West Africa
Geographic location: Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad
Number of Languages: to be determined
Number of Genetic Units: 30
Genetic Index: to be determined
Endangerment Index: to be determined
Research Index: to be determined
Threat Level: low
map of WAF hotspot


There are over 500 languages spoken in the country of Nigeria alone: over 1/20 of the number of languages spoken in the whole world. Language endangerment is not as high in this hotspot as it is in many other parts of the world. The major threat to linguistic diversity here is the spread of the Bantu language family. Bantu languages have spread over much of Africa, reducing the previous levels of diversity.

One endangered language in this area is Yangkam, spoken by fewer than 100 people, all of whom are 50 years old or older. Most of the Yangkam have shifted to speaking Hausa, one of the major national languages of Nigeria. They have maintained other elements of their cultural identity, but do not consider their language an important part of the culture. The nearly complete language shift is a little puzzling because there are no nearby groups that use Hausa as a first language. Hausa gained a large foothold with the Yangkam because of the slave trade in the 19th century, which greatly disrupted Yangkam life.

Languages and genetic units in this hotspot:

  1. Adamawa-Ubangi
  2. Akpes
  3. Atlantic
  4. Bantu
  5. Berber
  6. Cen Tuum
  7. Central Sudanic
  8. Chadic
  9. Cross-River
  10. Defoid
  11. Eastern Mande
  12. Edoid
  13. Grassfields B
  14. Gur
  15. Idomoid
  16. Ijoid
  17. Igboid
  18. Jukunoid
  19. Kainji
  20. Northern Bantoid
  21. Nupoid
  22. Oko
  23. Platoid
  24. Saharan
  25. Semitic
  26. Southern Bantoid
  27. Songhay
  28. Unclassified Niger-Congo
  29. Unclassified (Laal, and 1 other)

Endangered languages include:

  • Baldemu (< 5, Chadic, spoken in Cameroon)
  • Bassa-Kontagora (< 10, Kainji, spoken in Nigeria)
  • Bung (3, Unclassified, spoken in Cameroon)
  • Dama (50, Adamawa-Ubangi, spoken in Cameroon)
  • Zangwal (< 100, Chadic, spoken in Nigeria)

Some features of languages include:


  • In Eleme (58,000 speakers, Nigeria), doubling part of a verb negates it: moro means 'he saw you,' while momoro means 'he didn't see you'.



Click here for a recording of Eleme, a language of Nigeria.


Click here for a recording of Eleme, a language of Nigeria.


Greg Anderson (left) interviews "Emperor" J. D. Nkpe, a speaker of Eleme, 2004.


Abraham, Roy Clive. 1933. The Tiv People. Lagos: The Government Printer.

Blench, Roger. 2003. Language Death in West Africa. Paper given at the Round Table on Language Endangerment, Bad Godesborg, Feburary, 2000. http://homepage.ntlworld.com/rober_blench/RBOP.htm

Brenzinger, M.  1998.  Endangered Languages in Africa.  Köln: Köppe.

UNESCO.  Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger of Disappearing.  Online at http://www.unesco.org/webworld/babel/atlas