Atlantic–Congo languages

The Atlantic–Congo languages are a major division constituting the core of the Niger–Congo language family of Africa, characterised by the noun class systems typical of the family. They comprise all of Niger–Congo except Mande, Dogon, Ijoid and the Katla and Rashad languages (previously classified as Kordofanian). Mukarovsky's West-Nigritic corresponded roughly to modern Atlantic–Congo.

In the infobox at the right, the languages which appear to be the most divergent are placed at the top.[2] The erstwhile Atlantic branch has been broken up into Senegambian, Mel, and the isolates Sua, Gola and Limba, which are left next to each other merely because there is no published evidence to move them; Volta–Congo is intact apart from Senufo and Kru.

There are a few poorly attested languages, such as Bayot and Bung, which may prove to be additional branches.

Linguistic classificationNiger–Congo
  • Atlantic–Congo
ISO 639-5alv
Map of the Atlantic–Congo languages
The Atlantic–Congo languages shown within the Niger–Congo language family. Non-Atlantic–Congo languages are greyscale.


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Atlantic–Congo". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Roger Blench, Niger-Congo: an alternative view
Atlantic languages

The Atlantic languages (or West Atlantic languages) of West Africa are an obsolete proposed major group of the Niger–Congo languages. They are those languages west of Kru which have the noun-class systems characteristic of the Niger–Congo family; in this they are distinguished from their Mande neighbours, which do not. The Atlantic languages are highly diverse and it is now generally accepted that they do not form a valid group. Linguists such as Dimmendahl, Blench, Hyman and Segerer classify them into three or more independent branches of Niger–Congo. The term "Atlantic languages" is kept as a geographic term of convenience.

The Atlantic languages are spoken along the Atlantic coast from Senegal to Liberia, though transhumant Fula speakers have spread eastward and are found in large numbers across the Sahel, from Senegal to Nigeria, Cameroon and Sudan. Wolof of Senegal and several of the Fula languages are the most populous Atlantic languages, with several million speakers each; other significant members include Serer and the Jola dialect cluster of Senegal and Temne in Sierra Leone. The Senegambian languages exhibit consonant mutation, and most Atlantic languages have noun-class systems similar to those of the distantly related Bantu languages. Some languages are tonal, while others such as Wolof have pitch-accent systems. The basic word order tends to be SVO.

Awak language

Awak (Awok) is one of the Savanna languages of eastern Nigeria.

Bangwinji language

Bangwinji is one of the Savanna languages of eastern Nigeria.

Dadiya language

Dadiya (Daadiya, Loodiya) is one of the Savanna languages of Northern Nigeria.

Fali languages (Cameroon)

Fali is a language, or perhaps a pair of languages, of northern Cameroon. Included in Greenberg's Adamawa languages (as group G11), it was excluded from that family by Boyd (1989). Roger Blench suspects it may represent one of the earlier lineages to have branched off the Atlantic–Congo stock.

Kamo language

Kamo is one of the Savanna languages of eastern Nigeria.

Kru languages

The Kru languages belong to the Niger–Congo language family and are spoken by the Kru people from the southeast of Liberia to the east of Ivory Coast.

The term "Kru" is of unknown origin. According to Westermann (1952) it was used by Europeans to denote a number of tribes speaking related dialects. Marchese (1989) notes the fact that many of these peoples were recruited as "crew" by European seafarers; "the homonymy with crew is obvious, and is at least one source of the confusion among Europeans that there was a Kru/crew tribe"Andrew Dalby noted the historical importance of the Kru languages for their position at the crossroads of African-European interaction. He wrote that "Kru and associated languages were among the first to be encountered by European voyagers on what was then known as the Pepper Coast, a centre of the production and export of Guinea and melegueta pepper; a once staple African seaborne trade". The Kru languages are known for some of the most complex tone systems in Africa, rivaled perhaps only by the Omotic languages.

Kumba language

Kumba, also known as Sate and Yofo, is an Adamawa language of Nigeria.

Mbre language

Mbre, also spelled Bre, Bεrε, Pre, is an endangered language spoken not far from the city of Bouaké, Ivory Coast. It had 200 speakers out of an ethnic population of 700 in the year 2000, in two villages, down from 15 villages some years earlier. Speakers are shifting to the neighbouring Manding language Koro, and the language has large numbers of Manding loan words.

Mbre does not appear to belong to any of the traditional branches of the Niger–Congo language family. It was described in an unpublished manuscript by Denis Creissels. Roger Blench suspects it may form its own branch, though perhaps not far from the Kwa languages.

Mbre is not related to Mpre, an extinct and unclassified language of Ghana.

Mbum–Day languages

The Mbum–Day languages are a subgroup of the old Adamawa languages family (G6, G13, G14, & Day), provisionally now a branch of the Savanna languages. These languages are spoken in southern Chad, northwestern Central African Republic, northern Cameroon, and eastern Nigeria.

