The Benue-Congo branch of the Niger-Congo family of African languages, which also includes a few additional languages spoken in western Africa, includes the Bantu languages. The Benue-Congo language family, which stretches from the Benin-Nigeria border across Nigeria and Cameroon through central Africa to eastern Africa, is the largest branch of the Niger-Congo language family in terms of speakers, languages, and geographic range.
The Benue-Congo language family is the largest in Africa and is home to 900 different languages that are spoken by 500 million people, or half of the continent’s population. With the exception of eastern Benin, Nigeria, and Cameroon, it is prevalent over all of central and southern Africa.
The majority of Sub-Saharan Africa is covered by the Benue-Congo language family, sometimes known as East Benue-Congo. There are around 900 languages spoken in Benue-Congo, which are split into 11 groupings and Western and Eastern branches. While the other 10 ethnic groups are confined to Nigeria and some of the bordering countries of Benin and Cameroon, the Bantu group is by far the largest and has the broadest territorial reach.
Benue-Congo Language Sub-divisions
The major language groups of Benue-Congo are Defoid, which includes Yoruba, which has a population of over 20 million speakers; Edoid, which includes Edo (the kingdom of Benin); Nupoid, which includes Nupe, Ebira, and Gbagyi; Idomoid, which includes Idoma; Igboid, which includes the numerous dialects spoken by the estimated 19 million Igbo people; Kainji, which has the largest branch, Bantoid, has more than 500 languages, 47 of which are spoken by more than 1 million people, and is divided into a northern and a southern group. The main subgroup of Southern Bantoid is the Bantu language.
However, one of the subfamilies, Southern Bantoid, is still regarded as forming a viable branch. Bantoid is just a collective word for every subfamily of Bantoid-Cross save Cross River. The majority of Sub-Saharan Africa is home to the Bantu languages, which are part of Southern Bantoid.
As a result, Benue-Congo is one of the Niger-Congo language family’s largest subgroups, with possibly 350 million people and 976 languages listed on Ethnologue as of 2017. Although it is unclear exactly how they are related, Benue-Congo also comprises a few Isolates in the Nigeria-Cameroon region.
Although it does not constitute a single branch with Benue-Congo, the neighbouring Volta-Niger branch of Nigeria, Benin is occasionally referred to as “West Benue-Congo.” Volta-Niger was included in Joseph Greenberg’s initial description of Benue-Congo (1963) as West Benue-Congo; the border between Volta-Niger and Kwa has been the subject of much discussion. While there has not been any published evidence to support this, research claims that if Benue-Congo is regarded to be “the noun-class languages east and north of the Niger,” it is likely to be a legitimate group.
Edoid: About 30 different languages, including Edo, Esan, Yekhee, Isoko, and Urhobo, are spoken in southern Nigeria.
Nupoid: 17 different languages, including Ebira, Gbari, Gbagyi, and Nupe, are spoken in Central Nigeria.
Idomoid: Idoma and Igede are among the nine Idomoid languages that are spoken in central Nigeria.
Igboid: South Nigerian languages Ekpeye, as well as the subgroups Igbo and Ikwere.
Isolates: Oko, Ukaan, and Akpes are isolates. Near the meeting of the Niger and Benue rivers in Nigeria, they have a limited number of speakers.
Kainji: A total of 1 million people speak 60 different dialects in northern Nigeria, including Tsuvadi, Cishingini, Tsishingini, and Lela.
Jukunoid: It is a group of twelve languages, the most common of which, is Wakan, with over 150,000 native speakers and is spoken in Nigeria and Cameroon.
Plateau: The Jos Plateau and surrounding areas of central Nigeria are home to 3.5 million people who speak 40–50 different languages. Tarok, Eggon, Che, Berom, Jju, Tyap, and Hyam are the most significant.
Cross River (Southeast Nigeria): is divided into; Upper Cross (Mbembe, Lokaa), Lower Cross (Anaang, Efik, Ibibio, and Obolo), and Ogoni (Kana, Tee, Gokana, and Eleme), and Central Delta (Ogbia).
Bantoid: It is divided into;
Northern Bantoid: Small groups speak the Northern Bantoid language in eastern Nigeria and western Cameroon.
Southern Bantoid: 11 subgroups make up the relatively large Southern Bantoid group, with Bantu being the largest. More than 100 languages spoken in eastern Nigeria and Cameroon are represented by the ten non-Bantu subgroups. The biggest is Tiv, which has over 2.5 million speakers.
However, about 330 million people speak Bantu languages in central and southern Africa. The principal ones are Rwanda, Luba, Nyanja, Shona, and Zulu (listed from north to south). In the eastern United States, Swahili is a widely spoken language.
In addition, 47 of the more than 500 Bantu languages have more than one million speakers, and 21 of them have more than three million. Zulu is spoken by 9,000,000 people, Rwanda by 8,000,000, Shona, Kongo, and Xhosa by 7,000,000 people, Luba by 6,300,000 people, Rundi by 6,000,000 people, and Kikuyu by more than 5,000,000 people.