Yoruba (language)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Spoken in

Nigeria , Benin , Togo
speaker over 30 million
Official status
Recognized minority /
regional language in
NigeriaNigeria Nigeria ( national language ) Benin ( national language )
Language codes
ISO 639 -1


ISO 639 -2


ISO 639-3


Settlement area of ​​the Yoruba in Nigeria

The Yoruba (own name: èdè Yorùbá , ie 'the Yoruba language') is a dialect continuum in West Africa with more than 30 million speakers. The standard written language is also called this. The Yoruba language, which belongs to the Niger-Congo languages, is the language of the Yoruba . Besides other languages, it is mainly used in Southwest Nigeria and z. Some spoken in Benin and Togo . There are also speakers in Brazil and Cuba , where she is called Nago . Yoruba is an isolating tonal language with subject - predicate - object - Syntax .

Yoruba belongs to the Yoruboid language branch of the Benue-Congo languages. This consists of Igala , a language spoken by around 800,000 people east of the Yoruba region, and the Edekiri group, whose individual languages ​​are spoken in Benin and Nigeria. Edekiri includes the Ede language group (including Ede Ica, Ede Cabe , Ife , Ede Ije, and Ede Nago), Itsekiri with 500,000 speakers, and the Yoruba proper.

The ancestral Yoruba area in southwest Nigeria is commonly called Yorubaland and today comprises the states of Oyo , Ogun , Ondo , Kwara and Lagos as well as the western part of Kogi . From a geographical point of view, the Yorubaland lies on a plateau (height 366 m), which is bordered by the Niger in the north and east . Much of the area is densely forested; however, the north (including Oyo) is savanna area .


The first Bible in Yoruba in Badagry

According to oral tradition, Oduduwa, the son of the supreme Yoruba god Olúdùmarè, is the progenitor of the Yoruba speakers. Although they share a common history, a common name for the children of Oduduwa did not emerge until the second half of the 19th century. Before the abolition of the slave trade, the Yoruba were known to Europeans as Akú among the freed slaves of Freetown , a name derived from the first word of greetings such as Ẹ kú àárọ̀ (good morning) and Ẹ kú alẹ́ (good evening). Later the term Yariba or Yoruba came into use, initially limited to the Ọyọ kingdom. The name was used by the Hausa ; their origin is unclear, however.

Under the influence of Yoruba Samuel Ajayi Crowther , the first bishop of West Africa and the first ever bishop of the Church of England there , as well as later missionaries and also due to the development of a written Yoruba language, the name Yoruba was extended to the speakers of all Yoruba dialects . Crowther had translated the first parts of the Bible into Yoruba from 1850 , and in 1865 he had completed the New Testament .

It was not until 1819 that the first print appeared in a Yoruba dialect, a narrow vocabulary from Bowdich, an English diplomat in the Ashanti Empire . This is relatively late for a language as widely used as Yoruba (cf. Akan , 1602; Ewe , 1658) and can be attributed to the fact that there was virtually no European trade on the Yoruba coast before the 19th century. Linguistic research using the methods of comparative linguistics , glottochronology , dialectology and other disciplines - taking into account traditional oral historical sources and archaeological finds - has also shed some light on the history of the Yoruba and their language before this period. For example, the northwestern Yoruba dialects show more linguistic innovations. Together with the fact that the southeastern and central Yoruba areas generally have the older settlements, this speaks for some researchers in favor of later settlement of the northwestern areas.



The Yoruba dialect continuum consists of more than fifteen varieties that can be assigned to three main dialects: Northwest, Central, and Southeast Yoruba. Of course, no clear boundaries can be drawn and peripheral areas of a dialect area often show similarities to neighboring dialects.

In Lagos, under the influence of English and Portuguese, as well as the influence of the Patois of Sierra Leone, a special dialect developed that differed significantly from the dialects of rural areas.

In NWY proto-Yoruba sounds / gh / (velar fricative are the [⁠ ɣ ⁠] ) and / gw / / collapsed to / w. The vowels / i ̣ / and / ụ / were raised and coincided with / i / and / u /, as were their nasal counterparts, resulting in a vowel system with seven oral and three nasal vowels.

In the SOY, the original contrast between / gh / and / gw / has been preserved. The nasal vowels / ịn / and / ụn / were lowered here and coincided with / ẹn / and / ọn /. The forms of the second and third person plural are no longer distinguished, so that àn án wá can either mean you came or they came , while in the NWY the forms are ẹ wá (you came) and wọ́n wá (they came). The development of a politeness form in the plural may have prevented the two forms from colliding in the dialects of the NWY.

