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Yoruba language

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Èdè Yorùbá
PronunciationIPA: [jōrùbá]
Native toBenin · Nigeria · Togo
Native speakers
L1: 45 million (2021)[1]
L2: 2.0 million (no date)[1]
Early form
Latin (Nigerian Yoruba alphabet, Beninese Yoruba alphabet)
Yoruba Braille
Arabic script (Ajami)
Oduduwa script
Official status
Official language in
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-1yo
ISO 639-2yor
ISO 639-3yor
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
PeopleỌmọ Yorùbá
LanguageÈdè Yorùbá
CountryIlẹ̀ Yorùbá
A Yoruba speaker, recorded in South Africa

Yoruba (US: /ˈjɔːrəbə/,[2] UK: /ˈjɒrʊbə/;[3] Yor. Èdè Yorùbá, IPA: [jōrùbá]; Ajami: عِدعِ يوْرُبا) is a language that is spoken in West Africa, primarily in Southwestern and Central Nigeria. It is spoken by the ethnic Yoruba people. The number of Yoruba speakers is roughly 47 million, including about 2 million second-language speakers.[1] As a pluricentric language, it is primarily spoken in a dialectal area spanning Nigeria, Benin, and Togo with smaller migrated communities in Côte d'Ivoire, Sierra Leone and The Gambia.

Yoruba vocabulary is also used in the Afro-Brazilian religion known as Candomblé, in the Caribbean religion of Santería in the form of the liturgical Lucumí language and in various Afro-American religions of North America. Most modern practitioners of these religions in the Americas do not actually speak or understand the Yoruba language, rather they use Yoruba words and phrases for songs that for them are incomprehensible. Usage of a lexicon of Yoruba words and short phrases during ritual is also common, but they have gone through changes due to the fact that Yoruba is no longer a vernacular for them and fluency is not required.[4][5][6][7]

As the principal Yoruboid language, Yoruba is most closely related to the languages Itsekiri (spoken in the Niger Delta), and Igala (spoken in central Nigeria).


Yoruba is classified among the Edekiri languages, which is together with the Itsekiri and isolate Igala from the Yoruboid group of languages within the Volta–Niger branch of the Niger–Congo family. The linguistic unity of the Niger–Congo family dates to deep pre-history, estimates ranging around 11,000 years ago (the end of the Upper Paleolithic).[8] In present-day Nigeria, it is estimated that there are around 50 million Yoruba primary and secondary language speakers, as well as several other millions of speakers outside Nigeria, making it the most widely spoken African language outside of the continent. There is a substantial body of literature in the Yoruba language, including books, newspapers, and pamphlets.[9] Yoruba is used in radio and television broadcasting and is taught at primary, secondary, and university levels.[10]

Yoruboid languages[edit]

Group Name(s) Location(s) Largest dialects Native speakers Country Comment
Igala languages Igala Eastern Kogi State in and around the areas of Dekina, Ankpa, Idah, ibaji, Omala, Igalamela-Odolu, Northwestern Anambra state in Anambra West Ebu, Anyugba, Ife, Idah, Ibaji, Ankpa, Imane 2.1 million Nigeria Most divergent Yoruboid language (earliest split) & Easternmost Yoruboid language
Ogugu Eastern Kogi State in Olamaboro, Northern Enugu State, Uzo Uwani, Igbo Eze North, Nsukka Local Government __________ 160,000 Nigeria A divergent Igala dialect
Edekiri languages Ede languages Southern, Central and Northern Benin, Central Togo, in and around: Porto-Novo, Pobè, Adjarra, Bantè, Savé, Tchaourou, Sakété, Ketou, Cové, Glazoue, Adja-Ouèrè, Bassila, Dassa-Zoumé (Benin). Atakpame, Goubi, Anié, Moretan, Kambole, (Togo) Ede Ife, Ede Isha, Ede Idaasha, Ede Shabe, Ede Ije, Kambole, Ede Nago, Ede Kura, Manigri Etc. 1.4 million Benin, Togo, Nigeria A cluster of closely related dialects in Western Yorubaland, with more than 95% Lexical similarity to standard Yoruba
Itsekiri Western Delta state in Warri South, Warri North, Warri South West, Sapele and Ethiope West. Edo State in Ikpoba Okha, and Ovia South-West __________ 700,000 Nigeria A Yoruba dialect of the western Niger Delta & easternmost Edekiri dialect
Yoruba South West, North Central & Mid-West Nigeria: Ondo, Edo, Kwara, Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Kogi, Oyo, Osun. East & Central Benin: Plateau, Collines, Ouémé, Zou, Borgu Etc. Ekiti, Ife, Ijebu, Oworo, Ijesha, Akoko, Ikale, Okun, Oyo, Egba, Awori, Igbomina, Owo, Idanre, Yewa, Ilaje, Ketu, Ikale, Mokole, Ondo, Ibarapa, Onko, Usẹn Etc. 55 million Nigeria, Benin, Americas By far the largest of the Yoruboid languages, and the Niger–Congo language with the largest number of L1 speakers.
Olukumi Isolated within Igboid languages in Delta State, Aniocha North. __________ 17,000 (?) Nigeria An isolated Yoruba dialect on the Western flanks of the Niger

