Volta–Niger languages

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West Benue–Congo
East Kwa
West Africa, from Eastern Ghana to central Nigeria
Linguistic classificationNiger–Congo
  • Akpes
  • Ayere–Ahan
  • Gbe
  • yeai (= Defoid+)
  • noi
  • ? Ukaan
Nigeria Benin Cameroon languages.png
Some important branches of the Volta–Niger and Benue–Congo families are concentrated in Nigeria, Cameroon, and Benin.

The Volta–Niger family of languages, also known as West Benue–Congo or East Kwa, is one of the branches of the Niger–Congo language family, with perhaps 50 million speakers. Among these are the most important languages of southern Nigeria, Benin, Togo, and southeast Ghana: Yoruba, Igbo, Bini, Fon, and Ewe.

These languages have variously been placed within the Kwa or Benue–Congo families, but Williamson & Blench (2000) separate them from both. The boundaries between the various branches of Volta–Niger are rather vague, suggesting diversification of a dialect continuum rather than a clear split of families, which suggest a close origin


The constituent groups of the Volta–Niger family, along with the most important languages in terms of number of speakers, are as follows (with number of languages for each branch in parentheses):


Akpes (1)

Ayere–Ahan (2)

Gbe (21: Fon [2 million], Ewe [3 million])


Yoruboid (Igala [1 million], Yorùbá [22 million], Itsekiri [800,000])

Edoid (27: Edo [Bini, 1 million])

Akoko (1)

Igboid (7: Igbo [18 million])


Nupoid (12: Ebira [1 million], Nupe [1 million])

Oko (1)

Idomoid (9: Idoma [600,000])

? Ukaan (1)

The Yoruboid languages and Akoko were once linked as the Defoid branch, but more recently they, Edoid, and Igboid have been suggested to be primary branches of an as-yet unnamed group, often abbreviated yeai. Similarly, Oko, Nupoid, and Idomoid are often grouped together under the acronym noi. Ukaan is an Atlantic–Congo language, but it is unclear if it belongs to the Volta–Niger family; Blench suspects it is closer to Benue–Congo.

Branches and locations[edit]

Below is a list of major Volta–Niger branches and their primary locations (centres of diversity) in Nigeria based on Blench (2019).[1]

Distributions of Volta–Niger branches[1]
Branch Primary locations
Akpes Akoko North LGA, Ondo State
Ayere–Ahan Akoko North LGA, Ondo State
Gbe Badagry LGA, Lagos State and adjacent areas
Yoruboid Southwestern Nigeria
Edoid Rivers, Edo, Ondo, Delta States
Akoko Akoko North LGA, Ondo State
Igboid Anambra, Rivers, Delta States (excluding Igbo proper)
Nupoid Niger, Kwara, Nasarawa States
Oko Okene LGA, Kogi State
Idomoid Benue, Cross River, Nasarawa States
Ukaan Akoko North LGA, Ondo State

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Blench, Roger (2019). An Atlas of Nigerian Languages (4th ed.). Cambridge: Kay Williamson Educational Foundation.
  • 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.
  • Williamson & Blench (2000) 'Niger–Congo', in Heine & Nurse, African Languages