, the adjective attribute, demonstrative and numerals are placed after the noun.

Gur (Voltaic)

Gur or Voltaic is a large language family of around 75 languages ​​that are spoken by 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- (Gurma, Gurunsi, Gurenne). The term "Voltaisch" refers to the river Volta, it is mainly used in French literature (langues voltaïques).

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, Dogon and the Senufo group were also counted among the Gur languages ​​(e.g. Bendor-Samuel 1971, De Wolf 1981). The genetic proximity of the Gur languages ​​to the Kwa-Benue-Congo languages ​​gave rise to the introduction of the primary branch Volta-Congo within the Niger-Congo.

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), Kabiye, Lobiri and Bariba.

Almost all Gur languages ​​have a nominal class system , most of them show concordance . On average there are eleven noun classes, which are marked by suffixes , some languages ​​still have class prefixes for frequently occurring nouns. The word order in the sentence is SVO , usually postpositions are used. Genitive attributes and possessive pronouns come before the noun, which they define more precisely, adjective attributes , demonstratives and numerals follow their nouns. Most Gur languages ​​are tone languages with two to three pitches, in the extreme case (Bariba) even six meaning-relevant tone variants are differentiated.


The Senufo languages ​​form a small group of 15 closely related languages ​​with 2.7 million speakers. Its distribution area is Burkina Faso , Ivory Coast , Mali and Ghana . The Senufo language with the most speakers is Cebaara with 1 million speakers, other important languages ​​are Supyire , Mamara , Schempire , Tagwana , Dschimini and Schenara . The Senufo is a branch of the North Volta Congo, earlier it was counted among the Gur languages. It is divided into six sub-units, of which Supyire-Mamara, Tagwana-Djimini and Senari are the most important, the rest of them only have smaller languages.


Adamawa-Ubangi consists of two separate subgroups - Adamawa and Ubangi - which form a genetic sub-unit of 160 languages ​​with almost 8 million speakers within the North Volta Congo, of which 2 million are Adamawa and 6 million Ubangi speakers. The Adamawa-Ubangi-language area stretches from north-west Nigeria via north Cameroon , south Chad , the Central African Republic , north Gabon and both Congo states to the south-west of South Sudan , i.e. almost all of Central Africa. Sango is a Creole language based on the Ubangi language Ngbandi , as the lingua franca of the Central African Republic it is used by up to 5 million speakers. Other major languages ​​are Zande, Ngbaka, Gbaya, Mumuye, Mundang and Tupuri.

Greenberg (1949) was the first to group them as a subunit of the Niger-Congo, initially under the name Adamawa-Eastern . The division of this unit into Adamawa and Ubangi can be justified linguistically by a few differences: phonologically by a different syllable structure (Adamawa languages ​​tend to have closed syllables, which are rare in Ubangi languages), lexically by special ones for one or the other group characteristic lexemes (Boyd 1989). However, Bennett (1983) sees a language continuum across both subgroups, which makes a clear separation into "Adamawa" and "Ubangi" appear problematic.

The Adamawa languages ​​have so far been poorly researched, the speaker-rich Ubangi languages ​​somewhat better. The nominal class system is reduced, class suffixes are used, concordance is partially present, in some languages ​​only traces of the class system are preserved. Verbal extensions are not very common, they are common for Frequentatives , Benefactives and Causatives . The normal sentence order is SVO , only prepositions are used. The noun is facing its supplements, before the genitive attribute , adjective attribute , numerals and demonstrative , in the Ubangi languages the adjective can also stand in front of the noun.


The Kwa languages, together with the Benue Congo languages, make up the South Volta Congo or Kwa Benue Congo. The approximately 75 Kwa languages ​​are spoken by 21 million people in the Ivory Coast , Ghana , Togo , Benin and southwest Nigeria . In the north the Kwa languages ​​border on the Gur area, in the east on the Platoid languages, in the west on the Mande and Kru languages. The most important Kwa languages ​​are Akan (Twi-Fante) (one of the most important languages ​​in Ghana, 10 million speakers), Ewe (4 million, Southeast Ghana and Togo), Baule (2 million), Fon (1.7 Million, mainly in Benin), Ga-Dangme (1.4 million, Accra) and Anyin (1 million).

The name "Kwa" was introduced in 1885 by Gottlob Krause . The Kwa languages ​​were initially summarized according to typological criteria (presence of labiovelars , tonal languages , absence of almost all morphological elements such as class affixes and derivative morphemes). For Diedrich Westermann (1927) the Kwa formed a subgroup of Western Sudanese , for Joseph Greenberg (1963) a primary branch of the Niger-Congo. He divided the Kwa languages ​​into eight sub-units and integrated the central Togo languages ​​(“remaining Togo languages”) into the Kwa group. This is how the Kwa languages ​​are represented by De Wolf in 1981. Bennett and Sterk (1977) reduced Greenberg's kwa by adding

  • added the little uniform eastern Kwa subgroups as "West Benue Congo" to the Benue Congo,
  • established the Ijoid as the independent primary branch of the Niger-Congo and
  • the Kru understood as an independent unit of the North Volta Congo.

The remaining “new” Kwa coincides with Greenberg's “West Kwa”. This approach is now generally accepted with minor modifications.

The Kwa languages ​​have different nominal class systems ; while that of the Ega is fully established, other Kwa languages ​​have reduced or rudimentary systems. Usually prefixes are used in morphology , there are some plural suffixes . The initial consonant can alternate, but this has no semantic , but only phonetic reasons. Causative , reflexive ("love oneself") and reciprocal ("love one another") are derived from verbs using suffixes. The 3rd person of the personal pronouns differentiates the categories animate and inanimate . The sentence order is SVO , postpositions and no prepositions are usually used. The noun phrase does not have a uniform structure, often genitive + noun , possessive + noun , but noun + adjective , noun + numerals and noun + demonstrative .

