Languages of Benin

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Languages of Benin
NationalFon, Yom, Yoruba
SignedAmerican Sign Language (Francophone African Sign Language)
Other indigenous language(s)Gen, Kabiyé
Signs in French at a market in Porto Novo.

Benin is a diverse country linguistically. A total of 55 languages are spoken in Benin, with 50 being indigenous.[1] Of those, French is the official language, and all the indigenous languages are considered national languages.[2]

Of the Beninese languages, Fon (a Gbe language) and Yoruba are the most important in the south of the country. In the north there are half a dozen regionally important languages, including Bariba (once counted as a Gur language) and Fulfulde.

Education for the deaf in Benin uses American Sign Language, introduced by the deaf American missionary Andrew Foster.

The multilingual character of Beninese society is characterized by the number of languages spoken, ethno-linguistic diversity, stratification of language use (whereby French is used officially and other languages used in other spheres of activity), and by the fact that many Beninese are polyglots.[3]


The only official language of Benin is French, according to title I, article I of the Constitution of Benin. According to Ethnologue, it is spoken by 3.8 million people (2016) out of more the total population of more than 10 million. For the majority of French speakers in Benin it is the second language.[4]

It is important to know French to get an administrative position or work in the cities in general, and speaking it is a mark of prestige. According to a study by Amadou Sanni and Mahouton Atodjinou in 2012, it is estimated that Benin will be completely Francophone by 2060. The authors note that, in 2002, 43 percent of men spoke the language compared to 25.8 percent of women. In 2002, more than half of the residents of Cotonou spoke French.[5] French was introduced during the colonial period and retained as the official language upon independence. Today it is an important lingua franca between diverse ethnic groups.[6]

Most printed media outlets are in French and not the indigenous languages. The Constitution grants freedom of expression. Benin is a member of the Organisation internationale de la francophonie.[7] The region of Benin Gi-Mono is a member of the International Association of Francophone regions.[8]

A unique variety of French called français d'Afrique has developed in the streets and markets of Cotonou. Grammatical structures are typically borrowed from the speaker's first language. It is especially the conjugation rules that have been changed the most, especially the less common forms like the literary style. It has an almost argotic character.[6]

National languages[edit]

Language map of Benin, Nigeria, and Cameroon

According to title II, article 11 of the Constitution, All communities comprising the Béninese nation shall enjoy the freedom to use their spoken and written languages and to develop their own culture while respecting those of others, and the State must promote the development of national languages of intercommunication.

Fon is the most widely spoken indigenous language, spoken by 24% of the population. It is the first language of more than 17% of Benin's population.[9] The language is mainly spoken in the Atlantique, Littoral, Collines and Zou Departments.[10]

Other important languages are Yoruba, Bariba, Mina and Yom.[10] Benin implemented a National Literacy and Adult Education Policy, which allowed adult speakers of national languages to use their languages for cultural advancement.[11]

In the capital of Porto Novo, the two main ethnoliguistic groups are Yoruba and Gouin, with the smaller population of Wemi, Seto, Tori, Xwala, Defi, and Tofin speakers. Yoruba newspapers from neighboring Nigeria are popular.[3]

Vulnerable, Threatened, and Endangered Languages[edit]

  • Aguna, also called Awuna or Agunaco, is a threatened Kwa language with currently 3,470 native speakers worldwide.[12]
  • Anii, also called Gisida, Basila, Bassila, Baseca, "Winji-Winji", "Ouinji-Ouinji", or Akpe, is a vulnerable Kwa language, estimated to be <25,000 native speakers worldwide as of 1996 to as much as 50,000 as of 2003-2007. It contains the dialects and variants Ananjubi, Balanka, Akpe, Gikolodjya, Gilempla, Gisème and Giseda.[13]
  • Gwamhi-Wuri, also known as Lyase, Lyase-Ne, Gwamhyə-Wuri-Mba, Gwamfi, or "Banganci", is a vulnerable Kainji language with anywhere from 1,838 to 16,000 native speakers worldwide as of 2000. It contains the dialects and variants Wuri, Gwamhyə and Mba.[14]
  • Miyobe, also known as Soruba, Mi yɔbɛ, Bijobe, Biyobe, Sorouba, Solla, Uyobe, Meyobe, Kayobe, Kuyobe, Sola, Solamba, or Kyobe, is a threatened Gur language with 8,700 native speakers worldwide, 7,000 of them in Benin as of 1991.[15]
  • Notre, also dubbed Nõtre, Bulba, Nootre, Burusa, or Boulba, is a vulnerable Gur language estimated to number anywhere from 1,500 to 2,368 speakers, as of 2002 and 1996, respectively.[16]
  • Tchumbuli, also known as Basa, Tshummbuli, Chombulon, or Tchombolo, is a severely endangered Kwa language, with anywhere from 1,838 to 2,500 speakers. Dialects and variants include Cobecha and Tchumbuli.[17]


