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By Ahmed Sosal A. Department of Linguistics University of Khartoum October 20111. Introduction:
The number of the African languages is estimated about 2,035 (Grimes (ed.) 1996) (thisnumber is not fixed due to new affiliations and eliminations. Over2, 000 languages are classifiedinto four groups. Number of languages in Africa: over 2000 languages spoken in Africa (cf.Childs 2003:23). “Macro Group” Approx. # Approx. Languages populatio n (from Ethnolog ue) Niger-Congo 1,500-1,600 382,257,1 69 Afroasiatic 200-300 (in 359,495,2 Africa) 89 (includes Arabic outside of Africa) Nilo-Saharan 100-200 38,257,50 2 Khoisan 30 (originally 502,409 100+) The Niger-Congo language family consists of between 1, 500- 1, 600 languages and it isdescribed as the largest family in the world. „The most widely distributed language family isNiger-Congo. About 75% of Africans speak a language belonging to this family (The livingAfrica 1998). Here are some languages of this family (with large number of speakers): Language Geographical location Wolof Senegal Fulfulde West and Central Africa Manding In many West African countriesThere are many other languages and varieties belonging to this group.
Map 1 Distribution of the Niger-Congo languages 2. The controversy of classification (typological or genetic unit):There are two suggestions,The first suggests that the Niger-Congo is purely typological and not genetic a view which doesnot convinced by those who are specialized in this family. The second view claimed that the relationships between the languages of this group is geneticone (this one needs reconstruction for the Proto-Niger-Congo languages to be proved) some ofthe verbal suffixes can be reconstructed to this family what can help to prove its genetic unity(Voeltz 1977).‘Although there has been some question as to the genetic identity of Niger-Congo and indeed to theviability of establishing genetic groups in Africa as a whole most scholars unquestionably accept Niger-Congo as a genetic unity (Williamson 1989b, Williamson & Blench 2000)’. Childs (2003:45)There are some factors participates in the classification of languages (and identifying the Niger-Congo languages classification) in general as they are proposed by Hyma (2011)(1) Typological features of classification:a. Word structure e.g. whether words are long or short have prefixes or suffixes etc.b. Syllable structure, e.g., whether simple or complex (open vs. closed etc.)c. Sound inventories, e.g., any skewing / preponderance of certain consonants, vowels or“prosodic” features (tone, stress, intonation)
(2) Genetic affiliation: It‟s a classification according to the linguistic family that the language(s)belong(s) to. Example: Unlike most African languages, Berber and Ethiopian Semitic lack tonebecause the parent language, Proto-Afro-Asiatic, did not have tone (vs. the other protolanguages of Africa).(3) Linguistic geography: the linguistic area in which the language(s) is/are spoken. Example:The southern Bantu languages Xhosa and Zulu have acquired clicks as a result of contact withthe Khoisan languages, which are unique in having clicks in their proto languages. Map 2 Six phonological zones in Africa (Clements & Rialland 2008:37)In This paper our focus will be on the following linguistic features of the Niger-Congolanguages: noun class system, verb extensions, and basic lexicon.Noun class system there is a wide noun class system in which singular and plural are marked byaffixes and sometimes there must be some kind of agreement between other elements in thesentence and the noun. Such a system now remodeled, lost or retained (e.g. Bantu). Niger-Congosemantic classification includes multilateral oppositions: humans, animals, plants etc. Abouttwenty noun classes many languages have singular-plural pairing of classes. It is not correct tothink of these noun classes as typical of African languages. The African languages systems ofnoun categorization are different (e.g. Afro-asiatic and Central Khoisan have sex-gendersystem).Verbal extensions usually this family languages verbs end in suffixes modifies their meaning.Pluractional verb is verbs which requires plurality in subject or object or refer to multiple actions(they are widespread in Niger-Congo as part of verbal extensions or lexical items.Basic lexicon there is an extensive similarity in the basic vocabulary and the present change maybe because of borrowing.
