West Atlantic Languages

West Atlantic Languages


western Bantoid languages, a subfamily of the Niger-Congo languages (according to the classification of J. Greenberg); divided into two branches. The northern branch, which is distributed in Guinea, Portuguese Guinea, Senegal, and Gambia, numbered approximately 6.1 million speakers in 1964; the most important languages are Serer, Wolof, Dyola, Balante, Nalu, and Fulani. The southern languages, distributed in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, number approximately 1.7 million speakers; the most important languages are Temne, Kissi, Bulom, Limba, and Gola. The kinship of the West Atlantic languages is manifested on both the grammatical and lexical levels. The most characteristic common feature is the presence of a system of noun classes, marked chiefly by prefixes. Fulani, the language of the Fulbe (Foulah) people in the vast territory of western Africa, from Senegal and Mauritania in the west to northern Nigeria in the east, must be considered separately; its speakers number 4.5 million. The position of Fulani within the linguistic relationship was formerly unclear. (The German Africanist C. Meinhof related it to the Hamitic languages.) New investigations have finally permitted the classification of this language in the northern branch of the West Atlantic languages.


Meinhof, C. Die Sprachen der Hamiten. Hamburg, 1912.
Westermann, D., and M. A. Bryan. Languages of West Africa. London, 1952.
Greenberg, J. The Languages of Africa. Bloomington, Ind., 1963.


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