Benue–Congo languages

Benue–Congo (sometimes called East Benue–Congo) is a major subdivision of the Niger–Congo language family which covers most of Sub-Saharan Africa. It consists of two main branches:

  • the Central Nigerian (or Platoid) languages, spoken mostly in Nigeria
  • the Bantoid–Cross languages, spoken in Nigeria, Cameroon and most of Sub-Saharan Africa, since they contain the Bantu languages (through the Southern Bantoid branch).
East Benue–Congo
Africa, from Nigeria eastwards and southwards
Linguistic classificationNiger–Congo
Map of the Benue–Congo languages
The Benue–Congo languages shown within the Niger–Congo language family. Non-Benue–Congo languages are greyscale.


Central Nigerian (or Platoid) contains the Plateau, Jukunoid and Kainji families, and Bantoid–Cross combines the Bantoid and Cross River groups.

Bantoid is only a collective term for every subfamily of Bantoid–Cross except Cross River, and this is no longer seen as forming a valid branch, however one of the subfamilies, Southern Bantoid, is still considered valid. It is Southern Bantoid which contains the Bantu languages, which are spoken across most of Sub-Saharan Africa. This makes Benue–Congo one of the largest subdivisions of the Niger–Congo language family, both in number of languages, of which Ethnologue counts 976 (2017), and in speakers, numbering perhaps 350 million. Benue–Congo also includes a few minor isolates in the Nigeria–Cameroon region, but their exact relationship is uncertain.

The neighbouring Volta–Niger branch of Nigeria and Benin is sometimes called "West Benue–Congo", but it does not form a united branch with Benue–Congo. When Benue–Congo was first proposed by Joseph Greenberg (1963), it included Volta–Niger (as West Benue–Congo); the boundary between Volta–Niger and Kwa has been repeatedly debated. Blench (2012) states that if Benue–Congo is taken to be "the noun-class languages east and north of the Niger", it is likely to be a valid group, though no demonstration of this has been made in print.[2]

Map of the Benue–Congo languages of Nigeria and Cameroon
The Benue–Congo branches of Nigeria and Cameroon

The branches of the Benue–Congo family are thought to be as follows:

Ukaan is also related to Benue–Congo; Roger Blench suspects it may be either the most divergent (East) Benue–Congo language or the closest relative to Benue–Congo.

Fali of Baissa and Tita are also Benue–Congo but are otherwise unclassified.

Dispersal of the Benue-Congo languages
The Benue-Congo homeland and dispersal of the sub-branches[3]

Branches and locations (Nigeria)

Below is a list of major Benue–Congo branches and their primary locations (centres of diversity) within Nigeria based on Blench (2019).[4]

Distributions of Benue–Congo branches in Nigeria[4]
Branch Primary locations
Cross River Cross River, Akwa Ibom, and Rivers States
Bendi Obudu and Ogoja LGAs, Cross River State
Mambiloid Sardauna LGA, Taraba State; Cameroon
Dakoid Mayo Belwa LGA, Taraba State and adjacent areas
Jukunoid Taraba State
Yukubenic Takum LGA, Taraba State
Kainji Kauru LGA, Kaduna State and Bassa LGA, Plateau State; Kainji Lake area
Plateau Plateau, Kaduna, and Nasarawa States
Tivoid Obudu LGA, Cross River State and Sardauna LGA, Taraba State; Cameroon
Beboid Takum LGA, Taraba State; Cameroon
Ekoid Ikom and Ogoja LGAs, Cross River State; Cameroon
Grassfields Sardauna LGA, Taraba State; Cameroon
Jarawan Bauchi, Plateau, Adamawa, and Taraba States


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Benue–Congo". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Roger Blench, Niger-Congo: an alternative view
  3. ^ Watters, John R, eds. (2018). East Benue-Congo: Nouns, pronouns, and verbs (pdf). Berlin: Language Science Press. doi:10.5281/zenodo.1314306. ISBN 978-3-96110-100-9.
  4. ^ a b Blench, Roger (2019). An Atlas of Nigerian Languages (4th ed.). Cambridge: Kay Williamson Educational Foundation.
  • Wolf, Paul Polydoor de (1971) The Noun Class System of Proto-Benue–Congo (Thesis, Leiden University). The Hague/Paris: Mouton.
  • Williamson, Kay (1989) 'Benue–Congo Overview', pp. 248–274 in Bendor-Samuel, John & Rhonda L. Hartell (eds.) The Niger–Congo Languages – A classification and description of Africa's largest language family. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America.


