Ijaw languages

Southern Nigeria
Linguistic classificationNiger–Congo?
  • East
  • Central–West
ISO 639-2 / 5ijo

The Ijaw languages (/ˈɔː/),[1] also spelt Ịjọ,[2] are the languages spoken by the Ijo people in southern Nigeria.


The Ijo languages are traditionally considered a distinct branch of the Niger–Congo family (perhaps along with Defaka in a group called Ijoid).[3] They are notable for their subject–object–verb basic word order, which is otherwise an unusual feature in Niger–Congo, shared only by such distant potential branches as Mande and Dogon. Like Mande and Dogon, Ijoid lacks even traces of the noun class system considered characteristic of Niger–Congo. This motivated Joseph Greenberg, in his initial classification of Niger–Congo, to describe them as having split early from that family. However, owing to the lack of these features, Linguist Gerrit Dimmendaal doubts their inclusion in Niger–Congo altogether and considers the Ijoid languages to be an independent family.[4]

The following internal classification is based on Jenewari (1989) and Williamson & Blench (2000).

Blench (2019) moves Southeast Ijo into the West (or Central) branch.[5]

Names and locations

Below is a list of Ijaw language names, populations, and locations from Blench (2019).[5]

Language Cluster Alternate spellings Own name for language Endonym(s) Other names (location-based) Other names for language Speakers Location(s)
Nembe–Akaha cluster Nembe–Akaha Brass–Ịjọ 71,500 (1977 Voegelin and Voegelin) Rivers State, Brass LGA
Nembe Nembe–Akaha Nimbi Nembe Brass (older term not giving way to Nembe), Nempe, Itebu (Cust 1883); (Nembe) Brass (Tepowa 1904); Nembe–Brass (Book of Common Prayer, 1957); Ijo (Nembe) (Bible, 1956); Brass–Nembe–Ijaw (Rowlands, 1960); Nembe–Ịjọ (Alagoa, 1967). 66,600 (1963) Rivers State, Brass LGA, Nembe, Ọkpọma and Tụwọn (Brass) towns and nearby villages
Akaha Nembe–Akaha Akasa, Akassaa Akaha Akaha 4,913 (1963) Rivers State, Brass LGA, Opu–Akassa town and nearby hamlets
Nkọrọ Nkọrọ Nkoro Kirika (autonymn c.f. Opu Kirika for Kịrịkẹ) 20,000 (1963) Rivers State, Bonny LGA; Opu–Nkọrọ town and 11 villages
Ịjọ Ịjọ
Inland Ịjọ cluster Inland Ịjọ Rivers State, Yenagoa and Brass LGAs
Biseni Inland Ịjọ Buseni Biseni Biseni Amegi Community consisting of five sections Rivers State, Yenagoa LGA, Akpeịdẹ, Egbebiri, Kalama,Tẹịn and Tụbụrụ towns
Akịta Inland Ịjọ Okordia, Ọkọdi‡ Akịta Akịta Community consisting of six sections, six towns Rivers State, Yenagoa LGA
Oruma Inland Ịjọ Tugbeni Tugbeni Kạạmạ A single town surrounded by Central Delta languages Rivers State, Brass LGA
Ịḅanị KOIN (Kalaḅarị–Okrika–Ịḅanị–Nkọrọ) Ụḅanị (Igbo form), Bonny (anglicized), Obani (Cust 1883) Okuloma, Okoloḅa (indigenous name of Bonny town) 60,000 (1987, UBS) Rivers State, Bonny LGA; Bonny town and 35 towns and villages. There may be some elderly speakers at Opobo, but this is unconfirmed.
Kalaḅarị KOIN (Kalaḅarị–Okrika–Ịḅanị–Nkọrọ) Kalaḅarị Kalaḅarị New Calabar 200,000 (1987, UBS) Rivers State, Degema and Asari–Toru LGAs; 3 major towns and 24 villages
Kịrịkẹ KOIN (Kalaḅarị–Okrika–Ịḅanị–Nkọrọ) Okrika Okrika town Rivers State, Okrika LGA

In the diaspora

Berbice Creole Dutch, an extinct creole spoken in Guyana, had a lexicon based partly on an Ịjọ language, perhaps the ancestor of Kalabari (Kouwenberg 1994).

