Benue, river, W Africa, chief tributary of the Niger. It flows c.880 mi (1,416 km) W from Cameroon into the Niger River at Lokoja, Nigeria. The Benue, which carries much commercial traffic, is almost entirely navigable by power-driven boats in August and September, the height of the rainy season. Large mineral deposits (tin, marble, limestone, gold) are exploited in the river valley.

The Benue-Congo group of languages constitutes the largest branch of the Niger-Congo language family, both in terms of sheer number of languages, of which 880 are known (per Ethnologue, not counting mere dialects), and in terms of speakers, numbering perhaps 500 million. Within Niger-Congo, Benue-Congo is a branch of Atlantic-Congo, and Volta-Congo if that turns out to be a valid group. When it was first proposed by Joseph Greenberg (1963) it included the Volta-Niger languages; the boundary between those languages and Kwa has also been debated.

The main branches of the Benue-Congo family, along with the most important languages in terms of number of speakers, are as follows (with number of constituent languages for each sub-branch in parenthesis):

The original Plateau grouping was a geographic rather than genealogical group, though the languages listed here as Plateau may form a valid family.


  • Wolf, Paul Polydoor de (1971) The Noun Class System of Proto-Benue-Congo (Thesis, Leiden University). The Hague/Paris: Mouton.
  • Williamson, Kay (1989) 'Benue-Congo Overview', pp. 248—274 in Bendor-Samuel, John & Rhonda L. Hartell (eds.) The Niger-Congo Languages — A classification and description of Africa's largest language family. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America.


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