The Yoruba group is assumed to have developed out of undifferentiated Volta–Niger populations by the 1st millennium BC. Settlements of early Yoruba speakers are assumed to correspond to those found in the wider Niger area from about the 4th century BC, especially at Ife. The North-West Yoruba dialects show more linguistic innovation than the Southeast and Central dialects. This, combined with the fact that the latter areas generally have older settlements, suggests a later date for migration into Northwestern Yorubaland.[11] According to the Kay Williamson Scale, the following is the degree of relationship between Itsekiri and other Yoruboid dialects, using a compiled word list of the most common words. A similarity of 100% would mean a total overlap of two dialects, while similarity of 0 would mean two speech areas that have absolutely no relationship.[citation needed]

Language similarity proportion
Ijumu (Okun)
Standard Yoruba
Oba (Akoko)

The result of the wordlist analysis shows that Itsekiri bears the strongest similarity to the South-East Yoruba dialects and most especially Ilaje and Ikale, at 80.4% and 82.3% similarity. According to the language assessment criteria of the International Language Assessment Conference (1992), only when a wordlist analysis shows a lexical similarity of below 70% are two speech forms considered to be different languages. An overlap of 70% and above indicates that both speech forms are the same language, although dialect intelligibility tests would need to be carried out to determine how well speakers of one dialect can understand the other speech form. Thus while the analysis shows that Igala, with an overlap of 60% is a completely different language, all other Yoruboid speech forms are merely dialects of the same language.[citation needed]


The Yoruba dialect continuum consists of several dialects. The various Yoruba dialects in Yorubaland, Nigeria can be classified into five major dialect areas: Northwest, Northeast, Central, Southwest, and Southeast.[12] Clear boundaries cannot be drawn, peripheral areas of dialectal regions often have some similarities to adjoining dialects.

Egba dialect
Onko dialect, Okeho
Shaki dialect
Oyo dialect from Iwo
Ekiti dialect
Ife dialect
Ijesha dialect
Ekiti from Irun Akoko
Owo dialect
Idanre dialect
Ijebu dialect
Ikale dialect
Ao dialect, Ifira

North-West Yoruba was historically spoken in the Ọyọ Empire. In NWY dialects, Proto-Yoruba velar fricative /ɣ/ and labialized voiced velar /gʷ/ have merged into /w/; the upper vowels /ɪ/ and /ʊ/ were raised and merged with /i/ and /u/, just as their nasal counterparts, resulting in a vowel system with seven oral and three nasal vowels.

South-East Yoruba was most likely associated with the expansion of the Benin Empire after c. 1450.[13] In contrast to NWY, lineage, and descent are largely multilineal and cognatic, and the division of titles into war and civil is unknown. Linguistically, SEY has retained the /ɣ/ and /gw/ contrast, while it has lowered the nasal vowels /ĩ/ and /ʊ̃/ to /ɛ̃/ and /ɔ̃/, respectively. SEY has collapsed the second and third-person plural pronominal forms; thus, àn án wá can mean either 'you (pl.) came' or 'they came' in SEY dialects, whereas NWY for example has ẹ wá 'you (pl.) came' and wọ́n wá 'they came', respectively. The emergence of a plural of respect may have prevented the coalescence of the two in NWY dialects.

Central Yoruba forms a transitional area in that the lexicon has much in common with NWY, and it shares many ethnographical features with SEY. Its vowel system is the most traditional of the three dialect groups, having retained nine oral-vowel contrasts and six or seven nasal vowels, and an extensive vowel harmony system. Peculiar to Central and Eastern (NEY, SEY) Yoruba also, is the ability to begin words with the vowel [ʊ:] which in Western Yoruba has been changed to [ɪ:]

Literary Yoruba[edit]

Literary Yoruba, also known as Standard Yoruba, Yoruba koiné, and common Yoruba, is a separate member of the dialect cluster. It is the written form of the language, the standard variety learned at school, and that is spoken by newsreaders on the radio. Standard Yoruba has its origin in the 1850s, when Samuel A. Crowther, the first native African Anglican bishop, published a Yoruba grammar and started his translation of the Bible. Though for a large part based on the Ọyọ and Ibadan dialects, Standard Yoruba incorporates several features from other dialects.[14] It also has some features peculiar to itself, for example, the simplified vowel harmony system, as well as foreign structures, such as calques from English which originated in early translations of religious works.

Because the use of Standard Yoruba did not result from some deliberate linguistic policy, much controversy exists as to what constitutes 'genuine Yoruba', with some writers holding the opinion that the Ọyọ dialect is the "pure" form, and others stating that there is no such thing as genuine Yoruba at all. [citation needed] Standard Yoruba, the variety learned at school and used in the media, has nonetheless been a powerful consolidating factor in the emergence of a common Yoruba identity.