Several Kwa languages ​​have a serial verb construction . If a whole series of verbs appear one after the other in the same tense - mode - aspect function, which have the same subject and object, the pronominal subject and object are only marked on the first verb. Almost all Kwa languages ​​are tonal languages , usually there are two, sometimes three pitches, in some Kwa languages ​​even four base tones. In some Kwa languages ​​there is vowel harmony ; so the vocal harmony determined Akan ( tensioned and untensioned vowel series / i, e, a, o, u / and / ɨ, ɛ, ɑ, o, ʋ /) the vowel structure of possessive and Subjektspronomina a function of the vowel coloring of the strain.

Benue Congo

The Benue Congo languages , together with the Kwa languages, form the southern branch of the Volta Congo languages , a primary branch of the Niger Congo. The approximately 900 Benue Congo languages ​​are spoken by over 270 million people in West, Central and South Africa. The Benue Congo consists of two unequally large genetic subunits , namely West Benue Congo (70 languages ​​with almost 50 million speakers in Togo , Benin and Nigeria ) and the much larger East Benue Congo (830 languages ​​with 225 million speakers ) . Speakers in Southeast Nigeria and all of Central and South Africa). The East Benue Congo includes in particular the large family of the Bantu languages .

The name Benue Congo was coined by Joseph Greenberg in 1963, who divided this group into four units: Plateau languages, Jukunoid, Cross River and Bantoid . According to Shimizu (1975) and Gerhardt (1989), the plateau languages, Tarokoid and Jukunoid , were summarized as Central Nigerian or Platoid . Bennett and Sterk (1977) extended the Benue Congo to include the eastern groups of Greenberg's Kwa , namely Yoruboid, Edoid, Igboid, Nupoid and Idomoid . These groups were then merged by Blench in 1989 to form West Benue Congo , while the original Greenberg's Benue Congo became East Benue Congo . Ohiri-Aniche suspected in 1999 that the Ukaan language (perhaps together with the Akpes ) forms a link between West and East Benue Congo, while Connell (1998) suggested the Cross River as such a link.

Subunits of the Benue Congo (Williamson-Blench 2000)

The linguistic properties of the Benue-Congo languages ​​are discussed in the sections on the subunits West Benue-Congo , Platoid , Cross River and Bantoid .

West Benue Congo

West Benue Congo, Platoid, Cross River Languages, North Bantoid, South Bantoid except Bantu and the northwest corner of the Bantu area

The West Benue Congo is the smaller, western subgroup of the Benue Congo, it roughly coincides with the East Kwa languages ​​of Greenberg 1963. It consists of about 70 languages, the 48 in Togo , Benin and southern Nigeria Million people are spoken to. The five most important languages ​​of this group are Yoruba (20-22 million speakers, lingua franca in southwest Nigeria), Igbo (outdated Ibo ; 18 million), Edo or Bini (1 million), Nupe (1 million) and Idoma (600k), all of which are spoken in southern Nigeria. The five languages ​​mentioned, together with smaller, closely related neighboring languages, form the subgroups Yoruboid , Igboid , Edoid , Nupoid and Idomoid of West Benue Congo. In addition, four small groups - Akokoid , Ayere-Ahan , Oko and Ukaan-Akpes - are added.

The nominal class system of the West-Benue-Congo languages ​​shows different stages of development: a full system z. B. in Gade, a reduced one in Edoid, a rudimentary one in Yoruba; Nominal class prefixes are used. The verbal extensions are usually innovations (neoplasms that do not come from Proto-Niger-Congo). Adjectives can be formed from verbs of states by a reduplication of the first syllable (in a high tone). There are independent personal pronouns and dependent subject, object and possessive pronouns. The sentence order is SVO , prepositions are used , not postpositions . The noun phrases are built uniformly, the specific noun N is in front, so there are the constructions N + genitive , N + possessive , N + adjective , N + adjective + genitive , N + numerals and N + demonstrative .

Almost all western Benue Congo languages ​​are tonal languages with two to four pitches and glides (smooth transitions) between high and low frequencies. The sounds are phonemic, i.e. H. they mark differences in meaning, as the following examples from the Yoruba (three tone levels: é high tone, e mid tone, è low tone) show:

  • "arrive", "expect"
  • "think", ro " till the field"

East Benue Congo

East Benue Congo (in Greenberg's terminology Benue Congo ) consists of two dissimilar genetic subdivisions, the platoid languages and the bantoid cross languages . The Platoid - or Central Nigerian - comprises 120 languages ​​that are spoken by 3.5 million speakers in Central Nigeria , the bantoid Cross about 700 languages ​​with over 220 million speakers in Nigeria, Cameroon and Central and South Africa. According to the number of its speakers, the East Benue Congo is the most important subunit of the Volta Congo, especially since it includes the large family of the Bantu languages .

Platoid (Central Nigerian)

The approximately 120 languages ​​of the Platoid or Central Nigerian are spoken by 3.5 million people in north, northeast and central Nigeria , the center being the Jos plateau . The Kainji and Plateau languages ​​have so far been little documented; Ludwig Gerhardt offers the best representation in Bendor-Samuel 1989.

