Nalu language

Nalu (also known as Nalou[3]) is an Atlantic language of Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, spoken by the Nalu people, a West African people who settled the region before the arrival of the Mandinka in the 14th or 15th centuries.[4] It is spoken predominantly by adults. It is estimated to be spoken by a range of 10,000 to 25,000 people.[3] It is considered an endangered language due to its dwindling population of speakers.[5]

Native toGuinea, Guinea-Bissau
Native speakers
18,500 (2014)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3naj


Contrary to prior classifications, Güldemann (2018) classifies Nalu as unclassified within Niger-Congo. It also does not form a subgroup with the Rio Nunez languages.[6]

Nalu is traditionally classified as Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Mbulugish-Nalu.[7][8]


The Nalu people who speak Nalu have been described as settling in West Africa before the Mandinka people.[9] This would place them as existing in West Africa between the 14th and 15th centuries. Today, the Nalu speakers are shifting toward the Susu language which is gaining more popularity in Guinea.[10] It has a predominantly adult speaking population. The next generation is being passed on the language, however, in a few remote villages around Katoufoura.

Geographic DistributionEdit

Nalu is spoken predominantly on the littorals, or shore regions, of Guinea and Guinea-Bissau.[11] Most Nalu speakers in Guinea live north of the Nuñez River on the Tristão islands, in the sub-prefecture of Kanfarandé which is the prefecture of Boké. In Guinea-Bissau, most speakers of Nalu live in the Cacine estuary in the Tombali region.[12]


Nalu underwent a sound change in its language.[13] Sound change generally occurs due to what sounds require less effort for the speaker. These sound changes are usually limited to each dialect in a language and examples of the Nalu language sound changes are in the section below. Nalu has six dialects. Three are spoken in Guinea-Conakry and three are spoken in Guinée-Bissau.[13] However, the relationship between the dialects is unknown.


Nouns [13][14]

English Nalu
man be-cel
dirty/black m-balax
cold m-hon
arrow n-kiam
axe n-wōfañ
blood a-nyak
bow m-firl
brother n-wōke
chief/king m-fem/be-fem
devil/evil spirit m-banjon
medicine man (doctor) mi-let
fire met
god gu-dana
moon m-bilañ
night fot
slave m-bōl
snake mi-sis


English Nalu
to come m-ba
to kill rama
to die n-ref

Sound Changes Over Time[13]

English Pre-Sound Change Nalu Post-Sound Change Nalu
bone nhol a-hol
mouth n-sol a-sol
to kill m-rama rama
man nlam-cel be-cel
eye n-cet a-cet


  1. ^ "Nalu". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-12-06.
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Nalu". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ a b "Did you know Nalu is vulnerable?". Endangered Languages. Retrieved 2017-03-09.
  4. ^ Seidel, Frank (2012). "Language Documentation of Nalu in Guinea, West Africa" (PDF). Center for African Studies Research Report: 18.
  5. ^ Hair, P. E. H. (1967). "Ethnolinguistic Continuity on the Guinea Coast". The Journal of African History. 8: 253. doi:10.1017/s0021853700007040. JSTOR 179482.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ "Nalu". The Endangered Languages Project. Retrieved 2017-03-07.
  8. ^ Simons, G. & Fennig, C. "Nalu". Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Retrieved 2017-03-07.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ Rodney, Walter (1970). A History of the Upper Guinea Coast. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  10. ^ Seidel, Frank (2017). "Nalu Language Archive". Endangered Languages Archive. Retrieved 2017-03-07.
  11. ^ Appiah, K. & Gates, H. (2010). Encyclopedia of Africa. Oxford University Press. p. 213.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  12. ^ "Project Gallery". Endangered Language Documentation Programme. Retrieved 2017-03-08.
  13. ^ a b c d Voeltz, F. K. Erhard (1996). "Les Langues de la Guinée". Cahiers d'Étude des Langues Guinéennes. 1: 24–25.
  14. ^ a b Johnston, H (1919). A Comparative Study of the Bantu and Semi-Bantu Languages. Clarendon Press: Oxford. pp. 750–772).

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