Myth and Weave[edit]

"Myth and Weave" is a literary and artistic movement in Yoruba country in circa 9th century when every myth and weave was thought to be the divine will of Olorun/Olodumare (amuwa Olorun/Olodumare. It was the period of oral literature when mononym was the order of the day. HOW DID IT START? It started when the heads of the people (full of mints of ideas) were merry with myths and artistic works, when there was an artist in every household, when the literary arts could not be taken for triviality; the society began to find happiness and meaning of life in their mythological tales and artworks. This happiness and meaning of life led to the soft-pedalling movement which is known as myth and weave. It has since then become a tradition segueing from those oral recording and experience to the present age of pen and paper. With stress and rhythm, cognate with a novel dawn in the life of a nation, and what's more, the 9th century symbolizes the age when aesthetics was/is regarded as the appreciation and the philosophy of nature, beauty and arts. [citation needed]

Writing systems[edit]

Yoruba hymn, Church of the Visitation, Jerusalem

The earliest evidence of the presence of Islam and literacy goes back to the 14th century. The earliest documented history of the people, which is traced to the latter part of the 17th century, was in the Yoruba language but in the Arabic script (Ajami). This makes Yoruba one of the oldest African languages with an attested history of Ajami (Cf. Mumin & Versteegh 2014; Hofheinz 2018). However, the oldest, extant Yoruba Ajami exemplar is a 19th-century Islamic verse (waka) by Badamasi Agbaji (d. 1895- Hunwick 1995). There are several items of Yoruba Ajami in poetry, personal notes, and esoteric knowledge (Cf. Bang 2019), among others. Nevertheless, Yoruba Ajami remained idiosyncratic and not socially diffused, as there was no standardized orthography. The plethora of dialects, and the absence of a central promotional institution, among others, are responsible.

In the 17th century, Yoruba was written in the Ajami script, a form of Arabic script.[15][16] It is still written in the Ajami writing script in some Islamic circles. Standard Yoruba orthography originated in the early work of Church Mission Society missionaries working among the Aku (Yoruba) of Freetown. One of their informants was Crowther, who later would proceed to work on his native language himself. In early grammar primers and translations of portions of the English Bible, Crowther used the Latin alphabet largely without tone markings. The only diacritic used was a dot below certain vowels to signify their open variants [ɛ] and [ɔ], viz. ⟨ẹ⟩ and ⟨ọ⟩. Over the years the orthography was revised to represent tone among other things. In 1875, the Church Missionary Society (CMS) organized a conference on Yoruba Orthography; the standard devised there was the basis for the orthography of the steady flow of religious and educational literature over the next seventy years.

The current orthography of Yoruba derives from a 1966 report of the Yoruba Orthography Committee, along with Ayọ Bamgboṣe's 1965 Yoruba Orthography, a study of the earlier orthographies and an attempt to bring Yoruba orthography in line with actual speech as much as possible. Still largely similar to the older orthography, it employs the Latin alphabet modified by the use of the digraph ⟨gb⟩ and certain diacritics, including the underdots under the letters ⟨ẹ⟩, ⟨ọ⟩, and ⟨ṣ⟩. Previously, the vertical line had been used to avoid the mark being fully covered by an underline, as in ⟨e̩⟩, ⟨o̩⟩, ⟨s̩⟩; however, that usage is no longer common.

A B D E F G Gb H I J K L M N O P R S T U W Y
a b d e f g gb h I j k l m n o p r s t u w y

The Latin letters ⟨c⟩, ⟨q⟩, ⟨v⟩, ⟨x⟩, ⟨z⟩ are not used as part of the official orthography of Standard Yoruba, however, they exist in several Yoruba dialects.

The pronunciation of the letters without diacritics corresponds more or less to their International Phonetic Alphabet equivalents, except for the labial–velar consonant [k͡p] (written ⟨p⟩) and [ɡ͡b] (written ⟨gb⟩), in which both consonants are pronounced simultaneously rather than sequentially. The diacritic underneath vowels indicates an open vowel, pronounced with the root of the tongue retracted (so ⟨ẹ⟩ is pronounced [ɛ̙] and ⟨ọ⟩ is [ɔ̙]). ⟨ṣ⟩ represents a postalveolar consonant [ʃ] like the English ⟨sh⟩, ⟨y⟩ represents a palatal approximant like English ⟨y⟩, and ⟨j⟩ a voiced palatal stop [ɟ], as is common in many African orthographies.

In addition to the underdots, three further diacritics are used on vowels and syllabic nasal consonants to indicate the language's tones: an acute accent ´ for the high tone, a grave accent ` for the low tone, and an optional macron ¯ for the middle tone. These are used in addition to the underdots in ⟨ẹ⟩ and ⟨ọ⟩. When more than one tone is used in one syllable, the vowel can either be written once for each tone (for example, *⟨òó⟩ for a vowel [o] with tone rising from low to high) or, more rarely in current usage, combined into a single accent. In this case, a caron ⟨ˇ⟩ is used for the rising tone (so the previous example would be written ⟨ǒ⟩), and a circumflex ⟨ˆ⟩ for the falling tone.

