Ewe language

Last updated
Native to Ghana, Togo
RegionSouthern Ghana east of the Volta River
Ethnicity Ewe
Native speakers
(5 million cited 1991–2013) [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. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
Gbe languages Gbe languages.png
Gbe languages

Ewe (Èʋe or Èʋegbe [èβeɡ͡be] ) [5] is a Niger–Congo language spoken in Togo and southeastern Ghana by approximately 4.5 million people as a first language and a million or so more as a second language. [1] 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).


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%; [6] the Ewe varieties Gbin, Ho, Kpelen, Kpesi, and Vhlin might be considered a third cluster of Western Gbe dialects between Ewe and Gen, but 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 the Gbe languages, which include Gen, Aja, and Xwla and are spoken from the southern part of Ghana to Togo, Benin and Western Nigeria. All Gbe languages share at least some intelligibility with one another. Some coastal and southern dialects of Ewe include Aŋlɔ, Tongu (Tɔŋu), Avenor, Dzodze, and Watsyi. Some inland dialects indigenously characterized as Ewedomegbe include: Ho, Kpedze, Hohoe, Peki, Kpando, Liati, 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 ptkk͡p
voiced m ~ bdɳ ~ ɖɲ ~ jŋ ~ ɡɡ͡b
Affricate voiceless t͡s
voiced d͡z
Fricative voiceless ɸfsx
voiced βvzɣ ~ ɰ ~ wʁ ~ ʕ ~ ɦ
Approximant l ~ l̃
Tap (ɾ ~ ɾ̃)

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 since they appear before only nasal vowels; therefore, Ewe is 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 so are denasalized before oral vowels.

[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]. [7]

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


Front Back
Close i, ĩu, ũ
Close-mid e, ẽo, õ
Open-mid ɛ, ɛ̃ɔ, 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 carries tone. Some authors treat it 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, there is the odd result of a single nasal consonant that cannot appear before vowels. If nasal consonants are taken to underlie [b ɖ ɡ], however, there is no such odd restriction, and the only difference from other consonants is 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 by tone:

Phonetically, there are three tone registers, High, Mid, and Low, and three rising and falling contour tones. However, in most Ewe dialects have only two distinctive registers, 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.

In writing, tones are marked by acute accent, grave accent, caron, and circumflex. They may be used along with the tilde that marks nasal vowels. [8]


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


The African Reference Alphabet is used when Ewe is represented orthographically, so the written version is somewhat like a combination of the Latin alphabet and the International Phonetic Alphabet. [8]

A aB bD dƉ ɖDz dzE eƐ ɛF fƑ ƒG gGb gbƔ ɣ
/a//b//d//ɖ//d͡z//e/, /ə//ɛ//f//ɸ//ɡ//ɡ͡b//ɣ/
H hI iK kKp kpL lM mN nNy nyŊ ŋO oƆ ɔP p
R rS sT tTs tsU uV vƲ ʋW wX xY yZ z

An n is placed after vowels to mark nasalization. Tone is generally unmarked, except in some common cases, which require disambiguation: 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'

Naming system

The Ewe use a system of giving the first name to a child, based on the day of the week that the child was born. That arises from a belief that the real name of a child can be determined only after the child has shown its character. However, as a child is a person, not an object, the child must be referred to by some name in the interim and so a name is provided based on the day of birth. A final name is given at a naming ceremony, seven days after the date of birth.

As a matter of pride in their heritage, especially since the 1970s, many educated Ewe, who were given Western names, have dropped those names formally/legally or informally and use their birthday name as their official name.

The Ewe birthday-naming system is as follows:

DayMale NameFemale Name
Dzoɖagbe (Monday)Kɔdzo, Kwadzo, Kojo, KudjoeAdzo, Adzowɔ
Braɖagbe, Blaɖagbe (Tuesday)Kɔmla, Kɔbla, KwablaAbra, Abla, Brã
Kuɖagbe (Wednesday)Kɔku, Kwaku, AwukuAku, Akuwɔ
Yawoɖagbe (Thursday)Yao, Yaw, Ayao, KwawuYawa, Awo, Yaa
Fiɖagbe (Friday)KofiAfua, Afi, Afiwa, Afiwɔ
Memliɖagbe (Saturday)Kɔmi, Kwami, KormiAma, Ami
Kɔsiɖagbe (Sunday)Kɔsi, KwasiAkɔsia, Akɔsua, Kosiwor, Esi, Awusi

Often, people are called by their birthday name most of the time; the given name being used only on formal documents. In such cases, children with the same birth name are delineated by suffixes: -gã meaning big, -vi meaning little. So for example, after the birth of another Kofi, the first child called Kofi becomes Kofigã, and the new child Kofi. A subsequent Kofi, would be Kofivi, or (Kofitse mostly among Wedome and Tɔngu Ewes). Sometimes, the renaming happens twice, as the second Kofi might have originally been called Kofivi, while the eldest retained Kofi, thereby necessitating that they both be renamed on the birth of a third Kofi.


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:

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.

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  1. 1 2 Ewe at Ethnologue (21st ed., 2018)
    Waci at Ethnologue (21st ed., 2018)
    Kpesi at Ethnologue (21st ed., 2018)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Ewe". Glottolog 3.0 . Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Kpessi". Glottolog 3.0 . Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Waci Gbe". Glottolog 3.0 . Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  5. , p. 243
  6. N'buéké Adovi Goeh-Akué, 2009. Les états-nations face à l'intégration régionale en Afrique de l'ouest
  7. Venda also has the 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)
  8. 1 2 Jim-Fugar, Nicholine; Jim-Fugar, M.K.N (2017). Nuseline's Ewe-English Dictionary. p. 5. ISBN   1521040184.
  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.