The NIGER–CONGO LANGUAGES constitute one of the world's major language families , and Africa\'s largest in terms of geographical area, number of speakers and number of distinct languages. It is generally considered to constitute the world's largest language family in terms of distinct languages, although this is complicated by the ambiguity about what constitutes a distinct language.
It is the third largest language family in the world by number of
native speakers. One of the characteristics common to most
* 1 History
* 2 Classification history
* 2.1 Early classifications * 2.2 Westermann, Greenberg and beyond * 2.3 Niger–Congo and Nilo-Saharan
* 3 Common features
* 3.1.1 Consonants * 3.1.2 Vowels * 3.1.3 Nasality * 3.1.4 Tone
* 3.2 Morphosyntax
* 3.2.1 Noun classification * 3.2.2 Verbal extensions * 3.2.3 Word order
* 4 Major clades * 5 Notes * 6 Further reading * 7 External links
Main article: Niger–Congo homeland
Niger–Congo as it is known today was only gradually recognized as a
linguistic unit. In early classifications of the languages of
In many cases, wider classifications employed a blend of typological
and racial criteria. Thus, Friedrich Müller , in his ambitious
classification (1876–88), separated the 'Negro' and Bantu languages.
Likewise, the Africanist
Karl Richard Lepsius
In this period a relation between Bantu and languages with Bantu-like (but less complete) noun class systems began to emerge. Some authors saw the latter as languages which had not yet completely evolved to full Bantu status, whereas others regarded them as languages which had partly lost original features still found in Bantu. The Bantuist Meinhof made a major distinction between Bantu and a 'Semi-Bantu' group which according to him was originally of the unrelated Sudanic stock.
WESTERMANN, GREENBERG AND BEYOND
Westermann's 1911 Die Sudansprachen. Eine sprachvergleichende Studie laid much of the basis for the understanding of Niger–Congo.
Westermann , a pupil of Meinhof, set out to establish the internal classification of the then Sudanic languages . In a 1911 work he established a basic division between 'East' and 'West'. A historical reconstruction of West Sudanic was published in 1927, and in his 1935 'Charakter und Einteilung der Sudansprachen' he conclusively established the relationship between Bantu and West Sudanic.
Joseph Greenberg took Westermann's work as a starting-point for his
own classification. In a series of articles published between 1949 and
1954, he argued that Westermann's 'West Sudanic' and Bantu formed a
single genetic family, which he named Niger–Congo; that Bantu
constituted a subgroup of the Benue–Congo branch; that
Adamawa–Eastern, previously not considered to be related, was
another member of this family; and that Fula belonged to the West
Atlantic languages. Just before these articles were collected in final
book form (The Languages of
Bennet and Sterk (1977) presented an internal reclassification based on lexicostatistics that laid the foundation for the regrouping in Bendor-Samuel (1989). Kordofanian was presented as one of several primary branches rather than being coordinate to the family as a whole, prompting re-introduction of the term Niger–Congo, which is in current use among linguists. Many classifications continue to place Kordofanian as the most distant branch, but mainly due to negative evidence (fewer lexical correspondences), rather than positive evidence that the other languages form a valid genealogical group. Likewise, Mande is often assumed to be the second-most distant branch based on its lack of the noun-class system prototypical of the Niger–Congo family. Other branches lacking any trace of the noun-class system are Dogon and Ijaw, whereas the Talodi branch of Kordofanian does have cognate noun classes, suggesting that Kordofanian is also not a unitary group.
Glottolog (2013) accepts the core with noun-class systems, the Atlantic–Congo languages , apart from the recent inclusion of some of the Kordofanian groups, but not Niger–Congo as a whole. They list the following as separate families: Atlantic–Congo, Mande, Dogon, Ijoid, Lafofa, Katla–Tima, Heiban, Talodi, Rashad.
