|Africa, from Nigeria east and south|
Some important branches of the Volta–Niger and Benue–Congo families are concentrated in Nigeria, Cameroon, and Benin.
Benue–Congo is a major subdivision of the Niger–Congo language family, lying within the Atlantic–Congo branch. Benue–Congo includes all Niger–Congo languages except for Ijoid, part of Kordofanian, Adamawa–Ubangi, Volta–Niger and all other Niger–Congo languages of West Africa. In this respect, it consists of the Plateau and Bantoid branches of Nigeria and Cameroon, along with several other minor branches or isolates in the region. The Bantoid branch includes the Southern Bantoid branch, which includes the Bantu languages spoken across most of Sub-Saharan Africa. This makes it the largest single subdivision of the Niger–Congo language family, both in terms of sheer number of languages, of which Ethnologue counts 976 (2017), and in terms of speakers, numbering perhaps 350 million.
When it was first proposed by Joseph Greenberg (1963) it included the Volta–Niger languages (as West Benue–Congo); the boundary with those languages and with 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.
The branches of the Benue–Congo family are thought to be as follows:
- Central Nigerian also known as Platoid
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.
- 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.