You are here: Home » Niger-Congo » Benue-Congo » Yoruba
  • Follow Us!

Yoruba 

Yoruba

Introduction

Welcome

Yorùbá (èdè Yorùbá) is a member of the Benue-Congo branch of the Niger-Congo language family. It is spoken by close to 20 million people, most of whom live in Nigeria. It is also spoken in Benin, Togo, United Kingdom, USA (Ethnologue).

mapStatus
Even though the official language of Nigeria is English, Yorùbá together with Igbo and Hausa are the quazi- official languages that serve as lingua francas for speakers of the 400 odd languages spoken in Nigeria. In southwest Nigeria where most of Yorùbá speakers are concentrated, Yorùbá, although not an official language, is used in government administration, print and electronic media, at all levels of education, in literature and in film.

Code-switching between Yorùbá and English is a way of life for educated Yorùbá-English bilinguals. They use Yorùbá mainly in the family setting and in formal situations such as village or tribal meetings. They use standard English in formal or official situations. In informal situations they use a creolized form of English dubbed Yoruglish. The latter represents a blend of both English and Yorùbá grammar and vocabulary. In these situations, monolingual speakers of Yorùbá use an informal variety of Yorùbá.

Dialects

The name Yorùbá applies to a continuum of dialects with varying degrees of mutual intelligibility. Ethnologue lists 20 distinct varieties which can be grouped into three major geographic dialect areas that are characterized by major differences in pronunciation, and to a lesser degree in grammar and vocabulary:

  • Northwest Yorùbá
  • Southeast Yorùbá
  • Central Yorùbá

Translation of the Bible by a Yorùbá speaker, Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, in 1884 led to the development of a standard written Yoruba that has been widely adopted across the dialects. Standard Yoruba is the literary form of the language learned at school and heard on radio and television. Although Standard Yorùbá is based mostly on the Oyo and Ibadan dialects, it contains features from other dialects. In addition, it has several unique features such as a simplified vowel harmony system, and numerous calques, or loan translations, from English.

Structure

Sound system

Vowels
Standard Yorùbá has seven oral and five nasal vowels. Dialects differ in the number of vowels they have. Nasal vowels are produced by lowering the soft palate so that air escapes both through the mouth and the nose.There are no diphthongs in Yoruba. Sequences of vowels are pronounced as separate syllables.

Oral
Nasal
Front
Back
Front
Back
High
i
u
ĩ
ũ
Mid-high
e
o
Mid
ε
Open O
ε˜
Open O˜
Low
a
  • /ε/ and /Open O/ are represented in orthography as Dotted E and Dotted O respectively.
  • Nasal vowels are represented orthographically as a sequence of vowel + n when following an oral consonant, and as simple vowels when following anasal consonant, e.g., sìn ’accompany,’ mDotted O ’know.’
  • /ε˜/ is a rare sound in Standard Yoruba which appears only in a few words.

Consonants
Standard Yoruba has 17 consonants.

Palatal Velar
Stops Voiceless
t
k
kp
Voiced
b
d
barred J
g
gb
Fricatives Voiceless
f
s
Esh
h
Voiced
Nasals
m
Lateral
l
Flap
r
Semivowels
w
j
  • /kp/ and /gb/ are Labio-velar consonants that are pronounced simultaneously, not in a sequence.
  • /Esh/ like sh in shop.
  • /barred J/ like j in jet.
  • Yorùbá has a syllabic nasal which forms a syllable nucleus by itself and whose place of articulation varies depending on the sound that follows. When it is followed by a consonant, it is homorganic to it, e.g., mbDotted O ’is coming,’ nfDotted O ’is washing,’ nsùn ‘is sleeping.’

Tones
Yorùbá is a tonal language. There are three tones:

High acute accent, e.g., á
Mid unmarked
Low grave accent, e.g., à

Tones can distinguish between otherwise identical words, e.g., igbá ’calabash,’ igba ’two hundred,’ and ìgbá ‘locust tree,’ igbà ’type of pawn system.’ acuteand grave

Syllable structure
Yorùbá syllables consist of a vowel with or without a preceding consonant. There are no consonant clusters.

Grammar
Yorùbá uses word order and particles to mark grammatical relations.

Nouns
Yorùbá nouns are not marked for gender, number, or case. There are no definite or indefinite articles. Linguistic context determines whether a word denotes singular or plural. Word order indicates the function of nouns and pronouns in sentences.

Verbs
Yorùbá verbs are marked for tense and aspect. Tense and aspect are expressed by particles that appear between the subject and the verb, e.g.::

perfective marker ti Ó ti kú
‘He/she was dead.’
future tense marker á Dotted OrDotted E mi á lDotted O.
‘Friend my will go.’

Word order
The normal word order in Yoruba is Subject-Verb-Object, e.g., Bàbá ra bátá ’Father buy shoes.’ Adjectives usually follow nouns, e.g., ajá funfun ‘dog white,’and adverbials usually follow verbs. Focus, or the emphasized element of a sentence, is marked by the particle ni, e.g., Èmi ni Tolú rí ‘It’s me who saw Tolu.’

Vocabulary
The principal sources of word formation in Yorùbá are derivation and reduplication.

derivation apDotted Eja ’fisherman’ from a ’prefix’ + pa ’kill’ + Dotted Eja ’fish.’
reduplication púpò ’much’ and púpòpúpò ’very much’

In addition, Yorùbá vocabulary has been enriched by borrowings from neighboring Hausa. There are two kinds of Hausa loan words: those of Hausa origin, and those that were borrowed by Hausa from Arabic.

Here are a few common words and phrases in Yoruba.

Ba wo ni. Hello.
O da bDotted O. Good bye
E jDotted O. Please
Dotted Se. Thank you.
BDotted E ni. Yes.
O ti. No.
Okùnrin Man
Obinrin Woman

Below are Yorùbá numerals 1-10.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
ení
èjì
èta
èrin
árún
èfà
èje
èjo
èsán
èwá

Writing

Yorùbá was an unwritten language until the early part of the 19th century. Translation of the Bible by a Yoruba speaker, Bishop Samuel Crowther, in 1884 led to the development of a standard written Yoruba that has been widely adopted across the dialects. The alphabet has undergone several changes. By 1920, there was a steady flow of Yorùbá literature which has continued until this day. Today, there is a substantial body of literature, including books, newspapers, and magazines. One of the best-known Yoruba writers is Amos Tutuola, whose work has been translated into many languages.

Yorùbá is written in the Latin alphabet adapted to represent the sounds of Yorùbá by using the digraph gb and a few diacritics including a dot under the lettersdotted Edotted O, and dotted S The Latin letters c, q, v, x, z are not used. High and low tone is marked by acute and grave accent marks respectively.

Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Yorùbá.

Gbogbo ènìyán ni a bì ní òmìnira; iyì àti dotted Etdotted O kdotted Odotted Okan sí ddotted Ogba. Wdotted On ní dotted Ebùn ti láàyè àti ti dotted Erí-dotted Okàn, sí ydotted E kí wdotted On ó máa hùwà sí ara wdotted On gdotted Egdotted E bí dotted Omdotted O ìyá.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Did You Know?

Difficulty

Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Yoruba?
There is no data on the difficulty of Yoruba for speakers of English.

Add a Comment