Monday, July 29, 2013

Language Profile: Yoruba

A few months ago, we finally reached our first African language in our profile of Hausa, a Chadic language spoken in Niger and Nigeria. Today we'll be looking at Yoruba, another African language principally spoken in Nigeria and Benin.

Yoruba is a member of the Niger-Congo language family, and is the native language of the Yoruba people, an ethnic group in West Africa. While it does not have official status in any country, it is considered to be a major language of Nigeria alongside Hausa and Igbo, while English is the country's official language. In Benin, French is official, while Yoruba and Fon are important vernacular languages. 

The Cathedral of Cotonou, the largest city in Benin.
The language has many dialects that are generally divided into three groups by geographic area. There is also a standard dialect of Yoruba that is taught in schools, used by news media, and is the main written form of the language.

Religion has also influenced the vocabulary of Yoruba since Christianity and Islam have been adopted by some members of the Yoruba ethnic group. In particular, the language has incorporated several Arabic loanwords due to the influence of Islam in the area. 

While Yoruba was once written using a form of Arabic script, for several centuries it has been written primarily using Latin alphabets. It is currently written using a Latin alphabet without the letters c, q, v, x, and z, but with the addition of the digraph gb. In Benin however, a slightly different Latin-based alphabet is used.