Á À Ā É È Ē Ẹ́ Ẹ̀ Ẹ̄ Í Ì Ī Ń Ǹ Ó Ò Ō Ọ́ Ọ̀ Ọ̄ Ú Ù Ū
á à ā é è ē ẹ́ ẹ̀ ẹ̄ í ì ī ń ǹ ḿ ó ò ō ọ́ ọ̀ ọ̄ ú ù ū

In Benin, Yoruba uses a different orthography. The Yoruba alphabet was standardized along with other Benin languages in the National Languages Alphabet by the National Language Commission in 1975, and revised in 1990 and 2008 by the National Center for Applied Linguistics.

Benin alphabet
A B D E Ɛ F G Gb H I J K Kp L M N O Ɔ P R S Sh T U W Y
a b d e ɛ f g gb h I j k kp l m n o ɔ p r s sh t u w y

In 2011, a Beninese priest-chief by the name of Tolúlàṣẹ Ògúntósìn devised a new script for Yoruba, based on a vision received in his sleep which he believed to have been granted by Oduduwa. This Oduduwa script has also received support from other prominent chiefs in the Yorubaland region of both countries.[17][18]


The syllable structure of Yoruba is (C)V(N). Syllabic nasals are also possible. Every syllable bears one of the three tones: high ⟨◌́⟩, mid ⟨◌̄⟩ (generally left unmarked), and low ⟨◌̀⟩. The sentence n̄ ò lọ (I didn't go) provides examples of three syllable types:

  • [ŋ̄]I
  • ò[ò]not (negation)
  • lọ[lɔ̄]to go


Standard Yoruba has seven oral and five nasal vowels. There are no diphthongs in Yoruba; sequences of vowels are pronounced as separate syllables. Dialects differ in the number of vowels they have; see above.

Yoruba vowel diagram, adopted from Bamgboṣe (1969:166). Oral vowels are marked by black dots, while the colored regions indicate the ranges in possible quality of the nasal vowels.
  Oral vowels Nasal vowels
Front Back Front Back
Close i u ĩ ũ
Close-mid e o    
Open-mid ɛ ɔ ɛ̃ ɔ̃
Open a (ã)
  • In some cases, the phonetic realization of these vowels is noticeably different from what the symbol suggests:
    • The oral /i/ is close front [i], and the nasal /ĩ/ varies between close front [ĩ] and near-close front [ĩ̞].[19]
    • The oral /u/ is close back [u], and the nasal /ũ/ varies between close near-back [ũ̟], close back [ũ], near-close near-back [ũ̟˕] and near-close back [ũ̞].[19]
    • The oral /e, o/ are close-mid [e, o], and do not have nasal counterparts.[19]
    • The oral /ɛ/ is open-mid [ɛ], and the nasal /ɛ̃/ varies between mid [ɛ̝̃] and open-mid [ɛ̃].[19]
    • The oral /ɔ/ is near-open [ɔ̞], and the nasal /ɔ̃/ varies between open-mid [ɔ̃] and near-open [ɒ̃].[19]
    • The oral /a/ is central [ä].[19]

Nasal vowels are by default written as a vowel letter followed by ⟨n⟩, thus: ⟨in⟩, ⟨un⟩, ⟨ẹn⟩, ⟨ọn⟩, ⟨an⟩. These do not occur word-initially. In the standard language, /ɛ̃/ occurs only in the single word ìyẹn ~ yẹn 'that'. The status of the vowel [ã] is controversial. Several authors have argued it is not phonemically contrastive.[20] Often, it is in free variation with [ɔ̃]. Orthographically, ⟨ọn⟩ is used after labial and labial-velar consonants, as in ìbọn 'gun', and ⟨an⟩ is used after non-labial consonants, as in dán 'to shine'. All vowels are nasalized after the consonant /m/, and thus there is no additional n in writing (mi, mu, mọ). In addition, the consonant /l/ has a nasal allophone [n] before a nasal vowel (see below), and this is reflected in writing: inú 'inside, belly' (/īlṹ/[īnṹ]).[21][22]


  Labial Alveolar Post-alv./
Velar Glottal
plain labial
Stop b t  d ɟ k  ɡ k͡p  ɡ͡b  
Fricative f s ʃ     h
Approximant/Nasal m l ~ n j ŋ ~ ŋ̍ w  
Rhotic   ɾ        

The voiceless plosives /t/ and /k/ are slightly aspirated; in some Yoruba varieties, /t/ and /d/ are more dental. The rhotic consonant is realized as a flap [ɾ] or, in some varieties (notably Lagos Yoruba), as the alveolar approximant [ɹ] due to English influence. This is particularly common with Yoruba–English bilinguals.

