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Kíni Àk<yc
(What is ÀK>YC?)

Zrz Nípa Yorùbá
(About Yorùbá)

Ìxcnupe Ède Yorùbá
(Yorùbá Pronunciation)

Gírámà Ède Yorùbá
(Yorùbá Grammar)

Àwvn Òxìxc Àk<yc
(ÀK>YC Team)


Yorb Phonology:

Here is a description of the Yoruba orthography, based on its standard dialect:

The Yoruba alphabet consists of 25 letters and uses the familiar Latin characters. The Yoruba language learner is fortunate for two reasons. First, with the exception of a few segments, the writing system closely matches the sound system of the language. Secondly, with the exception of almost the same set of unique sounds, the Yoruba segments, sound and orthography, have similar values to English segments and segments in many other languages.

The Yoruba Alphabet:

Aa Bb DdEe Cc

FfGg GBgbHh Ii

Jj Kk LlMm Nn

Oo Vv Pp Rr Ss

Xx TtUu Ww Yy


The Unique letters are the following:








pa “to kill”






gb “to receive”









These do not occur in English or any other European language. Each is a single sound unit. The best way to learn to produce these sounds is to listen to a native speaker. You can, however, try on your own:-

For [kp], close your velum as if you want to say [k] and then release at your lips for [p]- aim to try and pronounce [k] and [p] at the same time.

For [gb], close your velum as if you want to say [g] and then release at your lips for [b]- aim to try and pronounce [g] and [b] at the same time.


j “to fight”



This sound is similar to English j “Jack; Judge” but with less friction



/ ∫ /


The x [ ∫ ] sound is like the English ‘sh’ pronounced with (more) spread lips and a higher pitch.

r; y

r “to see”

y “to borrow”

/r/ ; /j/

/r/ is similar to the intervocal /r/ in English

/j/ is similar to the /j/ in English ‘young’




Phonemically, the Yoruba consonant segments, their orthographic form, and exemplification can be represented as follows:

Phoneme Orthography Example(s)


/ b / bb 'give birth to'

/ t / t t 'to sell'

/ d / d d 'to break'

/ k / kk 'to read'

/ g / g g 'to break'

/ kp / pp 'to mix'

/ gb / gb gb 'to sweep'



/ m / m m 'to swallow'



/ f / f f 'to pull'

/ s / ssin 'to bury'

/ ∫ / s se 'to do'

/ h / h ih 'a hole'

ahn 'the tongue


/ dz / j je 'to eat'



/ r / r r 'to stir'

irun 'hair'


/ l / l l 'to lick'

[ n ] n n 'to bargain'

/ j / y y 'to borrow'

yan 'to parade'

/ w / w w 'to watch'

wn 'to measure'


There are two vowel types in Yoruba; oral and nasalized. Oral vowels are produced entirely through the mouth and nasalized ones are produced through both the mouth and nose. The representation of the seven Yoruba oral vowels (and words with similar sounds in English (from Schleicher, 1993)) are as follows:

Phoneme Orthography Examples

/i/ i r ‘dew’

d ‘buttocks’

as in English ‘beat’

/e/ e ew ‘leaf’

t ‘lips’

as in English ‘bait’

/ε/ c |j| ‘blood’

|f| ‘jest’

as in English ‘bet’
/u/ u oj ‘eye/face’

w ‘thread’

as in English ‘boot’

/o/ o ow ‘money’

do ‘zero’

as in English‘boat’

// v zpz ‘plenty’

zwz ‘respect’

as in English ‘bought

/a/ a aj ‘dog’

b ‘motion’

as in English‘father’

Orthographically, nasalized vowels are written with an ‘n’ following an oral vowel. These are similar to what is found in French You must therefore avoid pronouncing the ‘n’ as a separate sound. Nasalized vowels can occur in environments comparable to those in which oral vowels occurs, the only exception is that nasalized vowels can not occur in word initial position in Yoruba. This is also true of the oral vowel /u/ in standard Yoruba.

Orthographically, after nasal consonants such as /m/ and /n/, these vowels are written without the n. In addition, [an] and [vn] are different allophones or representation of the same phoneme or sound. Another noteworthy thing is the fact that the sounds [r, w, y] become nasalized when followed by a nasalized vowel.

Phoneme Orthography Examples

// an as in idn ‘magic’

ran ‘ heritage’

tn 'to deceive'

  // in as in orin ‘song’

yn ‘praise’

dn 'to fry'

ε/ cn as inyen ‘that‘

wnyen ‘those’

yen ‘that’

  /˜/ vn as inagbn ‘wasp’

ogbn ‘thirty’

gbn ‘to shake’

  /˜u/ un as in ogn ‘twenty’

igun ‘edge’

dn ‘to sound'

Syllabic Nasal

There also exists in the language a syllabic nasal phoneme. This has six homorganic allophones that are phonologically consonants but share the characteristics of being syllabic and tone bearing with vowels in the language. They occur before other consonants in syllable junctions. The syllabic nasal phoneme is here represented as N. Orthographically, the phoneme is represented by n except before b where it is represented with an m. The six homorganic allophones (dependent on the type of consonant they occur before) of the syllabic nasal phoneme are: [m], [M], [n], [], [], and [m].

Syllable Structure

The syllable in Yoruba is the smallest tone bearing unit. The three basic syllable types in Yoruba are V, CV and N. The first type of syllable involves only a single vowel and this is often the shape of lexical items such as pronouns. The second syllable type in Yoruba is a consonant and a vowel; this is the basic shape of simple verbs in the language. The third and final syllable type in Yoruba is the syllabic nasal (see above). Due to the shape of the syllable types in Yoruba, there are no consonant-final words and therefore, there are no closed syllables in the language. All the three syllable types have either the nucleus only (the first and third type) or they have an onset and a nucleus only (the second type). Moreover, consonant clusters are not allowed to occur in Yoruba syllables. The three syllable types are illustrated in Figure 1a, 1b and 1c below. In the figures, O stands for the syllable Onset, Nu represents the Nucleus of the syllable, and V and C represent vowels and consonants, respectively.




Examples: a ‘we’


Figure 1a Yoruba Syllable Type One [V]


O Nu

| |


Examples: r n ‘ to sew’

t ‘to sell’

Figure 1b Yoruba Syllable Type Two [CV]


Nu |


Examples: ro n b ‘lemon’

d n d 'fried yam'

Figure 1c Yoruba Syllable Type Three [ N ]


Yoruba is very strict in regards to its prohibition of closed syllables. In terms of word structure, nouns often begin with vowels and verbs with consonants. There are however no fixed rules in the language as to the number of possible syllables within a word.

Suprasegmental Elements.

Yoruba is a tonal language. It has three surface tones of different pitch levels. The syllable is the tone bearing unit in the language but orthographically, tones are marked on vowels and syllabic nasals. The tones and their orthographic representations are as in the figure below.

High as in Wl 'a male name'

Mid unmarked as in aago 'watch'

Low ` as in dd 'fried plantain'

The mid tone can sometimes be marked with an over-bar in order to remove ambiguity or confusion. Lexically, Yoruba tones are significant because a change in tone will completely change the meaning of a word. Additionally, tone markings allow for improved Yoruba writing and reading. One way to consider the three level Yoruba tones is to think of the music note to which they correlate. These correlations are as follows:

 Tone Orthography Musical note

HIGH as in j} ‘to be’ mi

MID as in jc ‘to eat re

LOW ` as in j| ‘to wonder around’ do

© African Studies Institute, University of Georgia