The ZY forms a transition in that the vocabulary is similar to the NWY, while the area shares many ethnological features with the southeast. The vowel system is the most conservative of the three dialect groups. It has preserved nine oral and six or seven nasal vowels, as well as a comprehensive system of vowel harmony.

Outside Africa, Yoruba, starting from Cuba , plays a role as the liturgical language of the Santería . In this variant the tones have been lost.

Standard Yoruba

The Lord's Prayer in Yoruba in the Paternoster Church of Jerusalem

Standard Yoruba, usually simply called Yoruba , is a separate variety of the dialect group. It is the written form of the language, the standard variety learned in school , which is also spoken by news anchors on the radio. Standard Yoruba has its origins in the 1850s when Samuel Ajayi Crowther, a Yoruba and first African bishop, published a grammar of the Yoruba and began translating the Bible.

Although standard Yoruba is largely based on the Ọyọ and Ibadan dialects, it has different characteristics from other dialects. In addition, it has some characteristics that are not inherent in any of the dialects - such as: B. the simplified system of vowel harmony - but also structures from foreign languages, such as loan translations from English, which have their origin in early translations of religious works.

Because the use of standard Yoruba is not the result of a conscious language policy, there is much controversy about what constitutes authentic Yoruba. Some authors are of the opinion that the Ọyọ dialect is the purest form, others claim that authentic Yoruba does not exist at all. Standard Yoruba, the variety learned in school and used in the media, was nonetheless a powerful stabilizing factor in the formation of a common Yoruba identity.

Writing system

The writing system of the Yoruba language goes back to missionaries of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) who worked for the Yoruba, then called Aku , in Freetown, especially on Kilham and Raban. They created word lists and published brief notes on the grammar of the Yoruba. One of their informants in Sierra Leone was Crowther, who would later prepare to study his native language Yoruba. In his early grammatical publications and translations of portions of the English Bible, Crowther used the Latin alphabet generally without tones. The only diacritic used was a point under certain vowels to mark their open realization, e.g. B. <e> and <o> for [⁠ ɛ ⁠] and [⁠ ɔ ⁠] . Over the years, the orthography has been revised, among other things to enable tone markings. In 1875 the CMS organized a conference on Yoruba orthography. The standard developed there formed the basis for the spelling of the continuous flow of religious and visual literature for the next seventy years.

The current orthography of the Yoruba is derived from a report by the Yoruba Orthography Committee from 1966 and Ayọ Bamgboṣes Yoruba Orthography from 1965, a study of previous orthographies and an attempt to use the Yoruba orthography as much as possible harmonize with the spoken language. The new orthography, which is still very similar to the old one, uses the Latin alphabet , modified by the use of the digraf <gb> and certain diacritics, including the traditional vertical line under the letters E̩ / e̩, O̩ / o̩ and S̩ / s̩ . In many publications this line is replaced by a point (Ẹ / ẹ, Ọ / ọ, Ṣ / ṣ). The vertical line is mainly used to avoid being completely covered by underlining .

A. B. D. E. F. G Gb H I. J K L. M. N O O P R. S. T U W. Y
a b d e f G gb H i j k l m n O O p r s t u w y

The Latin letters c, q, v, x, z are not used.

The phonetic values ​​of the letters without a diacritical coincide more or less with those of their counterparts in the International Phonetic Alphabet , with the exception of the labial-velar plosives k͡p (written <p>) and [g͡b] (written <gb>), in which neither consonant is used one after the other but at the same time. The diacritic under vowels indicates a more open vowel that is spoken with the root of the tongue moved back; for example, <e̩> and <o̩> are articulated as [ɛ̙] and [ɔ̙] . <s> represents the postalveolar consonants [⁠ ʃ ⁠] (as German <sch>) <y> the palatal approximant [⁠ j ⁠] (as German <j>) and <j> the voiced palatal plosive as is common in many African writing systems.

In addition to the vertical line, three other diacritics are used for vowels and nasals to indicate the tones: an acute for the high tone, a grave accent for the low tone, and an optional macron for the middle tone. If multiple tone symbols are used in one syllable, the vowel can be written once with each character (eg *. Òó for a vocal [⁠ o ⁠] with increasing sound) or the diacritics can, rarely in use today to can be summarized in a single tone. In this case a hatschek is used for the rising tone (the previous example would be written ǒ ) and a tilde for other realizations.