Like many other languages of the region, Yoruba has the voiceless and voiced labial–velar stops /k͡p/ and /ɡ͡b/: pápá [k͡pák͡pá] 'field', gbogbo [ɡ͡bōɡ͡bō] 'all'. Notably, it lacks a voiceless bilabial stop /p/, apart from phonaesthesia, and in Nigeria both /p/ and /k͡p/ are written ⟨p⟩.

Yoruba also lacks a phoneme /n/; the letter ⟨n⟩ is used for the sound in the orthography, but strictly speaking, it refers to an allophone of /l/ immediately preceding a nasal vowel.

There is also a syllabic nasal, which forms a syllable nucleus by itself. When it precedes a vowel, it is a velar nasal [ŋ]: n ò lọ ò lɔ̄] 'I didn't go'. In other cases, its place of articulation is homorganic with the following consonant: ó ń lọ ń lɔ̄] 'he is going', ó ń fò ḿ fò] 'he is jumping'.

C, Q, V, X and Z only appear in words borrowed from English.


Yoruba is a tonal language with three-level tones and two or three contour tones. Every syllable must have at least one tone; a syllable containing a long vowel can have two tones. Tones are marked by use of the acute accent for high tone (⟨á⟩, ⟨ń⟩) and the grave accent for low tone (⟨à⟩, ⟨ǹ⟩); mid is unmarked, except on syllabic nasals where it is indicated using a macron (⟨a⟩, ⟨n̄⟩). Examples:

  • H: ó bẹ́ [ó bɛ́] 'he jumped'; síbí [síbí] 'spoon'
  • M: ó bẹ [ó bɛ̄] 'he is forward'; ara [āɾā] 'body'
  • L: ó bẹ̀ [ó bɛ̀] 'he asks for pardon'; ọ̀kọ̀ [ɔ̀kɔ̀] 'spear'.

When teaching Yoruba literacy, solfège names of musical notes are used to name the tones: low is do, mid is re, and high is mi.[23]

Whistled Yoruba[edit]

Apart from the lexical and grammatical use of tone, it is also used in other contexts such as whistling and drumming. Whistled Yoruba is used to communicate over long distances. As speakers talk and whistle simultaneously, the language is transformed: consonants are devoiced or turned to [h] and all vowels are changed to [u]. However, all tones are retained without any alteration. The retention of tones enables speakers to understand the meaning of the whistled language. The Yoruba talking drum ‘Dùndún’or 'iya ilu' which accompanies singing during festivals and important ceremonies also uses tone.[24][25]

Tonality effects and computer-coded documents[edit]

Written Yoruba includes diacritical marks not available on conventional computer keyboards, requiring some adaptations. In particular, the use of the sub dots and tone marks are not represented, so many Yoruba documents simply omit them. Asubiaro Toluwase, in his 2014 paper,[26] points out that the use of these diacritics can affect the retrieval of Yoruba documents by popular search engines. Therefore, their omission can have a significant impact on online research.

Assimilation and elision[edit]

When a word precedes another word beginning with a vowel, assimilation, or deletion ('elision') of one of the vowels often takes place.[27] In fact, since syllables in Yoruba normally end in a vowel, and most nouns start with one, it is a very common phenomenon, and it is absent only in very slow, unnatural speech. The orthography here follows speech in that word divisions are normally not indicated in words that are contracted as a result of assimilation or elision: ra ẹjarẹja 'buy fish'. Sometimes, however, authors may choose to use an inverted comma to indicate an elided vowel as in ní ilén'ílé 'in the house'.

Long vowels within words usually signal that a consonant has been elided word-internally. In such cases, the tone of the elided vowel is retained: àdìròààrò 'hearth'; koríkokoóko 'grass'; òtítóòótó 'truth'.



Most verbal roots are monosyllabic of the phonological shape CV(N), for example: (to create), dán (to polish), pọ́n (to be red). Verbal roots that do not seem to follow this pattern are mostly former compounds in which a syllable has been elided. For example: nlá (to be large), originally a compound of (to have) + (to be big) and súfèé (to whistle), originally a compound of (to eject wind) + òfé or ìfé (a blowing). Vowels serve as nominalizing prefixes that turn a verb into a noun form.

Nominal roots are mostly disyllabic, for example: abà (crib, barn), ara (body), ibà (fever). Monosyllabic and even trisyllabic roots do occur but they are less common.[28]


Yoruba is a highly isolating language.[29] Its basic constituent order is subject–verb–object,[30] as in ó nà Adé 'he beat Adé'. The bare verb stem denotes a completed action, often called perfect; tense and aspect are marked by preverbal particles such as ń 'imperfect/present continuous', ti 'past'. Negation is expressed by a preverbal particle . Serial verb constructions are common, as in many other languages of West Africa.

