Kru languages

Last updated
Ivory Coast, Liberia, Burkina Faso
Linguistic classification Niger–Congo
ISO 639-2 / 5 kro
Glottolog krua1234  (Kru) [1]
siam1242  (Siamou) [2]
Kru languages.png
Kru languages, labeled as above

The Kru languages belong to the Niger–Congo language family and are spoken by the Kru people from the southeast of Liberia to the east of Ivory Coast. The term "Kru" is of unknown origin. According to Westermann (1952) it was used by Europeans to denote a number of tribes speaking related dialects. Marchese (1989) notes the fact that many of these peoples were recruited as "crew" by European seafarers; "the homonymy with crew is obvious, and is at least one source of the confusion among Europeans that there was a Kru/crew tribe" [3]

Niger–Congo languages language family

The Niger–Congo languages constitute one of the world's major language families and Africa's largest in terms of geographical area, number of speakers, and number of distinct languages. It is generally considered to be the world's largest language family in terms of distinct languages, ahead of Austronesian, although this is complicated by the ambiguity about what constitutes a distinct language; the number of named Niger–Congo languages listed by Ethnologue is 1,540. It is the third-largest language family in the world by number of native speakers, comprising around 700 million people as of 2015. Within Niger–Congo, the Bantu languages alone account for 350 million people (2015), or half the total Niger–Congo speaking population.

Kru people ethnic group

The Kru or Kroo are a West African ethnic group who originated in eastern Liberia and migrated and settled along various points of the West African coast, notably Freetown, Sierra Leone, but also the Ivorian and Nigerian coasts. The Kru were famous for their skills in navigating and sailing the Atlantic. Their maritime expertise evolved along the west coast of Africa as they made livings as fishermen and traders. Knowing the in-shore waters of the western coast of Africa, and having nautical experience, they were employed as sailors, navigators and interpreters aboard slave ships, as well as American and British warships used against the slave trade.

Liberia republic in West Africa

Liberia, officially the Republic of Liberia, is a country on the West African coast. It is bordered by Sierra Leone to its northwest, Guinea to its north, Ivory Coast to its east, and the Atlantic Ocean to its south-southwest. It covers an area of 111,369 square kilometers (43,000 sq mi) and has a population of around 4,700,000. English is the official language and over 20 indigenous languages are spoken, representing the numerous ethnic groups who make up more than 95% of the population. The country's capital and largest city is Monrovia.


Andrew Dalby noted the historical importance of the Kru languages for their position at the crossroads of African-European interaction. He wrote that "Kru and associated languages were among the first to be encountered by European voyagers on what was then known as the Pepper Coast, a centre of the production and export of Guinea and melegueta pepper; a once staple African seaborne trade". [4] The Kru languages are known for some of the most complex tone systems in Africa, rivaled perhaps only by the Omotic languages.

Pepper Coast obsolete name for an area of western Africa, between Cape Mesurado and Cape Palmas, enclosing present-day Liberia

Pepper Coast, also known as the Grain Coast, was the name given by European traders to a coastal area of western Africa, between Cape Mesurado and Cape Palmas. It encloses the present republic of Liberia.

Guinea pepper is a name for several unrelated pepper-like spices traded from the general region of West Africa:

Tone is the use of pitch in language to distinguish lexical or grammatical meaning – that is, to distinguish or to inflect words. All verbal languages use pitch to express emotional and other paralinguistic information and to convey emphasis, contrast, and other such features in what is called intonation, but not all languages use tones to distinguish words or their inflections, analogously to consonants and vowels. Languages that do have this feature are called tonal languages; the distinctive tone patterns of such a language are sometimes called tonemes, by analogy with phoneme. Tonal languages are common in East and Southeast Asia, the Pacific, Africa, and the Americas; as many as seventy percent of world languages may be tonal.

Current status

Recent documentation has noted "Kru societies can now be found along the coast of Monrovia, Liberia to Bandama River in Côte d'Ivoire". [5] "Villages maintain their ties based on presumed common descent, reinforced by ceremonial exchanges and gifts". [5] The Kru people and their languages, although now many speak English (in Liberia) or French (in Côte d'Ivoire) as a second language, are said to be "dominant in the southwest region where the forest zone reaches the coastal lagoons". [5] The Kru people rely on the forest for farming, supplemented by hunting for their livelihood. In 2010, Kru and associated languages were spoken by 95 percent of the approximately 3.5 million people in Liberia.

