About Kpelle

General: Kpelle is a part of the Mande (Western Mande) family of languages and is spoken by approximately 1.3 million people across Guinea (460,000 speaks as of 2012) and Liberia (760,000 as of 1991).

In Liberia Kpelle is spoken by the Kpelle people, the largest ethnic group in Liberia (and West Africa), and who are historically agriculturalists (staple crop is rice) and located in central and northern Liberia (specifically Bong, Bomi, and Lofa Counties). As the largest ethnic group in Liberia, Kpelle is also the largest African language among the population, at approximately 20% (second is Bassa at 14%).

Language and Language Policy:Kpelle doesn’t have any noun class markers, has three distinct tonal melodies, and four distinct dialects (Thach, 1981; Konoshenko, 2008). It has its own alphabet/indigenous script. While there have been discussions of teaching Kpelle in primary school (including the creation of materials with funding from NGO’s and Aid organizations) it is currently not officially taught within schools and like other indigenous languages in Liberia was discouraged by Americo-Liberians upon their settlement and political rule (this included the taking of Christian names). There are talks about promoting “mother tongue” instruction or indigenous language instruction in primary schools, but this has become a contentious issue due to funding and the promotion of certain languages over others. Liberia is therefore one of the few African countries without an official mother tongue instruction policy in primary schools. Kpelle is however taught in Universities in Liberia, particularly Cuttington University in Bong county.


Konoshenko, M. (2008). Tonal systems in three dialects of the Kpelle language. Mandenkan44, 21-42.


Thach, S. V., & Dwyer, D. J. (1981). Kpelle: A Reference Handbook of Phonetics, Grammar, Lexicon and Learning Procedures.

Thach, Sharon V. (1981).A learner directed approach to Kpelle : a handbook on communication and culture with dialogs, texts, cultural notes, exercises, drills and instructions.


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Resources for Self-Instructional Learners of Less Commonly Taught Languages Copyright © by University of Wisconsin-Madison Students in African 671 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.