Although Yoruba has no grammatical gender,[31] it has a distinction between human and non-human nouns when it comes to interrogative particles: ta ni for human nouns ('who?') and kí ni for non-human nouns ('what?'). The associative construction (covering possessive/genitive and related notions) consists of juxtaposing nouns in the order modified-modifier as in inú àpótí {inside box} 'the inside of the box', fìlà Àkàndé 'Akande's cap' or àpótí aṣọ 'box for clothes'.[32] More than two nouns can be juxtaposed: rélùweè abẹ́ ilẹ̀ (railway underground) 'underground railway',[33] inú àpótí aṣọ 'the inside of the clothes box'. In the rare case that it results in two possible readings, disambiguation is left to the context. Plural nouns are indicated by a plural word.[30]

There are two 'prepositions': 'on, at, in' and 'onto, towards'. The former indicates location and absence of movement, and the latter encodes location/direction with movement.[34] Position and direction are expressed by the prepositions in combination with spatial relational nouns like orí 'top', apá 'side', inú 'inside', etí 'edge', abẹ́ 'under', ilẹ̀ 'down', etc. Many of the spatial relational terms are historically related to body-part terms.


Yoruba uses a vigesimal (base-20) numbering system.

  • Ogún, 20, is a basic numeric block.
  • Ogójì, 40, (Ogún-méjì) = 20 multiplied by 2 (èjì).
  • Ọgọ́ta, 60, (Ogún-mẹ́ta) = 20 multiplied by 3 (ẹ̀ta).
  • Ọgọ́rin, 80, (Ogún-mẹ́rin) = 20 multiplied by 4 (ẹ̀rin).
  • Ọgọ́rùn-ún, 100, (Ogún-márùn-ún) = 20 multiplied by 5 (àrún).
  • - 16 (Ẹẹ́rìndínlógún) = 4 less than 20.
  • - 17 (Ẹẹ́tàdínlógún) = 3 less than 20.
  • - 18 (Eéjìdínlógún) = 2 less than 20.
  • - 19 (Oókàndínlógún) = 1 less than 20.
  • - 21 (Oókànlélógún) = 1 increment on 20.
  • - 22 (Eéjìlélógún) = 2 increment on 20.
  • - 23 (Ẹẹ́tàlélógún) = 3 increment on 20.
  • - 24 (Ẹẹ́rìnlélógún) = 4 increment on 20.
  • - 25 (Aárùnlélógún) = 5 increment on 20.
  • - 30 ( Ogbòn) = 10 increment on 20
  • -50 (Aadota) = 10 less than 60

Arabic influence[edit]

The wide adoption of imported religions and civilizations such as Islam and Christianity has had an impact both on written and spoken Yoruba. In his Arabic-English Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Quran and Sunnah, Yoruba Muslim scholar Abu-Abdullah Adelabu argued Islam has enriched African languages by providing them with technical and cultural augmentations with Swahili and Somali in East Africa and Turanci Hausa and Wolof in West Africa being the primary beneficiaries. Adelabu, a Ph D graduate from Damascus cited—among many other common usages—the following words to be Yoruba's derivatives of Arabic vocabularies:[35][better source needed]

Some loanwords[edit]

  • Sanma: Heaven or sky, from السماء
  • Alubarika: blessing, from البركة
  • Alumaani: wealth, money, resources, from المال
  • Amin: Arabic form of the Hebrew religious term Amen, from آمین‎

Some common Arabic words used in Yoruba are names of the days such as Atalata (الثلاثاء) for Tuesday, Alaruba (الأربعاء) for Wednesday, Alamisi (الخميس) for Thursday, and Jimoh (الجمعة, Jumu'ah) for Friday. By far Ọjọ́ Jimoh is the most favorably used.This is because 'eti' which is the Yoruba word for friday means 'delay'. This is an unpleasant word for Friday, Ẹtì, which can also means failure, laziness, or abandonment.[36][better source needed] Ultimately, the standard words for the days of the week are Àìkú, Ajé, Ìṣẹ́gun, Ọjọ́rú, Ọjọ́bọ, Ẹtì, Àbámẹ́ta, for Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday respectively. Friday remains Eti in the Yoruba language.


Spoken literature[edit]

Odu Ifa, •Oriki, •Ewi, •Esa, •Àlọ́, •Rara, •Iremoje, •Bolojo, •Ijala, •Ajangbode, •Ijeke, Alámọ̀

Written literature[edit]

As of 2024, the Yoruba Wikipedia [yo] is the most visited website in Yoruba.[37]


  • Ibeyi, Cuban francophone sister duo, often sing in Lucumí, a liturgical variety of Yoruba used in Santería.
  • Sakara, a Yoruba song originating from Abeokuta, Ogun Nigeria. One of the first performers of this type of music was in Lagos in the 1930s.
  • Apala, Apala (or Akpala) is a music genre originally developed by the Yoruba people of Nigeria, during the country's history as a colony of the British Empire. It is a percussion-based style that originated in the late 1970s.
  • Fuji, a popular, contemporary Yoruba musical genre.
  • Jùjú, a style of Nigerian popular music, derived from traditional Yoruba percussion.
  • Àpíìrì, a popular music common among Ido and Igbole Ekiti environs of Ekiti State. The musical instruments usually consist of beaded Calabash guads and gongs supported with harmonic lyrics
  • Fela Kuti, Afrobeat creator

