Technical Help

Home                                        YORÙBÁ PEOPLE AND CULTURE

Kíni Àk<yc
(What is ÀK>YC?)

Zrz Nípa Yorùbá
(About Yorùbá)

Ìxcnupe Ède Yorùbá
(Yorùbá pronunciation)

Gírámà Ède Yorùbá
(Yorùbá grammar)

Àwvn Òxìxc Àk<yc
(ÀK>YC Team)



Yorùbá is a tonal language spoken natively by about thirty million people Nigeria and in the neighboring countries of the Republic of Benin and Togo. In Nigeria, Yorùbá speakers reside in the Southwest region in states such as Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Lagos, Kogi and Kwara states. Yorùbá is a Kwa language, which belongs to the Yoruboid group under the Niger-Congo phylum. It has three basic but significant tones. One of the effects of the large number of Yorùbá speakers and their geographic spread is the emergence of geography-bound linguistic variations. Yorùbá is a dialect continuum including several distinct dialects (Bamgbose (1966)). Estimates of the total number of Yorùbá dialects vary from twelve to twenty-six (Ojo (1977), Adetugbo (1982), Oyelaran (1970, 1992), Mustapha (1987), Ojo (2001).
The differences inherent in these dialects are marked in the areas of pronunciation, grammatical structure and vocabulary. There are other dialects found all over West Africa. In the Republic of Benin, Yorùbá dialects include Ketu, Nago, Ije, Ajase, Idaitsa, Tsabe; while Ana and Itsa are two of the dialects found in Togo. Some Yorùbá dialects are also found in the African Diaspora, especially the Caribbean. The dialect of Yorùbá used in Brazil is called Nago, while the one used in Cuba is referred to as Lucumi. It is however possible to classify Yorùbá dialectal forms, found in Nigeria, into five regional groupings: North-West Yorùbá (NWY); North Eastern Yorùbá (NEY); Central Yorùbá (CY); South-West Yorùbá (SWY); South-East Yorùbá (SEY). Phonological, lexical and grammatical variations are the hallmarks of these groupings since there are variant degrees of mutual intelligibility among the ‘geographic’ dialects found in each group. A consensus standard form has however evolved and is recognized as the form for writing and teaching the language. This form, relatively close to the SWY, is understood by speakers of all the different dialects and it continues to serve the communicative purpose of all speakers.

In the 1960s through the 1970s, various orthography committees were set up, by both government and academic groups, to consider and subsequently review the standard orthography for the language. Significant reviews were done based on the report of the orthography committee in 1966. It is primarily the basis for the creation and introduction into schools of the standard Yorùbá orthography and hence for the standard Yorùbá language. The standard form of Yorùbá is the type of Yorùbá learned at school, and spoken (or written) mostly by educated native speakers to addressees who speak different dialects (Bamgbose (1966)). The language is one of the three national languages in Nigeria. It is an honor due, in part, to the socio-political importance and sheer number of its speakers. This has translated into socio-linguistic developments for the language in terms of its study and usage in the country.

As with many other African languages, the earliest study of the Yorùbá language was done by missionaries interested in translating the scriptures for evangelical purposes. The peculiar outcome of these efforts (coupled with the abolition of slavery) was the emergence of the writing and studying of the Yorùbá language and culture among settled free slaves in Sierra Leone. Known as Aku, these Yorùbá people did pioneering work on the writing and studying of the language, such that Yorùbá became one of the first West African languages to have a written grammar and dictionary in 1849. Since then, work has continued in and on the language until today. There are many grammars, dictionaries and literary texts in the language today.

© African Studies Institute, University of Georgia