Yoruba language

Spoken in

  • Niger - Congo languages Benue - Congo languages Defoide languages Yoruboide languages Yoruba




As Yoruba ( proper name: Ede Yorùbá = the Yoruba language ) is defined as a dialect continuum of West Africa with over 30 million speakers. The written standard language is so named. Which belongs to the Niger - Congo languages ​​Yoruba language is the language of Yoruba. It is mainly spoken in addition to other languages ​​in southwest Nigeria and partly in Benin and Togo. There are also speakers in Brazil and Cuba, where it is called Nago. Yoruba is an isolating tonal language with subject-predicate - object syntax.

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

The ancestral Yoruba region in the southwest of Nigeria Yorubaland is commonly called today and includes the states of Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Kwara and Lagos and the western part of Kogi. Geographically the Yorubaland located on a plateau ( altitude 366m ), which is bounded on the north and east by Niger. A large part of the area is heavily forested; However, the north ( including Oyo ) is savannah area.

  • 4.1 vowels
  • 4.2 consonants
  • 4.3 tones
  • 4.4 Phonological Processes
  • 8.1 sources
  • 8.2 Notes and references
  • 8.3 Used Literature
  • 9.1 Introduction
  • 9.2 history
  • 9.3 grammar
  • 9.4 dictionaries


According to the oral tradition is Oduduwa, the son of the supreme god Yoruba Olúdùmarè, the progenitor of the Yoruba speakers. Although they have a common history, a common name for the Children of Oduduwa has emerged only in the second half of the 19th century. Before the abolition of the slave trade, the Yoruba a name, KU from the first word of greeting formulas such as E were known among the liberated slaves from Freetown by the Europeans as Aku, Aaro ( good morning ) and E Kú ALE ( good evening ) is derived. Later, the name Yariba or Yoruba came into use, initially limited on Ọyọ Kingdom. The term was used in the Hausa; their origin is unclear. Under the influence of the Yoruba Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the first bishop of West Africa and the first bishop of the Church of England at all, and later missionaries, as well as due to the development of a written Yoruba language, the term Yoruba was extended to the speakers of all Yoruba dialects.

In 1819, appeared the first pressure in a Yoruba dialect, a narrow vocabulary of Bowdich, an English diplomat in Aschantireich. This is relatively late for such a widespread language like Yoruba ( cf. Akan, 1602; Ewe, 1658) and can be attributed to the fact that before the 19th century practically held no European trading on the Yoruba coast. The linguistic research using the methods of comparative linguistics, glottochronology, dialectology and other disciplines - taking into account the traditional oral historical sources and archaeological finds - has also brought some light on the history of the Yoruba people and their language before this time. Thus, for example, the north-western Yoruba dialects more linguistic innovations. Together with the fact that the south-eastern and central Yoruba areas generally have older settlements, this suggests some researchers for later colonization of the northwestern territories.



The Yoruba dialect continuum consists of more than fifteen varieties that can be assigned to three main dialects: North, Central and South-East Yoruba. Of course, there is no clear boundary lines are drawn and peripheral areas of a dialect region often show similarities to neighboring dialects.

  • Northwest Yoruba ( NWY ) Areas Abeokuta, Ibadan, Oyo, Osun and Lagos
  • Areas Igbomina, Ife, Ekiti, Akure, Efon and Ijesa
  • Areas Okitipupa, Ondo, Owo, Sagamu and parts of Ijebu.

In NWY are the proto- Yoruba - lute / gh / ( the velar fricative [ ɣ ] ) and / gw / to / w / collapsed. The vowels / i ̣ / and / u / were lifted and fell with / i / and / u / together, as well as their nasal counterparts, which has led to a vowel system with seven oral and three nasal vowels.

In SOY has the original contrast between / gh / and / gw / receive. The nasal vowels / in / and / un / were lowered here and fell together with / de / and / on /. The shapes of the second and third person plural are no longer distinguished, so that An An wá either can mean you came or they came, while in NWY E The forms wá ( you came ) and Won wá ( they came ) loud. The formation of a polite form in the plural may have prevented the collapse of the two forms in the dialects of NWY.