The subgroups of Central Nigerian are Kainji (54 languages, 1 million speakers), the Jos Plateau languages, Tarokoid and Jukonoid . There are only a few major languages ​​in this group of Niger-Congo, including Berom, Tarok and Kaje, each with around 300,000 speakers. On average, each central Nigerian language has only about 30,000 speakers, so their areas of distribution are correspondingly small. Jukun was the language of the once powerful Jukun Empire (end of the 1st millennium AD), its successor languages ​​- the Jukunoid languages ​​- have a total of only 350,000 speakers. The following classification is based on Williamson-Blench 2000 and the web link below, only the major languages ​​are listed.

Structure of the Platoid Languages

Most of the Kainji and Plateau languages ​​and some jukunoid languages ​​have nominal class systems , the other jukunoid and tarocoid languages ​​have only reduced class systems. Most often, prefixes are used to identify the classes , but sometimes suffixes are used as well . Verbal derivations are widespread. The normal sentence order is SVO , prepositions are usually used , not postpositions . The noun precedes its additions, so the noun phrases have the basic form noun + genitive , noun + adjective , noun + possessive and noun + numerals .

Cross River

The East Benue Congo is divided into the main groups Platoid and Bantoid-Cross , the latter in turn into the Cross-River languages and the Bantoid .

The approximately 70 Cross-River languages ​​are spoken by almost 6 million people in southeast Nigeria in the state of Cross-River and in northwest Cameroon . Cross-River is divided into Bendi (ten languages, 400,000 speakers) and Delta Cross (around 60 languages ​​with 5.2 million speakers). By far the most important Cross River languages are closely related languages Efik (400 thousand. Native, as a lingua franca there talking 2.4 million), Ibibio (2 million) and Anaang (1 million), all three of Delta Cross Group belong.

Some cross-river languages ​​still have a fully developed nominal class system , others only have reduced systems with limited concordance up to and including the complete elimination of the class system. There are numerous verbal derivations and the usual pronouns : independent personal pronoun , dependent subject, object and possessive pronouns. The sentence order is SVO, only prepositions are used. The noun phrase has the basic sequence definite noun + determiner, but the adjective often comes before its noun. The verbal inflection is usually done by a system of prefixes , rarely by suffixes . Reduplication of the verb root enables the verb to be focused (accentuated), while the normal sentence sequence ( SVOOSV ) is changed to focus the object.


The term "Bantoid" was coined by Gottlob Krause in 1895 for languages ​​that have lexical similarities with the Bantu languages . Malcolm Guthrie (1948) used Bantoid to designate the Western Sudan languages ​​with a Bantu-like nominal class system , but which have no regular phonetic equivalents with the Bantu languages .

According to today's understanding, the bantoid languages together with the cross-river languages ​​form the bantoid cross-unit of East Benue-Congo . The group of bantoid languages ​​includes both the actual Bantu languages and those languages ​​that are genetically particularly close to the Bantu languages ​​within the Niger-Congo , but do not have all the characteristics of the Bantu languages.

The boundary between the actual Bantu languages (narrow bantu) and the Bantu languages ​​in a broader sense (Bantoid, but not Bantu) is difficult to draw and depends on the definition of what exactly constitutes "actual Bantu" (the researchers are by no means completely satisfied Some). All Bantoid languages ​​that do not belong to the actual Bantu are spoken in east-southeast Nigeria and in Cameroon , so their distribution is - in contrast to the Bantu languages ​​- very limited. Exactly this area (southeast Nigeria and northwest Cameroon) also seems to be the original home of the actual Bantu languages, from which they spread to the east and south of the continent (see article Bantu languages ).

In total, the Bantoid comprises around 650 languages ​​with a total of 217 million speakers, of which around 490 languages ​​are actual Bantu languages, which make up the vast majority with 210 million speakers. The group of 160 Bantoid languages ​​that do not belong to Bantu is relatively small and very diversified, especially in terms of the number of speakers (6.5 million): their average number of speakers is only around 40,000.

The most important Bantu languages ​​are already listed in the introductory section "Great Niger-Congo Languages", including Swahili , Shona , IsiZulu , Chichewa , Lingala , Kinyarwanda , isiXhosa , Luba-Kasai and Gikuyu (all over 5 million speakers). Of the non-Bantu languages ​​of the group of bantoid languages, only Tiv, spoken in Nigeria in the Benue State , exceeds the million mark with 2.2 million speakers.

The establishment of the bantoid as a genetic unit and the main features of its current internal classification go back to Greenberg (1950, 1963). However, the internal structure of the Bantoid has been revised several times since then. It was important to recognize a north-south border within the group. The northern part - whether it forms a genetic unit is disputed - individual smaller groups such as Dakoid , Mambiloid and Tikaroid belong . The southern Bantoid forms its own genetic group, which, in addition to the Jarawoid and Tivoid, includes the linguistic grassland group (around 70 languages ​​with 2.5 million speakers, spoken in western Cameroon ) and, as an equal branch, the actual Bantu (490 languages, 210 million . Speaker) contains. Apart from a few individual languages, this results in the following structure of the Bantoid:

Outline of the bantoid

The linguistic properties of the bantoid languages ​​are very similar to those of the Bantu languages (see the corresponding section of the article Bantu languages). The nominal class system is fully developed in Bantu - it is its essential characteristic - in the non-Bantu languages ​​of the Bantoid in a differently reduced form. Verbal derivations are documented in all bantoid languages. Pronouns are formed to the usual extent, in the 3rd person there is concordance with the nominal classes. The sentence order is SVO , prepositions are used throughout . In the noun phrase , the particular noun comes first, followed by the additions and attributes ( genitive attribute , adjective attribute , possessive , numerals , demonstrative ); In the Bantu languages, there is full class concordance within the noun phrase and between subject and predicate , in the other Bantoid languages ​​the concordance is limited or partially not (no longer) available.

