Ɓəna-Mboi or Yungur Group

Ɓəna-Mboi  (Yungur) Group   (Ulrich Kleinewillinghöfer 2011)

       A  Ɓəna         Ɓəna Yungur      i. Ɓəna (Yungur)         various local variants

ii. Voro

                                Ɓəna Lala            i. - of Yang

ii. - of Bodwai (Bodɛ)

iii.  Robma (Roba)    a. Robma

                                  b. (Robma of) Dingai

          B  Mboi         Mboi (Gəna)       i, Mboi of -                  a.  Livo

                                  b.  Gulungo

ii. Mboi of -               a. Haanda

                              b. Banga

  C  Kaan        Kaan (Libo)



The languages of the Ɓəna-Mboi or Yungur group are mainly spoken in the northern part of the Adamawa State, Nigeria. Their traditional settlements are situated in the mountains east of the lower Gongola, south of the river Hawal, north of the Benue and west of the road from Yola to Maiduguri. Meek (1931) published wordlist of Yungur, Roba, Libo and Mboi and combined them to a Yungur group. Yungur or Yongor ist the appellation of the largest ethnic group by their neighbours. The Yungur call themselves Ɓəna. Yet, Ɓəna is also the self-appellation of the Lala [lààlà] their linguistically closely related north-western neighbours around Yang und Bodwai.

Ɓəna-Mboi subdivides into three branches, (i) the Ɓəna languages, (ii) the Mboi cluster and (iii) Kaan (or Libo). Based on a comparison of basic vocabularies and noun class morphology Kaan represents probably an early offshoot, while Ɓəna and Mboi have much more in common.

The Ɓəna branch has two subgroups. One is formed by the Ɓəna Yungur dialect cluster (each of the (traditional) settlements is said to speak a distinct variety) and the apparently very closely related language of the Voro [vòrò], spoken in and around Waltandi. The Voro nevertheless insist that their language is distinct from Yungur.

The Ɓəna Lala subgroup consists of three closely related languages which are seemingly forming a dialect cluster as well. The languages are the Ɓəna (/ Lala) variety of Bodwai, the Ɓəna (/ Lala) variety of Yang, and Robma, the language of the Roba. A variant of Robma is also spoken in Dingai. Though Dingai people answer to being Lala, they follow the customs of the neighbouring Gaanda, which speak a Chadic language.

The Mboi branch consists of one single dialect cluster which has a northern and a southern dialect area, the differences are mainly phonological. The main (northern) group centers nowadays around Livo and Gulongo, while the southern dialect is confined to Haanda and Banga. Blench (1990) cites the Mboi branch as "Gəna-subgroup", which is based on the Mboi lexeme gə̀nàà 'people'.

Kaan, commonly known as Libo by outsiders, is spoken by one of the two sections of the Libo people around Wuriyanka and in the Libbo Hills, in the south western corner of the Ɓəna-Mboi linguistic area. The other section of the Libo ethnic group are the Zaambo (also called Dukta), they speak a Jarawan Bantu language.

Typologically most Ɓəna-Mboi languages are noun class languages.The only exception is Kaan, where  noun class morphology is significantly eroded. The comparison of basic wordlists shows that Ɓəna-Mboi as a whole is lexically rather homogeneous (it is Kaan which diverts most) but on the other hand remarkably distant to all other Nigerian Adamawa groups.

Pronouns and numbers 1-10

Comparative wordlist (100)

Evidence of noun classes ...



Greenberg 1963 listed the Yungur group, which was first reported by Meek 1931, as Group 7 of the Adamawa Branch within Adamawa-Eastern (= Adamawa-Ubangi).

Bennett (1983:41) assumes that Yungur and the Adamawa groups to its west (namely Longuda, Tula-Waja, and Bikwin-Jen) constitute a unit which he calls 'Trans-Benue'. He suggests consequently that 'Trans-Benue' has the same status as he concluded for "Tula - Longuda" (i.e. the Tula-Waja Group and Longuda Group) (1983:36-37) and thus ought to be separated from Adamawa as well, being part of the link between the remaining Adamawa and Ubangi language groups and Gur.