Monrovia City in Montserrado, Liberia

Monrovia is the capital city of the West African country of Liberia. Located on the Atlantic Coast at Cape Mesurado, Monrovia had a population of 1,010,970 as of the 2008 census. With 29% of the total population of Liberia, Monrovia is the country's most populous city.

Bandama River river in Ivory Coast

The Bandama River is the longest river in Côte d'Ivoire with a length of some 800 kilometers. The south-flowing river is fed by the Marahoué, Solomougou, Kan and Nzi rivers and empties into the Tagba Lagoon and the Gulf of Guinea.

Subgroups and associated languages

The Kru languages include many subgroups such as Kuwaa, Grebo, Belle, Belleh, Kwaa and many others. According to Breitbonde, categorization of communities based on cultural distinctiveness, historical or ethnic identity, and socio-political autonomy "may have brought about the large number of distinct Kru dialects; "Although the natives were in many respects similar in type and tribe, every village was an independent state; there was also very little intercommunication". [6] Breitbonde notes the Kru people were categorized based on their cultural distinctiveness, separate historical or ethnic identities, and social and political autonomy. This is the possible reason for so many subgroups of the Kru language. As noted by Fisiak, there is very little documentation on the Kru and associated languages. [7]

The Kuwaa language, also known as Belle, Belleh, Kowaao, and Kwaa, is a Kru language of the Niger–Congo language family. It is spoken in northwestern Liberia, primarily in Lofa County. The speech of the Lubaisu and Gbade, the two Kuwaa clans, is differentiated only by minor variations in pronunciation.

Grebo is a Kru language of Liberia. All of the Grebo languages commonly go by the term Grebo, though in Ivory Coast Krumen is usual. Grebo country is in the extreme south-west of Liberia on the coast and inland, between the rivers Cavally and Cess.

The Marchese (1989) classification of Kru languages is as follows. Many of these languages are dialect clusters and are sometimes considered more than a single language.


Sɛmɛ (Siamou)



Kru  proper 
 Eastern  Kru







Kodia (Kwadia)

 Western  Kru





Grebo (Jabo)














Ethnologue adds Neyo, which may be closest to Dida or Godie.

Neyo is a Kru language of Ivory Coast, near the mouth of the Sassandra River.

Related Research Articles

Masaba (Lumasaaba), sometimes known as Gisu (Lugisu) after one of its dialects, is a Bantu language spoken by more than two million people in East Africa. Gisu dialect in eastern Uganda is mutually intelligible with Bukusu, spoken by ethnic Luhya in western Kenya. Masaba is the local name of Mount Elgon and the name of the son of the ancestor of the Gisu tribe. Like other Bantu languages, Lumasaba has a large set of prefixes used as noun classifiers. This is similar to how gender is used in many Germanic and Romance languages, except that instead of the usual two or three, there are around eighteen different noun classes. The language has a quite complex verb morphology.

Kreyol is an English-based pidgin spoken in Liberia. Also known as Kolokwa, was spoken by 1,500,000 people as a second language which is about 70% of the population in that time. Today the knowledge of some form of English is even more widespread. It is historically and linguistically related to Merico, a creole spoken in Liberia, but is grammatically distinct from it. There are regional dialects such as the Kru Pidgin English used by the Kru fishermen.

The Gurage languages are a group of South Ethiopic languages, which belong to the Semitic branch of the Afroasiatic family. They are spoken by the Gurage people, who inhabit the Gurage Zone within the larger multi-ethnic Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Region in southwestern Ethiopia.

Krumen people

The Krumen is an ethnic group living mostly along the coast of Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire. Their numbers were estimated to be 48,300 in 1993, of which 28,300 were in Côte d’Ivoire. They are a subgroup of the Grebo and speak the Krumen language.

Grebo people is a term used to refer to an ethnic group or subgroup within the larger Kru group of Africa, a language and cultural ethnicity, and to certain of its constituent elements. Within Liberia members of this group are found primarily in Maryland County and Grand Kru County in the southeastern portion of the country, but also in River Gee County and Sinoe County. The Grebo population in Côte d'Ivoire are known as the Krumen and are found in the southwestern corner of that country.

