Benue–Congo (sometimes called East Benue–Congo) is a major subdivision of the Niger–Congo language family which covers most of Sub-Saharan Africa. It consists of two main branches: the Central Nigerian (or Platoid) languages, spoken mostly in Nigeria, and the Bantoid–Cross languages, spoken in Nigeria, Cameroon and most of Sub-Saharan Africa, since they contain the Bantu languages (through the Southern Bantoid branch).
|Africa, from Nigeria eastwards and southwards|
The Benue–Congo languages shown within the Niger–Congo language family. Non-Benue–Congo languages are greyscale.
Central Nigerian (or Platoid) contains the Plateau, Jukunoid and Kainji families, and Bantoid–Cross combines the Bantoid and Cross River groups. Bantoid is only a collective term for every subfamily of Bantoid–Cross except Cross River, and this is no longer seen as forming a valid branch, however one of the subfamilies, Southern Bantoid, is still considered valid. It is Southern Bantoid which contains the Bantu languages, which are spoken across most of Sub-Saharan Africa. This makes Benue–Congo one of the largest subdivisions of the Niger–Congo language family, both in number of languages, of which Ethnologue counts 976 (2017), and in speakers, numbering perhaps 350 million. Benue–Congo also includes a few minor isolates in the Nigeria–Cameroon region, but their exact relationship is uncertain.
The neighbouring Volta–Niger branch of Nigeria and Benin is sometimes called "West Benue–Congo", but it does not form a united branch with Benue–Congo. When Benue–Congo was first proposed by Joseph Greenberg (1963), it included Volta–Niger (as West Benue–Congo); the boundary between Volta–Niger and Kwa has been repeatedly debated. Blench (2012) states that if Benue–Congo is taken to be "the noun-class languages east and north of the Niger", it is likely to be a valid group, though no demonstration of this has been made in print.
The branches of the Benue–Congo family are thought to be as follows:
- Central Nigerian, also known as Platoid
Ukaan is also related to Benue–Congo; Roger Blench suspects it may be either the most divergent (East) Benue–Congo language or the closest relative to Benue–Congo.
- Wolf, Paul Polydoor de (1971) The Noun Class System of Proto-Benue–Congo (Thesis, Leiden University). The Hague/Paris: Mouton.
- Williamson, Kay (1989) 'Benue–Congo Overview', pp. 248–274 in Bendor-Samuel, John & Rhonda L. Hartell (eds.) The Niger–Congo Languages – A classification and description of Africa's largest language family. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America.