Boyd 1989 comments that Yungur and the other northwestern Adamawa groups combined by Bennett (1983) under "Trans-Benue" "might be posited" as one of the three core groups of Adamawa, though to him this unit is less clear as compared to the other two core groups.

The classifications of Williamson & Blench 2000 and the Ehnologue 2009 both list Bennett's 'Trans-Benue', including the Yungur Group as a subgroup, as one of the three major branches of Adamawa. Williamson & Blench 2000 do not offer a specific name for this branch, while its equivalent is oddly labelled 'Waja-Jen' in the Ethnologue. It should be noted that Bennett's (1983) 'Trans-Benue' is based on very meagre lexical data, and no one else ever presented any convincing evidence in support of that the lexically and morphologically very distinct groups: Bikwin-Jen, Tula-Waja, Longuda, and Ɓəna-Mboi form indeed a valid genetic unit as against other Adamawa groups like Yandang, Mumuye and/or Central Gur groups (cf. Kleinewillinghöfer 1996a, 1996b, (2009)).



Bennett, Patrick R. 1983. Adamawa-Eastern: Problems and prospects. In: Dihoff, Ivan R. (ed). Current Approaches to African Linguistics. Vol 1. Dordrecht: Foris. pp. 23-48.

Berns, Marla C. & B. Rubin Hudson. 1986. The essential gourd. Art and history in Northeastern Nigeria. University of California, Los Angeles.

Berns, Marla C. 1986. Art and history in the Lower Gongola Basin, Northeastern Nigeria. Ph.D. dissertation. University of California, Los Angeles.

Blench, Roger M. (1990) The Adamawa languages of Nigeria; Paper prepared for the Mega-Chad Conference, Paris, September, 1990.

Boyd, Raymond. 1989. Adamawa-Ubangi. - in: Bendor-Samuel, John. (ed.) The Niger-Congo languages. Lanham - New York - London: Summer Institute of Linguistics. pp. 178-215.

Crozier David H. & Roger M. Blench (eds.) 1992. An index of Nigerian languages. Second edition. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics.

Greenberg, Joseph H. 1963. The languages of Africa. Den Haag: Mouton.

Kleinewillinghöfer, Ulrich. 1993. Nominalklassen im Mboi und Ɓəna Lala der Yungur- bzw. Ɓəna-Mboi -Gruppe. Afrika und Übersee, 76: 3-13.

Kleinewillinghöfer, Ulrich. 1996. Die nordwestlichen Adamawa-Sprachen - Eine Übersicht. In: Seibert, Uwe (ed). Afrikanische Sprachen zwischen Gestern und Morgen. Frankfurter Afrikanistische Blätter, 8: 80-103.

Kleinewillinghöfer, Ulrich. 1996. Relationship between Adamawa and Gur languages: The case of Waja and Tula. Cahiers Voltaïques - Gur Papers 1: 25-45.

Kleinewillinghöfer, Ulrich. (1992) 'Evidence of noun classes in languages of the Yungur (or Ɓəna-Mboi) Group', submitted to: Proceedings of the Conference "Language Use and Language Change in the Lake Chad Area", Maiduguri, October 1991. Ms.

Kleinewillinghöfer, Ulrich. (2009)/fortcoming. ‘The northern fringe of the Jos Plateau. A prehistorical contact zone of Benue-Plateau and North Volta-Congo languages’. Proceedings of the Symposium "Endangered Languages in Contact: Nigeria’s Plateau Languages, Hamburg, March 25-26, 2004". Ms.

Lewis, M. Paul (ed.). 2009. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 16th edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version: http://www.ethnologue.com/.

Meek, Charles K. 1931. Tribal Studies in Northern Nigeria. 2 vols. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co.

Williamson, Kay & Roger Blench. 2000. Niger-Congo. In: Heine, Bernd & Derek Nurse (eds). African Languages. An Introduction. Cambridge Unversity Press. pp. 11-42.