SOAS University of London

African Languages, Cultures and Literatures Section

Languages of Africa at SOAS: Yorùbá

Yorùbá is a Niger-Congo language related to Igala, Edo, Ishan, and Igbo amongst others. It is one of the principal languages of Nigeria and spoken in a couple of countries in the West African coast. An estimated 20+ million people speak Yorùbá as their first language in south western Nigeria and more in the Republics of Benin and Togo. Yorùbá is also spoken by diaspora communities of traders in Cote d'Ivore, Ghana, Senegal and the Gambia, and it used to be a vibrant language in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Outside West Africa, millions of people have Yorùbá language and culture as part of their heritage; Yorùbá religion being one of the means of survival in Cuba during the obnoxious slave trade. Many who did not have Yorùbá as their heritage bought into Yorùbá identity through religious conversion. Yorùbá language, culture and religion survived since then until now in Brazil and several other New World countries. A mixture of the old and new decendants of the Yorùbá now live in North America, the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe. Yorùbá is one of the most extensively researched of all sub-Saharan languages and cultures, and has a long tradition of oral verbal production (oral literature) within indigenous cosmopolitan which is receptive of both Islamic and Christian cultures. Yorùbá is one of the many African languages that one is sure to hear people speak in the buses and the underground trains in several parts of London; a BBC reporter has compared Rye Lane in Peckham, South East London, to a mini-Lagos, where one can hear several people speaking loudly in Yorùbá as they go about their shopping. Like many other African languages, Yorùbá is tonal.

If you would like to learn Yorùbá contact Dr Tola Osunnuga ( in the Africa Section of the School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics.

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