Ubangian languages

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Central African Republic, Cameroon, Gabon, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan
Linguistic classification: Niger–Congo?
Glottolog: uban1244  (Ubangian + Zande)[1]

The Ubangian languages form a fairly close-knit language family of some seventy languages centered on the Central African Republic. They are the predominant languages of the CAR, spoken by 2–3 million people, and include the national language, Sango. They are generally included in the Niger–Congo family, though this has not been demonstrated.

External classification

Greenberg (1963) classified the then-little-known Ubangian languages as Niger–Congo and placed them within the Adamawa languages as "Eastern Adamawa". They were soon removed to a separate branch of Niger–Congo, for example within Blench's Savanna languages.[2] However, this has become increasingly uncertain, and Dimmendaal (2008) states that, based on the lack of convincing evidence for a Niger–Congo classification ever being produced, Ubangian "probably constitutes an independent language family that cannot or can no longer be shown to be related to Niger–Congo (or any other family)."[3] Blench (2012) notes that Dimmendaal presents no positive evidence that it is distinct, and continues to include Ubangian within Niger–Congo.[4]

Internal classification

Boyd and Moñino (2010) removed the Gbaya and Zande languages.[5] The half dozen remaining branches are coherent, but their interrelationships are not straightforward. Williamson & Blench (2000) propose the following arrangement:



Ngbandi (Sango, with 2 million speakers total, is Ngbandi-based)




Ngbaka (note the principal Gbaya language is also called Ngbaka)


In addition there is the Ngombe language, whose placement is uncertain due to a paucity of data.

Note: The ambiguous name Ngbaka is used for various languages in the area. Generally, singular Ngbaka language refers to one of the main Gbaya languages, whereas plural Ngbaka languages refers to a branch of Ubangian.


  • Yves Moñino, 1988, Lexique comparatif des langues oubanguiennes
  1. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Ubangian + Zande". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Williamson, Kay & Blench, Roger (2000) 'Niger–Congo', in Heine, Bernd & Nurse, Derek (eds.) African languages: an introduction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  3. Gerrit Dimmendaal (2008) "Language Ecology and Linguistic Diversity on the African Continent", Language and Linguistics Compass 2/5:841.
  4. Roger Blench, Niger-Congo: an alternative view
  5. The position of Gbaya-Manza-Ngbaka group among the Niger-Congo languages