Written by Isabel Harmse

Yoruba is a Niger-Congo language spoken in West Africa. The number of speakers of Yoruba was estimated at around 20 million in the 1990s. The native tongue of the Yoruba people is spoken, among other languages, in Nigeria, Benin, and Togo and in communities in other parts of Africa, Europe and the Americas. Standard Yoruba, the variety learnt at school and used in the media, has nonetheless been a powerful consolidating factor in the emergence of a common Yoruba identity.

From the other approximately 400 languages spoken in Nigeria, Yoruba together with Igbo and Hausa maintains special status especially in the south-western states of Nigeria. In these areas it enjoys official status and is used in governmental notices and tertiary education. Yoruba is the most documented West African language used in the media, newspapers, books, films and music.

Currently there are efforts to promote the status of the indigenous languages in Nigeria. One of such effort is by cell phone companies who translate their user interfaces into languages such as Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba, the three major Nigerian languages. This creates a wonderful opportunity for investors and businesses alike to support the local and international effort to keep this descriptive language alive.


Over the years, Yoruba has had different writing systems. In the 17th century, the influence of Muslims meant the introduction of Ajami script. But today, the Latin alphabet is used for the writing. However, it is modified according to the requirements of the Yoruba language.