Ewe language

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Native to Ghana, Togo, Benin
Region Southern Ghana east of the Volta River, southern Togo
Ethnicity Ewe people
Native speakers
(3.6 million cited 1991–2003)[1]
Latin (Ewe alphabet)
Ewe Braille
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ee
ISO 639-2 ewe
ISO 639-3 Variously:
ewe – Ewe
wci – Waci
kef – Kpesi
Glottolog ewee1241  (Ewe)[2]
kpes1238  (Kpessi)[3]
waci1239  (Waci Gbe)[4]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.
Gbe languages

Ewe (Èʋe or Èʋegbe [èβeɡ͡be])[5] is a Niger–Congo language spoken in southeastern Ghana, southern Togo and Benin by over three million people.[6] Ewe is part of a cluster of related languages commonly called Gbe; the other major Gbe language is Fon of Benin. Like many African 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 Ketu in present-day Benin. It is believed that the Ewes settled first at Notsie in Togo and then moved to southeastern Ghana due to the cruelty of Togbe Agorkoli. The Ewe went through several mass exoduses beginning in the 11th century and placing current Ewe peoples in Togo, Ghana, and Benin from 15th to 17th century. The most famous of these is their migration from Notsie under the reign of King Agorkoli I. In the oral stories passed down through storytelling traditions, King Agorkoli was very cruel, as such the Ewe devised a plan to escape. Every night, the women would throw water on the walls of the kingdom which was made of mud, glass, rock, and thorns. Eventually the wall softened and they were able to cut a hole through a section of it and escape during the night. The men soon followed and walked backwards so that their footsteps would seem to lead into the kingdom.


Some of the commonly named Ewe ('Vhe') dialects are Aŋlɔ, Tɔŋu (Tɔŋgu), Avenor, Agave people, Evedome, Awlan, Gbín, Pekí, Kpándo, Vhlin, Hó, Avɛ́no, Vo, Kpelen, Vɛ́, Danyi, Agu, Fodome, Wancé, Wací, Adángbe (Capo).

Ethnologue 16 considers Waci and Kpesi (Kpessi) to be distinct enough to be considered separate languages. They form a dialect continuum with Ewe and Gen (Mina), which share a mutual intelligibility level of 85%;[7] 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; Kpesi forms a Gbe island in the Kabye area. Ewe is itself a dialect cluster of Gbe. Gbe languages include Gen, Aja, and Xwla and are spoken in an area that spans the southern part of Ghana into Togo, Benin, and Western Nigeria. All Gbe languages share a small degree of intelligibility with one another. Some coastal and southern dialects of Ewe include: Aŋlɔ, Tɔŋú Avenor, Dzodze, and Watsyi. Some inland dialects indigenously characterized as Ewedomegbe include: Ho, Kpedze, Hohoe, Peki, Kpando, Fódome, Danyi, and Kpele. Though there are many classifications, distinct variations exist between towns that are just miles away from one another.



Bilabial Labiodental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Labial-velar Glottal
Stop voiceless p t k k͡p
voiced m ~ b d n ~ ɖ ɲ ~ j ŋ ~ ɡ ɡ͡b
Affricate voiceless t͡s
voiced d͡z
Fricative voiceless ɸ f s x
voiced β v z ɣ ~ w ʁ/ɦ
Approximant l ~ l̃

H is a voiced fricative which has been described as uvular, [ʁ], pharyngeal, [ʕ], or glottal [ɦ].

The nasal consonants [m, n, ɲ, ŋ] 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 /m, n, ɲ, ŋ/ are the underlying form, and are denasalized before oral vowels. (See vowels below.)

[ɣ] occurs before unrounded (non-back) vowels and [w] before rounded (back) vowels.

Ewe is one of the few languages known to contrast [f] vs. [ɸ] and [v] vs. [β]. The f and v are stronger than in most languages, [f͈] and [v͈], with the upper lip noticeably raised, and thus more distinctive from the rather weak [ɸ] and [β].[8]

/l/ may occur in consonant clusters. It becomes [ɾ] (or [ɾ̃]) after coronals.


