Yoruba Language and Literature
- LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0156
- LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0156
Yoruba is a tonal language of the Niger-Congo family and is spoken by about thirty million people, predominantly in Western Nigeria but with numerous speakers also in the neighboring Republic of Benin and Togo. Yoruba cultural influences are strong in the Caribbean and Brazil, and poetic texts associated with the worship of the Yoruba deities survive and are being reinforced by international travel between West Africa and the New World. Yoruba oral literature is rich and varied. Written Yoruba was first produced in ajami (adapted Arabic script) but extensive written texts in Yoruba began to be produced after the advent of Christian missions in the mid-19th century and were written in the Roman alphabet. One of the long-standing debates was over the appropriate way to represent tones and open and closed vowels by adapting this alphabet. Print culture, introduced by the missions in the 1840s, was quickly espoused by educated urban elites and a flourishing written literature became established from the 1880s onward. English and Yoruba texts coexisted and interacted throughout the colonial period and up to the present day, and a number of leading writers functioned equally well in both. This article provides an overview of the history of literature in the Yoruba language. It looks at oral and written texts, at Yoruba literary criticism, and at Yoruba dictionaries, grammars, language histories and beginners’ language courses.
General Overviews and Commentaries
A number of historical overviews exist. Babalọla 1985 provides a concise but comprehensive overview of a range of oral and written genres, with biographical notes on a number of key writers. Barber 2004 similarly covers both oral and written genres and includes modern performance genres from the 19th century to the present. Ogunbiyi 1988 is a collection offering very succinct but informative historical overviews. Afọlayan 1982 and Falọla and Oyebade 2011 are collections of essays by various authors touching on different aspects of oral and written literary production. The edited work Abimbọla 1975 is a compendium of essays on oral (and some written) traditions. Iṣọla 1992 makes the case for Yoruba as a literary language close to the life-world of its speakers, while Adejunmọbi 2008 takes a long historical view of the vitality of Yoruba as a literary language, from the 19th century to the present day.
Abimbọla, ‘Wande, ed. Yoruba Oral Tradition: Poetry in Music, Dance and Drama. Ifẹ, Nigeria: Department of African Languages and Literatures, University of Ifẹ, 1975.
This volume of more than one thousand pages stemmed from a major conference at the University of Ifẹ (now Ọbafẹmi Awolọwọ University) and features work by almost the whole of the then-Yoruba literary establishment. Despite the title, it includes essays on oral prose, written poetry, and miscellaneous cultural topics.
Adejunmọbi, Moradewun. “Technorality, Literature and Vernacular Literacy in 21st Century Africa.” Comparative Literature 60.2 (2008): 164–185.
This essay considers the possibility that Yoruba-language print culture, after a century of efflorescence, is on the decline because of the growth of the media and the intensification of globalization. It concludes that Yoruba-language creativity is not waning but may be shifting into new mediatized forms such as video drama.
Afọlayan, A., ed. Yoruba Language and Literature. Ibadan, Nigeria: University Press, 1982.
This volume of conference proceedings contains classic essays by luminaries of Yoruba Studies including Oyin Ogunba on festival songs, Ọ. Ọlatunji on the classification of oral poetic genres, Ayọ Bamgboṣe on lexical matching in Yoruba poetry, and essays on aspects of Yoruba grammar, dictionaries, lexical borrowing, dialect, and language in education.
Babalọla, Adeboye. “Yoruba Literature.” In Literatures in African Languages. Edited by B. W. Andrzejewski, S. Pilaszewicz, and W. Tyloch, 157–189. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
Succinct and comprehensive historical overview covering both oral and written literatures and including biographical notes on twenty-four significant writers. Very informative.
Barber, Karin. “Literature in Yoruba: Poetry and Prose, Travelling Theatre and Modern Drama.” In The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature. Vol. 1. Edited by F. Abiọla Irele and Simon Gikandi, 357–378. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
This historical overview essay covers oral, written, media, and performance genres from the 19th century to the 21st century, contextualizes the development of new genres and traces the relations between oral, print, and mediatized forms. Attention is given to early print culture and to popular oral and media genres often overlooked in literary overviews.
Falọla, Toyin, and Adebayọ Oyebade, eds. Yoruba Fiction, Orature, and Culture: Oyekan Owomoyela and African Literature and the Yoruba Experience. Trenton, NJ: Africa World, 2011.
Festschrift for Owomoyela, comprising twenty-seven essays on aspects of oral literature and its interface with writing. Topics include praise poetry, proverbs, ancestral masquerade chants, oral genres in ritual, festivals, and as historical sources; intertextuality and translation; orature in media; and legal and scientific dimensions of orature.
Iṣọla, Akinwumi. “The African Writer’s Tongue.” Research in African Literatures 23.1 (1992): 17–26.
