Tiv language

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RegionCentral Nigeria
EthnicityTiv people
Native speakers
5 million (2020)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-2tiv
ISO 639-3tiv

Tiv is a Tivoid language spoken in some states in North Central Nigeria, with some speakers in Cameroon. It had over 5 million speakers in 2020. The largest population of Tiv speakers are found in Benue state in Nigeria. The language is also widely spoken in the Nigerian states of Plateau, Taraba, Nasarawa and Cross River as well as the FCT Abuja. It is by far the largest of the Tivoid languages, a group of languages belonging to the Southern Bantoid languages


Tiv has no dialects. Tiv speakers can understand each other across their territory. However, accents (ham) exist.[2]



Short vowels
Front Back
Close i u
Mid e ɔ
Open a ɒ
Long vowels
Front Central Back
Near-close ɪː ʊː
Open-mid ɜː ɔː
  • Vowel sounds are phonetically nasalized before nasal consonants.
  • /a/ can be freely heard as [æ̃] or [ɑ̃] before a nasal consonant.


Bilabial Labio-
Alveolar Palato-
Palatal Velar Glottal
plain lab. pal.
Stop voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡ ɡʷ ɡʲ
prenasal ᵐb ⁿd
Affricate voiceless t͡s t͡ʃ k͡p
voiced (d͡z) d͡ʒ ɡ͡b
prenasal ⁿd͡z
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ (x) h
voiced v z ɣ
Nasal m (ɱ) n ɲ ŋ
Trill r
Approximant w l j
  • /ɣ/ is heard phonetically as [x], but is often voiced as [ɣ].
  • [ɱ] is heard in free variation in word-final positions.
  • [d͡z] occurs in other dialects.[3]


Tiv has three main tones (five if rising and falling are counted as separate tones instead of composites of existing tones). They are most importantly used in inflection.[2]


The accents of Tiv are as follows:

  • Ityoisha, spoken in the southeast, noted for its exaggerated palatalisation of vowels;
  • Shitile, spoken by most Tiv east of the Katsina Ala River, apparently slower sounding than the other Tiv accents and slurs vowels into their neighbouring consonant;
  • Iharev, which gives an exaggerated roll to the phoneme [r]~[l]
  • Kparev, spoken in the centre and south-centre;
    • Kunav, a sub-accent of Kparev, noted for its preference for [d͡ʒ] sounds where other Kparev use [d͡z].[2]

Vocabulary, particularly plant and tool names, changes from one part of Tiv territory to the other.[2]

History and classification[edit]

[4] The first reference to the Tiv language (dzwa Tiv) was made by Koelle (1854) from liberated slaves from Sierra Leone. Johnston (1919) classified it as a peculiar language among the Semi-Bantu languages, and Talbot (1926) concurred. Abraham (1933), who has made the most complete linguistic study of Tiv, classifies it as Bantu, stating that its vocabulary is more similar to the East African Nyanza group of Bantu languages than to Ekoi or other neighbouring languages. Malherbe (1933) agrees with Abraham that Tiv is essentially Bantu.[2]

All material on Tiv seems to point to a recent expansion, perhaps in the early 15th century.[5]


Tiv has nine noun classes.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Tiv". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-10-06.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Bohannan, Laura; Bohannan, Paul (2017-02-03). "Language". The Tiv of Central Nigeria: Western Africa. Routledge. ISBN 9781315295794.
  3. ^ Sokpo, Rosaline M. (2016). An Autosegmental Analysis of Tiv Phonology.
  4. ^ Bohannan, Laura; Bohannan, Paul (3 February 2017). The Tiv of Central Nigeria: Western Africa Part VIII. ISBN 9781315295794.
  5. ^ Blench, Roger (June 2016). "The Tivoid languages: overview and comparative wordlist" (PDF). p. 16.
  • R.C.Abraham, A Dictionary of the Tiv Language, Government of Nigeria 1940, republished by Gregg Press Ltd., Farnborough, Hants., England 1968. ISBN 0576116157

External links[edit]

Religious materials[edit]