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Fon gbè
Native to Benin, Togo
Ethnicity Fon nu
Native speakers
2.2 million (2000–2006)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-2 fon
ISO 639-3 Variously:
fon – Fon
mxl – Maxi
guw – Gun
gbh – Defi
wem – Weme
cib – Ci
Glottolog east2711  (split up in Eastern Gbe)[2]
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

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[3]
Oral Nasal
front back front back
Close i u ĩ ũ
Close-Mid e o
Open-mid ɛ ɔ ɛ̃ ɔ̃
Open a ã
Consonant phonemes of Fon[3]
Labial Coronal Palatal Velar Labial
"Nasal" m ~ b n ~ ɖ
Occlusive (p) t d k ɡ kp ɡb
Fricative f v s z x ɣ ɣʷ
Approximant l ~ ɾ ɲ ~ j w

/p/ only occurs in linguistic 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.[4] /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. ^ Fon at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Maxi at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Gun at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Defi at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Weme at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Ci at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Eastern Gbe". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ a b Claire Lefebvre; Anne-Marie Brousseau (2002). A Grammar of Fongbe. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 15–29. ISBN 3-11-017360-3. 
  4. ^ 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[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fon_language — Please support Wikipedia.
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14 news items

New York Times

The Economist
Thu, 17 Sep 2015 03:37:55 -0700

The real name was Vodou, derived from a word meaning “Spirit” or “God” in the Fon language of Benin. It was monotheistic, but its many recognised spirits were important messengers and helpmeets for the deity. It healed mind, soul and body, guiding “all ...


Sun, 13 Sep 2015 17:00:00 -0700

Much of Beauvoir's work as Ati was challenging what he saw as racist stereotyping of vodou, which means "spirit" or "god" in Fon language of Benin and was brought to the Caribbean from West Africa with the slave trade during the 18th century. He was ...
Le Monde Diplomatique
Thu, 02 Apr 2015 04:16:51 -0700

YEAM has made an impact on political life not just in Senegal but in the wider region: Côte d'Ivoire, Togo, where the Etiamé movement — Y'en a Marre in the Fon language (3) — has taken root, the Sofas de la République in Mali, Y'en a Marre Comme Ça ...
Tue, 09 Jun 2015 11:21:24 -0700

The fact of the matter is that in Haiti, Western patterns of logic become fragile in the face of the unpredictable, incomprehensible and irrational voodoo cult -- vodú in the native tongue -- which originates from the Fon language of Dahomey, meaning ...
Huffington Post
Sun, 26 Oct 2014 05:41:18 -0700

The real world of Haitian Vodou is hardly like what Hollywood would have us believe. For one, many depictions of the religion focus on New Orleans-based Voodoo, a related but separate set of traditions. To help understand this tradition, Chicago's ...


Fri, 05 Sep 2014 12:34:33 -0700

This name originated from the Fon language and it came from the male army of Dahomey because they had tremendous respect for the Dahomey women. Back to the luxuries of being an Amazon- All of them lived in the king's royal compound, they were well ...

New York Times

New York Times
Mon, 09 Jun 2014 15:18:45 -0700

JACK WHITE. Lazaretto. (Third Man/XL Recordings/Columbia). There are a lot of words on “Lazaretto,” Jack White's new solo album, about needing control or needing to relinquish it. They're tightly wound and threaten to wrest your attention from the music.
New York Times
Fri, 03 Feb 2012 09:18:51 -0800

Also called Egunguns in the local Fon language, these hooded men, whose identities remain a secret even to their neighbors, are believed to be intermediaries between the living and the dead and often parade through villages, summoning the spirits of ...

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