Á À Ā É È Ē Ẹ / E̩ Ẹ́ / É̩ Ẹ̀ / È̩ Ẹ̄ / Ē̩ Í Ì Ī O O O Ọ / O̩ Ọ́ / Ó̩ Ọ̀ / Ò̩ Ọ̄ / Ō̩ Ú Ù Ū Ṣ / S̩
á à - é è ē ẹ / e̩ ẹ́ / é̩ ẹ̀ / è̩ ẹ̄ / ē̩ í ì ī O O O ọ / o̩ ọ́ / ó̩ ọ̀ / ò̩ ọ̄ / ō̩ ú ù ū ṣ / s̩

Phonetics and Phonology

The three possible syllable structures of Yoruba are (KV) - consonant plus vowel, (V) - only vowel and (N) - syllabic nasal. Each syllable has one of the three tones high ', medium ̄ (usually remains unmarked) and low ̀. The sentence n̄ ò lọ (I didn't go) provides examples of the three types of syllables:

  • n̄ - [ŋ̄] - i
  • ò - [⁠ ó ⁠] - not (negation)
  • lọ - [lɔ] - go


Standard Yoruba has seven oral and five nasal vowel phonemes . There are no diphthongs in the Yoruba; Sequences of vowels are spoken as separate syllables. The dialects differ in the number of vowels they have (see section on dialects).

Yoruba Vowel Chart. Oral vowels are marked with a black dot, the colored regions indicate areas for possible articulations of the nasal vowels.
Vowels of the Yoruba
  orally nasal
front back front back
closed i u ĩ ũ
half closed e O    
half open ɛ ɔ ɛ̃ ɔ̃
open a ã

Status of Nasalvokals [⁠ ã ⁠] is controversial. Some authors do not see it as a phoneme because it is often in free variation with [ɔ̃] . Orthographically, nasal vowels are usually represented by an n following the vowel letter - e.g. B. in, un, ẹn, ọn - except when a written n, which represents an allophone of / l /, precedes a nasal - e.g. B. with inú (inside, belly), what [īnṹ] is spoken.


Standard Yoruba has 17 consonant phonemes .

Yoruba consonants
  bilabial labio-
alveolar post-
palatal velar labio-
Plosives b   t d   ɟ k g k͡p g͡b  
Nasals m   ( n )          
Fricatives   f s ʃ       H
Approximants     ɾ   j   w  
Lateral     l          

The voiceless plosives / t / and / k / are slightly aspirated, / t / and / d / are more dental in some varieties . The / r / sound is realized as a flap ([ɾ]) ; Sometimes, for example, in the Yoruba of Lagos, as postalveolar approximant [⁠ ɹ ⁠] . Like many other languages ​​in the region, Yoruba also has the labiovelar plosives / k͡p / and / g͡b / , such as B. in pápá [k͡pák͡pá] (field) and gbọ̄gbọ̄ [g͡bɔg͡bɔ] (all). The unvoiced bilabial plosive / p / is absent, which is why / kp / is written as <p>. Also lacks the phoneme / ⁠ n ⁠ / . The letter <n> is the allophone of / ⁠ l / ⁠ used, which occurs before nasal vowels.

There is also a syllable nasal, which itself forms the syllable core . If this is preceded by a vowel, it is velar [⁠ ŋ ⁠] such. B. in n ò lọ [ŋ ò lọ] (I did not go). Otherwise it is homorgan with the following consonant, such as B. in ó ń lọ [ó ń lọ] (he walks) and ó ń fò [ó ɱ́ fò] (he jumps).


Yoruba is a tonal language with three level tones: high, medium and low. Each syllable has at least one tone, but a syllable with a long vowel can also have two. Contour tones, ie rising or falling tones, are analyzed as consisting of two successive level tones and therefore have no phonemic status. Tones are marked by diacritics: with an acute for the high tone (á, ń), a grave accent for the low tone (à, ǹ), whereby the middle tone usually remains unmarked - except for syllable nasals, where it is followed by a Macron is displayed. Examples:

  • Up: ó bẹ́ (he jumped); síbí (spoon)
  • Medium: ó bẹ (he is cheeky); ara (body)
  • Low: ó bẹ̀ (he apologizes); ọ̀kọ̀ (spear)

Phonological processes

When a word ends in a vowel and the next one begins with a vowel, there is often assimilation or elision of one of the vowels. Since in Yoruba words usually begin and end vowels, this is a common phenomenon and is actually only absent in very slow or unnatural language. The spelling follows the language here, in that word boundaries are usually not displayed for words that are contracted due to assimilation or elision: example ra ẹjarẹja (buy fish). However, sometimes authors choose an apostrophe to indicate an elidated vowel, e.g. B. ní ilén'ílé (in the house).

