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Documentation of Uwu, an endangered and undocumented minority language of the Nigerian Middle Belt


Language Ayere
Depositor Anja Choon
Affiliation SOAS
Location Nigeria
Collection ID 0231
Grant ID IGS0052
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Group represented

Uwu speakers from Uwu in Kogi State, Nigeria.


Language information

Úwû is a Volta-Niger language of the Niger-Congo language family spoken in a single town in the linguistically highly diverse Nigerian Middle Belt. It is believed that the origin of the Úwû is Ile-Ife. Úwû means ‘there is space’, which in Yorùbá is translated as Àyɛ́rɛ́. Thus, in the literature Úwû has been overwhelmingly called Ayere. In past works, the number of Úwû speakers has been stated in the low thousands.It has been suggested that Yorùbá is the dominant language of Úwû speakers, who are presumably all multilingual. On the other hand, English also plays a strong role, such as the language of instruction in schools. Speakers of several other Nigerian languages live in Úwû and its vicinity. The lingua franca Úwû speakers use when communicating with these people usually is either Yorùbá, English or Hausa. Úwû has no established orthography, no written literature and no teaching material. All of these factors, i.e. the high competition with Yorùbá and English, the lack (or at least scarcity) of written material in Úwû as well as the small number of speakers, put Úwû in danger of disappearing. Only few studies have looked at the language so far.


Special characteristics

Ayere is classified as an Akokoid language (Capo 1989) or at least a language within Ayere-Ahan, a branch closely related to Akokoid (Ethnologue 2005). It is then grouped under the Defoid languages of which Yuroboid is another branch.There is still much work to be done on the classification of Ayere and other languages that possibly belong to Akokoid. This project, the documentation of Ayere, will provide valuable background information for any such work.

Due to its affiliation with both Yoruba and Igbo, Ayere should share some common characteristics with them. For example, Ayere should have the following characteristics: (V)CV syllabic structure (no consonant clusters), labial velar consonants (according to Blench only kp), syllabic nasal realized either as n, ŋ or m, tones, etc. This is supported by a look at the Ayere world list (Olumorin 1961 fully reproduced in Blench 2006). Furthermore Capo (1989:282-83) describes Ayere as “quite close to ascertained Yoruboid lects”.

Furthermore, one expects it to follow a vowel harmony, probably one on the base of [+-ATR] as Igbo does and Yoruba only to some extent (the vowel harmony is more intact in the Ijesa and Ekiti varieties which are geographically close to Ayere than in Standard Yoruba). However, the vowel chart for Ayere presented by Blench, which lacks closed vowels with a retracted tongue root position, suggests that the Ayere vowel harmony is closer to Standard Yoruba. Ayere might additionally have palatal harmony, as Yoruba does.

Ayere has three level tones (and maybe glide tones and grammatical tones as well).


Collection history

The audio recordings in this deposit were collected between 2007 and 2010 by mainly Anja Choon. A few recordings are by Yun-Hsin Chang and one recording by Sophie Salffner.


Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Choon, Anja. 2017. Documentation of Uwu, an endangered and undocumented minority language of the Nigerian Middle Belt. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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