NIGER–CONGO AND NILO-SAHARAN
Over the years, several linguists have suggested a link between Niger–Congo and Nilo-Saharan , probably starting with Westermann's comparative work on the 'Sudanic' family in which 'Eastern Sudanic ' (now classified as Nilo-Saharan) and 'Western Sudanic ' (now classified as Niger–Congo) were united. Gregersen (1972) proposed that Niger–Congo and Nilo-Saharan be united into a larger phylum, which he termed Kongo–Saharan. His evidence was mainly based on the uncertainty in the classification of Songhay , morphological resemblances, and lexical similarities. A more recent proponent was Roger Blench (1995), who puts forward phonological, morphological and lexical evidence for uniting Niger–Congo and Nilo-Saharan in a Niger–Saharan phylum, with special affinity between Niger–Congo and Central Sudanic . However, fifteen years later his views had changed, with Blench (2011) proposing instead that the noun-classifier system of Central Sudanic, commonly reflected in a tripartite general –singulative –plurative number system, triggered the development or elaboration of the noun-class system of the Atlantic–Congo languages , with tripartite number marking surviving in the Plateau and Gur languages of Niger–Congo, and the lexical similarities being due to loans.
Reconstructions of the consonant set of several branches of
Niger–Congo (Stewart for proto-
Volta–Congo , Mukarovsky for his
proto-West-Nigritic, roughly corresponding to
Many Niger–Congo languages' vowel harmony is based on the (advanced tongue root ) feature. In this type of vowel harmony, the position of the root of the tongue in regards to backness is the phonetic basis for the distinction between two harmonizing sets of vowels. In its fullest form, this type involves two classes, each of five vowels:
The roots are then divided into and categories. This feature is lexically assigned to the roots because there is no determiner within a normal root that causes the value.
There are two types of vowel harmony controllers in Niger–Congo. The first controller is the root. When a root contains a or vowel, then that value is applied to the rest of the word, which involves crossing morpheme boundaries. For example, suffixes in Wolof assimilate to the value of the root to which they attach. Some examples of these suffixes that alternate depending on the root are:
-le -lɛ 'participant'
-o -ɔ 'nominalizing'
-əl -al 'benefactive'
Furthermore, the directionality of assimilation in root-controlled vowel harmony need not be specified. The root features and spread left and/or right as needed, so that no vowel would lack a specification and be ill-formed.
Unlike in the root-controlled harmony system, where the two values behave symmetrically, a large number of Niger–Congo languages exhibit a pattern where the value is more active or dominant than the value. This results in the second vowel harmony controller being the value. If there is even one vowel that is in the whole word, then the rest of the vowels harmonize with that feature. However, if there is no vowel that is , the vowels appear in their underlying form. This form of vowel harmony control is best exhibited in West African languages. For example, in Nawuri, the diminutive suffix /-bi/ will cause the underlying vowels in a word to become phonetically .
There are two types of vowels which affect the harmony process. These are known as neutral or opaque vowels. Neutral vowels do not harmonize to the value of the word, and instead maintain their own value. The vowels that follow them, however, will receive the value of the root. Opaque vowels maintain their own value as well, but they affect the harmony process behind them. All of the vowels following an opaque vowel will harmonize with the value of the opaque vowel instead of the vowel of the root.
The vowel inventory listed above is a ten-vowel language. This is a language in which all of the vowels of the language participate in the harmony system, producing five harmonic pairs. Vowel inventories of this type are still found in some branches of Niger-Congo, for example in the Ghana Togo Mountain languages . However, this is the rarer inventory as oftentimes there are one or more vowels that are not part of a harmonic pair. This has resulted in seven-and nine-vowel systems being the more popular systems. The majority of languages with controlled vowel harmony have either seven- or nine-vowel phonemes, with the most common non-participatory vowel being /a/. It has been asserted that this is because vowel quality differences in the mid-central region where /ə/, the counterpart of /a/, is found, are difficult to perceive. Another possible reason for the non-participatory status of /a/ is that there is articulatory difficulty in advancing the tongue root when the tongue body is low in order to produce a low vowel. Therefore, the vowel inventory for nine-vowel languages is generally:
And seven-vowel languages have one of two inventories:
Note that in the nine-vowel language, the missing vowel is, in fact, , 's counterpart, as would be expected.
