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Ewe language

Gbe languages

Ewe ( e or egbe )[1] is a Niger Congo language spoken in southeastern Ghana and southern Togo by over three million people.[2] Ewe is part of a cluster of related languages commonly called Gbe; the other major Gbe language is Fon of Benin. Like most sub-Saharan languages, Ewe is tonal.

The German Africanist Diedrich Hermann Westermann published many dictionaries and grammars of Ewe and several other Gbe languages. Other linguists who have worked on Ewe and closely related languages include Gilbert Ansre (tone, syntax), Herbert Stahlke (morphology, tone), Nick Clements (tone, syntax), Roberto Pazzi (anthropology, lexicography), Felix K. Ameka (semantics, cognitive linguistics), Alan Stewart Duthie (semantics, phonetics), Hounkpati B. Capo (phonology, phonetics), Enoch Aboh (syntax), and Chris Collins (syntax).



Oral history tells of a migration of the Gbe people from an area in present-day Benin, Ketu, due to occupation by the Yoruba. It is believed that the Ewe settled first in Togo and then moved to southeastern Ghana.


Some of the commonly named Ewe ('Vhe') dialects are T wun, Awlan, Gb n, Pec , Kp ndo, Vhlin, H , Av no, Vo, Kpelen, V , Dayin, Agu, Fodome, Wanc , Wac , Ad ngbe (Capo).

Ethnologue 16 considers Waci, Kpesi (Kpessi), and Wudu to be distinct enough to be considered separate languages. The form a continuum with Ewe and Gen (Mina), which share a mutual intelligibility level of 85%;[3] the Ewe varieties Gbin, Ho, Kpelen, Kpesi, and Vhlin might be considered a third cluster of Western Gbe dialects between Ewe and Gen, though Kpesi is as close or closer to the Waci and Vo dialects which remain in Ewe in that scenario. Waci intervenes geographically between Ewe proper and Gen; Wudu is further north, on the northern edge of Aja territory, and Kpesi forms a Gbe island in the Kabye area.



Bilabial Labiodental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Labial-velar Glottal
Stop voiceless
Affricate voiceless
Fricative voiceless

H is a voiced fricative which has been described as uvular, , pharyngeal, , or glottal .

The nasal consonants are not distinctive, as they only appear before nasal vowels. Ewe is therefore sometimes said to have no nasal consonants. However, it is more economical to argue that nasal are the underlying form, and are denasalized before oral vowels. (See vowels below.)

occurs before unrounded (non-back) vowels and before rounded (back) vowels.

Ewe is one of the few languages known to contrast vs. and vs. . The f and v are stronger than in most languages, and , with the upper lip noticeably raised, and thus more distinctive from the rather weak and .[4]

may occur in consonant clusters. It becomes (or after coronals.


! align="center"|Front Back
Close , ,
Open-mid , ,
Open ,

The tilde (~) marks nasal vowels, though the Peki dialect lacks . Many varieties of Ewe lack one or another of the front mid vowels, and some varieties in Ghana have the additional vowels and .

Ewe does not have a nasal oral contrast in consonants. It does, however, have a syllabic nasal, which varies as , depending on the following consonant, and which carries tone. Some authors treat this as a vowel, with the odd result that Ewe would have more nasal than oral vowels, and one of these vowels has no set place of articulation. If it is taken to be a consonant, then there would be the odd result of a single nasal consonant which could not appear before vowels. If nasal consonants are taken to underlie , however, then there is no such odd restriction; the only difference from other consonants being that only nasal stops may be syllabic, a common pattern cross-linguistically.


Ewe is a tonal language. In a tonal language, pitch differences are used to distinguish one word from another. For example, in Ewe the following three words differ only in their tones:

  • t 'mountain' (High tone)
  • t 'mortar' (Rising tone)
  • t 'buffalo' (Low tone)

Phonetically, there are three tone registers, High, Mid, and Low, and three rising and falling contour tones. However, in most Ewe dialects only two registers are distinctive, High and Mid. These are depressed in nouns after voiced obstruents: High becomes Mid (or Rising), and Mid becomes Low. Mid is also realized as Low at the end of a phrase or utterance, as in the example 'buffalo' above.


The Ewe language uses phrases of overt politeness, such as Please and Thank you. A common, friendly greeting extended to an individual of a European descent is White person.

Writing system

The African Reference Alphabet is used when Ewe is represented orthographically, so the written version is a bit like a combination of the Latin alphabet and the International Phonetic Alphabet.

A a B b D d Dz dz E e F f G g Gb gb
H h I i K k Kp kp L l M m N n Ny ny O o P p
R r S s T t Ts ts U u V v W w X x Y y Z z

An n is placed after vowels to mark nasalization. Tone is generally unmarked, except in some common cases which require disambiguation, e.g. the first person plural pronoun m 'we' is marked high to distinguish it from the second person plural mi 'you', and the second person singular pronoun w 'you' is marked low to distinguish it from the third person plural pronoun w 'they/them'

  • — 'he saw you'
  • — 'he saw them'


Ewe is a subject verb object language.[5] The possessive precedes the head noun.[6] Adjectives, numerals, demonstratives and relative clauses follow the head noun. Ewe also has postpositions rather than prepositions.[7]

Ewe is well known as a language having logophoric pronouns. Such pronouns are used to refer to the source of a reported statement or thought in indirect discourse, and can disambiguate sentences that are ambiguous in most other languages. The following examples illustrate:

  • Kofi be e-dzo 'Kofi said he left' (he Kofi)
  • Kofi be y -dzo 'Kofi said he left' (he = Kofi)

In the second sentence, y is the logophoric pronoun.

Ewe also has a rich system of serial verb constructions.


Ewe is a national language in Togo and Ghana.



  • Ansre, Gilbert (1961) The Tonal Structure of Ewe. MA Thesis, Kennedy School of Missions of Hartford Seminary Foundation.
  • Ameka, Felix Kofi (2001) 'Ewe'. In Garry and Rubino (eds.), Fact About the World's Languages: An Encyclopedia of the World's Major Languages, Past and Present, 207-213. New York/Dublin: The H.W. Wilson Company.
  • Clements, George N. (1975) 'The logophoric pronoun in Ewe: Its role in discourse', Journal of West African Languages 10(2): 141-177
  • Collins, Chris. (1993) Topics in Ewe Syntax. Doctoral Dissertation, MIT.
  • Capo, Hounkpati B.C. (1991) A Comparative Phonology of Gbe, Publications in African Languages and Linguistics, 14. Berlin/New York: Foris Publications & Garome, B nin: Labo Gbe (Int).
  • Pasch, Helma (1995) Kurzgrammatik des Ewe K ln: K ppe.
  • Westermann, Diedrich Hermann (1930) A Study of the Ewe Language London: Oxford University Press.

External links

kbd: br:Eweeg ca:Ewe cs:Eve tina de:Ewe (Sprache) es:Idioma ew eo:Evea lingvo ee:E egbe hif:Ewe bhasa fr:Ewe (langue) hr: w jezik id:Bahasa Ewe is:Anl it:Lingua ewe ka: ( ) rw:Icyewe sw:Kiewe kv: ( ) lv:Evu valoda lt:Eve kalba mg:Fiteny eve ms:Bahasa Ewe nl:Ewe (taal) ja: no:Ewe nn:Ewe pms:Lenga Ewe pl:J zyk ewe pt:L ngua ewe qu:Ewe simi ru: ( ) fi:Ewen kieli sv:Ewe ta: uk: ( ) vec:Ewe yo: d efe zh:

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