Jump to content

Fon language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Native toBenin, Nigeria, Togo, Ghana, Gabon
EthnicityFon people
Native speakers
2.3 million (2019–2021)[1]
  • Agbome
  • Arohun
  • Gbekon
  • Kpase
Latin, Gbékoun
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-2fon
ISO 639-3fon
Glottologfonn1241  Fon language
Gbe languages. Fon is purple.
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.

Fon (fɔ̀ngbè, pronounced [fɔ̃̀ɡ͡bē][2]) also known as Dahomean is the language of the Fon people. It belongs to the Gbe group within the larger Atlantic–Congo family. It is primarily spoken in Benin, as well as in Nigeria, Togo, Ghana and Gabon, by approximately 2.28 million speakers.[1] Like the other Gbe languages, Fon is an isolating language with a SVO basic word order.

Cultural and legal status[edit]

In Benin, French is the official language, and Fon and other indigenous languages, including Yom and Yoruba, are classified as national languages.[3]


The standardized Fon language is part of the Fon cluster of languages inside the Eastern Gbe languages. Hounkpati B Christophe Capo groups Agbome, Kpase, Gun, Maxi and Weme (Ouémé) in the Fon dialect cluster, although other clusterings are suggested. Standard Fon is the primary target of language planning efforts in Benin, although separate efforts exists for Gun, Gen, and other languages of the country.[4]


"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[5]
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[5]
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/ occurs only in linguistic mimesis and loanwords but is often is replaced by /f/ in the latter, as in cɔ́fù 'shop'. Several of the voiced occlusives occur only before oral vowels, and the homorganic nasal stops occur only before nasal vowels, which indicates that [b] [m] and [ɖ] [n] are allophones. [ɲ] is in free variation with [j̃] and so Fong can be argued to have no phonemic nasal consonants, a pattern rather common in West Africa.[a] /w/ is nasalized (to [ŋʷ]) before nasal vowels, and may assimilate to [ɥ] before /i/. /l/ is sometimes also nasalized.[clarification needed]

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, which, if it has a phonemic low tone, 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.






















Hwevísatɔ́, é ko hɔ asón we.

/xʷèví-sà-tɔ́ é kò xɔ̀ àsɔ̃́ wè/

[xʷèvísáꜜtɔ́‖ é kó ꜜxɔ̂ àsɔ̃́ wê‖]

fish-sell-agent s/he PERF buy crab two

"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.


Roman alphabet[edit]

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.[6]

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 t͡ɕ d ɖ e ɛ f ɡ ɡb ɣ ɣʷ i d͡ʑ k kp l m n ɲ o ɔ p r s t u v w x j z

Tone marking[edit]

Tones are marked as follows:

Tones are fully marked in reference books, but not always marked in other writing. The tone marking is phonemic, and the actual pronunciation may be different according to the syllable's environment.[7]

Gbékoun script[edit]

Table of Gbékoun script

Speakers in Benin also use a distinct script called Gbékoun that was invented by Togbédji Adigbè.[8][9] It has 24 consonants and 9 vowels, as it is intended to transcribe all the languages of Benin.

Sample text[edit]

From the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Acɛ, susu kpo sisi ɖokpo ɔ kpo wɛ gbɛtɔ bi ɖo ɖò gbɛwiwa tɔn hwenu; ye ɖo linkpɔn bɔ ayi yetɔn mɛ kpe lo bɔ ye ɖo na do alɔ yeɖee ɖi nɔvinɔvi ɖɔhun.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.


Radio programs in Fon are broadcast on ORTB channels.

Television programs in Fon are shown on the La Beninoise satellite TV channel.[10]

French used to be the only language of education in Benin, but in the second decade of the twenty-first century, the government is experimenting with teaching some subjects in Benin schools in the country's local languages, among them Fon.[11][12][13]

Machine translation efforts[edit]

There is an effort to create a machine translator for Fon (to and from French), by Bonaventure Dossou (from Benin) and Chris Emezue (from Nigeria).[14] Their project is called FFR.[15] It uses phrases from Jehovah's Witnesses sermons as well as other biblical phrases as the research corpus to train a Natural Language Processing (NLP) neural net model.[16]


  1. ^ 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.


  1. ^ a b Fon at Ethnologue (26th ed., 2023) Closed access icon
  2. ^ Höftmann & Ahohounkpanzon, p. 179
  3. ^ "Language data for Benin". Translators without Borders. Retrieved 2022-10-12.
  4. ^ Kluge, Angela (2007). "The Gbe Language Continuum of West Africa: A Synchronic Typological Approach to Prioritizing In-depth Sociolinguistic Research on Literature Extensibility" (PDF). Language Documentation & Conservation: 182–215. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2021-11-11. Retrieved 2018-07-05.
  5. ^ a b Claire Lefebvre; Anne-Marie Brousseau (2002). A Grammar of Fongbe. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 15–29. ISBN 3-11-017360-3.
  6. ^ Höftmann & Ahohounkpanzon, p. 19
  7. ^ Höftmann & Ahohounkpanzon, p. 20
  8. ^ Teddy G. (May 5, 2021). "Vulgarisation de l'alphabet: Gbékoun sur tout le territoire national Bilan de la première phase de sensibilisation". Matin libre (in French).
  9. ^ "Alphabet " Gbékoun ": Un outil d'éveil de la conscience des peuples africains". La Nation (in French). June 21, 2021. p. 13.
  10. ^ "BTV - La Béninoise TV - La Béninoise des Télés | La proximité par les langues". www.labeninoisetv.net (in French). Archived from the original on 2018-07-03. Retrieved 2018-07-03.
  11. ^ Akpo, Georges. "Système éducatif béninois : les langues nationales seront enseignées à l'école à la rentrée prochaine". La Nouvelle Tribune (in French). Archived from the original on 2019-06-21. Retrieved 2018-07-03.
  12. ^ "Reportage Afrique - Bénin : l'apprentissage à l'école dans la langue maternelle". RFI (in French). 2013-12-26. Retrieved 2018-07-03.
  13. ^ "Langues nationales dans le système scolaire : La phase expérimentale continue, une initiative à améliorer - Matin Libre" (in French). Archived from the original on 2018-07-03. Retrieved 2018-07-03.
  14. ^ "AI in Africa: Teaching a bot to read my mum's texts". BBC News. 2020-04-29. Retrieved 2022-10-12.
  15. ^ "Project website". ffrtranslate.com. Retrieved 2022-10-12.
  16. ^ Emezue, Chris Chinenye; Dossou, Femi Pancrace Bonaventure (2020). "FFR v1.1: Fon-French Neural Machine Translation". Proceedings of the Fourth Widening Natural Language Processing Workshop. Seattle, USA: Association for Computational Linguistics: 83–87. arXiv:2003.12111. doi:10.18653/v1/2020.winlp-1.21.


External links[edit]