Gur languages

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Central Gur
Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Togo
Linguistic classificationNiger–Congo
  • Northern
  • Southern
Glottologcent2243  (Gur + Waja–Jen)[1]
Gur languages.png

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.

Typological features[edit]

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.[2] A common property of Gur languages is the verbal aspect marking. Many Gur languages are tonal. The tonal systems of Gur languages are rather divergent. Most Gur languages have been described as following the model of a two tone downstep system.

History of study[edit]

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.[3] Williamson and Blench[4] place Senufo as a separate branch of Atlantic–Congo and other non-Central Gur languages somewhat closer as separate branches of the Savannas languages. The closest relatives of Gur appear to be several branches of the obsolete Adamawa family.


The regions on the map denote regional distribution of the Central Gur languages;

  1. Koromfé
  2. Oti–Volta languages
  3. Bwamu
  4. Grũsi (Gurunsi)
  5. Kirma–Lobi
  6. Dogoso–Khe
  7. Doghose–Gan

The tree-diagram below denotes the relations between these languages and their closest relatives:

Central Gur
 Northern Gur 

Oti–Volta (28 languages, including Mooré, Mamprusi, Dagbani, and Gurma)

Bwa (Bwamu, Bomu, Bobo-Wule)


 Southern Gur 

Grũsi (20 languages, including Kabiye)

Kirma–Tyurama (Cerma, Turka)

Lobi–Dyan (Lobi, Dyan)

Doghose–Gan (Dogosé, Kaansa, Khisa)

? Dogoso–Khe (Dogoso, Khe)



(possibly other putative Adamawa languages)

The position of Dogoso–Khe in Southern Gur is not clear; it is not closely related to other members of the branch.


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Central Gur". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Manessy (1968/71), Naden (1989)
  3. ^ Naden, Tony. 1989:143
  4. ^ 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.

External links[edit]