External links

Bantoid languages

Bantoid is a putative major division of the Benue–Congo branch of the Niger–Congo language family. It consists of the Mambiloid languages (including two outlying languages sometimes not included in Mambiloid, Ndoro and Fam), the Dakoid languages and the Tikar language, all in Nigeria and Cameroon, and the Southern Bantoid languages, a major division which also includes the Bantu languages spoken across most of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Bendi languages

The Bendi languages are a small group of Benue–Congo languages of uncertain affiliation spoken in southeastern Nigeria, with one (Bokyi) having some speakers in Cameroon. Once counted among the Cross River languages, they may actually be a branch of Southern Bantoid.Very little research has been conducted on the Bendi languages, and the modern work that does exist often remains either unpublished or inaccessible. The group is notable for having one language (Ubang) that has male and female forms.

Cipu language

Cipu (Cicipu), or Western Acipa, is a Kainji language spoken by about 20,000 people in northwest Nigeria. The people call themselves Acipu.

Like most Benue–Congo languages, Cipu has a complex noun class system. It has a fairly complex phonology with lexical and grammatical tone, vowel harmony and nasalisation.

Virtually all Cipu speakers speak the lingua franca Hausa. Many also speak other nearby languages.

Cross River languages

The Cross River or Delta–Cross languages are a branch of the Benue–Congo language family spoken in south-easternmost Nigeria, with some speakers in south-westernmost Cameroon. The branch was first formulated by Joseph Greenberg; it is one of the few of his branches of Niger–Congo that has withstood the test of time.

Greenberg's Cross River family originally included the Bendi languages. The Bendi languages were soon seen to be very different and thus were made a separate branch of Cross River, while the other languages were united under the branch Delta–Cross. However, the inclusion of Bendi in Cross River at all is doubtful, and it has been tentatively reassigned to the Southern Bantoid family, making the terms Cross River and Delta–Cross now synonymous.

Dakoid languages

The Dakoid languages are a small putative group of languages spoken in Taraba and Adamawa states of eastern Nigeria:


Donga (Dong)

Gaa (Tiba)



Daka (a dialect cluster of Dirim, Samba, Lamja, Dengsa, & Tola).Greenberg placed Samba Daka (Daka) within his Adamawa proposal, as group G3, but Bennett (1983) demonstrated to general satisfaction that it is a Benue–Congo language, though its placement within Benue–Congo is disputed. Blench (2010) considers it to be Benue–Congo. Boyd (ms), however, considers Daka an isolate branch within Niger–Congo (Blench 2008).

Dong (Donga), though clearly Niger–Congo, is difficult to classify. There is no published data on Gaa (Tiba), and Taram (listed as a dialect of Daka by Ethnologue) is only known from data collected in 1931 (Blench 2008).

Hõne language

Hõne is a Jukunoid language of Nigeria. Speakers of the two dialects, Pindiga and Gwana, can only understand each other with difficulty.

Jiru language

Jiru is a Jukunoid language of Nigeria.

Jukunoid languages

The Jukunoid languages are a branch of the Central Nigerian (or Platoid) languages spoken by the Jukun and related peoples of Nigeria and Cameroon.

Their asymmetrical nasal consonants are abnormal for West Africa.

Kainji languages

The Kainji languages are a group of sixty or so related languages spoken by about 900,000 people in Nigeria. They form part of the Central Nigerian (Platoid) branch of Benue–Congo. Four of the largest are Tsuvadi (150,000), Cishingini and Tsishingini (100,000 each)—all from the Kambari branch; and Clela (C'lela, Lela) (100,000), of the Northwest Kainji branch.

Kpan language

Kpan is a Jukunoid language of Nigeria. There are several dialects.

Languages of Cameroon

Cameroon is home to nearly 250 languages. These include 55 Afro-Asiatic languages, two Nilo-Saharan languages, four Ubangian languages, and 169 Niger–Congo languages. This latter group comprises one Senegambian language (Fulfulde), 28 Adamawa languages, and 142 Benue–Congo languages (130 of which are Bantu languages).French and English are official languages, a heritage of Cameroon's colonial past as a colony of both France and the United Kingdom from 1916 to 1960. Eight out of the ten regions of Cameroon are primarily francophone, representing 83% of the country's population, and two are anglophone, representing 17%. The anglophone proportion of the country is in constant regression, having decreased from 21% in 1976 to 20% in 1987 and to 17% in 2005, and is estimated at 16% in 2015 (whose fourth census should take place in 2015).The nation strives toward bilingualism, but in reality very few Cameroonians speak both French and English, and many speak neither. The government has established several bilingual schools in an effort to teach both languages more evenly; however, in reality most of these schools separate the anglophone and francophone sections and therefore do not provide a true bilingual experience. Cameroon is a member of both the Commonwealth of Nations and La Francophonie. German, the country's official language during the German colonial period until World War I, has nowadays almost entirely yielded to its two successors. However, as a foreign language subject German still enjoys huge popularity among pupils and students, with 300,000 people learning or speaking German in Cameroon in 2010. Today, Cameroon is one of the African countries with the highest number of people with knowledge of German.Most people in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest provinces speak Cameroonian Pidgin English as a lingua franca. Fulfulde serves the same function in the north, and Ewondo in much of the Center, South, and East provinces.Camfranglais (or Frananglais) is a relatively new pidgin communication form emerging in urban areas and other locations where Anglophone and Francophone Cameroonians meet and interact. Popular singers have used the hybrid language and added to its popularity.Education for the deaf in Cameroon uses American Sign Language, introduced by the deaf American missionary Andrew Foster.There is little literature, radio, or television programming in native Cameroonian languages. Nevertheless, a large number of Cameroonian languages have alphabets or other writing systems, many developed by the Christian missionary group SIL International, who have translated the Bible, Christian hymns, and other materials. The General Alphabet of Cameroon Languages was developed in the late 1970s as an orthographic system for all Cameroonian languages.