Education and media

In June 2013, the Izon Fie instructional book and audio CDs were launched at a ceremony attended by officials of the government of Bayelsa State. The Niger Delta University is working to expand the range of books available in the Ijo language. Translations of poetry and the Call of the River Nun by Gabriel Okara are underway.[6]

See also


  1. ^ Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student's Handbook, Edinburgh
  2. ^ generally pronounced /ˈ/ in English
  3. ^ Williamson, Kay (2011-08-11). A Grammar of the Kolokuma Dialect of Ịjọ. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521175265.
  4. ^ Dimmendaal, Gerrit Jan (2011-01-01). Historical Linguistics and the Comparative Study of African Languages. John Benjamins Publishing. ISBN 9027211787.
  5. ^ a b Blench, Roger (2019). An Atlas of Nigerian Languages (4th ed.). Cambridge: Kay Williamson Educational Foundation.
  6. ^ Garba, Kabir Alabi (2013-06-08). "Izon Fie… Popularising An Indigenous Tongue". The Guardian Nigeria. Retrieved 2013-06-15.


  • Freemann, R. A., and Kay Williamson. 1967. Ịjọ proverbs. Research Notes (Ibadan) 1:1-11.
  • Kouwenberg, Silvia 1994. A grammar of Berbice Dutch Creole. (Mouton Grammar Library 12). Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Lee, J. D., and Kay Williamson. 1990. A lexicostatistic classification of Ịjọ dialects. Research in African Languages and Linguistics 1:1.1-10.
  • Williamson, Kay. 1963. The syntax of verbs of motion in Ịjọ. J. African Languages 2.150-154.
  • Williamson, Kay. 1966. Ịjọ dialects in the Polyglotta Africana. Sierra Leone Language Review 5. 122-133.
  • Williamson, Kay. 1969. 'Igbo' and 'Ịjọ', chapters 7 and 8 in: Twelve Nigerian Languages, ed. by E. Dunstan. Longmans.
  • Williamson, Kay. 1971. Animal names in Ịjọ. Afr. Notes 6, no. 2, 53-61.
  • Williamson, Kay. 1973. Some reduced vowel harmony systems. Research Notes 6:1-3. 145-169.
  • Williamson, Kay. 1977. Multivalued features for consonants. Language 53.843-871.
  • Williamson, Kay. 1978. From tone to pitch-accent: the case of Ịjọ. Kiabàrà 1:2.116-125.
  • Williamson, Kay. 1979. Consonant distribution in Ịjọ. In: Linguistic and literary studies presented to Archibald Hill, ed. E.C. Polome and W. Winter, 3.341-353. Lisse, Netherlands: Peter de Ridder Press.
  • Williamson, Kay. 1979. Medial consonants in Proto-Ịjọ. Journal of African Languages and Linguistics 1.73-94.
  • Williamson, Kay. 1987. Nasality in Ịjọ. In: Current trends in African linguistics, 4, ed. by David Odden, 397-415.
  • Williamson, Kay. 1989. Tone and accent in Ịjọ. In Pitch accent systems, ed. by Harry v.d. Hulst and Norval Smith, 253-278. Foris Publications.
  • Williamson, Kay. 2004. The language situation in the Niger Delta. Chapter 2 in: The development of Ịzọn language, edited by Martha L. Akpana, 9-13.
  • Williamson, Kay, and A. O. Timitimi. 1970. A note on number symbolism in Ịjọ. African Notes (Ibadan) 5:3. 9-16.
  • Williamson, Kay & Timitime, A.O. (197?) 'A note on Ijo number symbolism', African Notes, 5, 3, 9-16.
  • Filatei, Akpodigha. 2006. The Ijaw Language Project. (Editor of www.ijawdictionary.com). www.ijawdictionary.com
On specific languages
  • Williamson, Kay. 1962. (Republished by Bobbs-Merrill Reprints 1971.). Changes in the marriage system of the Okrika Ịjọ. Africa 32.53-60.
  • Orupabo, G. J., and Kay Williamson. 1980. Okrika. In West African language data sheets, Volume II, edited by M.E. Kropp Dakubu. Leiden: West African Linguistic Society and African Studies Centre.

External links

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