Savannas languages

The Savannas languages, also known as Gur–Adamawa (Adamawa–Gur), is a branch of the Niger–Congo languages that includes Greenberg's Gur and Adamawa–Ubangui families.

West Africa, around Burkina Faso in the west to CAR in the east
Linguistic classificationNiger–Congo
Subdivisionsmost ex-Gur, most ex-Adamawa, possibly Ubangian:


History of classificationEdit

The Gur–Adamawa link was demonstrated in Kleinewillinghöfer (1996)[2] and has been accepted as established by later researchers, who have gone further in noting that the Adamawa and Gur languages themselves do not form coherent groups and are not necessarily more closely related internally than they are to each other.

Bennett (1983) had also mentioned a North Central Niger-Congo branch consisting of Gurunsi, "Ubangian", and Trans-Benue groups, with the Trans-Benue group consisting of the Burak-Jen (i.e., Bikwin-Jen), Yungur (i.e., Bena-Mboi), and Tula-Longuda subgroups.[3]

There are several clusters of Adamawa languages; among the Gur languages, only the core of that proposal (Central Gur) has been retained, though it is possible that some of the 'peripheral' languages may turn out to be related to each other. Kleinewillinghöfer et al. (2012) note that a reconstruction of proto-Central Gur noun classes needs to include several Adamawa families.[4]

Senufo (ex-Gur) and Fali (ex-Adamawa) are excluded from Savannas, as they appear to be some of the more divergent branches of Niger–Congo.

Dimmendaal (2008) excludes the Ubangian family from Niger–Congo altogether, stating that it "probably constitutes an independent language family that cannot or can no longer be shown to be related to Niger–Congo (or any other family)," though the Ubangian languages are themselves not a valid group, and the Gbaya branch may turn out to be related to Gur.

Apart from such exceptions, Dimmendaal notes that the Savanna languages "can be shown to be genetically related beyond any reasonable doubt. The evidence is not only lexical in nature, it is based primarily on a range of cognate grammatical morphemes."[5]

Roger Blench (2012)[6] considers Gur-Adamawa to be a language continuum (linkage) rather than an actual coherent branch.

Kleinewillinghöfer (2014) notes that many "Adamawa" languages in fact share more similarities with various (Central) Gur languages than with other Adamawa languages, and proposes that early Gur-Adamawa speakers had cultivated guinea corn and millet in a wooded savanna environment.[7]


The Savannas languages, with an agnostic approach to internal classification, are as follows:


(Central) Gur

Kulango (a.k.a. "Kulango–Lorhon": ex-Gur)

Bariba (a.k.a. "Baatonũ": ex-Gur)

Vyemo (ex-Gur)

Tiefo (ex-Gur)

Wara–Natyoro (ex-Gur)

Tusya (a.k.a. "Win": ex-Gur)

Chamba–Mumuye a.k.a. Leko–Nimbari (ex-Adamawa: G2, G4, G5, G12)

Mbum–Day (ex-Adamawa: G6, G13, G14, & Day)

Bambukic (ex-Adamawa: G7, G9, G10)

WajaKam (ex-Adamawa: G1, G8)

? Baa (a.k.a. "Kwa")

Gbaya (ex-Ubangian)

? Ubangian

? Zande (ex-Ubangian)

The moribund Oblo language was left unclassified within Adamawa, and has not been addressed in Savannas.

Kleinewillinghöfer et al. (2012) note that the reconstruction of the noun-class system indicates that Waja ('Tula–Waja') and Leko–Nimbari ('Sama–Duru') (and possibly other Adamawa groups) belong with Central Gur, and that the noun-class system they reconstruct for these languages is akin to those of Bantu, Senufo, Tiefo, Vyemo, Tusya, and "Samu".

Güldemann (2018)Edit

Güldemann (2018) recognises the following coherent "genealogical units" (8 Gur, 14 Adamawa, and 7 Ubangi) but is agnostic about their positions within Niger-Congo.[8]

Branches and locations (Nigeria)Edit

Below is a list of major Savannas (Adamawa) branches and their primary locations (centres of diversity) within Nigeria based on Blench (2019).[9]

Distributions of Adamawa branches in Nigeria[9]
Branch Primary locations
Duru (Vere) Fufore LGA, Adamawa State
Leko Adamawa and Taraba States; Cameroon
Mumuye Taraba State
Yendang Mayo Belwa and Numan LGAs, Adamawa State
Waja Kaltungo and Balanga LGAs, Gombe State
Kam Bali LGA, Taraba State
Baa Numan LGA, Adamawa State
Laka Karim Lamido LGA, Taraba State and Yola LGA, Adamawa State
Jen Karim Lamido LGA, Taraba State
Bikwin Karim Lamido LGA, Taraba State
Yungur Song and Guyuk LGAs, Adamawa State


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "North Volta–Congo". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Kleinewillinghöfer, Ulrich. 1996. 'Relationship between Adamawa and Gur: The case of Waja.' Gur Papers / Cahiers Voltaiques 1.25–46.
  3. ^ Bennett, Patrick R. 1983. Adamawa-Eastern: problems and prospects. - in: Dihoff, I. R. (ed.) Current Approaches to African Linguistics. Vol. 1: 23-48.
  4. ^ Miehe, Kleinewillinghöfer, von Roncador, & Winkelmann, 2012. "Overview of noun classes in Gur (II)"
  5. ^ Gerrit Dimmendaal, 2008, "Language Ecology and Linguistic Diversity on the African Continent", Language and Linguistics Compass 2/5:841.
  6. ^ Blench, Roger. 2012. Niger-Congo: an alternative view.
  7. ^ Kleinewillinghöfer, Ulrich. 2014. Adamawa. ‘Linguistisches Kolloquium’, Seminar für Afrikawissenschaften, 04 Februar 2014. Institut für Asien- und Afrikawissenschaften, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ a b Blench, Roger (2019). An Atlas of Nigerian Languages (4th ed.). Cambridge: Kay Williamson Educational Foundation.

External linksEdit