The ZY so far forms a transition, because the vocabulary is similar to the NWY, while the area many ethnological features with the Southeast has in common. The vowel system is the most conservative of the three dialect groups. It has retained nine oral and nasal vowels six or seven and a comprehensive system of vowel harmony.

Outside Africa plays Yoruba from Cuba starting to play a role as a liturgical language of Santería. In this variant, the sounds are lost.

Standard Yoruba

Standard Yoruba, usually referred to simply as Yoruba, is an independent variety of the dialect group. It is the written form of the language, the standard variety learned at school, which is also spoken by newscasters on the radio. Standard Yoruba has its origins in the 1850s when Samuel Ajayi Crowther, a Yoruba and the first African Bishop, published a Yoruba grammar and started the translation of the Bible.

Although standard Yoruba is largely based on the Ọyọ and Ibadan dialects, it has various features of other dialects. In addition, it has some features that are any of the dialects own - such as 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 are many controversies about what constitutes authentic Yoruba. Some authors are of the opinion that the Ọyọ dialect represents the purest form, others claim that it does not exist at authentic Yoruba. Standard Yoruba, the learned at school and used in the media variety was nichtsdesdoweniger a powerful stabilizing factor in the emergence of a common identity of the Yoruba.

Writing system

The writing system of the Yoruba language dates back to the missionaries of the Church Missionary Society ( CMS), who worked at the then -called Yoruba Aku in Freetown, especially on Kilham and Raban. They created word lists and short notes published the grammar of Yoruba. One of her informants in Sierra Leone was Crowther who was to later get ready to study his native language Yoruba. In his early grammatical publications and translations of parts of the English Bible Crowther used the Latin alphabet in general without tone marks. The only diacritic used was a dot below certain vowels to highlight their open realization, for example, < E> and < O> for [ ɛ ] and [ ɔ ]. Over the years, the orthography of a revision was subjected to enable, inter alia, to tone marks. 1875 organized a conference on the CMS Yoruba orthography. The standard drawn there formed the basis of the spelling of the continuous stream of religious and visual literature of the next seventy years.

The current orthography of Yoruba is derived from a report of the Yoruba Orthography Committee ( Yoruba spelling Committee ) from 1966 and Ayo Bamgboṣes Yoruba Orthography of 1965, a study earlier orthographies and an attempt to Yoruba orthography as far as possible to bring to the spoken language in line. The new orthography, which is the old still very similar, uses the Latin alphabet, modified by the use of digraphs and certain diacritics, including the traditional vertical line under the letter E / E, O / O and S / S. In many publications this line is replaced by a point (E / E, O / O, S / S ). The vertical line is mainly used to avoid the full coverage by underlining.

Latin characters c, q, v, x, z are not used.

( Written ) The phonetic values ​​of the letters without diacritical agree more or less in line with those of their counterparts in the International Phonetic Alphabet, with the exception of the labial- velar plosive kp (

written ) and [ GB], in which both consonants sequentially but are spoken simultaneously. The diacritic under vowels indicates an open vowel spoken to return displaced tongue root; for example, E and as [ ɛ̙ ] and [ ɔ̙ ] articulated. represents the postalveolar consonant [ ʃ ] (like German ), the palatal approximant [j ] ( as German ) and the voiced palatal plosive , as is common in many African writing systems is.

In addition to the vertical line three more diacritics are used for nasal vowels and the application to indicate the tones: an acute care for the high tone, a grave accent for low tone and an optional macron for the middle tone. If more than one sound tag can be used in a syllable, the vowel can be written once with each character (eg * oo as a vowel [o ] with rising tone) can or diacritics, rare, summarized in today use a single audio tone be. In this case, a caron is used for the rising tone ( the previous example would ǒ written ) and a tilde for other realizations.

Phonetics and phonology

The three possible syllable structures of Yoruba (KV) - consonant plus vowel (V ) - only vocal and (N) - syllabic nasal. Every syllable bears one of the three high tones, medium ̄ ( generally remains unmarked) and deep. The set n O LO ( I did not go ) provides examples of the three syllable types:

  • N - [ N] - I
  • ò - [ ó ] - not (negation )
  • Lo - [ lɔ ] - Go


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

Status of Nasalvokals [ã ] is controversial. Some authors do not see him as a phoneme, as it often is in free variation with [ ɔ ]. Orthographically nasal vowels are usually by a represented the vowel letter following n - eg, in, un, EN, ON - except when a written n that / is an allophone of / l, a nasal precedes - eg at inu (inner, belly ), which [ Inu ] is spoken.