Spatial distribution and number of speakers (graphic)

Nigeria Benin Cameroon Languages.png

Spatial distribution of the Niger-Congo languages ​​in Africa (left) and concentrated on the national territory of Benin, Nigeria and Cameroon (right)
Scheme of the system with numbers of speakers

History of the classification of the Niger-Congo

Research beginnings

African languages ​​have been described in Arabic documents since the 10th century ; Jewish and Islamic linguists had long known the kinship between Hebrew , Arabic and Aramaic . It was not until the 16th century that European scholars studied African languages. In 1538 , Guillaume Postel was the first European to establish that the Semitic languages ​​known at the time were related. (The term “Semitic languages” was first introduced by August Ludwig von Schlözer in 1781. )

From the 17th century onwards, European researchers became increasingly interested in African languages. This is how the first dictionaries of Coptic (1636), Nubian (1638), Congo (1652) and grammars of Nama (1643), Congo (1659), Old Ethiopian (1661) and Amharic (1698) were created. In 1776, Liévin Bonaventure Proyart (1743-1808) recognized the close genetic relationship of some Bantu languages . William Marsden described the outlines of the Bantu family in 1778 (published only in 1816) and Wilhelm Bleek first described the nominal classes of the Bantu languages in 1856 and coined the term Bantu .

In 1808, Martin Hinrich Lichtenstein divided the South African languages ​​into Bantu and Nama languages. Adriano Balbi (1782–1848) combined the languages ​​of the San with the Nama in 1826 (as part of an attempt to provide an initial overview and classification of African languages ​​in the Atlas ethnographique du globe or classification des peuples anciens et modern d'après leurs langues ). In 1850 Johann Ludwig Krapf coined the term " Hamitic languages " for the non-Semitic black African languages, whereby the Nama-San languages ​​are excluded; he made a distinction between "Nilo-Hamitisch" (which includes, for example, the Bantu languages) and "Nigro-Hamitisch" (the West African languages).

Sigismund Koelle

Sigismund Wilhelm Koelle compiled word lists of 156 sub-Saharan languages in his Polyglotta Africana in 1854 , using a uniform phonetic system derived from Karl Richard Lepsius . By comparing these lists, he succeeded in establishing eleven African language groups. Five of his groups describe branches of what is now Niger-Congo.

West African languages ​​according to Koelle 1854

  • West Atlantic languages, including Fulani (name "West Atlantic" coined by Koelle)
  • Mande languages ​​(the name comes from Heymann Steinthal 1867, based on own names)
  • Kwa languages, including Kru, Ewe, Yoruba, Igbo, Edo, Nupe (name "Kwa" by Gottlob Krause 1885)
  • Gur languages ​​(name "Gur" also from G. Krause 1885; Maurice Delafosse introduces "Voltaisch" for this in 1911)
  • Benue-Congo languages ​​including Bantu (name "Benue-Kongo" by Joseph Greenberg 1963)

With this, S. Koelle succeeded in the middle of the 19th century with an essentially correct internal classification of the languages ​​that Greenberg later called "Niger-Congo". The missing ubangi was discovered by Delafosse in 1924, to which Greenberg added the Adamawa languages ​​in 1959. It remains unclear whether Koelle saw these five groups as a larger genetic unit. It is noteworthy that he recognized the relationship between the Bantu languages and certain Nigerian languages ​​and correctly counted the Ful among the "West Atlantic" languages.

Koelle's classification was a lonely high point in the mid-19th century. In the next 100 years, African studies, despite many successes in detail, experienced a decline in classification, which is associated with the names Friedrich Müller , Richard Lepsius , August Schleicher and Carl Meinhof , among others .

Friedrich Müller and Richard Lepsius

In 1877 the Austrian Friedrich Müller added the Berber and Cushitic languages to the Hamitic languages . Despite recognized linguistic similarities, he did not count the Hausa as Hamitic because its speakers belonged to a different race. Müller grouped the Nilohamite and Semitic languages ​​into the "Hamito-Semitic" language strain. Overall, there was a clear relapse behind the position reached by Koelle, since Müller also did not recognize any genetic connection between the Negro languages and Bantu . His disparate Nuba Fula group turned out to be a complete mistake.

African languages ​​after Friedrich Müller 1877

  • Hamito Semitic
    • Semitic
    • Hamitic
      • Egyptian
      • Cushy
      • Berber
  • Nuba-Fula
  • Negro languages
  • Bantu
  • Nama Bushman

In 1880, the German Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius summarized in the introduction to his Nubian grammar all non-Semitic inflected languages ​​of Africa that have a gender system into the "Hamitic languages" and thereby redefined this term. Since Lepsius' definition is purely typological , it loses any claim to genetic meaning. He is convinced that Hausa (and the other Chadian languages) as well as the Berber languages ​​also belonged to Hamitic. In 1888 Lepsius also included the Nama-Bushman languages as Hamitic; a false classification that lasted for a long time (and fell far behind Koelle's approach of 1850). The classification of the ( Nilosaharan ) Maassai as a Hamitic language was also incorrect .

African languages ​​according to Lepsius 1880 and 1888

  • Hamito Semitic
    • Semitic
    • Hamitic
      • Egyptian
      • Cushy
      • Berber
      • Chadian (Hausa)
      • Maassai
      • Nama Bushman
  • Negro languages
    • Bantu (the "real Negro languages")
    • mixed "Negro languages"

According to Lepsius, the primary characteristics of these language groups are the class system of the Bantu and the pleasure system of the Hamites , who, according to him, immigrated from West Asia to Africa. As a result of their penetration, they pushed parts of the previous population to South Africa (the Bantu, who kept their "pure" form of language); other groups mingled with the Hamites and formed mixed languages that had neither a distinct class nor enjoyment system. He described their grammar as "shapeless", "receded" or "defoliated".