Long vowels within words indicate that a consonant has dropped out within the word. In such a case, the tone of the dropped vowel is retained, e.g. B. àdìròààrò (heart), koríkokoóko (grass) and òtítóòótó (truth).


Yoruba is an isolating language. The unmarked word order in the sentence is subject, predicate, object (SPO) as in ó na Adé (he suggested Adé). The mere verb stem indicates a completed action (often called Perfect), tense and aspect are pre-verbal particles as ń ( past tense / Present progressive ) or Ti ( Präteritum in). Negation is expressed by the preverbal particle . Serial verb constructions are common, as in many other West African languages.

Yoruba distinguishes the nominal classes human and non-human, probably a holdover from the class system of Proto-Niger-Congo. The distinction is only tangible in the fact that the two groups require different question particles: tani (who) and kini (what). The associative construction , which covers possessive , genitive, and related meanings, consists of adjacent nouns in the order of determinant-base word, as in inú àpótí - Inner box (the inside of the box), fìlà Àkàndé (Akandes cap) or àpótí aṣọ (clothes box ). It is also possible to place more than two nouns next to each other: rélùweè abẹ́ ilẹ̀ - railway under the ground (underground railway), inú àpótí aṣọ (the inside of the clothes box ). In the rare cases where this leads to two possible readings, the decision must be made with the help of context alone.

There are two prepositions : ni (auf, an, in) and (auf, zu, nach), where ni denotes the place and si the direction of movement. When specifying place and direction, nouns that express spatial relationships also help, such as orí (top), apá (side), inú (interior), etí (edge), abẹ́ (below), ilẹ̀ (below) etc. Many of these nouns are derived from names for body parts.


Hausa is also spoken in the north of the Yoruba region . The long-lasting contact between the two cultures has also influenced the two languages. The influence of the Hausa language on Yoruba is most clearly visible in the many loan words . Two types of loanwords can be distinguished: loanwords directly from the Hausa and loanwords that come from Arabic but were borrowed via the Hausa language. Examples of the first variant include gèjíyà (tiredness, from Hausa gàjíyàà ), Ọbángíjì (Almighty God, from Hausa Ùbángíjì , literally father of the house ). Examples of the second variant are e.g. B. àlùbáríkà (blessing), àlàáfíà (welfare) and àlùbọ́sà (onion).

See also


  • Abraham, Roy Clive (1958): Dictionary of Modern Yoruba. London: University of London Press.
  • Adetugbọ, Abiọdun (1973): The Yoruba Language in Yoruba History. In: Biobaku, SO (Ed.): Sources of Yoruba History. Oxford: Clarendon Press, pp. 176-204.
  • Adetugbọ, Abiọdun (1982): Towards a Yoruba Dialectology. In: Afọlayan, Adebisi (Ed.): Yoruba Language and Literature. Ifẹ / Ibadan: University of Ifẹ Press / Ibadan University Press, pp. 207-224.
  • Ajayi, JF Ade (1960): How Yoruba was Reduced to Writing. In: Odu: A Journal of Yoruba, do and Related Studies 8 , pp. 49–58.
  • Bamgboṣe, Ayọ (1965a): Assimilation and contraction in Yoruba. In: Journal of West African Languages ​​2 , pp. 21-27.
  • Bamgboṣe, Ayọ (1965b): Yoruba Orthography. Ibadan: Ibadan University Press.
  • Bamgboṣe, Ayọ (1966): A Grammar of Yoruba. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Bamgboṣe, Ayọ (1969): Yoruba. In: Dunstan, Elizabeth (Ed.): Twelve Nigerian Languages. New York: Africana Publishing Corp. ISBN 0-8419-0031-0 .
  • Fagborun, J. Gbenga (1994): The Yoruba Koiné - its History and Linguistic Innovations. In: LINCOM Linguistic Edition , Vol. 6, Munich / Newcastle: LINCOM Europe.
  • Fresco, Max (1970): Topics in Yoruba Dialect Phonology. In: Studies in African Linguistics , Supplement Vol. 1, Los Angeles: University of California, Dept. of Linguistics / ASC.
  • Hair, PEH (1967): The Early Study of Nigerian Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Ladipọ, Duro (1972): Ọba kò so (The king did not hang). Opera by Duro Ladipọ. Transcribed and translated by RG Armstrong, Robert L. Awujọọla and Val Ọlayẹmi from a tape recording by R. Curt Wittig, Ibadan: Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan.
  • Oyètádé, B. Akíntúndé / Buba, Malami (2000): Hausa Loan Words in Yorùbá. In: Wolff / Gensler (eds.): Proceedings of the 2nd WoCAL. Leipzig 1997. , Cologne: Rüdiger Köppe, pp. 241-260.
  • Rowlands, EC (1969): Teach Yourself Yoruba. London: The English Universities Press.
  • Sachine, Michka (1997): Dictionnaire yorùbá-français. Paris: Édition Karthala. ISBN 2-86537-767-9 .
  • Ward, Ida (1952): An introduction to the Yoruba language. Cambridge: W. Heffer & Sons.