The fact that ten vowels have been reconstructed for proto-Atlantic, proto-Ijoid and possibly proto- Volta–Congo has led to the hypothesis that the original vowel inventory of Niger–Congo was a full ten-vowel system. On the other hand, Stewart, in recent comparative work, reconstructs a seven-vowel system for his proto-Potou-Akanic-Bantu.
Several scholars have documented a contrast between oral and nasal vowels in Niger–Congo. In his reconstruction of proto-Volta–Congo, Steward (1976) postulates that nasal consonants have originated under the influence of nasal vowels; this hypothesis is supported by the fact that there are several Niger–Congo languages that have been analysed as lacking nasal consonants altogether. Languages like this have nasal vowels accompanied with complementary distribution between oral and nasal consonants before oral and nasal vowels. Subsequent loss of the nasal/oral contrast in vowels may result in nasal consonants becoming part of the phoneme inventory. In all cases reported to date, the bilabial /m/ is the first nasal consonant to be phonologized. Niger–Congo thus invalidates two common assumptions about nasals: that all languages have at least one primary nasal consonant, and that if a language has only one primary nasal consonant it is /n/.
The large majority of present-day
Contrastive levels of tone in some
H, M, L Yakuba , Nafaanra , Kasem , Banda , Yoruba , Jukun , Dangme , Yukuben , Akan , Anyi , Ewe , Igbo
T, H, M, L Gban , Wobe , Munzombo , Igede , Mambila , Fon
T, H, M, L, B Ashuku (Benue–Congo), Dan-Santa (Mande)
PA/S Mandinka (Senegambia) , Fula , Wolof , Kimwani
Abbreviations used: T top, H high, M mid, L low, B bottom, PA/S pitch-accent or stress Adapted from Williamson 1989:27
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In the Bantu languages, where noun classification is particularly elaborate, it typically appears as prefixes, with verbs and adjectives marked according to the class of the noun they refer to. For example, in Swahili, watu wazuri wataenda is 'good (zuri) people (tu) will go (ta-enda)'.
The same Atlantic–Congo languages which have noun classes also have a set of verb applicatives and other verbal extensions, such as the reciprocal suffix -na (Swahili penda 'to love', pendana 'to love each other'; also applicative pendea 'to love for' and causative pendeza 'to please').
A subject–verb–object word order is quite widespread among today's Niger–Congo languages, but SOV is found in branches as divergent as Mande , Ijoid and Dogon . As a result, there has been quite some debate as to the basic word order of Niger–Congo.
Whereas Claudi (1993) argues for SVO on the basis of existing SVO > SOV grammaticalization paths, Gensler (1997) points out that the notion of 'basic word order' is problematic as it excludes structures with, for example, auxiliaries . However, the structure SC-OC-VbStem (Subject concord, Object concord, Verb stem) found in the "verbal complex" of the SVO Bantu languages suggests an earlier SOV pattern (where the subject and object were at least represented by pronouns).
Noun phrases in most
The verb-final languages of the Mende region have two quite unusual word order characteristics. Although verbs follow their direct objects, oblique adpositional phrases (like "in the house", "with timber") typically come after the verb, creating a SOVX word order. Also noteworthy in these languages is the prevalence of internally headed and correlative relative clauses , in both of which the head occurs inside the relative clause rather than the main clause.
The traditional branches and major languages of the Niger–Congo family are:
Kordofanian languages : spoken in southern central Sudan, around
Some linguists consider the twenty or so Kordofanian languages to form part of the Niger–Congo family, whereas others consider them and Niger–Congo to form two separate branches of a Niger– Kordofanian language family, and yet others do not accept Kordofanian as a single group. Senufo has been placed traditionally within Gur, but is now usually considered an early offshoot from Atlantic–Congo.
However, Roger Blench believes that Adamawa , Ubangian , Kwa , Bantoid , and Bantu are not coherent groups.
The Laal , Mpre , and Jalaa languages are often linked with
Niger–Congo, but have yet to be conclusively classified.
Localization of the
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