3. History of Niger-Congo classification 3.1. Early view (typological view)Pre-Greenbergian comparative African linguistics suffered from the fact that no systematicdistinction between different kinds of historical relationship was made, that is, it remained for themost part unclear whether the linguistic classifications proposed were intended to be, genetically, typologically or more commonly. These were an amalgamation of all three kinds of relationship. Heine & Nurse (2008:36).Bantu languages group is one of Niger-Congo family located in various areas which are close toeach other. Noun classes in West Africa are marked by prefixes according to Koelle and Bleek.Meinhof named some of Ewe languages which are without noun classes as „Sudanic‟. This viewwas purely typological rather than being genetic. 3.2. Westermann (work of 1911-1927)Westermann was Meinhof‟s student made a reconstruction for the „Sudanic‟ and divided it into„East‟ and „West‟ Sudanic. Then he divided West Sudanic into six families (Kwa, Benue-Cross,Togo, Gur, West-Atlantic and Mandingo). A number of Proto-West-Sudanic (PWS)reconstructions have been made by Westermann. 3.3. Greenberg (work of 1949-1954)Greenberg‟s contribution to areal linguistics was of two kinds:First, he proposed a genetic classification of the languages of Africa (1963).Second, Greenberg also made the first substantial contribution to areal relationship in Africa.Heine & Nurse (2008:36)Greenberg‟s refinements, (a) He combined West Sudanic and Bantu into one family called Niger-Congo. (b) He treated East Sudanic as a different family called Nilo-Saharan. (c) He retained Westermann‟s sub-grouping within Niger-Congo family (with some changes).Greenberg doesn‟t support the use of typological and non-linguistic method of classification. 3.4. Post-Greenberg (a) Mukarovsky (1976-7) accepted the position of Bantu as part of Niger-Congo. He renamed a new group of some languages as Western Nigirictic after collected data to show the relationship between them. (b) Bennett and Sterk (1977) they come out with a major classification of Niger-Congo based on Lexicostatistics, (Lexicostatistics was based on the Neogrammarian model, which
sees languages as related when they could be shown to have come from a common ancestor.) Childs (2003:61) and lexical innovations. (c) Bender-Samuel (1989) modified Bennett and Sterk‟s Proposal and presented it in a form of hypothesis Williamson (1989b). The „Niger-Congo‟ term replaced by „Niger- Kordofanian‟ for all the family. 3.5. The Nilo-Saharan connectionThere are many intentions to bring Niger-Congo and Nilo-Saharan into one family as follows, Greenberg brought morphological and lexical similarities to combine Niger-Congo and Nilo-Saharan in one big family named „Kongo-Saharan‟. Creissels (1981) provided a list of morphological and lexical similarities between Mande and Songhay. Blench (1995) suggested further lexical and phonological to support such attempt of combination into a macro-family named Niger-Saharan.4. Linguistic Survey by Families 4.1. KordofanianKordofanian, a much earlier branching from the Proto-Niger Congo stock, contains some 20languages with only 165,000 speakers‟ Childs (2003:47). Greenberg (1963) assumed that theKordofanian branch consists of five subgroups today usually referred to as Heiban, Talodi,Rashad, Katla and Kadu (Kadu removed by Schadeberg (1981c) and attached it to Nilo-Saharanand it has been widely approved).The Geographical location Kordofanian languages are spoken in the Nuba Mountains in theRepublic of Sudan. But recently and because of the political instability many have beendisplaced.The linguistic features the noun class affixes is similar to the rest of the Niger-Congo languages.
• full/reduced/absent; incorporated old prefixes; Noun classes new prefixes. Verbal extention • widespread Pronouns • Inclusive/exclusive Sentence order • SVO (Tegem SOV); prepositions • N+ Gen; N+Poss(Tegem Poss+N); N+Adj; N+Num; Noun phrase N+DemTable 1 linguistic features of Kordofanian 4.2. MnadeGeographical location Mande languages covers the greater part of the westrn part of africa incountries such as Mali, Cote Ivoir, Giunea, Sira Leone, and Liberia.Number of speakers They are spoken by about 10-12 million speakers. Half of them speakvarities of Manding (dialect cluster).Classification the most recent internal classification of Mande based extensively onlexicostatistics method which have many problems Kastenholz (1991), (a) In accurate data, (b) Incomplete coverage and (c) Difficultied in interpreting the result.So, Kastenholz applied comprative reconstruction method to west Mande after studying lexicalinovations.The linguistic features