Eloquent argument in favor of writing in one’s mother tongue, by a leading Yoruba-language novelist, playwright, and poet who is also a master of English-language writing.
Ogunbiyi, Yẹmi, ed. Perspectives on Nigerian Literature: 1700 to the Present. 2 vols. Lagos, Nigeria: Guardian, 1988.
This collection of short essays by a stellar cast of scholars focuses mainly on English-language literature, but it includes overviews of the history of Yoruba literature as a whole and individual pieces on the work of D. O. Fagunwa, Adebayọ Faleti, Ọladẹjọ Okediji, and Akinwumi Iṣọla.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
- Achebe, Chinua
- Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi
- African Socialism
- Africans in the Atlantic World
- Aid and Economic Development
- Arab Spring
- Arabic Language and Literature
- Archaeology and the Study of Africa
- Archaeology of Central Africa
- Archaeology of Eastern Africa
- Archaeology of Southern Africa
- Archaeology of West Africa
- Art, Art History, and the Study of Africa
- Arts of Central Africa
- Arts of Western Africa
- Asante and the Akan and Mossi States
- Bantu Expansion
- Benin (Dahomey)
- Botswana (Bechuanaland)
- Brink, André
- British Colonial Rule in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Burkina Faso (Upper Volta)
- Cape Verde
- Central African Republic
- Children and Childhood
- China in Africa
- Christianity, African
- Cinema and Television
- Coetzee, J.M.
- Colonial Rule, Belgian
- Colonial Rule, French
- Colonial Rule, German
- Colonial Rule, Italian
- Colonial Rule, Portuguese
- Communism, Marxist-Leninism, and Socialism in Africa
- Comoro Islands
- Conflict Management and Resolution
- Congo, Republic of (Congo Brazzaville)
- Congo River Basin States
- Congo Wars
- Conservation and Wildlife
- Crime and the Law in Colonial Africa
- Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire)
- Development of Early Farming and Pastoralism
- Diaspora, Kongo Atlantic
- Disease and African Society
- Early States And State Formation In Africa
- Early States of the Western Sudan
- Economic Anthropology
- Economic History
- Economy, Informal
- Education and the Study of Africa
- Egypt, Ancient
- Environmental History
- Equatorial Guinea
- Ethnicity and Politics
- Europe and Africa, Medieval
- Family Planning
- Farah, Nuruddin
- Food and Food Production
- Fugard, Athol
- Genocide in Rwanda
- Geography and the Study of Africa
- Gikuyu (Kikuyu) People of Kenya
- Gordimer, Nadine
- Great Lakes States of Eastern Africa, The
- Hausa Language and Literature
- Health, Medicine, and the Study of Africa
- Historiography and Methods of African History
- History and the Study of Africa
- Ijo/Niger Delta
- Image of Africa, The
- Indian Ocean and Middle Eastern Slave Trades
- Indian Ocean Trade
- Invention of Tradition
- Iron Working and the Iron Age in Africa
- Islam in Africa
- Islamic Politics
- Kongo and the Coastal States of West Central Africa
- Language and the Study of Africa
- Law and the Study of Sub-Saharan Africa
- Law, Islamic
- LGBTI Minorities and Queer Politics in Eastern and Souther...
- Literature and the Study of Africa
- Lord's Resistance Army
- Maasai and Maa-Speaking Peoples of East Africa, The
- Mau Mau
- Media and Journalism
- Military History
- Modern African Literature in European Languages
- Music, Dance, and the Study of Africa
- Music, Traditional
- Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
- North Africa from 600 to 1800
- North Africa to 600
- Northeastern African States, c. 1000 BCE-1800 CE
- Obama and Kenya
- Oman, the Gulf, and East Africa
- Oral and Written Traditions, African
- Police and Policing
- Political Science and the Study of Africa
- Political Systems, Precolonial
- Popular Culture and the Study of Africa
- Popular Music
- Population and Demography
- Postcolonial Sub-Saharan African Politics
- Religion and Politics in Contemporary Africa
- Sexualities in Africa
- Seychelles, The
- Slave Trade, Atlantic
- Slavery in Africa
- São Tomé and Príncipe
- Social and Cultural Anthropology and the Study of Africa
- South Africa Post c. 1850
- Southern Africa to c. 1850
- Soyinka, Wole
- Spanish Colonial Rule
- States of the Zimbabwe Plateau and Zambezi Valley
- Sudan and South Sudan
- Swahili City-States of the East African Coast
- Swahili Language and Literature
- Tanzania (Tanganyika and Zanzibar)
- Traditional Religion, African
- Trans-Saharan Trade
- Urbanism and Urbanization
- Wars and Warlords
- Western Sahara
- Women and African History
- Women and Colonialism
- Women and Politics
- Women and Slavery
- Women, Gender and the Study of Africa
- Women in 19th-Century West Africa
- Yoruba Language and Literature
- Yoruba States, Benin, and Dahomey