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Yoruba at Ethnologue (27th ed., 2024) Closed access icon
  2. ^ "Yoruba". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2 April 2024.
  3. ^ Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student's Handbook, Edinburgh
  4. ^ Valdés, Vanessa K. (2015-03-04). "Yoruba Traditions and African American Religious Nationalism by Tracey E. Hucks (review)". Callaloo. 38 (1): 234–237. doi:10.1353/cal.2015.0025. ISSN 1080-6512. S2CID 143058809.
  5. ^ Warner, Maureen (1971). "Trinidad Yoruba — Notes on Survivals". Caribbean Quarterly. 17 (2): 40–49. doi:10.1080/00086495.1971.11829073. ISSN 0008-6495. JSTOR 40653205.
  6. ^ "History of Oyotunji". Oyotunji. Retrieved 2020-10-13.
  7. ^ Nigeria, Know (2017-04-13). "The Oyotunji Village: a Mini Yoruba Empire in the USA". Inspire Afrika. Retrieved 2020-10-13.
  8. ^ Heine, Bernd; Nurse, Derek (2000). African Languages: An Introduction. Cambridge University Press. p. 294. ISBN 978-0-521-66629-9.
  9. ^ "Yoruba language | West African, Nigeria, Benin | Britannica". www.britannica.com. Retrieved 2024-03-19.
  10. ^ "Yoruba language | West African, Nigeria, Benin | Britannica". www.britannica.com. Retrieved 2024-03-19.
  11. ^ Adetugbọ 1973:192-3. (See also the section Dialects.)
  12. ^ This widely followed classification is based on Adetugbọ's (1982) dialectological study; this classification originated in his 1967 Ph.D. thesis The Yoruba Language in Western Nigeria: Its Major Dialect Areas, ProQuest 288034744. See also Adetugbọ 1973:183-193.
  13. ^ Adetugbọ 1973:185.
  14. ^ Cf. for example the following remark by Adetugbọ (1967, as cited in Fagborun 1994:25): "While the orthography agreed upon by the missionaries represented to a very large degree the phonemes of the Abẹokuta dialect, the morpho-syntax reflected the Ọyọ-Ibadan dialects".
  15. ^ "Yoruba...written in a version of the Arabic script known as Ajami (or Ajamiyya)."[1]
  16. ^ FALOLA, TOYIN; AKINYEMI, AKINTUNDE (2016-06-20). Encyclopedia of the Yoruba. Indiana University Press. p. 194. ISBN 9780253021564.
  17. ^ Adéṣínà Ọmọ Yoòbá (10 March 2020). "This chief hopes Yorùbá speakers adopt his newly invented 'talking alphabet'". Global Voices. Retrieved 4 April 2021.
  18. ^ "Yoruba Monarchs Commends New Oduduwa Alphabets, Hail Aregbesola". OsunDefender. 1 November 2017.
  19. ^ a b c d e f Bamgboṣe (1969:166)
  20. ^ Notably, Ayọ Bamgboṣe (1966:8).
  21. ^ Abraham, in his Dictionary of Modern Yoruba, deviates from this by explicitly indicating the nasality of the vowel; thus, inú is found under inún, etc.
  22. ^ Sachnine Michka (1997) Dictionnaire usuel yorùbá–français. Paris – Ibadan.
  23. ^ Carter-Ényì, Aaron (May 2018). "Hooked on Sol-Fa: the do-re-mi heuristic for Yorùbá speech tones". Africa. 88 (2): 267–290. doi:10.1017/S0001972017000912. ISSN 0001-9720. S2CID 149643136.
  24. ^ Orie, Ọlanikẹ Ọla (2013). "Yoruba and Yoruboid languages". Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis. pp. 1200–1204. ISBN 9786610156009. OCLC 1109207232.
  25. ^ Orie, Ọlanikẹ Ọla (2012). Acquisition reversal : the effects of postlingual deafness in Yoruba. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter. p. 43. OCLC 836821267.
  26. ^ Asubiaro, Toluwase V. (2014). "Effects of Diacritics on Web Search Engines' Performance for Retrieval of Yoruba Documents". Journal of Library and Information Studies. 12 (1): 1–19. doi:10.6182/jlis.2014.12(1).001.
  27. ^ See Bamgboṣe 1965a for more details. See also Ward 1952:123–133 ('Chapter XI: Abbreviations and Elisions').
  28. ^ Bowen, Thomas Jefferson (1858). Grammar and Dictionary of the Yoruba Language: With an Introductory Description of the Country and People of Yoruba. Smithsonian Institution. ISBN 978-0-598-42696-3.
  29. ^ Karlsson, F. Yleinen kielitiede. ("General linguistics") Helsinki: Helsinki University Press, 1998.
  30. ^ a b Rowlands, Evan Colyn. (1969). Teach Yourself Yoruba. English Universities Press: London.
  31. ^ Ogunbowale, P. O. (1970). The Essentials of the Yoruba Language. University of London Press: London.
  32. ^ (Bamgboṣe 1966:110, Rowlands 1969:45-6)
  33. ^ (Adetugbọ 1973:185
  34. ^ (Sachnine 1997:19)
  35. ^ DELAB International Newsmagazine, November 2005 1465-4814
  36. ^ A lecture by Abu-Abdullah Adelabu of AWQAF Africa, London titled: "The History Of Islam in 'The Black History'" DELAB International Newsmagazine, April 2003 1465-4814
  37. ^ "Yoruba Wikipedia hits 25 million views in 2023". The Nation. 17 February 2024. Retrieved 18 February 2024.