Standard Yoruba has 17 consonant phonemes.

The voiceless plosives / t / and / k / are slightly aspirated / t / and / d / are more dental in some varieties. The / r / sound is as a flap ( [ ɾ ] ) realized; sometimes, for example in Yoruba from Lagos, as a postalveolar approximant [ ɹ ]. Like many other languages ​​of the region also possesses the Yoruba labiovelaren plosives / kp / and / gb /, such as in Papa [ k͡pák͡pá ] (field) and gbọ̄gbọ̄ [ g͡bɔg͡bɔ ] (all). The voiceless bilabial plosive / p / does not exist, why / kp / is written as

. Also lacks the phoneme / n /. The letter is for the allophone of / l / used, which occurs before nasal vowels.

There is also a syllabic nasal which forms the syllable nucleus itself. If this is preceded by a vowel, it is velar [ ŋ ], eg in n ò Lo [ ŋ ò lo] ( I did not go ). Otherwise he is homorgan with the following consonant, such as in ó n lo [ ó n lo ] ( he goes ) and ó ń Fò [ ó ɱ fo] ( he jumps ).


Yoruba is a tonal language with three level tones: high, medium and low. Each syllable has it at least a sound, a syllable with a long vowel may well have two. Contour tones, ie rising or falling tones are analyzed as consisting of two consecutive tones level and therefore have no phonemic status. Tones are indicated by diacritics: with an acute care for the high tone ( á, ń ), a grave accent for low tone (à, ǹ ), the middle tone usually remains unmarked - except for syllabic nasals, where he carried a appears macron. Examples:

  • High ó Be ( he jumped ); Sibi ( spoon )
  • Means: ó BE (he's cocky ); ara (body)
  • Low: ó Be ( he apologizes ); OKO ( spear )

Phonological processes

If a word auslautet on vowel and the next begins with a vowel, it often leads to assimilation or elision of a vowel. Since the Yoruba words begin and end in a vowel normally, this is a widespread phenomenon and actually absent only in very slow or unnatural language. The spelling here follows the language by word limits are not normally displayed words that are contracted due to assimilation or elision: Example ra EJA → reja ( buy fish ). Sometimes authors choose, however, a quotation mark to indicate an elided vowel, eg ní Ilé → n'ílé ( in the house).

Long vowels within words indicate that a consonant has failed in the word inside. In such a case, the sound of the failed vowel eg Adiro → Aaro (Heart) koríko → koóko ( grass) and Otito → OOTO ( truth ) is retained.


Yoruba is an isolating language. The unmarked word order in declarative sentence is subject, verb, object (SPO) as in ó na Adé ( he hit Adé ). The bare verb stem denotes a completed action (often called perfect ) tense and aspect are marked by preverbal particles such as ń ( past tense / present progressive ) or ti ( past tense ). Negation is expressed by the preverbal particles kò. Serial verb constructions are common, as in many other West African languages.

Yoruba distinguishes the noun classes human and non - human, probably a remnant of the class system of Proto - Niger - Congo. The distinction is only available in the fact that the two groups require different question particles: tani (who) and kini (what). The associative construction, covers the possessive genitive and related meanings, consisting of neighboring nouns in the order determining word - base word, as in Inu àpótí - Inner box ( inside the box ), Fila Akande ( Akandes cap ) or àpótí ASO ( chest of clothes ). There may be more than two nouns are juxtaposed: rélùweè Abe Ile - railroad under ground ( underground railway), Inu àpótí ASO ( the inside of the chest of clothes ). In the rare cases where this leads to two possible readings, the decision must be made solely by means of the context.

There are two prepositions: ni (on, at, in ) and sí (on, to, by ), where ni denotes the location si and the direction of movement. When specifying the location and direction also noun, with which spatial relationships are expressed help as Ori ( top ) APA (page ), Inu (interior), ETI ( edge ), ABE (below ), Ile ( below) etc. Many of these nouns are derived from names for body parts.


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