Grebo is a dialect cluster of the Kru languages, spoken by the Grebo people of present-day Liberia and the Krumen of Ivory Coast in West Africa.

Rangpuri, Kamtapuri or Rajbangshi is a Bengali-Assamese language spoken by the Rajbongshi people in India and Bangladesh, and Rajbanshi and Tajpuria in Nepal. Many are bilingual in either Bengali or Assamese.

Chácobo-Pakawara is a Panoan language spoken by about 550 of 860 ethnic tribal Chácobo people of the Beni Department of northwest of Magdalena, Bolivia, and 17 of 50 Pakawara. Chácobo children are learning the language as a first language, but Pakawara is dormant. Karipuna may have been a variant; alternative names are Jaunavô (Jau-Navo) and Éloe.

Klao, or Kru, is a Kru language of the Niger–Congo language family, spoken primarily in Liberia, with some speakers also in Sierra Leone. It uses SVO word order for main clauses and SOV for embedded clauses. A Klao translation of the Bible by missionary Nancy Lightfoot was released in 2000. The language has Western, West Central, Central, and Eastern dialects.

The Sapo language, also known as Sarpo or Southern Krahn, is a Kru language of the Niger–Congo language family. It is spoken in eastern Liberia, primarily in Grand Gedeh County and Sinoe County, by the Sapo people. Its dialects include: Juarzon, Kabade (Karbardae), Nomopo (Nimpo), Putu, Sinkon (Senkon), and Waya (Wedjah).

The Tajuasohn language, also known as Tajuason, Tajuoso, and Tajuosohn, is a Kru language of the Niger–Congo language family. It is spoken primarily in Sinoe County in eastern Liberia by members of five local clans.

Krumen is a dialect continuum spoken by the Krumen people of Liberia and Ivory Coast. It is a branch of the Grebo languages, a subfamily of the Kru languages and ultimately of the Niger–Congo languages. It had 48,300 speakers in 1993. The main varieties are:

Twi Central Tano language

Twi is a dialect of the Akan language spoken in southern and central Ghana by several million people, mainly of the Akan tribe, the biggest of the about 17 major tribes in Ghana and forms about 70% of the Ghanaian population as a first and second language. Twi is a common name for two former literary dialects of the Akan language; Asante (Ashanti) and Akuapem, which are mutually intelligible. There are about 9 million Twi speakers, mainly originating from the Ashanti Region and about a total of 17–18 million Ghanaians as either first or second languages. Akuapem Twi was the first Akan dialect to be used for Bible translation, and became the prestige dialect as a result. It is also spoken by the Southeastern people of Cote D'Ivoire.

The Aizi speak three languages around Ébrié Lagoon in Ivory Coast.

Tura (Toura) is a Mande language of Ivory Coast. Dialects are Naò, Boo, Yiligele, Gwéò, Wáádú, Guse.

Bété is a language cluster of Kru languages in Ivory Coast, in Africa.

Konobo, or Eastern Krahn, is a Kru language of Liberia.

Apro, also known as Aproumu, is a language spoken by the Aizi people of Ébrié Lagoon in Ivory Coast. Once assumed to be a Kru language like the other two Aizi languages, subsequent investigation has shown it to be Kwa.


  1. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Kru". Glottolog 3.0 . Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Siamou". Glottolog 3.0 . Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Breitbonde, L. B. (1991). "City, Countryside, and Kru Ethnicity". Africa. 61 (2): 186–201. doi:10.2307/1160614. JSTOR   1160614.
  4. Dalby, Andrew (1998). Dictionary of Languages. New York: Columbia UP.
  5. 1 2 3 Bahl, Taru; Syed, M. H., eds. (2003). Encyclopaedia of Muslim World. New Delhi: Ammol Publications. pp. 24–25.
  6. McEvoy, Frederick (1997). "Understanding Ethnic Realities among the Grebo and Kru People of West Africa". Africa. 47 (1): 62. doi:10.2307/1159195.
  7. Fisiak, Jacek (1984). Historical Syntax. New York: Mouton.