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Ewe Citations Ewe Links Select a New Language
Number of Speakers: 3 to 5 million
Key Dialects: Anglo (Anlo), Awuna, Hudu, Kotafoa
Geographical Center: Ewe is spoken primarily in southeastern Ghana, in the area between the Volta River in Ghana, through Togo, and just into Benin.
Ewe is in fact a major dialect cluster of the Gbe or Tadoid language cluster, spoken by approximately two and a half million people in Ghana and roughly one million people in Togo. Other large dialect clusters of the Gbe cluster include Fon (Benin and southwest Nigeria), Gen (Togo and Benin), Aja (Togo and Benin) and Xwla-Xweda.
Ewe is a member of the Kwa branch of the Niger-Congo family of Niger-Kordofanian.
Among the four principal dialects of Ewe, there is a great deal of dialectal variation, with most being distinguished by phonological differences. Broadly, the dialects can be grouped geographically into coastal, southern, central, and northern dialects. All dialects are mutually intelligible.
Ewe orthography is based on the Latin script. Most letters correspond to their expected sounds. However, given that Ewe makes use of some sounds not found in languages that employ Latin-based writing systems, a number of variations on a variety of letters are employed. Many of these symbols are not found on standard typewriters. In addition to the affricate sounds, the coarticulated double consonants, which are among some of the characteristic sounds of the language, are represented by means of sequences of letters, for example, and . Tone is not marked in the orthography, except occasionally in cases where it might create confusion.
All of the dialects of Ewe have three level tones, and a rising and falling tone, although particular dialects may make use of more than these. There are eight oral and seven nasalized vowels in the phonemic inventory.
Ewe is an isoloating language, but it does have some agglutinating characteristics. Nouns, but not nominals, have a vocalic prefix, which is a vestige of the Proto-Niger-Congo noun class system. The nominal prefixes generally bear a non-high tone and the vocalic prefix is often omitted when the noun is said in isolation.
The only verbal affixal element is the habitual aspect marker. Otherwise, mood, modals, and the repetitive markers are independent preverbal vocabulary items. Progressive aspect is signaled by a nominalized form of the verb that follows its complement, while perfective aspect is indicated by the presence of one of three deverbal adverbial markers. Negation is marked by a discontinuous morpheme. The first piece of the morpheme occurs immediately before the verb phrase and the final piece occurs at the end of the clause, preceding various speech act particles.
There is very little inflectional morphology, but compounding, reduplication, and triplication are productive word formation processes. Verbs can be reduplicated to form adjectives or deverbal nouns. Nominal compounds are very common in the language.
The basic word order is SVO, with neither subject nor object marked. However, there is a passive-like “inversion” construction which makes the theme object the subject of the clause and causes the logical subject to function as the object of a dative preposition. There are a number of sentence-final speech act particles that indicate the illocutionary force or the speaker’s attitude toward an utterance. As in a great deal of Kwa languages, verb serialization is very common in Ewe. In this construction, the verbs all share a common subject (the single pronounced subject) and have identical tense, mood and aspect specification.
ROLE IN SOCIETY
Ewe is used as a lingua franca only by speakers of Central Togo (Togo Remnant) languages. In certain regions of Ghana, Ewe is used in primary schools during the first three years. In Ghana and Togo, Ewe is used on radio and television as well as in newspapers. Ewe speakers use the language in everyday activities, such as at markets and in areas of traditional culture and religion.
In the Ewe oral tradition, the Ewe people migrated to their present lands from Ketu, now a Yoruba town in Benin. There are three kingdoms associated with the Ewe people, each of which is associated with a dialect cluster of Gbe.
Ansre, Gilbert. 1961. The tonal structure of Ewe. Hartford studies in linguistics, 1. Hartford: Hartford Seminary Foundation.
Duthie, A. S. 1996. Introducing Ewe linguistic patterns: a textbook of phonology, grammar, and semantics. Accra : Ghana Universities Press.
Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (Editor). 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth Edition. Dallas: SIL International.
Schneeberg, Nan and Prosper Kpotufe. 1966. Ewe Basic course. Bloomington.
Schneeberg, Nan and Prosper Kpotufe. Ewe pronunciation. Bloomington: Intensive Language Training Center, Indiana University.
Schneeberg, Nan and Prosper Kpotufe. Spoken Ewe. Bloomington: Intensive Language Training Center, Indiana University.
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