Kwa languages

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The Kwa languages are a subgroup of the South Volta-Congo branch of the Niger-Congo languages .

Together with the Benue Congo languages , they form the southern branch of the Volta Congo. The approximately 75 Kwa languages ​​are spoken by 21 million people in the Ivory Coast , Ghana , Togo , Benin and southwest Nigeria . Neighbors in the north are the Gur languages , in the east the central Nigerian languages , in the west the Mande and Kru languages . All neighboring language groups also belong to the Niger-Congo .

Major Kwa languages

The most important Kwa languages ​​are:

  • Akan (also Twi-Fante): one of the most important languages ​​(or language groups) in Ghana with 10 million speakers
  • Ewe : 4 million speakers in southeast Ghana and Togo
  • Baule : 2 million speakers in Ivory Coast
  • Fon : 1.7 million speakers, mainly in Benin
  • Ga-Dangme : 1.4 million speakers in the Accra district
  • Anyin : 1 million speakers in Ivory Coast and Ghana


The name "Kwa" was introduced in 1885 by Gottlob Krause . The Kwa languages ​​were initially summarized according to typological criteria (presence of labiovelars , tonal languages , absence of almost all morphological elements such as class affixes and derivative morphemes). For Diedrich Westermann (1927) the Kwa formed a subgroup of Western Sudanese , for Joseph Greenberg (1963) a primary branch of the Niger-Congo . He divided the Kwa languages ​​into eight sub-units and integrated the central Togo languages ​​(“Remaining Togo languages”, today Na-Togo and Ka-Togo ) into the Kwa group. Bennett and Sterk (1977) reduced Greenberg's kwa by adding

  • added the little uniform eastern Kwa subgroups as "West Benue Congo" to the Benue Congo ,
  • established the Ijoid languages as the independent primary branch of the Niger-Congo and
  • the Kru understood as an independent unit of the North Volta Congo .

The remaining “new” Kwa coincides with Greenberg's “West Kwa”. Its location in Niger-Congo is shown in the following diagram:

Position of the Kwa within the Niger-Congo

  • Niger-Congo
    • Volta Congo
      • South Volta Congo
        • Kwa
        • Benue Congo

This approach is now generally accepted with minor modifications. The following internal classification of the (new) Kwa follows Williamson-Blench (in Heine-Nurse 2000), all Kwa languages ​​are listed with their number of speakers (based on the web links given below).

Internal classification of the Kwa languages

Linguistic characteristics

The Kwa languages ​​have different nominal class systems ; while that of the Ega is fully established, other Kwa languages ​​have reduced or rudimentary systems. Usually prefixes are used in morphology , there are some plural suffixes . The initial consonant can alternate, but this has no semantic , but only phonetic reasons. Causative , reflexive ("love oneself") and reciprocal ("love one another") are derived from verbs using suffixes . There are independent personal pronouns and dependent subject, object and possessive pronouns . The 3rd person of the pronouns differentiates the categories animate and inanimate . The sentence order is SVO, postpositions and no prepositions are usually used. The noun phrase does not have a uniform structure, often genitive + noun , possessive + noun , but noun + adjective , noun + numerals and noun + demonstrative .

Examples of noun phrases from the Akan (without tone marking):

  • Ghana maŋ "the country of Ghana"
  • abofara no nhoma lit. "The child's book", "the child's book" (here with the possessive no )
  • mmara foforo "a new law" ( mmara "law", foforo "new")
  • mmara ha "this law"

Several Kwa languages ​​have a serial verb construction . If a whole series of verbs appear one after the other in the same tense - mode - aspect function, which have the same subject and object, the pronominal subject and object are only marked on the first verb.

Almost all Kwa languages ​​are tonal languages , mostly there are two, sometimes three pitches (e.g. in Akan and Ewe), in some Kwa languages ​​there are even four basic tones. The tone structure is further complicated by so-called key lowering , which can consist of a tone gradation ( downstep ) or a tone sliding ( downglide ). In some Kwa languages ​​there is vowel harmony ; so the vocal harmony determined Akan ( tensioned and untensioned vowel series / i, e, a, o, u / and / ɨ, ɛ, ɑ, o, ʋ /) the vowel structure of possessive and Subjektspronomina a function of the vowel coloring of the strain.


  • Joseph Greenberg: The Languages ​​of Africa. Mouton, The Hague and Indiana University Center, Bloomington 1963.
  • Bernd Heine and others (ed.): The languages ​​of Africa. Buske, Hamburg 1981.
  • Bernd Heine and Derek Nurse (eds.): African Languages. An Introduction. Cambridge University Press 2000.
  • John Bendor-Samuel (Ed.): The Niger-Congo Languages: A Classification and Description of Africa's Largest Language Family. University Press of America, Lanham, New York, London 1989. Therein: John M. Stewart: Kwa.
  • Sigismund Koelle: Polyglotta Africana. London 1854.
  • Diedrich Westermann: The western Sudan languages ​​and their relationship to Bantu. Announcements from the seminar for oriental languages. Berlin 1927.
  • Joseph Greenberg: Studies in African Linguistic Classification. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 1949-50.
  • Patrick Bennett and Jan Sterk: South Central Niger-Congo: A Reclassification. Studies in African Linguistics. 1977.
  • Ursula Hintze: Bibliography of the Kwa languages ​​and the languages ​​of the remaining Togo peoples. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1959.

Web links