As the coastline of West Africa turns south, it runs along the border of Bayelsa, a state in Nigeria. As in the rest of Nigeria, the official language is English; however, Ijaw (Ijoid family) languages are widely spoken in Bayelsa by the Ijaw people.
According to “Ijaw language to be made compulsory in Bayelsa’s schools,” in a move to protect Ijaw against the erosion by Western culture, the State House of Assembly passed a resolution making Ijaw learning mandatory in schools. As the State House of Assembly is apparently the only legislative body in the state, the majority vote makes the resolution law.
According to the Ethnologue, there are 10 Ijoid languages with 1.75 million speakers:
- Biseni (ije) – 4,800 speakers (1977)
- Defaka (afn) – 200 speakers (2001)
- Ibani (iby) – 60,000 speakers (1989)
- Izon (ijc) – 1.1 million speakers (1989 to 1991)
- Kalabari (ijn) – 258,000 speakers (1989)
- Kirike (okr) – 248,000 speakers (1995)
- Nkoroo (nkx) – 4,550 speakers (1989)
- Okodia (okd) – 3,600 speakers (1977)
- Oruma (orr) – 5,000 speakers (1995)
- Southeast Ijo (ijs) – 71,500 speakers (1977)
Of these, Defaka is the most endangered at only 200 speakers (according to a report a decade ago), and the Wikipedia article reports all children grow up speaking Nkoroo. While Izon, Kalaari and Kiriki each have more than 200K speakers, all of the Ijoid languages have only a small population.
According to “Bayelsa Makes Ijaw Language Compulsory,” the resolution includes language for a campaign to “encourage the speaking of the Ijaw native languages in homes,” so hopefully all of the Ijoid languages will receive support.
For a glossary of perhaps more than 1000 Ijaw words, see The Ijaw Dictionary Online.