An insatiable appetite for ancient and modern tongues

Overview and Distribution. Kru languages constitute a small family within the very large Niger-Congo phylum. Spoken by about 3 million people in the forest regions of southern Liberia and south-west Ivory Coast,  they were one of the first African languages met by Europeans, though only recently they have been systematically studied.

External Classification: Niger-Congo, Volta-Congo, Kru.

Internal Classification:

Kru languages are divided into Eastern and Western groups plus some isolates.

Oldest Documents

-A Kru word list appeared in Language de Guynée, a French manuscript of 1540.

-A few Kru languages were included in W. Koelle’s Polyglotta Africana published in 1854.


  1. Phonology

  2. -Vowel system: The typical vowel system of Kru languages has four front vowels, four back vowels and a central one.

  1. -Vowel harmony: In Kru languages there is a contrast between vowels pronounced with an advanced tongue root (+ATR) and a retracted tongue root (-ATR): only vowels from (+ATR) set or from (-ATR) set appear in the same morpheme.

  1. -Consonants. Stops are articulated at five different points: bilabial, alveolar, palatal, velar and labio-velar.

  1. -Tones: Kru languages have three or four tones which serve to make lexical or grammatical distinctions (number, definiteness, verbal aspect).

  1. -Syllables: Open syllables (ending in a vowel) are predominant. Most words are monosyllabic or disyllabic.

  1. Morphology

  2. -Many grammatical features, like plurality and aspect, are marked by suffixes.

  1. -In some Kru languages there are remnants of a noun-class system similar to that of Bantu languages except that in them suffixes are used instead of prefixes.

  1. -The verbal system is based more on aspect than tense. Imperfective and perfective are marked by suffixes; progressive, perfect and conditional are often marked by an auxiliary verb.

  1. Syntax

  2. - The basic word order is Subject-Verb-Object (SVO), but when an auxiliary verb is present it changes to S-AUX-O-V.

  1. -Noun-modifiers (adjectives, articles, etc) usually follow their heads and direction is indicated by body parts placed also after the noun. In contrast, possessives and genitives precede their nouns.

  1. © 2013 Alejandro Gutman and Beatriz Avanzati                                                                               

Further Reading

  1. -Languages of Africa. J H. Greenberg. Mouton (1963).

  2. -'Niger-Congo'. K. Williamson & R. Blench. In African Languages, 24-25. B. Heine & D. Nurse (eds). Cambridge University Press (2000).

  3. -'Kru'. L. Marchese. In The Niger-Congo Languages, 178–215. J. Bendor-Samuel (ed). University Press of America (1989).

  4. -'Kru Languages'. J. Bendor-Samuel. In Concise Encyclopedia of Languages of the World, 623-625. K. Brown & S. Ogilvie (eds). Elsevier (2009).

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    Kru Languages

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