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Overview. Ijoid is a small linguistic branch (or family), belonging to the Niger-Congo phylum, spoken by about 2.5 million people in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria.

External Classification: Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Ijoid.

Internal Classification: Ijoid includes 10 languages, 9 of which belong to the Ijo complex; the other is Defaka spoken only by a handful of people in the city of Nkoro in SE Nigeria. The Ijo complex is subdivided into Western and Eastern groups. The Western group includes Izon (also called Ijo), the largest Ijoid language, and the Inland subgroup composed of three small languages. The Eastern group includes the macro-language Kalabari-Okrika-Ibani plus two smaller languages.

  1. a) Ijo Complex

  2. Western Group

  3. Izon








  4. Eastern Group

  5. Kalabari










  6. *Data collection not recent: Biseni, Okodia, Akassa in 1977; Nkoroo in 1989; Oruma in 1995.

  1. b) Defaka: only 200 speakers in 2001 (shifting to Nkoroo).


  1. Phonology

  2. -Proto-Ijo has been reconstructed as having nine oral vowels but its descendants usually have only five to seven. Besides oral vowels, Ijoid languages have a number of nasal vowels.

  1. -They also have a system of vowel harmony. Vowels are divided into two mutually exclusive sets: +ATR and -ATR. Vowels of a morpheme (or less frequently a word) must belong either to one or the other.

  1. -Their consonants include labio-velar stops and voiced implosives.

  1. -Most Ijoid languages have a two tone-system though some, like Akassa, have a pitch-accent system.

  1. Morphology

  1. Nominal

  2. -Exceptionally among Niger-Congo, Ijoid languages do not have a noun class system.

  1. -Personal pronouns distinguish three genders: human masculine, human feminine and neuter non-human.

  1. -Nouns and pronouns distinguish singular and plural.

  1. Verbal

  2. -Tense and aspect are indicated by markers placed after the verb.

  1. -Serial verbs are common, only the last verb is marked for tense and aspect.

  1. -Suffixes, called verbal extensions, give a causative, directional or reciprocal meaning to the stem.

  1. Syntax

  2. -Word order is Subject-Object-Verb which is exceptional among Niger-Congo. Noun and verb modifiers precede their heads.

Basic Vocabulary (based on R. Blench's Comparative Ijoid Wordlists)

ẹ = [ɛ]; ọ = [ɔ]; [ɓ] and [ɗ] are labial and dental implosives, respectively.

nasal vowels are marked by  ̴ ; high tone is marked by an acute accent, low tone is unmarked.

  1. © 2013 Alejandro Gutman and Beatriz Avanzati                                                                               

Further Reading

  1. -'Niger-Congo'. K. Williamson & R. M. Blench. In African Languages: An Introduction, 11-42. B. Heine & D. Nurse (eds). Cambridge University Press (2000).

  2. -'Ijoid'. C. E. W. Jenewari. In The Niger-Congo Languages, 105-118. J. Bender-Samuel (ed). University Press of America (1989).

  3. -Defaka: Ijo's Closest Linguistic Relative. C. E. W. Jenewari. University of Port Harcourt Press (1983).

  4. -'Phonetic structures of Defaka'. A. Shryock, P. Ladefoged & K. Williamson. Working Papers in Phonetics, 89-109. Department of Linguistics, UCLA (1995).

  5. -Ijoid Materials. R. Blench. Available online at

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Ijoid Languages

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