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West Kwa, New Kwa
Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, and Togo
Several unclassified languages of Ivory Coast

The (West) Kwa languages are spoken in the south-eastern part of Côte d'Ivoire, across southern Ghana, and in central Togo. They include the Akan languages. The term was introduced 1885 by Krause and used by Westermann (1952) and Greenberg (1963), at times including the languages of central Nigeria which are now classified as Volta-Niger languages.

The name Kwa is derived from the word for 'people' in many of these languages, which contains the root kwa. The Kwa family is a primary branch of the Atlantic-Congo languages within Niger-Congo.

Bennett & Sterk (1977) argued that Kwa in its original form was not a genetic unit, and proposed a reclassification in which the Yoruboid and Igboid languages are members of the Benue-Congo subfamily; they were later moved onto their own as Volta-Niger. The remaining languages are sometimes labeled New Kwa in order to avoid confusion with the old, larger Kwa family.

Based on historical-comparative analysis, Stewart [1] distinguished the following major branches of (New) Kwa:

The position of several languages of southern Côte d'Ivoire was unclear, so they are conservatively left ungrouped:

  • Avikam–Alladian,
  • Attié,
  • Abé,
  • Adjukru,
  • Abidji,
  • Ega (dubious)

Since then, Ega has been tentatively removed from Kwa, and the Gbe languages have been reclassified as Volta-Niger.[2]

Ethnologue divides the Kwa languages into two broad geographical groupings: Nyo and Left bank, but this is not a genealogical classification. The Nyo group collapses Stewart's Potou-Tano and Ga-Dangme branches and also includes the ungrouped languages of southern Côte d'Ivoire, while the Ka/Na Togo and Gbe languages are called Left bank because they are spoken on the eastern side of the Volta River.


See also




  1. ^ 1989, slightly revised in Blench & Williamson 2000:29
  2. ^ Williamson & Blench 2000:29


  • Bennett, Patrick R. & Sterk, Jan P. (1977) 'South Central Niger-Congo: A reclassification'. Studies in African Linguistics, 8, 241–273.
  • Hintze, Ursula (1959) Bibliographie der Kwa-Sprachen und der Sprachen der Togo-Restvölker (mit 11 zweifarbigen Sprachenkarten). Berlin: Akademie-Verlag.
  • Stewart, John M. (1989) 'Kwa'. In: Bendor-Samuel & Hartell (eds.) The Niger-Congo languages. Lanham, MD: The University Press of America.
  • Westermann, Diedrich Hermann (1952) Languages of West Africa (Handbook of African Languages Part II). London/New York/Toronto: Oxford University Press.
  • Williamson, Kay & Blench, Roger (2000) 'Niger-Congo', in Heine, Bernd and Nurse, Derek (eds) African Languages - An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University press, pp. 11—42.


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