Fon language

Fon language
Fon gbè
Spoken in Benin, Togo
Ethnicity Fon nu
Native speakers 2.1 million  (2000–2006)
Language family
Language codes
ISO 639-2 fon
ISO 639-3 variously:
fon – Fon
mxl – Maxi
guw – Gun

Fon (native name Fon gbè, pronounced [fɔ̃̄ɡ͡bè]) is part of the Gbe language cluster and belongs to the Volta–Niger branch of the Niger–Congo languages. Fon is spoken mainly in Benin by approximately 1.7 million speakers, by the Fon people. Like the other Gbe languages, Fon is an analytic language with an SVO basic word order.



Capo (1988) considers Maxi and Gun to be part of the Fon dialect cluster. However, he does not include Alada or Toli (Tɔli) as part of Gun, as classified by Ethnologue, but as Phla–Pherá languages.


"Welcome" (Kwabɔ) in Fon at a pharmacy at Cotonou Airport in Cotonou, Benin

Fon has seven oral vowel phonemes and five nasal vowel phonemes.

Vowel phonemes of Fon[1]
Front Central Back
Close i   ĩ u   ũ
Close-Mid e   o  
Open-mid ɛ   ɛ̃ ɔ   ɔ̃
Open a   ã
Consonant phonemes of Fon[1]
Labial Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Labial-
"Nasal" m ~ b n ~ ɖ    
Occlusive (p) t d t͡ʃ d͡ʒ   k ɡ k͡p ɡ͡b
Fricative f v s z     x ɣ ɣʷ
Approximant   l ~ ɾ   ɲ ~ j   w

/p/ only occurs in mimesis and loanwords, though often it is replaced by /f/ in the latter, as in cɔ́fù 'shop'. Several of the voiced occlusives only occur before oral vowels, while the homorganic nasal stops only occur before nasal vowels, indicating that [b] [m] and [ɖ] [n] are allophones. [ɲ] is in free variation with [j̃]; Fongbe therefore can be argued to have no phonemic nasal consonants, a pattern rather common in West Africa.[2] /w/ and /l/ are also nasalized before nasal vowels; /w/ may be assimilated to [ɥ] before /i/.

The only consonant clusters in Fon have /l/ or /j/ as the second consonant; after (post)alveolars, /l/ is optionally realized as [ɾ]: klɔ́ 'to wash', wlí 'to catch', jlò [d͡ʒlò] ~ [d͡ʒɾò] 'to want'.


Fon has two phonemic tones, high and low. High is realized as rising (low–high) after a voiced consonant. Basic disyllabic words have all four possibilities: Highhigh, highlow, lowhigh, and lowlow.

In longer phonological words, such as verb and noun phrases, a high tone tends to persist until the final syllable; if that syllable has a phonemic low tone, it becomes falling (high–low). Low tones disappear between high tones, but their effect remains as a downstep. Rising tones (low–high) simplify to high after high (without triggering downstep) and to low before high.

/ xʷèví-sà-tɔ́ é xɔ̀ àsɔ̃́ wè /
[ xʷèvísáꜜtɔ́ ‖ é ꜜxɔ̂ | àsɔ̃́ wê ‖ ]
fish-sell-aɡent s/he perf buy crab two
Hwevísatɔ́, é ko hɔ asón we.
"The fishmonger, she bought two crabs"

In Ouidah, a rising or falling tone is realized as a mid tone. For example, 'we, you', phonemically high-tone /bĩ́/ but phonetically rising because of the voiced consonant, is generally mid-tone [mĩ̄] in Ouidah.


Fon alphabet
Majuscule A B C D Ɖ E Ɛ F G GB I J K KP L M N NY O Ɔ P R S T U V W X Y Z
Minuscule a b c d ɖ e ɛ f g gb i j k kp l m n ny o ɔ p r s t u v w x y z
Sound a b d ɖ e ɛ f ɡ ɡb i k kp l m n ɲ o ɔ p ɣ s t u v w x j z

X is used for /x/ in some orthographies, h in others. In many texts ⟨e⟩, ⟨o⟩ are used in nasal contexts: me [mɛ̃], Fon [fɔ̃]. Tone is generally not written except when necessary.

Sample text

From the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Ee nyi ɖɔ hɛnnu ɖokpo mɛ ɔ, mɛ ɖokpoɖokpo ka do susu tɔn, bɔ acɛ ɖokpo ɔ wɛ mɛbi ɖo bo e ma sixu kan fɛn kpon é ɖi mɛɖesusi jijɛ, hwɛjijɔzinzan, kpodo fifa ni tiin nu wɛkɛ ɔ bi e ɔ, ...


  1. ^ a b Claire Lefebvre; Anne-Marie Brousseau (2002). A Grammar of Fongbe. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 15–29. ISBN 3110173603. 
  2. ^ This is a matter of perspective; it could also be argued that [b] and [ɖ] are denasalized allophones of /m/ and /n/ before oral vowels.

External links

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