Senufo languages

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Map of the Senufo languages ​​with the main groups and some neighboring languages

The Senufo languages form a small sub-unit of the North Volta-Congo branch of the Niger-Congo languages .

The 15 closely related languages ​​are spoken by around 2.7 million Senufo in northern Ivory Coast , southeast Mali, and southwest Burkina Faso . The neighbors of the Senufo languages ​​are the Mande languages in the west, the Kwa languages in the south and Gur languages in the north and east.

Main languages

The Senufo language with the largest number of speakers is Cebaara with a million speakers; other important languages ​​are Supyire , Mamara , Schempire , Tagwana , Dschimini and Schenara . Nafaanra (50,000 speakers) is a spatially isolated Senufo language in northwest Ghana .

Position of the Senufo languages ​​within the Niger-Congo

The Senufo languages ​​have been considered a subunit of the Niger-Congo since Greenberg (1963) . Full agreement has not yet been reached on their position within this large African language family .

In 1904 Maurice Delafosse was the first linguist to write a treatise on the Senufo languages. He noted that the Senufo languages ​​are often confused with the Mande languages, also because the latter are often used by the Senufo as a second language.

In the influential classifications by Westermann (1927), Greenberg (1963) and Bendor-Samuel (1971), the Senufo language appears as a subgroup of the Gur languages . Manessy (1975), however, doubted this classification. In 1989, in his review of the Gur family, John Naden noted that the Senufo languages ​​are no more closely related to the Central Gur than to other Volta-Congo groups, e.g. B. the Kwa languages . Therefore Williamson and Blench (in Heine-Nurse 2000) place the Senufo languages ​​as a branch parallel to the Gur languages ​​in the Volta-Congo node of the Niger-Congo.

Position of Senufo in Niger-Congo according to William-Blench 2000

  • Niger-Congo
    • Volta Congo
      • North Volta Congo
        • Kru
        • Gur
        • Senufo
        • Adamawa-Ubangi

Internal classification

Early classifications of the Senufo languages ​​(e.g. Bendor-Samuel 1971) were mainly geographically motivated and divided them into northern, central and southern Senufo. In the following years several linguists followed this terminology (Garber 1987; Carlson 1983, 1994). Mensah (1983) and Mills (1984) avoided the geographical names, but used the same classification. Ethnologue divides the Senufo languages ​​into six groups, of which Supyire-Mamara, Tagwana-Djimini and Senari are the most important, the rest have only smaller languages. If you combine the two classifications, you get the following result (all languages ​​are given):

Classification of the Senufo languages ​​according to William-Blench 2000

Linguistic characteristics

The Senufo languages, like many Niger-Congo languages, have a system of nominal classes which are marked by suffixes . The aspect is an important category of the verb , a distinction is made between an "imperfective" and a "neutral" aspect. The Senufo languages ​​are tone languages with three tone levels (high, medium, low).

The Senufo was strongly influenced by the Mande languages, many words were borrowed from the Mande languages Bambara and Jula . Carlson (1994: 2) notes that "various grammatical constructions are probably loan translations from the Bambara". The word order of the Senufo languages ​​is SOV, in contrast to the Gur and many other Niger-Congo languages ​​that have SVO (Claudi 1993).


Linguistic features

  • Carlson, Robert (1994) A Grammar of Supyire . Berlin / New York: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-014057-8 .
  • Carlson, Robert (1997) The Senufo Languages . CP / CV 2: Actes du CILG1, 23-42.
  • Claudi, Ulrike (1993) The position of verb and object in Niger-Congo languages . University of Cologne, African Monographs 1.
  • Garber, Anne (1980) 'Word order change and the Senufo languages.' In Studies in the Linguistic Sciences , 10, 1, 45-57.
  • Garber, Anne (1987) A Tonal Analysis of Senufo: Sucite dialect (Gur; Burkina Faso) . PhD dissertation, Urbana: University of Illinois / Ann Arbor: UMI.
  • Garber, Anne (1991) 'The phonological structure of the Senufo word (Sicite)', Journal of West African Languages , 21, 2, 3-20.
  • Manessy, Gabriel (1996a) 'La determination nominal en sénoufo', Linguistique Africaine , 16, 53-68.
  • Manessy, Gabriel (1996b) 'Observations sur la classification nominale en sénoufo', Afrika und Übersee , 79, 21–35.
  • Mills, Elizabeth (1984) Senoufo phonology, discourse to syllabe (a prosodic approach) SIL publications in linguistics ( ISSN  1040-0850 ), 72.


  • Bendor-Samuel, John (1971) 'Niger-Congo: Gur' in: Thomas Sebeok & Jack Berry (eds.), Linguistics in sub-saharan Africa (Current trends in linguistics 7), The Hauge / Paris: Mouton, 141– 178.
  • Delafosse, Maurice (1904) Vocabulaires comparatifs de plus de 60 langues ou dialects parlés à la Côte d'Ivoire ou dans les régions limitrophes (avec des notes linguistiques et ethnologiques, une bibliographie et une carte) . Paris: Leroux.
  • Greenberg, Joseph (1963) The Languages ​​of Africa. Mouton, The Hague and Indiana University Center, Bloomington.
  • Manessy, Gabriel (1975) Les langues Oti-Volta . Paris: SELAF.
  • Mensah, ENA and Z. Tchagbale (1983) Atlas des langues Gur de Côte d'Ivoire. Abidjan: Institut de Linguistique Applique.
  • Westermann, Diedrich & Bryan, MA (1970 [1952]). The Languages ​​of West Africa . Oxford: International African Institute / Oxford University Press.
  • Williamson, Kay & Blench, Roger (2000) 'Niger-Congo', in Heine, Bernd & Nurse, Derek (eds.) African languages: an introduction , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 11-42.

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