• Remnant; remodelled by suffixies; initial consoanat Noun classes mutation; tone alternation marks singular/plural. Verbal extention • not generally, but Robo has causative, intransitive •alienable/inalienable, inclusive/exclusive common. jo Pronouns has seprate feminine Sentence order •SMOVA; preposition/postposition Noun phrase •Gen+N; Poss+N; N+ Adj; N+Dem ; Dem+ N; N+pluralTable 2 linguistic features of Mande 4.3. Atlantic (Western Atlantic ’Doneux 1975’)Geographical location Atlantic languages are spoken along the Atlantic coastline from north ofSenegal River as far as Liberia.Number of speakers of the Atlantic languages (Wilson 1989) Fulfulde language spoken by several millions. Wolof language with nearly 2 million speakers. The Diola cluster with about 400, 000 speakers. Serer language with 600, 000 speakers. Temen With more than 600, 000 speakers.Classification The present internal classification of Atlantic was provided by Sapir (1971) (usinglexicostatistic method) and reproduced by Wilson (1989).Linguistic features • full; original prefixes; weakened; renewed by Noun classes suffixe, or arguments initial consonants mutaion. Verbal extention • widespread Pronouns •inclusive/exclusive common Sentence order •SVOA; prepositions Noun phrase •N+Gen (Gen+ N in Sua); N= Num; N+ Dem
Table 3 linguistic features of Atlantic languages (Doneux (1975) & Wilson (1989) 4.4. IjoidGeographical location it is small family spoken only in the Niger Delta in Nigeria.Consists of Defaka small endangered language. Ijo a language cluster with about million speakers. Izo is the largest language (this language is very different form all the other Niger-Congo languages but related internally).Linguistic features • remnant; a- marks plural nouns preceded by Noun classes modifiers, some initial vowles; new human affixes Verbal extention • few, mostly new formations •inalienable/alienable traces. new gender system, always Pronouns distinguishing gender. Sentence order •SAOVM; prepositions Noun phrase •Gen +N; Poss+ N; Adj+ N; Num+ N; Dem+ N; N+DefiniteTable 4 linguistic features of Ijoid from Jenewari (1989) & Williamson 4.5. DogonGeographical location Dogon is spoken in Mali and Burkina Faso. Number of speakers is abouthalf million.Classification It is frequently referred to as a single language but Brtho (1953) has clamed that itcan be divided into four groups at least Calame-Griaule (1978) added fifth one: plain,Escarpment, West, North-west and North Plateau.Linguistic features
• Remnant; no orefixes, human nounstake distinct Noun classes plural suffix Verbal extention • few, mostly new firmations •one basic set, with object, possive and embeded set Pronouns derived Sentence order •SAOVM, ASOVM Noun phrase •N+ Poss; N+ Adj; N+ plural; N+Num; N+ Dem; N+ definiteTable 5 linguistic features of Dogon from Bender-Samuel (1989) 4.6. North Volta-CongoThis group consists of three families which are Kur, Gur and Adamawa-Ubangi. Languages ofthis group spread continuously across the savannah of West Africa then Kur moved south andwest and the others were broken apart because of the expansion of Chadic and Benue-Congo.4.6.1 KurGeographical location kur languages are spoken in the south west of Ivory Coast and in greaterpart of Liberia.Number of speakers they are spoken by 1 and 2million speakers Marches (1989).Classification Kur first classified within Kwa Westermann (1927) & Greenberg (1963). Thenremoved and attached to North-Volta or considered as a separate family within Volta-CongoBennett & Sterk (1977).Linguistic features • remanat; suffix or final vowel cahnge in the plural; Noun classes some concord in NP • causive, benefactive, incohative, instrumental, dati Verbal extention ve, lcative, passive •human/non-human common, feminine in 2nd and 3rd Pronouns simgular in Niaboua and Wobe Sentence order •SOVA, SMOVA; postposition Noun phrase •Gen+ N; poss+ N; N + Adj; N+ Dem; N+Num; N+ definite
