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Ewe language

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Title: Ewe language  
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Ewe language

Native to Ghana, Togo
Region Southern Ghana east of the Volta River, southern Togo
Ethnicity Ewe people
Native speakers
3.6 million  (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
wud – Wudu
Gbe languages

Ewe (Èʋe or Èʋegbe )[2] is a Niger–Congo language spoken in southeastern Ghana and southern Togo by over three million people.[3] Ewe is part of a cluster of related languages commonly called Gbe; the other major Gbe language is Fon of Benin. Like most 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 in the 17th century. The most famous of these is their migration from Notsie under the reign of King Agokoli I. In the oral stories passed down through story telling traditions, King Agokoli 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, Tɔwun, Awlan, Gbín, Pecí, Kpándo, Vhlin, Hó, Avɛ́no, Vo, Kpelen, Vɛ́, Dayin, Agu, Fodome, Wancé, Wací, Adángbe (Capo).

Ethnologue 16 considers Waci, Kpesi (Kpessi), and Wudu 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%;[4] 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. 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 s x
voiced β 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].[5]

/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.


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 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'


Ewe is a subject–verb–object language.[6] The possessive precedes the head noun.[7] Adjectives, numerals, demonstratives and relative clauses follow the head noun. Ewe also has postpositions rather than prepositions.[8]

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 (17th ed., 2013)
    Waci at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
    Kpesi at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
    Wudu at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ [1], p. 243
  3. ^ Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (ed.), 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International. Online version:
  4. ^ N'buéké Adovi Goeh-Akué, 2009. Les états-nations face à l'intégration régionale en Afrique de l'ouest
  5. ^ 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)
  6. ^ Ameka, Felix K. (1991). Ewe: Its Grammatical Constructions and Illocutionary Devices. Australian National University: Sydney.
  7. ^ Westermann, Diedrich. (1930). A study of the Ewe language. London: Oxford University Press.
  8. ^ 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

  • Basic Ewe for foreign students Institut für Afrikanistik der Universität zu Köln
  • Ewe being taught at University of Cologne (Institute for African Studies Cologne)
  • Ewe Basic Course by Irene Warburton, Prosper Kpotufe, Roland Glover, and Catherine Felten (textbook in Portable Digital Format and audio files in MP3 format) at Indiana University Bloomington's Center for Language Technology and Instructional Enrichment (CELTIE).
  • Articles on Ewe (Journal of West African Languages)

  • The Ewe language at Verba Africana
  • Ewe alphabet and pronunciation page at Omniglot
  • Free virtual keyboard for Ewe language at GhanaKeyboards.Com
  • [2] Recordings of Ewe being spoken.
  • kasahorow Gbe(Ewe) Dictionary Online Gbe(Ewe)-English Glossary
  • PanAfriL10n page
  • Ewe IPA
  • Ewe online grammar; in French. Apparently the text of Grammaire ev̳e: aide-mémoire des règles d'orthographe de l'ev̳e by Kofi J. Adzomada, 1980.
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