August Schleicher

The Indo-Europeanist August Schleicher had a completely different idea, which he published in 1891. In his opinion, Africa was initially uninhabited and was populated from Southwest Asia in four great waves:

  1. the " Bushmen " and " Hottentots " (now called Khoisan ),
  2. the "Negro peoples" of Sudan , the "Nigrites",
  3. the Bantu and
  4. the Hamites .

He assumed that the Sudanese nigrites had already had a rudimentary, imperfect nominal class system , which the Bantu peoples then perfected and developed. For him, then, Nigritic or Sudanese was an evolutionary forerunner of Bantu, and not a result of the disintegration as with Lepsius.

Carl Meinhof

The Africanist Carl Meinhof made several comments between 1905 and 1935 about the emergence of African languages ; it stands in clear contrast to the hypotheses of Karl Richard Lepsius and August Schleicher . According to Meinhof, Africa was settled in three linguistic layers:

  1. the Nigritic Sudan languages or "Negro languages",
  2. the Hamitic languages and
  3. the Bantu languages .

Meinhof assumed that the Bantu languages ​​with their characteristic nominal class systems arose from a mixture of the Hamitic languages, which have a grammatical gender, and the Negro languages (which have no grammatical gender). The Bantu therefore has a Nigritic “mother” ( substrate ) and a Hamitic “father” ( superstrate ). The Negro languages or nigritischen languages of the Sahara took Meinhof under the heading south Sudan languages tried together, the genetic relationship he neither clearly postulated to be demonstrated.

The "Hottentot languages" ( Khoekhoegowab ) are of Hamitic origin - in this he follows Lepsius - but mixed with "Bushman languages". Meinhof also used sound laws , word structures and sound inventories to help classify languages ​​into his "Hamitic group". Where these typological criteria were not sufficient (which already had no genetic relevance), he supplemented them with racial-cultural classification patterns (skin color, hair type, economic form, cultural type). This approach - completely wrong according to today's ideas - led to the classification of languages ​​from four different language groups - Nama (Khoisan), Ful (Niger-Congo), Somali (Kushitic) and Maassai (Nilo-Saharan) - into his "Hamitic" group. This classification lasted, especially in German African studies, as the dominant opinion until around 1950, with some representatives until the 1980s.

Classification of African languages ​​according to Meinhof 1912

  • Hamito Semitic
    • Semitic
    • Hamitic
      • Egyptian
      • Cushy
      • Berber
      • Chadian (Hausa)
      • Maassai
      • Fula
      • Nama Bushman
  • Bantu
  • Sudan

Finck, Schmidt and Kieckers

Between 1909 and 1931, the German linguists Franz Nikolaus Finck , Father Wilhelm Schmidt and Ernst Kieckers wrote summaries of the world's linguistic tribes (Finck 1909, Schmidt 1926 and Kieckers 1931), which enjoyed great popularity and largely influenced the knowledge of cultural citizens interested in languages to have. That is why we will briefly look at their representation of the African languages.

Finck (1909, second edition posthumously 1915) divides the African languages ​​into (1) Hamito-Semitic languages ​​(without Meinhof's extension to Nama and Maasai, but also without Hausa), (2) Paleo-African languages ​​(today's Khoisan) and (3) the Neo-African languages.

African languages ​​according to Finck 1909/1915

  • Paleo-African
    • Bushman languages
    • Hottentot languages
  • neo-african languages
    • Bantu
    • West Sudan (Atlantic, Mande, Kru, "Nigritic", "Equatorial")
    • Central Sudan (Songhai, Hausa, Kanuri)
    • Nilotic (Kunama, Nubian, Dinka and others)

In this way, Finck avoids Meinhof's biggest mistakes. His Hamit theory is reinterpreted into a "Hamitic influence", it plays no role as a genetic model for Finck.

Schmidt (1926) and, together with him, Kieckers (1931) adopt the then current theories of Albert Drexel , their structures are correspondingly confused and clearly fall behind Finck.

African language groups according to Drexel 1921-25, Schmidt 1926 and Kieckers 1931

  • Bushman and Hottentot languages
  • Bantu
  • Wule (colorful mixture of Nilosaharan and Niger-Congo)
  • Ngonke (Mande and Songhai)
  • Manfu (Kru, Gur, Yoruba and others)
  • Kanuri (Kanuri, Maba and others)
  • Nilotic (Nuba, Dinka, Masai, etc.)
  • Bantuid (colorful mixture of West African languages; reference to Bantu recognized)

Diedrich Westermann

As early as 1911, Diedrich Westermann (a student of Carl Meinhof ) made an internal distinction between the Sudan languages in West and East Sudanese languages. In 1927 Westermann published his most important work: The Western Sudan languages ​​and their relationship to Bantu . In it he demonstrates the genetic unity of the West Sudan languages ​​(e.g. today's Niger-Congo without Bantu, Ful, Adamawa-Ubangi and Kordofan) and finds many parallels to the Bantu languages, which, however, do not yet lead to the conclusion that Bantu and West Sudan one genetically belonging together.

