The Gur languages, also known as Central Gur, belong to the Niger–Congo languages. There are about 70 languages belonging to this group. They are spoken in the sahelian and savanna regions of West Africa, namely: in Burkina Faso, southern Mali, northeastern Ivory Coast, the northern halves of Ghana and Togo, northwestern Benin, and southwestern Niger; with the easternmost Gur language Baatonun, spoken in the extreme northwest of Nigeria.
Like most Niger–Congo languages, the ancestor of Gur languages probably had a noun class system; many of today's languages have reduced this to a system of nominal genders or declensions or no longer have a class system. A common property of Gur languages is the verbal aspect marking. Gur languages are tonal. The tonal systems of Gur languages are rather divergent. Most Gur languages have a two tone downstep system.
Koelle first mentions twelve Gur languages in his 1854 Polyglotta Africana, which represent ten languages in modern classification. Notably, he correctly identified these languages as being related to one another; his 'North-Eastern High Sudan' corresponds to Gur in modern classification.
The Gur family was previously called Voltaic following the French name (langues) Voltaïques (named after the Volta river). It was once considered to be more extensive than it is often regarded today, including the Senufo languages and a number of small language isolates. The membership of Senufo was rejected for example by Tony Naden. Williamson and Blench place Senufo as a separate branch of Atlantic–Congo and other non-Central Gur languages somewhat closer as separate branches of the Savanna languages.
The regions on the map denote regional distribution of the Central Gur languages;
- Oti–Volta languages
- Grũsi (Gurunsi)
The tree-diagram below denotes the relations between these languages;
The position of Dogoso–Khe in Southern Gur is not clear; it is not closely related to other members of the branch.
- Manessy (1968/71), Naden (1989)
- Naden, Tony. 1989:143
- Williamson and Blench. 2000:18,25-6
- Manessy, Gabriel (1968/71)'Langues voltaïques sans classes' in Actes du huitième congres international de linguistique africaine. [Congress was 1968, proceedings published 1971] Abidjan, Université d'Abidjan, 335–346.
- Naden, Anthony J. (1989) 'Gur', in Bendor-Samuel, John & Hartell, Rhonda L. (eds) The Niger–Congo languages. A classification and description of Africa's largest language family. Lanham, New York, London: University Press of America, 140–168.
- Roncador, Manfred von; Miehe, Gudrun (1998) Les langues gur (voltaïques). Bibliographie commentée et inventaire des appelations des langues. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.
- Williamson, Kay & Blench, Roger (2000) 'Niger–Congo', in Heine, Bernd & Nurse, Derek (eds.) African languages: an introduction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 11—42.