Limba language

The Limba language, Hulimba, is a Niger-Congo language of Sierra Leone and Guinea. It is not closely related to other languages and appears to form its own branch of the Niger–Congo family, although it was formerly classified as an Atlantic language.[4] Dialects include Tonko, Sela, Kamuke (or Ke), Wara-wara, Keleng, Biriwa, and Safroko. The eastern variety, spoken primarily in Guinea, is quite distinct. Limba has a system of noun classes, marked by an old, eroded set of prefixes augmented by a newer set of enclitics.

Native toSierra Leone, Guinea
Native speakers
(446,000 cited 1993-2016)[1][2]
Language codes
ISO 639-3Either:
lia – West–Central
lma – East


Ethnologue lists the following two varieties of Limba, spoken in Guinea and Sierra Leone.

East Limba is spoken in Ouré-Kaba, Guinea.

West-Central Limba is spoken in northern Sierra Leone. It is spoken in the Little Scarcies River area in east Bombali District and northeast Kambia District, as well as north of Makeni.


Like neighboring Temne, Limba has an unusual contrast among its consonants. It distinguishes dental and alveolar, but the dental consonants are apical and the alveolar consonants are laminal, the opposite of the general pattern.[5]


Noun classesEdit

Noun classes are distinguished by the form of the definite article (class particle) which follows the noun, and sometimes also by a prefix. Roughly, the following classes can be deduced from the examples given by Mary Lane Clarke:[6]

A. Person Class

  • Examples:
  • Wukọnọ wo - a Kono person;
  • sapiri wo - crowbar;
  • kaň wo - the sun

Definite article (follows the noun): wo; pronoun ("he, she, it" as subject): wunde, wun

B. People Class

  • Examples:
  • Bikọnọ be - Kono people;
  • sapiriň be - crowbars;
  • bia be - people, ancestors

Def. art.: be; pronoun: bende, ben

C. Language Class

  • Examples:
  • Hukọnọ ha - the Kono language;
  • hutori ha - toe

Def. art.: ha; pronoun: -?- (presumably this is neuter according to class, and so on through the neuter classes)

D. Country Class

  • Examples:
  • Kakọnọ ka - Konoland

Def. art.: ka

E. Bodkins Class

  • Examples:
  • tatọli ta - bodkins;
  • tatori ta - toe

Def. art.: ta

F. Cascade Class

  • Examples:
  • kutintọ ko - cascade;
  • kekeň ko - country;
  • kutiň ko - dog

Def. art.: ko

G. Dogs Class, plurals of F.

  • Examples:
  • ňatintọ ňa - cascades;
  • ňakeň ňa - countries
  • ňatiň ňa - dogs

Def. art.: ňa

H. Arrival Class

  • Examples:
  • matebeň ma - calm (noun);
  • matalaň ma - arrival;
  • masandiň ma - needle

Def. art.: ma

I. Needles Class, plurals of H.

  • Examples:
  • masandi ma - needles;
  • matubucuciň ma - signs;
  • mendeň ma - days, sleeps

Def. art.: ma

J. Yam Class

  • Examples:
  • ndamba ki - yam;
  • nbēn ki (the b is a "smothered b") - bracelet;
  • nkala ki - vine

Def. art.: ki

K. Bracelets Class, plurals of J.

  • Examples:
  • ndambeň ki - yams;
  • nbēni ki ("smothered b" as above) - bracelets;
  • nbuliň ki (also with "smothered b") - windpipes

Def. art.: ki

L. Meat Class

  • Examples:
  • piňkari ba - gun, musket;
  • bọňa ba (bọňa has "smothered b", as above) - path, way;
  • bara ba - meat, flesh

Def. art.: ba

M. Boxes Class, plurals of L.

  • Examples:
  • piňkariň ba - guns, muskets;
  • bọňeň ba (bọňeň also has "smothered b") - paths, ways;
  • kankaren ba - boxes, trunks

Def. art.: ba

N. Yarn Class

  • Examples:
  • mulufu mu - woof, yarn;
  • muceňi mu - suffering;
  • mufukeki mu - fan

Def. art.: mu

O. Waves Class

  • Examples:
  • muňkuliň mu - waves;
  • mudọňiň mu - habitations

Def. art.: mu

P. Kusini-fruits Class

  • Examples:
  • busini bu - fruits of the kusini tree

Def. art.: bu

Q. A class with definite article wu

  • Examples: - ? -

Other nouns, including nouns of quantity, etc., take no article. It may be that they are classless:

  • Examples:
  • Alukorana - the Qur'an (Arabic);
  • disa - fringe, shawl;
  • duba - ink (from Mandingo);
  • kameci - late, brown rice


  1. ^ "Limba, East". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-08-11.
  2. ^ "Limba, West-Central". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-08-11.
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Limba". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ Güldemann, Tom (2018). "Historical linguistics and genealogical language classification in Africa". In Güldemann, Tom (ed.). The Languages and Linguistics of Africa. The World of Linguistics series. 11. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. pp. 58–444. doi:10.1515/9783110421668-002. ISBN 978-3-11-042606-9.
  5. ^ Ladefoged, Peter; Maddieson, Ian (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-631-19815-4.
  6. ^ Mary Lane Clarke, A Limba–English Dictionary, or, Tampeň ta ka Taluň ta ka Hulimba ha in Huiňkilisi ha, Houghton, New York, 1922, reprinted 1971 by Gregg International Publishers, Farnborough, England.[page needed] This information is based on the Biriwa and Safroko dialects.

Further readingEdit