Fon (fɔ̀ngbè, pronounced [fɔ̃̀ɡ͡bē]) is spoken mainly in Benin by approximately 1.7 million speakers, and is the language of the Fon people. Like the other Gbe languages, Fon is an isolating language with an SVO basic word order.
|Native to||Benin, Nigeria, Togo|
|2.2 million (2000–2006)|
Official language in
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.
To date, there are about 53 different dialects of the Fon language spoken throughout Benin.
Fon has seven oral vowel phonemes and five nasal vowel phonemes.
|"Nasal"||m ~ b||n ~ ɖ|
|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.[a] /w/ and /l/ are also nasalized before nasal vowels; /w/ may be assimilated to [ɥ] before /i/.
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: 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||kò||xɔ̀||àsɔ̃́||wè /|
|[ xʷèvísáꜜtɔ́ ‖||é||kó||ꜜxɔ̂ |||àsɔ̃́||wê ‖ ]|
In Ouidah, a rising or falling tone is realized as a mid tone. For example, mǐ 'we, you', phonemically high-tone /bĩ́/ but phonetically rising because of the voiced consonant, is generally mid-tone [mĩ̄] in Ouidah.
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.
Radio programs in Fon are broadcast on ORTB channels.
Television programs in Fon is shown on the La Beninoise satellite TV channel.
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.