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Niger-Congo languages

The Niger-Congo languages are probably the largest group of the world in terms of different languages. Some of the African languages with the largest number of speakers belong to it. A common property of many Niger-Congo languages is the use of a noun class system.

Joseph H. Greenberg was the first to identify the boundaries of this family, which he called Niger-Kordofanian, in his book Languages of Africa. John Bendor-Samuel introduced the name Niger-Congo for the whole family, which is in current use among linguists. (see Kordofanian languages)

The major languages or subgroups belonging to Niger-Congo are

Some linguists link the thirty or so Kordofanian languages to the Niger-Congo family, forming a Niger-Kordofanian language family. While a plausible hypothesis, this idea is still generally regarded as not proven.

The Laal, Mpre, and Jalaa languages are often linked with Niger-Congo, but have yet to be conclusively classified.


  • Joseph H. Greenberg, The Languages of Africa. Indiana Univ. Press (1966).
  • Bernd Heine and Derek Nurse , African Languages - An Introduction. Cambridge Univ. press (2000)
  • John Bendor-Samuel (ed.), The Niger-Congo Languages — A classification and description of Africa's largest language family, University Press of America (1989).
  • Ethnologue: Niger-Congo Family Tree

Last updated: 02-07-2005 16:18:27
Last updated: 03-18-2005 11:16:12