Subdivisions are:





Niger–Congo languages

The Niger–Congo languages constitute one of the world's major language families and Africa's largest in terms of geographical area, number of speakers, and number of distinct languages. It is generally considered to be the world's largest language family in terms of distinct languages, ahead of Austronesian, although this is complicated by the ambiguity about what constitutes a distinct language; the number of named Niger–Congo languages listed by Ethnologue is 1,540.It is the third-largest language family in the world by number of native speakers, comprising around 700 million people as of 2015. Within Niger–Congo, the Bantu languages alone account for 350 million people (2015), or half the total Niger–Congo speaking population. The most widely spoken Niger–Congo languages by number of native speakers are Yoruba, Igbo, Fula and Shona. The most widely spoken by number of speakers is Swahili.While the ultimate genetic unity of Niger–Congo is widely accepted (aside from Dogon, Mande and a few other languages), the internal cladistic structure of Niger–Congo is not well established. Its primary branches are Dogon, Mande, Ijo, Katla, Rashad and Atlantic–Congo.

One of the most distinctive characteristics common to most Niger–Congo languages (the Atlantic–Congo languages) is the use of a noun class system instead of a gender system.

Pamela Munro

Pamela Munro (b. May 23, 1947) is an American linguist who specializes in Native American languages. She is a distinguished research professor of linguistics at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she has held a position since 1974.She earned her PhD in 1974 from the University of California, San Diego, where her graduate adviser was Margaret Langdon. Her dissertation, entitled Topics in Mojave Syntax, was published by Garland in 1976.Her research has concentrated on all aspects of the grammars of indigenous languages of the Americas, most recently focusing on the Chickasaw (Muskogean; Oklahoma), Garifuna (Arawakan; Central America), Imbabura Quichua (Quechuan; Ecuador), Tongva (Uto-Aztecan; Los Angeles Basin), and Tlacolula Valley Zapotec (Zapotecan; Central Oaxaca, Mexico) languages. She has published numerous articles and books, and was instrumental in the creation of dictionaries for San Lucas Quiaviní Zapotec, Chickasaw and Wolof. She is also the compiler of a series of books on college slang, Slang U.Munro was named to be the Ken Hale Professor at the 2019 LSA Linguistic Institute held at UC-Davis.

Rang language

Rang is an Adamawa language of Nigeria.

Senufo languages

The Senufo or Senufic languages (Senoufo in French) has around 15 languages spoken by the Senufo in the north of Ivory Coast, the south of Mali and the southwest of Burkina Faso. An isolated language, Nafaanra, is also spoken in the west of Ghana. The Senufo languages constitute their own branch of the Atlantic–Congo sub-family of the Niger–Congo languages. Garber (1987) estimates the total number of Senufos at some 1.5 million; the Ethnologue, based on various population estimates, counts 2.7 million.

The Senufo languages are bounded to the west by Mande languages, to the south by Kwa languages, and to the north and east by Central Gur languages.

The Senufo languages are like the Gur languages in that they have a suffixal noun class system and that verbs are marked for aspect. Most Gur languages to the north of Senufo have a two tone downstep system, but the tonal system of the Senufo languages is mostly analysed as a three level tone system (High, Mid, Low).

The Senufo languages have been influenced by the neighbouring Mande languages in numerous ways. Many words have been borrowed from the Mande languages Bambara and Jula. Carlson (1994:2) notes that ‘it is probable that several grammatical constructions are calques on the corresponding Bambara constructions’. Like Mande languages, the Senufo languages have a subject–object–verb (SOV) constituent order, rather than the subject–verb–object (SVO) order which is more common in Gur and in Niger–Congo as a whole.

Teme language

Teme is an Adamawa language of Nigeria.

Tula language

Tula (Kotule) is one of the Savanna languages of north eastern Nigeria.

Volta–Congo languages

Volta–Congo is a hypothetical major branch of languages of the Niger–Congo family. It includes all the Niger-Congo languages and subfamilies except the families of the erstwhile Atlantic and Kordofanian branches, Mande, Dogon, Ijo and Balanta. It thus only differs from Atlantic–Congo in that it excludes the Atlantic languages and, in some conceptions, Kru and Senufo.

In the infobox at the right, the languages which appear to be the most divergent (including the dubious Senufo and Kru, which may not be Volta–Congo at all) are placed at the top, whereas those closer to the core (the similar "Benue–Kwa" branches of Kwa, Volta–Niger and Benue–Congo) are near the bottom. If the Kwa or Savanna branches prove to be invalid, the tree will be even more crowded.

Waka language

Waka is an Adamawa language of Nigeria.

Yoti language

Yoti (Yotti) is a member of the Leko–Nimbari group of Savanna languages, spoken in northeastern Nigeria.


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