EthnicityIjaw people
Southern Nigeria
Linguistic classificationNiger–Congo?
  • East
  • Central–West
ISO 639-2 / 5ijo

The Izon languages (/ˈɔː/),[1] otherwise known as the Ịjọ languages,[2] are the languages spoken by the Izon people in southern Nigeria.


The Ijo languages were traditionally considered a distinct branch of the Niger–Congo family (perhaps along with Defaka in a group called Ijoid).[3] They are notable for their subject–object–verb basic word order, which is otherwise an unusual feature in Niger–Congo, shared only by such distant potential branches as Mande and Dogon. Like Mande and Dogon, Ijoid lacks even traces of the noun class system considered characteristic of Niger–Congo. This motivated Joseph Greenberg, in his initial classification of Niger–Congo, to describe them as having split early from that family. However, owing to the lack of these features, linguist Gerrit Dimmendaal doubts their inclusion in Niger–Congo altogether and considers the Ijoid languages to be an independent family.[4][5]

The following internal classification is based on Jenewari (1989) and Williamson & Blench (2000).

Blench (2019) moves Southeast Ijo into the West (or Central) branch.[6]

Names and locations

Below is a list of Ijaw language names, populations, and locations from Blench (2019).[6]

Language Cluster Alternate spellings Own name for language Endonym(s) Other names (location-based) Other names for language Speakers Location(s)
Nembe–Akaha cluster Nembe–Akaha Brass–Ịjọ 71,500 (1977 Voegelin and Voegelin) Rivers State, Brass LGA
Nembe Nembe–Akaha Nimbi Nembe Brass (older term not giving way to Nembe), Nempe, Itebu (Cust 1883); (Nembe) Brass (Tepowa 1904); Nembe–Brass (Book of Common Prayer, 1957); Ijo (Nembe) (Bible, 1956); Brass–Nembe–Ijaw (Rowlands, 1960); Nembe–Ịjọ (Alagoa, 1967). 66,600 (1963) Rivers State, Brass LGA, Nembe, Ọkpọma and Tụwọn (Brass) towns and nearby villages
Akaha Nembe–Akaha Akasa, Akassaa Akaha Akaha 4,913 (1963) Rivers State, Brass LGA, Opu–Akassa town and nearby hamlets
Bille Bille Touma, Opu Bille Boko Rivers State, Degema LGA; Bille Town and 29 Villages
Inland Ịjọ cluster Inland Ịjọ Rivers State, Yenagoa and Brass LGAs
Biseni Inland Ịjọ Buseni Biseni Biseni Amegi Community consisting of five sections Rivers State, Yenagoa LGA, Akpeịdẹ, Egbebiri, Kalama,Tẹịn and Tụbụrụ towns
Akịta Inland Ịjọ Okordia, Ọkọdi‡ Akịta Akịta Community consisting of six sections, six towns Rivers State, Yenagoa LGA
Oruma Inland Ịjọ Tugbeni Tugbeni Kạạmạ A single town surrounded by Central Delta languages Rivers State, Brass LGA
Kalaḅarị KOIN (Kalaḅarị–Okrika–Ịḅanị–Nkọrọ) Kalaḅarị Kalaḅarị New Calabar 200,000 (1987, UBS) Rivers State, Degema and Asari–Toru LGAs; 3 major towns and 24 villages
Kịrịkẹ KOIN (Kalaḅarị–Okrika–Ịḅanị–Nkọrọ) Okrika Okrika town Rivers State, Okrika LGA

In the diaspora

Berbice Creole Dutch, an extinct creole spoken in Guyana, had a lexicon based partly on an Ịjọ language, perhaps the ancestor of Kalabari.[7]

Education and media

In June 2013, the Izon Fie instructional book and audio CDs were launched at a ceremony attended by officials of the government of Bayelsa State. The Niger Delta University is working to expand the range of books available in the Ijo language. Translations of poetry and the Call of the River Nun by Gabriel Okara are underway.[8]

See also


  1. ^ Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student's Handbook, Edinburgh
  2. ^ generally pronounced /ˈ/ in English
  3. ^ Williamson, Kay (2011-08-11). A Grammar of the Kolokuma Dialect of Ịjọ. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521175265.
  4. ^ Dimmendaal, Gerrit Jan (2011-01-01). Historical Linguistics and the Comparative Study of African Languages. John Benjamins Publishing. ISBN 978-9027211781.
  5. ^ "Ijoid languages | Ijoid Languages, Niger-Congo, West Africa | Britannica". www.britannica.com. Retrieved 2024-01-26.
  6. ^ a b Blench, Roger (2019). An Atlas of Nigerian Languages (4th ed.). Cambridge: Kay Williamson Educational Foundation.
  7. ^ Kouwenberg 1994
  8. ^ Garba, Kabir Alabi (2013-06-08). "Izon Fie… Popularising An Indigenous Tongue". The Guardian Nigeria. Retrieved 2013-06-15.


On specific languages