Benin Languages

From FamilySearch Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Benin Wiki Topics
Flag of Benin.svg.png
Beginning Research
Record Types
Benin Background
Local Research Resources

Description[edit | edit source]

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 language, once counted as a Gur language and Fulfulde.

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. A polyglots is someone who has knowledge of several languages, consisting of the ability to understand, speak, read, or write these languages. [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.
For word list and help researching in Benin records, see:

Fon[edit | edit source]

Fon is the most widely spoken indigenous language, spoken by 24% of the population. To date, there are about 53 different dialects of the Fon language spoken throughout Benin. [4]

Yoruba[edit | edit source]

Yoruba is classified among the Edekiri languages, which together with Itsekiri and the isolate Igala form the Yoruboid group of languages within the Volta–Niger branch of the Niger–Congo family. The linguistic unity of the Niger–Congo family dates to deep prehistory, estimates ranging around 15,000 years ago (the end of the Upper Paleolithic).In present-day Nigeria, it is estimated that there are over 40 million Yoruba primary and secondary language speakers as well as several other millions of speakers outside Nigeria, making it the most widely spoken African language outside Africa.[5]
Yoruba is a member of the Volta-Niger branch of the Niger-Congo family of languages. It is spoken by about 28 million people in southwest Nigeria, Benin, Togo, the UK, Brazil and the USA. It is one of the four official languages of Nigeria, along with English, Hausa and Igbo.

Yoruba first appeared in writing during the 19th century. The first Yoruba publications were a number of teaching booklets produced by John Raban in 1830-2. The person who made the biggest contribution to Yoruba literacy was Bishop Ajayi (Samual) Crowther (1806-1891), who studied many of the languages of Nigeria, including Yoruba, and wrote and translated in some of them. Crowther was also the first Christian bishop of West African origin. A Yoruba orthography appeared in about 1850, though it has undergone a number of changes since then.

Word List(s)[edit | edit source]

My Languages is a great page to help you with word lists and to learn Yoruba vocabulary words from English to Yoruba.
YouTube is a YouTube page with Yoruba Most Common Vocabulary 600 Words.
Phonetics is a list of 148 words in English and the spelling and pronunciation in Yoruba.

Alphabet and Pronunciation[edit | edit source]

Fon[edit | edit source]

The following information on Fon was found at Wikipedia. [6] Fon has seven oral vowel phonemes and five nasal vowel phonemes.

Letter Pronunciation Vowel phonemes of Fon
Oral vowel Nasal vowel
front vowel back vowel front vowel back vowel
Close vowel i u ĩ ũ
Close-mid vowel e o
Open-mid vowel ɛ ɔ ɛ̃ ɔ̃
Open vowel a ã
Consonant phonemes of Fon Labial consonant Coronal consonant Palatal consonant Velar consonant Labial-velar consonant
Nasal stop 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.

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 tone (linguistics)s, high and low. High is realized as rising (low–high) after a voiced consonant. Basic disyllabic words have all four possibilities: high–high, high–low, low–high, and low–low.

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"

The Fon alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet, with the addition of the letters Ɖ/ɖ, Ɛ/ɛ, and Ɔ/ɔ, and the digraphs gb, hw, kp, ny, and xw.

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

Yoruba[edit | edit source]

You can hear the sounds of the Yoruba alphabet at: Yoruba Sounds

Yoruba alphabet

A a B b D d E e Ẹ ẹ F f G g Gb gb H h
ah bi di hay hen fi gi gbi! in

[a] [b] [d] [e] [ɛ] [f] [g] [g͡b] [h]
I i J j K k L l M m N n O o Ọ ọ P p
he! ji ki li mi ni oh or! pi

[i] [ɟ] [k] [l] [m] [n] [o] [ɔ] [k͡p] R r S s Ṣ ṣ T t U u W w Y y
ri si shi ti uh! wi yi

[r] [s] [ʃ] [t] [u] [w] [j]

Nasal vowels (Awọn Fawẹli Aranmupe) an ẹn in ọn un
[ã] [ɛ̃] [ĩ] [ɔ̃] [ũ]

Language Aids and Dictionaries[edit | edit source]


  • Parker, Philip M. Webster's Fon - English Thesaurus Dictionary. [ICON Group][2008]. Avalible on WorldCat
  • Glosbe is a free online translation dictionary.


  • Church Missionary Society. A dictionary of the Yoruba language. [London][Oxford University Press][1937].Avalible on WorldCat
  • YouTube is a YouTube page that teach's you How To Say Basic Words & Sentences In Yoruba Language.
  • Active Phohetic from UCLA has a Yoruba dictionary and many links to great books and pages for Yoruba.

Additional Resources[edit | edit source]


  • Claire Lefebvre, linguiste.; Anne-Marie Brousseau. A grammar of Fongbe[Berlin] [Mouton de Gruyter] [2002]. Available on WorldCat
  • Society of African Missions.Eléments de grammaire de la langue fon (Sud Bénin).[Cotonou, République du Bénin][Société des missions africaines][2012]. Avalible on WorldCat
  • D O Chambers. A glossary of the Fon language. D.O. Chambers editor. [Cotonou][1968]. Avalible on WorldCat.
  • Justice-Amour Mawouton. Practical Fon language in Benin [Bénin?][publisher not identified],[2008]. Avalible on WorldCat.
  • Alan S Duthie; R K Vlaardingerbroek. Bibliography of Gbe : [Ewe, Gen, Aja, Xwala, Fon, Gun, etc.] ; publications on and in the language. [Basel][Basler Afrika Bibliographien] [1981].Avalible on WorldCat


  • Samuel Adjai CROWTHER, Missionary Bishop of the Niger Territory.A Vocabulary of the Yoruba Language &c. &c. (pt. 1. English-Yoruba.-pt. 2. Yoruba-English.) [2 pt. W.M. Watts] [London][1870?] Avalible on WorldCat
  • Samuel Adjai CROWTHER, Missionary Bishop of the Niger Territory.; Owen Emeric VIDAL, Bishop of Sierra Leone. [Vocabulary of the Yoruba Language. Part I. English and Yoruba. Part II. Yoruba and English. To which are prefixed the grammatical elements of the Yoruba language.] [Seeleys][London][1852]. Avalible on WorldCat.
  • E C Rowlands. Yoruba [London][Hodder and Stoughton][1993]. Avalible on WorldCat.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Ethnologue access date= 19 October 2016
  2. LaClerc, Jacques Bénin" dans L'aménagement linguistique dans le monde, Québec, TLFQ, Université Laval, 1 Feb 2010 (accessed 2 Nov 2012)
  3. Wikipedia contributors, "Languages of Benin," in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia,, accessed January 6, 2019.
  4. Wikipedia contributors, "Fon language," in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia,, accessed January 6, 2019.