West Sudan according to Westermann 1927

  • West Sudan
    • Mandingo
    • West Atlantic (excluding Fulani)
    • Kwa
    • Remaining Togo languages
    • Gur (including Songhai)
    • Benue-Cross

In 1935, in his essay Character and Classification of the Sudan Languages , Westermann dealt again with the thesis of a relationship between the Western Sudan languages ​​and Bantu and came to a cautious affirmation of the genetic unit, but he saw Bantu and Western Sudan as equal branches of a higher-level unit. In doing so, he laid the core of Greenberg's "Niger-Congo" - against the doctrine of his teacher Meinhof . He also recognized that the Eastern Sudan languages ​​are not related to the Western ones (the East Sudan languages ​​were later classified as " Nilo-Saharan " by Greenberg ).

Joseph Greenberg

From 1948 to 1963, Joseph Greenberg classified the African languages from scratch, using only linguistic criteria. He used the method of lexical mass comparison , in which words and grammatical morphemes of very many languages ​​are compared with one another. On the basis of the resulting word and morpheme equations, the division into genetic units and the internal structure of these units result (see also the articles Joseph Greenberg and Lexical mass comparison ).

Greenberg introduced the term “ Afro-Asian ” instead of the term “ Hamito-Semitic ”, which was burdened by non-linguistic criteria such as race and culture, and established Semitic , Egyptian , Cushitic , Berber and Chadian as equal primary branches of Afro-Asian. He assigns the groups incorrectly assigned to Hamitic by non-linguistic criteria, such as Nama-Bushman, Fulani and Maassai, to other groups. "Niger-Congo" is defined as a new term for the Western Sudan languages including Bantu . The East Sudan languages ​​are later combined with a few smaller groups as " Nilo-Saharan ". Through various intermediate stages, he came to the now generally accepted classification of African languages, as finally presented in his book The Languages ​​of Africa 1963. For an evaluation of Greenberg's achievements in the classification of African languages, see the article Joseph Greenberg .

The classification of African languages ​​according to Greenberg 1963

  • Afro-Asian
  • Niger Kordofan
  • Nilosaharan
  • Khoisan

The following innovations by Greenberg are particularly important for the Niger-Congo:

  • Westermann's West Sudan and the Bantu languages ​​are combined to form the new genetic unit “Niger-Congo”.
  • The "Bantoid" group is defined as the genetic unit of languages ​​that are particularly closely related to the Bantu languages.
  • Westermann's Benue-Cross group and the Bantoid are combined to form the "Benue-Congo", which includes the Bantu as a sub-subunit.
  • Greenberg inserts the Fulani, previously classified as Hamitic, into the Atlantic branch of the Niger-Congo.
  • He recognizes the unity of the Adamawa languages ​​and establishes their close relationship with the Ubangi languages; together they are added as Adamawa-Eastern (later Adamawa-Ubangi) to Niger-Congo as a new primary branch.
  • The " Togo-Rest languages " Westermanns be integrated into the Kwa.
  • Mandingo merges into the broader Mande group.
  • The Songhai is removed from the Gur group (and later incorporated into Nilosaharan).
  • Kordofan is added to the Niger-Congo as an equal parallel branch; this brings Greenberg to the new name Niger-Kordofanisch with a primary division into "Niger-Congo" and "Kordofanisch" (which has been given up again today, however, because Kordofanisch is seen as equal to the other primary branches).

Classification of Niger-Kordofan according to Greenberg 1963

  • Niger Kordofan
    • Kordofan
    • Niger-Congo
      • West Atlantic
      • Mande
      • Gur (Voltaic)
      • Kwa (broadly, including Yoruba, Edo, Igbo, Nupe, Idoma and the Kru languages)
      • Benue-Kongo: Benue-Cross and Bantoid including the Bantu
      • Adamawa-Eastern

This Greenberg classification is the basis for all further research on Niger-Congo languages. By eliminating all non-linguistic criteria that made almost all previous attempts at classification unusable, Greenberg proved that the principles of genetic classification, as developed in Europe in the mid-19th century, also apply unreservedly to African languages ​​- and thus worldwide - are valid. So he put the classification of the languages ​​of Africa back on track after a century of decline.

Current classification of the Niger-Congo

Greenberg's results were initially quite controversial, as many Africanists - especially in Germany - still attached to the Meinhof School. After a few years, however, the Niger-Congo and Niger-Kordofan language in particular were accepted by almost all researchers as a genetic unit , especially Greenberg's positioning of the Bantu languages as a sub-branch of the Benue Congo. Today, in all relevant research on the topic, there is no voice that questions the genetic unity of the Niger-Congo. However, the internal structure of the Niger-Congo was changed several times after 1963 , mainly due to recent lexicostatistical research. The status reached today and on which this article is based will not yet have a definitive character, as a great deal of detailed study is still necessary for some subgroups. The future perspective is the reconstruction of the Proto-Niger-Congo, from which new light will certainly fall on the internal structure.

The main features of Greenberg's 1963 classification remained in place despite all the innovations. The changes affect the following areas in addition to questions relating to the name - "Adamawa-Eastern" was renamed to "Adamawa-Ubangi", "West Atlantic" to "Atlantic" - the following areas:

  • Kordofan: One of the five subgroups of Greenberg's Kordofan, the Kadugli, has been classified as Nilosaharan . The remaining Kordofan was classified as an equal primary branch with the other branches of the Niger-Congo (Mande, Atlantic, etc.). Thus the reason for the name "Niger-Kordofanisch" was dropped and the language family was renamed back to "Niger-Congo".
  • Kwa: the eastern group of Greenberg's Kwa languages ​​was removed from the Kwa as a separate unit, "West Benue Congo", as these languages ​​show more similarity to the (eastern) Benue Congo languages ​​(Bennett and Sterk 1977). The newly formed "Benue-Congo" unit then comprises the Greenberg's Benue-Congo (now East-Benue-Congo) and the new West-Benue-Congo (with Yoruboid, Edoid, Igboid, Nupoid and Idomoid). The kru, ijoid and senufo were also removed from Greenberg's kwa; these units now form separate branches outside the Kwa.
  • Dogon (belonging to the Gur group at Greenberg) and Ijoid (at Greenberg Kwa) were established as independent primary branches, as they cannot be assigned to any other group.
  • Volta-Congo: Volta-Congo was created as a new unity that is divided into a northern and a southern branch. According to the current classification, North Volta-Congo includes Kru and Senufo (both in the Kwa group at Greenberg), and Gur and Adamawa-Ubangi (at Greenberg's own primary branches). South Volta Congo consists of the new (reduced) Kwa and the new Benue Congo, which in turn is made up of West Benue Congo (Greenberg's eastern Kwa languages) and East Benue Congo (Greenberg's Benue Congo).

It has not yet been finally clarified whether the groups Benue-Congo and Northern Bantoid represent genetic units .

This results in the current classification of the Niger-Congo languages ​​given above as an overview, on which the entire article is based.

Niger-Congo and Nilo-Saharan

According to Greenberg's final work The Languages ​​of Africa from 1963, all African languages belonged to one of the four large families Afro-Asian , Nilo-Saharan , Niger-Congo and Khoisan . While the first three are now generally recognized as genetic units , the Khoisan is today more of an area linguistic union with typological similarities.

A few years later (1972) Edgar Gregersen presented his study Congo-Saharan , in which he combined Niger-Congo and Nilo -Saharan to form a new genetic unit Congo-Saharan . What at first looked like a step backwards on the positions of Carl Meinhof - who called the group of languages ​​that are today included in Niger-Congo (without Bantu) and Nilo-Saharan languages, "Sudanese languages" - turned out to be linguistically serious taking out attempt to establish a new large African language unit.

Gregersen's main arguments were:

  • The uncertainty in the classification of Songhai , which was initially included in the Mande languages ​​( Maurice Delafosse 1924), then in the Gur languages ​​( Diedrich Westermann 1927), then classified as an isolated language (Westermann and Bryan 1952, Greenberg 1955) and finally by Joseph Greenberg (1963) was annexed to the Nilosaharan .
  • Similarities of morphological elements, e.g. B. the t / k - singular / plural - opposition of the Songhai and the nominal classes 5/6 of the Bantu with the prefixes de- / ga- .
  • Lexical similarities; here the words for “know”, “buy”, “throat”, “tongue”, “tooth”, “stone” and “moon”, which are widely used in both families, are to be mentioned, which, however, have some Afro-Asian parallels.

Hans G. Mukarovsky also took the view (1966, 1977) that the Songhai is related to the Mande languages. He combined the Mande languages ​​and the Songhai into a fifth African language family, which he called "Western Sahelian". He rejected a union of the two large families along the lines of Gregersen.

Gregersen received support from several other researchers. Denis Creissels also noted considerable similarities between the Mande languages ​​and the Songhai in 1981 and considered Gregersen's Congo-Saharan hypothesis to be likely. Raymond Boyd (1978) documented lexical similarities between the Adamawa-Ubangi languages ​​and various branches of Nilo-Saharan. M. Lionel Bender became an advocate of the Congo-Saharan language in 1981 after his own research, possibly with the inclusion of Omotic , which in the meantime (1969) had been separated from the Cushitic languages ​​by Harold C. Fleming and established as the sixth primary branch of Afro-Asian . Roger M. Blench (1995) supported the Congo-Saharan hypothesis by showing further lexical and phonological parallels. However, he does not see Niger-Congo as an equal branch of Nilo-Saharan, but rather as a parallel branch of Central Sudanese and Kadugli within Nilo-Saharan.

In general, it can be said that Gregersen's Congo-Saharan hypothesis has triggered some interesting studies on this topic, but the majority of Africanists continue to assume that there are two independent African language families Niger-Congo and Nilo-Saharan, although the latter is by no means yet used by all researchers has been fully recognized as a genetic unit by Greenberg. The special role of the Songhai and other peripheral groups is of particular importance.

Niger-Congo languages ​​with at least 3 million speakers

The Niger-Congo languages ​​with at least 3 million speakers are listed here with the number of speakers (including second speakers), their abbreviated classification and their area of ​​distribution.

