Kwa Languages

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Kwa Languages


(Guinean languages), a family of languages spoken in the eastern part of the Ivory Coast, southern Ghana, Togo, Dahomey, and the southwestern part of Nigeria. The Kwa languages are spoken by approximately 34 million people (1967). According to the classification of the American scholar J. Greenberg, they constitute a subfamily of the Niger-Kordofanian language family. He includes in the Kwa language family the Kru, Ivory Coast Lagoon, Akan, Ga, and Adangbe language groups and the Ewe, Yoruba, Nupe, Bini, Ibo, and Ijo languages.

The Kwa languages are of the isolating type. The consonant system includes coarticulated labio-velars: voiced gb and voiceless kp. In Ewe an alveolar consonant is opposed to a retroflex consonant. Tones, including tonal combinations (rising or falling), play an important role in distinguishing words. Most roots are monosyllabic. The rudiments of a noun class system, without concord, exist in the morphology of some languages (for example, Twi). In many Kwa languages, nouns have a special prefix marker (vowel or nasal) that distinguishes them from verbs (in Twi, Yoruba, Ewe, and Nupe). In the verb, grammatical functions are expressed by means of affixes, auxiliaries, reduction, and word order, and, less frequently, by changes in tone (Twi, Azande, Ewe).


Hintze, U. Bibliographic der Kwa-Sprachen und der Togo-Restvölker. Berlin, 1959.
Greenberg, J. H. The Languages of Africa. Bloomington, 1963.
Westermann, D. Languages of West Africa. London, 1970.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.