Front Back
Close i, ĩ u, ũ
Close-mid e, ẽ o, õ
Open-mid ɛ, ɛ̃ ɔ, ɔ̃
Open a, ã

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

Ewe does not have a nasal–oral contrast in consonants. It does, however, have a syllabic nasal, which varies as [m n ŋ], 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 [b ɖ ɡ], 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:

  • tó 'mountain' (High tone)
  • tǒ 'mortar' (Rising tone)
  • tò '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.


Ewe has phrases of overt politeness, such as meɖekuku (meaning "please") and akpe (meaning "thank you").[9]

Writing system[edit]

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 Ɖ ɖ Dz dz E e Ɛ ɛ F f Ƒ ƒ G g Gb gb Ɣ ɣ
/a/ /b/ /d/ /ɖ/ /d͡z/ /e/, /ə/ /ɛ/ /f/ /ɸ/ /ɡ/ /ɡ͡b/ /ɣ/
H h I i K k Kp kp L l M m N n Ny ny Ŋ ŋ O o Ɔ ɔ P p
/h/ /i/ /k/ /k͡p/ /l/ /m/ /n/ /ɲ/ /ŋ/ /o/ /ɔ/ /p/
R r S s T t Ts ts U u V v Ʋ ʋ W w X x Y y Z z
/l/ /s/ /t/ /t͡s/ /u/ /v/ /β/ /w/ /x/ /j/ /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 'we' is marked high to distinguish it from the second person plural mi 'you', and the second person singular pronoun 'you' is marked low to distinguish it from the third person plural pronoun 'they/them'

  • ekpɔ wò [ɛ́k͡pɔ̀ wɔ̀] — 'he saw you'
  • ekpɔ wo [ɛ́k͡pɔ̀ wɔ́] — 'he saw them'

Naming System[edit]

Day Male Name Female Name
Dzoda Kordzo/Kodzo Adzo
Blada Kobla/Komla Abla
Kuda Korku/Koku Aku
Yaoda Yao Yawa
Fida Kofi Afi
Memleda/Kwameda Kwame/Komi Ame
Kwasida Kwasi/Korsi Akorsia/Akosua


Ewe is a subject–verb–object language.[10] The possessive precedes the head noun.[11] Adjectives, numerals, demonstratives and relative clauses follow the head noun. Ewe also has postpositions rather than prepositions.[12]

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 yè-dzo 'Kofi said he left' (he = Kofi)

In the second sentence, yè is the logophoric pronoun.

Ewe also has a rich system of serial verb constructions.


Ewe is a national language in Togo and Ghana.


  1. ^ Ewe at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Waci at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Kpesi at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Ewe". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Kpessi". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  4. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Waci Gbe". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  5. ^ [1], p. 243
  6. ^ Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (ed.), 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International. Online version: http://www.ethnologue.com/
  7. ^ N'buéké Adovi Goeh-Akué, 2009. Les états-nations face à l'intégration régionale en Afrique de l'ouest
  8. ^ Venda also has this distinction, but in that case [ɸ] and [β] are slightly rounded, rather than [f] and [v] being raised. (Hardcastle & Laver, The handbook of phonetic sciences, 1999:595)
  9. ^ Translations of "please" and "thank you" from Omniglot.com
    Simon Ager (2015). "Useful Ewe phrases". Retrieved 27 June 2015. 
  10. ^ Ameka, Felix K. (1991). Ewe: Its Grammatical Constructions and Illocutionary Devices. Australian National University: Sydney.
  11. ^ Westermann, Diedrich. (1930). A study of the Ewe language. London: Oxford University Press.
  12. ^ Warburton, Irene and Ikpotufe, Prosper and Glover, Roland. (1968). Ewe Basic Course. Indiana University-African Studies Program: Bloomington.


  • 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, Bénin: Labo Gbe (Int).
  • Pasch, Helma (1995) Kurzgrammatik des Ewe Köln: Köppe.
  • Westermann, Diedrich Hermann (1930) A Study of the Ewe Language London: Oxford University Press.

External links[edit]