In the late 19th century, the Bamum script was developed by Sultan Ibrahim Njoya to write the Bamum language.

Mambiloid languages

The twelve Mambiloid languages are a branch of Benue–Congo languages spoken by the Mambila and related peoples mostly in eastern Nigeria, with a small proportion of people across the border in Cameroon.

Plateau languages

The forty or so Plateau languages are a tentative group of Benue–Congo languages spoken by 3.5 million people on the Jos Plateau and in adjacent areas in central Nigeria. The original formulation included the Jukunoid and Kainji languages, and later the Dakoid languages; Jukunoid and Kainji now form a parent branch of Plateau called Central Nigerian (Platoid). (See Benue–Congo.)

Berom and Eggon have the most speakers. Most Plateau languages are threatened and have around 2,000-10,000 speakers.Defining features of the Plateau family have only been published in manuscript form (Blench 2008). Many of the languages have "fearsomely complex" phonologies that make comparison with poor data difficult.

Southern Bantoid languages

Southern Bantoid (or South Bantoid), also known as Wide Bantu or Bin, is a branch of the Benue–Congo languages of the Niger–Congo language family. It consists of the Bantu languages (also called Narrow Bantu) along with several small branches and isolates of eastern Nigeria and west-central Cameroon (though the affiliation of some branches is uncertain). Since the Bantu languages are spoken across most of Sub-Saharan Africa, Southern Bantoid comprises 643 languages as counted by Ethnologue, though many of these are mutually intelligible.

Tikar language

Tikar is a Benue–Congo language of uncertain classification spoken in Cameroon by the Bankim, Ngambe and related Tikar peoples as well as by the Bedzan Pygmies. Variants of the name are Tikali, Tikar-East, Tikari, Tingkala.

Blench (2011) states that the little evidence available suggests that it is most closely related to the Mambiloid and Dakoid languages.A Bandobo variety (Ndobo, Ndob, Ndome) may be a separate language. Less divergent dialects are Twumwu (Tumu) in Bankim, Tige in Ngambé, Nditam, Kong, Mankim, Gambai and Bedzan.

Tita language

Tita is an unclassified Benue–Congo language of Nigeria.

Ukaan language

Ukaan (also Ikan, Anyaran, Auga, or Kakumo) is a poorly described Niger–Congo language or dialect cluster of uncertain affiliation.Roger Blench suspects, based on wordlists, that it may be closest to the (East) Benue–Congo languages (or, equivalently, the most divergent of the Benue–Congo languages). Blench (2012) states that "noun-classes and concord make it look Benue-Congo, but evidence is weak."Speakers refer to their language as Ùkãã or Ìkã.

Ukpe-Bayobiri language

Ukpe and Bayobiri form a Nigerian dialect cluster of the Bendi branch of the Benue–Congo languages.

Volta–Niger languages

The Volta–Niger family of languages, also known as West Benue–Congo or East Kwa, is one of the branches of the Niger–Congo language family, with perhaps 50 million speakers. Among these are the most important languages of southern Nigeria, Benin, Togo, and southeast Ghana: Yoruba, Igbo, Bini, Fon, and Ewe.

These languages have variously been placed within the Kwa or Benue–Congo families, but Williamson & Blench (2000) separate them from both. The boundaries between the various branches of Volta–Niger are rather vague, suggesting diversification of a dialect continuum rather than a clear split of families, which suggest a close origin

The constituent groups of the Volta–Niger family, along with the most important languages in terms of number of speakers, are as follows (with number of languages for each branch in parentheses):

The Yoruboid languages and Akoko were once linked as the Defoid branch, but more recently they, Edoid, and Igboid have been suggested to be primary branches of an as-yet unnamed group, often abbreviated yeai. Similarly, Oko, Nupoid, and Idomoid are often grouped together under the acronym noi. Ukaan is an Atlantic–Congo language, but it is unclear if it belongs to the Volta–Niger family; Blench suspects it is closer to Benue–Congo.

Central Delta
Upper Cross River
Lower Cross River


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