Table 6 linguistic features of kur from Marches (1989)4.6.2. Gur (Voltaic)Geographical location Gur is very large family spoken in the belt of the savannah through thesouth of Mali, the northern part of Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso and Negiria.Number of speakers estimated as about 5,500, 000 speakers and 1,700, 000 of them at least speakMoore. Manessy (1978).Classification The relationship between the languages of Central Gur is out of doubt except somesurrounding languages whose relationship is uncertain.Linguistic features • full/reduced; normally suffixes; eastern Grusi has Noun classes survivals of older orefexies in some common nouns Verbal extention • widespread Pronouns • reconstructed with consonants plus varying vowels Sentence order • SVO, SMOV; postpositions (one preposition with) Noun phrase • Gen+ N; Poss+ N; N+ Adj; N+ Num; N+ DemTable 7 Linguistic features of Gur from (Manessy 1975, Prost 1964, Naden 1989)4.6.3 Adamawa-UbangiGeographical location Adamawa-Ubangi languages cover the area from north-west Nigeriathrough northern Cameroon, southern Chad, Central African Republic (CAR), northern Gabon,Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DCR) and south-west Sudan.Number of speakers the total number of first language speakers of Adamawa-Ubangi languagesis about 3,800, 000 (excluding Sango speakers.Classification Adamawa is divided into fourteen groups and „Eastern‟ into eight Greenberg(1963a). Then Bennett (1983) proposed that Daka (in group 3) should be excluded formAdamawa and attached into Benue-Congo which has been accepted.Linguistic features
• Reduced/ remnant; suffixes in some groups; if Noun classes concord markers, prefixed to postposed modifiers • a few, including Verbal extention iterative, intensive, benefactive, and causative • sometimes inclusive/exclusive.2nd singular Pronouns often#mo e.g. in Kru contrasting with normal 1st singular#im Sentence order • SVO, SMOV; prepositions Noun phrase • N+ Gen; N+Adj; N+Num; N+ DemTable 8 linguistic features of Adamawa-Ubangi (Boyd 1989) 4.7. South Volta-Congo Greenberg (1963) claimed that Kwa and Benue-Congo are close to each other so, thename „Benue-Kwa‟ used informally in 1970s for this grouping.4.7.1 KwaGeographical locations Kwa are spoken along the Atlantic coast of West Africa from south-eastern Ivory Coasts to the South-western corner of Nigeria.Number of speakers Kwa total number of speakers is about 2 million speakers obtained.Classification Kwa is divided into eight groups and the Central Togo languages are integratedinto group (b) Greenberg (1963a). „New Kwa‟ corresponds to Greenberg‟s group (b), „westernKwa‟.Linguistic features • full(Ega)/reduced/remnant; prefixies; some plural Noun classes suffixes; initial consonant mutation(phonological) Verbal extention • at least causative and reflexive/reciprocal • independent; subject; object; possive. Pronouns Animate/non-animate common in 3rd person Sentence order • SMVOA; postpositions • Gen+ N; Poss+ N; N+Adj; N+ Num; N+ dem; N+ Noun phrase Definite
Table 9 linguistic features o Kwa (Herault1983b)4.7.2 Benue-Congo188.8.131.52. Description of Benue-CongoGeographical location The Benue-Congo occupy a vast area in Nigeria, Cameroon, the south part ofCentral African Republic, Congo, DRC, and many other parts of western, northern And southern Africa.Number of speakers it is not easy to obtain the total number of speakers because of the vast number oflanguages in this group.Classification Greenberg divided this family into four branches: Platoid, Jukunoid, Cross River andBantoid.184.108.40.206. West Benue-Congo it corresponds to „Eastern Kwa‟. Geographical location isspoken in many parts of Nigeria, and Benin. Number of speakers, the largest language is Yorubawith 20 million speakers and Igbo with around 15 million.Linguistic features Noun classes • full(Gade)/reduced/remaenant; prefixes • Ddiod has a number and Igboid many, most of Verbal extention which are new developments Pronouns • independent, subject, object, possive Sentence order • SMVOA, SVMOA; prepostions • N+ Gen; N+ Poss; N+ Adj; N+ Num; N+ Dem; N+ Noun phrase DefiniteTable 10 linguistic features of West Benue-Congo220.127.116.11 East Benue-Congo it corresponds to „Benue-Congo‟ and branched into three majordivisions:18.104.22.168.1. Central Nigerian (=Platoid) they are extended from Nigeria to Cameroon. This groupincludes 150 languages which are not fully documented what raises doubts about themembership of its languages Gerhardt (1989).Linguistic features