  • Adetugbọ, Abiọdun (1982). "Towards a Yoruba Dialectology". In Afọlayan (ed.). Yoruba Language and Literature. pp. 207–224.
  • Afọlayan, Adebisi, ed. (1982). Yoruba language and literature. Ifẹ / Ibadan: University of Ifẹ Press / Ibadan University Press.
  • Ajayi, J.F. Ade (1960). "How Yoruba was Reduced to Writing". Odu: A Journal of Yoruba, Ẹdo and Related Studies (8): 49–58.
  • Bamgboṣe, Ayọ (1965a). "Assimilation and contraction in Yoruba". Journal of West African Languages (2): 21–27.
  • Bamgboṣe, Ayọ (1965b). Yoruba Orthography. Ibadan: Ibadan University Press.
  • Bamgboṣe, Ayọ (1969). "Yoruba". In Elizabeth Dunstan (ed.). Twelve Nigerian Languages. New York: Africana Publishing Corp. p. 166. ISBN 0-8419-0031-0.
  • Fagborun, J. Gbenga (1994). The Yoruba Koiné – Its History and Linguistic Innovations. LINCOM Linguistic Edition vol. 6. München/Newcastle: LINCOM Europe. ISBN 3-929075-47-4.
  • Fresco, Max (1970). Topics in Yoruba Dialect Phonology. (Studies in African Linguistics Supplement Vol. 1). Los Angeles: University of California, Dept. of Linguistics/ASC.
  • Ladipọ, Duro (1972). Ọba kò so (The king did not hang) — Opera by Duro Ladipọ. (Transcribed and translated by R.G. Armstrong, Robert L. Awujọọla and Val Ọlayẹmi from a tape recording by R. Curt Wittig). Ibadan: Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan.
  • Oyètádé, B. Akíntúndé & Buba, Malami (2000) 'Hausa Loan Words in Yorùbá', in Wolff & Gensler (eds.) Proceedings of the 2nd WoCAL, Leipzig 1997, Köln: Rüdiger Köppe, 241–260.
  • Oyenuga, Soji www.YorubaForKidsAbroad.com (2007). "Yoruba". In Soji and Titi Oyenuga (ed.). Yoruba For Kids Abroad – Learn Yoruba In 27 Days. Saskatoon, Canada: Gaptel Innovative Solutions Inc. pp. 27 days.



  • Abraham, Roy Clive (1958). Dictionary of Modern Yoruba. London: University of London Press.
  • CMS (Canon C.W. Wakeman, ed.) (1950) [1937]. A Dictionary of the Yoruba language. Ibadan: University Press.
  • Delanọ, Oloye Isaac (1958). Atúmọ̀ ede Yoruba [short dictionary and grammar of the Yoruba language]. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Sachnine, Michka (1997). Dictionnaire yorùbá-français, suivi d'un index français-yorùbâ. Paris: Karthala.

Grammars and sketches[edit]

  • Adesola, Oluseye (2005). Yoruba: A Grammar Sketch. Version 1.0. The Afranaph Project.
  • Adéwọlé, L.O. (2000). Beginning Yorùbá (Part I). Monograph Series no. 9. Cape Town: CASAS.
  • Adéwọlé, L.O. (2001). Beginning Yorùbá (Part II). Monograph Series no. 10. Cape Town: CASAS.
  • Bamgboṣe, Ayọ (1966). A Grammar of Yoruba. [West African Languages Survey / Institute of African Studies]. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Barber, Karin (1985). Yorùbá Dùn ún So: a beginners' course in Yorùbá (1st ed.). New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0300029581.
  • Bowen, Thomas Jefferson (1858). "Grammar and Dictionary of the Yoruba Language: With an Introductory Description of the Country and People of Yoruba". Available at the Internet Archive.
  • Crowther, Samuel Ajayi (1852). Yoruba Grammar. London. The first grammar of Yoruba. Available at the Internet Archive.
  • Rowlands, E.C. (1969). Teach Yourself Yoruba. London: The English Universities Press.
  • Ward, Ida (1952). An introduction to the Yoruba language. Cambridge: W. Heffer & Sons.
  • Yetunde, Antonia & Schleicher, Folarin (2006). Colloquial Yoruba. London: Taylor & Francis Ltd (Routledge).

External links[edit]