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Overview. Adamawa-Ubangi is a family of languages that belongs to the Niger-Congo phylum. It is prevalent in central Africa, particularly in eastern Nigeria, central Cameroon, southern Chad, the Central African Republic, the north of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and southwestern Sudan. Four members of the family have more than one million speakers: Banda, Zande, Ngbaka and Gbaya.

External Classification: Niger-Congo, Volta-Congo, North Volta-Congo. Adamawa-Ubangi languages are quite close to some Gur languages (another branch of the Niger-Congo phylum).

Internal Classification: Adamawa-Ubangi includes approximately 150 languages divided into the Adamawa and Ubangi groups.

  1. a) Adamawa, spoken in Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad, includes 16 groups and about 90 languages:

  1. Waja (8 languages)

  2. Leeko (4 languages)

  3. Duru (20 languages)

  4. Mumuye (9 languages)

  5. Mbum (15 languages)

  6. Yungur (6 languages)

  7. Kam (or Nyimwom)

  8. Jen (2 languages)

  9. Logunda (or Longuda)

  10. Fali

  11. Nombari (or Nimbari)

  12. Bua (9 languages)

  13. Kim

  14. Day

  15. Burak (6 languages)

  16. Kwa (Baa)

The two largest Adamawa languages are Mumuye (in Nigeria) and Tupuri (in Cameroon and Chad) with 500,000 and 250,000 speakers respectively.

  1. b) Ubangi, spoken in the Central African Republic, northern Democratic Republic of the Congo and southwestern Sudan, includes 6 main groups and 40 languages:

  1. Gbaya (4 languages)

  2. Banda (16 languages)

  3. Ngbandi

  4. Sere (6 languages)

  5. Ngbaka-Mba (9 languages)

  6. Zande (5 languages)

The largest Ubangi languages are Banda, Zande, Ngbaka and Gbaya with more than 1 million speakers each.

Speakers. The total number of Adamawa-Ubangi native speakers is close to 12 million. Its largest languages are:


Sango is a Ngbandi-based creole, spoken by 400,000 as a native language, but used as a lingua franca in the Central African Republic and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by a further 4 million or more.


  1. Phonology

  2. -Most languages have five or seven vowels (i, e, ɛ, a, u, o, ɔ) and exhibit vowel harmony.

  1. -In the Adamawa group, any consonant can be in initial position but in the middle of a word or in final position only some of them are allowed.

  1. -Prenasalised stops and fricatives are common. Implosives exist in some languages.

  1. -Adamawa-Ubangi languages are tonal, having two to four contrastive tones.

  1. Morphology

  2. -Remnants of a noun class system are found in Adamawa. In contrast to the prevailing tendency in Niger-Congo, noun classes are marked by suffixes.

  1. -Inflectional morphemes are usually prefixes while derivational ones are suffixes.

  1. -The verbal system is based more on aspect (perfective and imperfective) than on tense.

  1. -Suffixes known as verbal extensions are used to convey additional meanings to the stem, like iterative, intensive, benefactive and causative.

  1. Syntax

  2. -Predominant word order in the sentence is Subject-Verb-Object. Genitives, adjectives, demonstratives and numerals follow the head-noun; prepositions are used. Interrogative markers are placed at the end of the sentence, and negative markers at the end of a clause.

  1. © 2013 Alejandro Gutman and Beatriz Avanzati                                                                               

Further Reading

  1. -'Adamawa-Ubangi'. R. Boyd. In The Niger-Congo Languages, 178-215. J. Bendor-Samuel (ed). University Press of America (1989).

  2. -'Niger-Kordofanian (Niger-Congo) languages'. D. Pulleyblank. In The World's Major Languages, 857-865. B. Comrie (ed). Routledge (2009).

  3. -'Languages of West Africa'. D. Westermann & M. A. Bryan. In Handbook of African Languages II. Oxford University Press (1952).

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Adamawa-Ubangi Languages

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