An Overview of the Yorùbá Language

The Yorùbá people of West Africa speak the Yorùbá language, a language with about 28 million speakers. What are the features of this language?

Yorùbá is one of the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria, along with Igbo and Hausa. Variations of Yorùbá are based on the location of various tribes, such as: Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, Benue-Congo, Defoid, Yoruboid, and Edekiri. These variations differ slightly, for example in terms of intonation.

Yorùbá’s pronunciation is melodic and characterized by different tones: high (´), middle (¯), and low (`). Although the Yorùbá language is an oral language, the first attempt to encode the language into writing started with the Aljami script, an adaptation of Arabic text. Later on, the Reverend Samuel Ajayi Crowther and the Christian Missionary Society (CMS) borrowed and modified the Latin alphabet to write Yorùbá. Today Yorùbá is written with Latin script, with the addition of digraphs and tonal markings as we saw above.

Having an understanding of the Yorùbá alphabet is helpful in learning to speak, read and write our language.

How many letters does the Yorùbá language have all together? It has 25 letters: 18 consonants and 7 vowels.

The intro video above shows the letters of the alphabet and how they are pronounced. Please find the 25 letters of the alphabet here below:

A B D E F G Gb H I J K L M N O P R S T U W Y
a b d e f g gb h i j k l m n o p r s t u w y

 

Understanding the sounds of these letters is a pre-requisite to speaking good Yorùbá. It may look difficult to learn, but it is not; listening attentively to the audio files will make it easy.

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