Niger-Congo languages ​​with at least 3 million speakers

language Alternative

Number of speakers
Classification Main distribution area
Swahili Kiswahili 30-40 million Volta-Congo, Bantu G40 Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, Mozambique
Yoruba Yariba 20-30 million Volta-Congo, Yoruboid Southwest Nigeria, Benin, Togo
Fulfulde Ful, Peul 22 million Atlantic Niger, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Cameroon, Benin, Togo, Mali
Igbo Ibo 18 million Volta-Congo, Igboid Southeast Nigeria
Shona Chishona 11 million Volta-Congo, Bantu S10 Zimbabwe, Zambia
Zulu Isizulu 10 million Volta-Congo, Bantu S40 South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Malawi
Nyanja Chichewa 10 million Volta-Congo, Bantu N30 Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique
Bambara Bamanakan 10 million Mande Mali, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Ivory Coast
Akan Twi-Fante 10 million Volta-Congo, Kwa Ghana, Ivory Coast
Lingala Ngala 09 million Volta-Congo, Bantu C40 Congo, Congo-Brazzaville
Wolof Ouolof 08 million Atlantic Senegal; also Gambia, Mali
Rwanda Kinyarwanda 08 million Volta-Congo, Bantu J60 Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Congo
Xhosa Isixhosa 07.5 million Volta-Congo, Bantu S40 South Africa, Lesotho
Mòoré Mossi 07 million Volta-Congo, Gur Burkina Faso; Benin, Togo, Mali
Luba Kasai Chiluba 06.5 million Volta-Congo, Bantu L30 Congo
Gikuyu Kikuyu 05.5 million Volta-Congo, Bantu E20 Kenya
Kituba Kutuba 05 million Volta-Congo, Bantu H10 Kongo, Kongo-Brazzaville (Congo-based Creole language )
Ganda Luganda 05 million Volta-Congo, Bantu J10 Uganda
Rundi Kirundi 05 million Volta-Congo, Bantu J60 Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda
Makhuwa Makua 05 million Volta-Congo, Bantu P30 Mozambique
Sotho Sesotho 05 million Volta-Congo, Bantu S30 Lesotho, South Africa
Tswana Setswana 05 million Volta-Congo, Bantu S30 Botswana, Namibia, South Africa
Ewe Yew, Gbe 05 million Volta-Congo, Kwa Ghana, Togo
Jula Dioula 04 million Mande Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast
Mbundu Umbundu 04 million Volta-Congo, Bantu R10 Angola (Benguela)
Pedi Sepedi, North Sotho 04 million Volta-Congo, Bantu S30 South Africa, Botswana
Luyia Luluyia 03.6 million Volta-Congo, Bantu J30 Kenya
Bemba Chibemba 03.6 million Volta-Congo, Bantu M40 Zambia, Congo
Tsonga Xitsonga 03.3 million Volta-Congo, Bantu S50 South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe
Sukuma Kisukuma 03.2 million Volta-Congo, Bantu F20 Tanzania
Malinke Maninkakan 03 million Mande Senegal, Guinea, Mali
Kamba Kikamba 03 million Volta-Congo, Bantu E20 Kenya
Mbundu Kimbundu 03 million Volta-Congo, Bantu H20 Angola (Luanda)
Sango Sangho 03 million Volta-Congo, Ubangi Central Africa. Rep. (Ngabandi-based Creole language )
Efik Calabar 02-3 million Volta-Congo, Cross River Nigeria (Cross River State)

Speaker numbers are based on the Niger-Congo Language Classification web link below. Congo stands for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Congo-Brazzaville for the Republic of the Congo .

The class prefixes for Bantu language names (e.g. ki-, chi-, lu-, se-, isi- ) are usually no longer used in linguistic literature today. In this article, too, the short form is used without a prefix, e.g. B. Ganda instead of Luganda ; the long form with prefix is ​​given as an alternative name. The numbers of the Bantu languages ​​(e.g. G40) reflect the division into the Guthrie zones (G40 = Zone G, group of ten 40; see Bantu languages ).


African languages

  • 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 Iliffe : History of Africa, 1st edition: Beck, Munich 2003 ISBN 3-406-46309-6
  • George L. Campbell: Compendium of the World's Languages. Routledge, London 2000 (2nd edition).
  • Ernst Kausen: The language families of the world. Part 2: Africa - Indo-Pacific - Australia - America. Buske, Hamburg 2014, ISBN 978-3-87548-656-8 , pp. 249-401.

Niger Congo Languages

  • 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.
    (The only comprehensive representation of the Niger-Congo and its subunits, the classification partially out of date.)
  • Kay Williamson and Roger Blench: Niger-Congo. In: Bernd Heine u. a .: African Languages. Cambridge Univ. Press 2000.
  • Paul P. De Wolf: The Niger-Congo (without Bantu). In: Bernd Heine u. a. (Ed.): The languages ​​of Africa. Buske, Hamburg 1981.
  • Thilo C. Schadeberg: The Kordofan. In: Bernd Heine u. a. (Ed.): The languages ​​of Africa. Buske, Hamburg 1981.
  • Derek Nurse and Gérard Philippson (Eds.): The Bantu Languages. Routledge, London - New York 2003.
  • Wilhelm JG Möhlig: The Bantu languages ​​in the narrower sense. In: Bernd Heine u. a. (Ed.): The languages ​​of Africa. Buske, Hamburg 1981.

On the history of the classification

  • Merritt Ruhlen: A Guide to the World's Languages. Classification. Arnold, Stanford 1987.
  • Guillaume Postel: De originibus seu de Hebraicae linguae et gentis antiquitatae deque variarum linguarum affinitate liber. Paris 1538.
  • Heinrich Lichtenstein: Remarks on the languages ​​of the wild South African tribes. General Archive for Ethnography and Linguistics 1808.
  • Sigismund Koelle: Polyglotta Africana. London 1854.
  • Friedrich Müller: Outline of Linguistics. Vienna 1867.
  • Karl Richard Lepsius: Nubian grammar. Berlin 1880.
  • Carl Meinhof: The languages ​​of the Hamites. Hamburg 1912.
  • Diedrich Westermann: The western Sudan languages ​​and their relationship to Bantu. Announcements from the seminar for oriental languages. Berlin 1927.
  • Joseph Greenberg: Studies in African Linguistic Classification. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 1949-50.
  • Edgar Gregersen: Congo-Saharan. Journal of African Languages ​​1972.
  • Patrick Bennett and Jan Sterk: South Central Niger-Congo: A Reclassification. Studies in African Linguistics. 1977.
  • Raimund Kastenholz: Essai de classification des dialectes mande-kan. Language and History in Africa 1979.
  • Thilo Schadeberg: The Classification of the Kadugli Language Group. Dordrecht 1981.

Web links

This article was added to the list of excellent articles on October 8, 2007 in this version .