The orthographies of the national languages of Benin are codified and periodically updated by the Ministry of Literacy and Promotion of National Languages (Ministère de l’Alphabétisation et de la Promotion des langues nationales) and the National Center for Applied Linguistics (Centre national de linguistique appliquée).[18]

A common alphabet for the national languages of Benin is based on the Latin alphabet, with the addition of the letters Ɓ ɓ, Ɖ ɖ, Ɗ ɗ, Ɛ ɛ, Ǝ ǝ, Ƒ ƒ, Ɣ ɣ, Ɩ ɩ, Ŋ ŋ, Ɔ ɔ, Ʊ ʊ, Ʋ ʋ, Ƴ ƴ, and Ʒ ʒ. Diacritical marks are used for marking tone and nasalization:

Sound Mark
Low tone Grave (V̀)
High tone Acute (V́)
High-low tone Caron (V̌)
Low-high tone Circumflex (V̂)
Middle tone Macron (V̄)
Nasalization The letter n after the vowel in Kwa languages.

Superscript (Ṽ) or subscript (V̰) tilde in other languages.

Not all the letters and the marks are used in all languages.

Foreign languages[edit]

English is studied as a foreign language in secondary schools.[19] There is a high demand for English teachers in Benin.[20] English is emerging as an important language of trade in Benin due to its being the national tongue of Benin's regionally powerful neighbor Nigeria.[3]

Spanish is taught and[21] German is also taught in many Beninese secondary schools.

External Links[edit]


  1. ^ "Benin". Ethnologue. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  2. ^ (in French) LaClerc, Jacques Bénin" dans L'aménagement linguistique dans le monde, Québec, TLFQ, Université Laval, 1 Feb 2010 (accessed 2 Nov 2012)
  3. ^ a b c McLaughlin, Fiona (2011). The Languages of Urban Africa. Continuum Publishing. ISBN 978-1441158130.
  4. ^ "Benin". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2019-01-06.
  5. ^ "La langue française dans le monde, Édition 2014". (in French). p. 7. Archived from the original on 2015-07-02. Retrieved 2016-10-17.
  6. ^ a b "Les formes de français à Cotonou". (in French). Archived from the original on 9 March 2008. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  7. ^ Benin Archived 2016-09-26 at the Wayback Machine La Francophonie
  8. ^ "Regions Francophones". Association Internationale des Regions Francophones (in French). Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  9. ^ "Benin Description". Elan Afrique. Archived from the original on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  10. ^ a b Houngnikpo, Mathurin; Decalo, Samuel (2013). Historical Dictionary of Benin. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 237–238. ISBN 978-0810871717.
  11. ^ "The Languages Spoken in Benin". Study Country. EU Business School. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  12. ^ "Did you know Aguna is threatened?". Endangered Languages. Retrieved 2019-12-17.
  13. ^ "Did you know Anii is vulnerable?". Endangered Languages. Retrieved 2019-12-17.
  14. ^ "Did you know Gwamhi-Wuri is vulnerable?". Endangered Languages. Retrieved 2019-12-17.
  15. ^ "Did you know Miyobe is threatened?". Endangered Languages. Retrieved 2019-12-17.
  16. ^ "Did you know Notre is vulnerable?". Endangered Languages. Retrieved 2019-12-17.
  17. ^ "Did you know Tchumbuli is severely endangered?". Endangered Languages. Retrieved 2019-12-17.
  18. ^ Alphabet des langues nationales béninoises. Ministère de l’Alphabétisation et de la Promotion des langues nationales, Centre national de linguistique appliquée, Benin. 2008. OL 25931062M.
  19. ^ Facts About the Republic of Benin: Official Document University of Pennsylvania
  20. ^ Collin, Simon (2005). The Guide to English Language Teaching Yearbook 2005. Modern English Publishing. p. 153. ISBN 190454908X.
  21. ^ "Espanol en el mundo" (PDF). Spanish government. Retrieved 19 October 2016.