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Limbum language

Native speakers
130,000 (2005)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3lmp

Limbum is a Grassfields language of Cameroon, with a small number of speakers in Nigeria. It is used as a trade language by some, but is primarily the mother tongue of the Wimbum people, who live in Donga-Mantung division of the Northwest Region, at the top of the Ring Road.


The Wimbum consist of three clans: War clan headquartered at Mbot, Tang clan at Tallah, and Wiya clan at Ndu.[3] Scattered around are other Wimbum villages, each associated with one of the three clans. Each village has a chief, also known as fon, who is largely autonomous, and beneath him sub-chiefs or quarter-heads.[4] The three clans are geographically interspersed, but share the language.[3] The people live on the Nkambe Plateau, a dramatic grassy highland cut by wooded ravines, about a mile above sea level.[5] Most are farmers, growing maize, beans, potatoes, yams, vegetable, tomatoes, bananas, and also plantains and coffee in lower, warmer areas.[6][7] Some conduct trade, primarily in the towns of Nkambé and Ndu. Some work for the government, primarily in Nkambe.

Linguists consider Limbum to have three "dialects," which may be better called accents: a northern, a middle, and a southern dialect.[8] Limbum is closely related to some neighboring languages like Yamba and more geographically distant ones like Bamum, Ngemba and Bamileke. It is quite different from some other neighboring languages like Bebe and Noni.[9]


Limbum's grammar is similar to English in some ways, including:

  • Word order is generally subject–verb–object. For example, consider:
    • Ŋgwa Ta᷅ta a᷅ byɛ᷅' kwaa᷅.[10] (normal Limbum word order)
    • Wife Tata has carried corn. (word-for-word English translation, retaining Limbum word order)
    • Tata's wife has carried corn. (translation with conventional English word order)
  • Verb tenses tend to be formed with auxiliary verbs like "a᷅" in the example above.

But Limbum differs from English in other ways. Here are a few:

  • An adjective tends to follow the noun it modifies.
  • Limbum is a tone language, meaning that spoken pitch can distinguish words which otherwise sound the same. For example, the sound "baa" spoken with different tones can mean father, fufu, two, bag, part in hair, or madness.[11]
  • The pronoun system is quite different. For example, "ye" is a gender-neutral third person singular, taking the place of he and she in English. Moving to first and second person, "wɛ᷅" means you(singular), "we᷅e" means you(plural) and not I, "so᷅" means you(singular) and I, and "se᷅e" means (you(singular) and we) or (you(plural) and I). Also, Limbum has compound pronouns, which English lacks.[12]

Sample vocabulary

ŋwɛ᷅ - person fa - give ŋgʉp - fowl boŋboŋ - good
njeŋwɛ᷅ - woman ye - eat nyaa - meat bɛbɛp - bad
muu - child laa᷅ - say kwaa᷅ - corn
ŋkar - friend fa᷅' - work nda᷅p - house baa - two
ma - mother ko᷅ŋ - like or love tap - hut taar - three
ta - father yɛ - see afyoŋ - airplane tâ - five
e - he or she saŋ - write ŋwa᷅' - letter[13]


  1. ^ Limbum at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Limbum". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ a b Pool, p. 33.
  4. ^ Kifon, p. 2-3.
  5. ^ Pool, p. 32.
  6. ^ Ndu.
  7. ^ Nkambe.
  8. ^ Fiore, p. 2.
  9. ^ Nkwi, p. 149.
  10. ^ Ndi, p. 10 and 65. In the transcriptions of Limbum on this page, I have followed the Ndis' spellings as best I can.
  11. ^ Fiore, p. 78.
  12. ^ Wepngong, p. 6.
  13. ^ Ndi, throughout.


  • Bongmba, Elias Kifon (2001). African Witchcraft and Otherness - A Philosophical and Theological Critique of Intersubjective Relations (PDF). Albany: State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-4989-0. Retrieved 2016-11-17.
  • Fiore, Lynn E. (January 1977). "A Phonology of Limbum (Nsungli)" (PDF). Société Internationale de Linguistique. Retrieved 2016-10-16.
  • Nkwi, Paul Nchoji; Warnier, Jean-Pierre (1982). Elements for a History of the Western Grassfields. Yaounde: University of Yaounde - Department of Sociology.
  • Ndi, Augustine; Ndi, Robert (1988). Bki᷅nfɛ̀r - Ta᷅ta, Nyako, Fa᷅ake ba Nfo᷅ - A second Primer in the Limbum Language. Yaounde, Republic of Cameroon: Societe Internationale de Linguistique.
  • "Ndu". United Councils and Cities of Cameroon. Retrieved 2016-11-17.
  • "Nkambe". United Councils and Cities of Cameroon. Retrieved 2016-11-17.
  • Pool, Robert (1994). Dialogue and the Interpretation of Illness: Conversations in a Cameroon Village. Oxford & Providence, RI: Berg Publishers. p. 33. ISBN 1859730167.
  • Wepngong, Ndi Francis (2011). "Pronominal and Possessive Referencing in Limbum" (PDF). Leiden University. Retrieved 2016-10-16.