Noun classes • full/reduced; prefixes, occational infixes Verbal extention • widespread including pluractionals Pronouns • intransitive copy pronouns Sentence order • SMVOA, SVMOA; Prepositions • N+ Gen; N+ Poss; N+ Adj; N+ Num; N+ Dem; N+ Noun phrase DefiniteTable 11 linguistic features of Central Nigerian Gerhardt (1989).22.214.171.124.2. Cross River Greenberg divided it into Cross River1,2 and 3. Tom Cook divided someof the group languages into: Upper Cross, Lower cross, and Central Delta.Linguistic features • full(some Upper Noun classes Cross)/reduced(Abuan)/non(Gokana) • various, often coalescing with verb root; oftn Verbal extention indicate plurality Pronouns • independent, subject, object, possessive Sentence order • SMVOA, SVMOA; prepositions • N+ Gen; N+ Poss; Adj+ N; N+ Adj; N+ Num; N+ Noun phrase Dem; N+ DefiniteTable 12 Linguistic features of Cross River (Faraclas 1989 & Connell 1994)126.96.36.199.3. Bantoid (Greenberg named it as Non-Bantu Bantoid ) in 1970s-80s a group of scholarsattempts to do the following, Distinguish Bantu from non-Bantu languages. Distinguish a subgroup within this „Wide Bantu‟ (= Narrow Bantu).These working groups were not successful in providing definitions of „Wide‟ and „Narrow,Bantu although the internal membership of the groups has been identified.Linguistic features
Noun classes • full/ reduced/ remenant Verbal extention • widely attested Pronouns • 3rd person concord with noun classes Sentence order • SMVOA, SVMOA, prepositions • N+ Gen; N+ Poss; N+ Adj; N+ Num; N+ Dem; N+ Noun phrase DefiniteTable 13 linguistic features of Bantoid 4.8. Unclassified languagesThere are some languages are not classified yet some of them seem to belong to the Niger-Congobut do not affiliated to the family and others classification is uncertain. e.g. Bere, Mpre and Laal.5. Typology and Reconstruction 5.1. VowelsVowel harmony is shown in Niger-Congo languages based on the size of the pharynx andcontrolled by advancement or retraction of the root of the tongue and raising or lowering of thelarynx (Ladefoged 1964).Outside the Volta-Congo Doneux (1975) has reconstructed a system of ten oral vowels withATR harmony for Proto-Northern Atlantic. 5.2. ConsonantsNiger-Congo consonants have five contrasting places of articulation: Labial, dental/alveolar,palatal, velar and labial-velar (it is rare in Kordofanian and Bantu and absent in Atlantic andDogon. There are voiced and voiceless plosives (often affricates) usually voiced implosives,except in Kordofanian, Dogon and parts of Bantu-Congo. 5.3. Tone
Niger-Congo languages have complex morphophonemics and grammatical tone as result of thesurvival of tones of deleted syllables. 5.4. Noun-class prefixesProto-Niger-Congo must have had a noun class system already garmmaticalised as any familyprovides some traces of the system. Prefixing languages can change into suffixing ones by anelement attached to a final demonstrative or article (Childs 1983 & Manessy 1965). 5.5. Verbal extensionsStudies made by Voeltz (1977) shows the number of extensions have reflexives in almost allfamilies, including Kordofanian which can help reconstructing Proto-Niger-Congo. 5.6. SyntaxKordofanian, Atlantic, Kwa and Banue-Congo languages are SVOA languages while Mande isSAOVM. North Volta-Congo is SOV, SMOV. The position of nominal modifiers differsconsiderably with demonstrative element at the end of An NP in many groups. 5.7. Basic vocabularyThe West-Sudanic (=proto-Mande-Congo) reconstruction excluded Kordofanian, Ijo, Dogon andAdamawa-Ubangi. Still Kordofanian Cognates present evidence that specific lexical item can betraced back as far as the Niger-Congo proto-language.6. ConclusionNiger-Congo as the world largest family there is a potential need to be reconstructed what makesit as a priority to have an extensive study of all those languages which belong to this family.
References-Williamson Kay & Blench Roger; Niger-Congo; in African languages: Anintroduction; ed. Heine & Nurse (2000); Cambridge Univ. Press-Bernd Heine and Derek Nurse (ed.) (2008); A Linguistic Geography of Africa,Cambridge University Press; New York, U. S.-G. Tucker Childs (2033); An Introduction to African Languages; JohnBenjamins Publishing Company, Amsterdam/Philadelphia-Bendor-Samuel, John (ed.), 1989; The Niger-Congo Languages; University Pressof America; New York-Gerrit J. Dimmendaal (2008); Language Ecology and Linguistic Diversity on theAfrican Continent; Language and Linguistics Compass, 2/5 840–858.-Workshop on African Languages and Cultures for the IC (June 9, 2011): Classification and Phonological Overview of African Languages; Larry M.Hyma; University of Maryland.- The living Africa (1998); language groups: Niger-Congo Language Family.Retrieved from,http://library.thinkquest.org/16645/the_people/lang_niger.shtml