further reading


  • Adéwọlé, LO (2000): Beginning Yorùbá. Part I. Monograph Series no.9, Cape Town: CASAS.
  • Adéwọlé, LO (2001): Beginning Yorùbá. Part II. Monograph Series no.10, Cape Town: CASAS.
  • Rowlands, EC (1969): Teach Yourself Yoruba. London: The English Universities Press.
  • Ward, Ida (1952): An introduction to the Yoruba language. Cambridge: W. Heffer & Sons.


  • Adetugbọ, Abiọdun (1973): The Yoruba Language in Yoruba History. In: Biobaku, SO (Ed.): Sources of Yoruba History. Oxford: Clarendon Press, pp. 176-204.
  • Hair, PEH (1967): The Early Study of Nigerian Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Law, RCC (1973a): Contemporary Written Sources. In: Biobaku, SO (Ed.): Sources of Yoruba History. Oxford: Clarendon Press, pp. 9-24.
  • Law, RCC (1973b): Traditional History. In: Biobaku, SO (Ed.): Sources of Yoruba History. Oxford: Clarendon Press, pp. 25-40.


  • Bamgboṣe, Ayọ (1966): A Grammar of Yoruba. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Crowther, Samuel Ajayi (1852): Yoruba Grammar. London. [First grammar of Yoruba].


  • Abraham, Roy Clive (1958): Dictionary of Modern Yoruba. London: University of London Press.
  • Delanọ, Oloye Isaac (1958): Atúmọ̀ ede Yoruba. London: Oxford University Press. [Small grammar with dictionary].
  • Wakeman, Canon CW (Ed.) (1950): A Dictionary of the Yoruba language. Ibadan: University Press. [First in 1937].

Web links

Wiktionary: Yoruba  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  • Parts of the article are based on the corresponding article on the English language Wikipedia, the version of May 12, 2006, 7:03 am

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Metzler Lexicon Language
  2. for a discussion see Hair (1967: 6), Fagborun (1994: 13)
  3. Fagborun notes: "[i] t is definitely not morphologically indigenous" (1994: 13).
  4. Ype Schaaf: L'histoire et le rôle de la Bible en Afrique , CETA, HAHO et CLE, Lavigny 2000, ISBN 9-966-886-72-9 , pp. 57-59
  5. ^ Bowdich, TE (1819): Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee , pp. 209, 505; quoted from Hair (1967).
  6. Adetugbọ (1973: 192f.)
  7. This widely accepted classification is based on Adetugbọs dialectological study of 1982 and goes back to his dissertation The Yoruba Language in Western Nigeria: Its Major Dialect Areas. from 1967. See also Adetugbọ (1973: 183–193).
  8. Karin Barber: Print Culture and the First Yoruba Novel: IB Thomas's 'Life Story of Me, Segilola' and Other Texts. Leiden 2002, p. 65.
  9. compare e.g. B. The following remark in Adetugbọ (1967), quoted from Fagborun (1994: 25): “While the orthography agreed upon by the missionaries represented to a very large degree the phonemes of the Abẹokuta dialect, the morpho-syntax reflected the Ọyọ-Ibadan dialects. "
  10. after Bamgboṣe (1969: 166)
  11. especially Ayọ Bamgboṣe (1966: 8)
  12. Abraham deviates from this practice in his Dictionary of Modern Yoruba and explicitly refers to the nasality of the vowel. You can find inú with him under inún etc.
  13. cf. Bamgboṣe (1966: 6): "The so-called glides [...] are treated in this system as separate tones occurring on a sequence of two syllables."
  14. see Bamgboṣe (1965a) for more details; compare also Ward (1952: 123-133)
  15. cf. Bamgboṣe (1966: 110) and Rowlands (1969: 45f.)
  16. Sachnine (1997: 19)
  17. Oyètádé / Buba (2000)
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on June 13, 2006 .