The Edo Alphabet:

A Look At The Benin Letters And Sounds By RICHMOND .E. IDAEHO


It is specifically important at this point to direct attention at the alphabetical system of the Edo people, considering the present circumstances of the Edo language, which is almost fading away as a result of the influence of
other cultures within and outside the Nation state, Nigeria, in which the Edo
ethnic group occupy the present Edo state´ and by extension, parts of Ondo,
Delta, and Anambra states. Language, it should be noted, is part of a people´s
culture. It is the one most important means of expressing a people´s culture,
values, and beliefs.

It is used for communication, interaction and exchange of ideas. Consequently, the extent to which a people´s language is developed and influenced necessarily reflects upon the culture of the people, and a change or
loss of language invariably affects the perception of the people; viz their
culture and socio-cultural realities. thus, language is a means of
experiencing, and perceiving the environment and at same time, of communicating
same to others. In view of the foregoing, the Edo language is therefore the
medium of interaction within the cultural frame of the Edo people. The unit
constituents of language are the alphabets, and to properly understand the
nature of the Edo language, it is important to have recourse to the alphabets
and sounds which make up the language. In this piece, the focus will be the Edo
- Benin/Bini tribe of the Edoic race or ethnic group. The objective of this
paper is to present the Edo alphabet and sounds in relation to the Edo language
as core to the people´s socio cultural´ development and survival, and to expose
certain misapplication of. the language and/or introduction´ of foreign letters
and sounds into the Edo alphabet. Here the words Edo, Benin and Bini shall be
used interchangeably. There are 24 alphabets in the Edo language with 7 (vowels
and 17 consonants. Interestingly, there are also 7 pairs of consonants (that is
the pair or double consonants) which though are not part of the 24 consonant


They occupy a special category in the Edo alphabetical system and are pronounced differently from the single consonants. The Benin letters include the following: a/aa/; b/bi/; d/di/; e/a; e/e/; f/fi/; g/gi/; i/i/;; h/hi/; k/k
a I; 1/1 a I; m/mi/; n/nil; o/;Q/or/ p/pi/; r/ril; s/si/; tltil; u/uu/; v/vi/;
w/wi/; y/yi/; z/zi/. The vowels include a; e;e;i o/o;and u, while the
consonants are b• d• f• g. h• k• I• m• n• p: r• s• t• v• w• y. and z The double
consonants, which are combinations of two consonant letters and sounds, include
the following: gb, as in Ugbowo; gh, as in ughe; kh as in Ekhosuehi; kp as in
Akpakpava; rh, as in Erhun; mw as in Omwan; and vb as in Ovbokhan. These´
double consonants are pronounced together and not separately or arbitrarily
choosing and pronouncing one of them as most people, of other ethnic groups,


There are also corresponding double consonants in other Edoic groups or tribes. For example bh, as in Ibhadomen; kp as in Okpebho; gh as in Ighalo in Esan. In Etsako, there is vh as in Ivhador etc. The bh in Esan and vh . in
Etsako, are closely pronounced like the vb in Benin. Also to be noted is wh as
in Emoborowho; kp as in Akpo; gh as in oghene; rh as Omoriobokirhie; in Urhobo
and ts as in Oritsejafo in Itsekiri etc.• It is clear from the above that there
is no j/ji/ in the Benin alphabet nor is there the shl C / or kr/kri/ double
consonants or sounds. It is therefore surprising how certain ,words purportedly
claimed to be Bini words are then pronounced or even spelt with “j” and “sh”,
“kr”, etc. This is. rather a misnomer and a far shift from the Bini language,
hence the people´s socio-cultural reality. A people´s alphabetical system
constitutes the basis of their word formation (morphology) and the sound
dictates their pronunciation (phonetics).


The language of• the people therefore is predicated upon the variety of letters and symbols available in that particular culture for the construction of its language as language is “a systematic means of communicating by the use
of sounds or conventional symbols”. Hence, words cannot be formed in isolation
but necessarily from a system of conventional signs, sounds, and gestures.
Linguistic formation, in other words, follows the alphabetical systems of such
linguistic groups. As such, no symbol or sound not being part of the linguistic
system cat”: be used to form words within such linguistic cum cultural frame.
This is because a people´s culture is essentially tied to the language, as what
cannot be expressed by the language of a people is considered not to exist - at
least there is lack of knowledge of its existence - within the cultural
realities of the people, and a people´s expression of their realities and
existence through language is limited by the symbols and sounds used for such


Thus, it is through language, that the knowledge, belief, values and behaviour of a people can be experienced, expressed and shared. Consequently, no words could be formed in a particular culture or language where the letters)
and/or sound(s) used does not occur in the alphabetical system of that culture.
Accordingly, the use of the “t and “sh” symbol and sound in the formation of
certain words within the Bini lingua context is practically inappropriate and
intolerable as neither the single letter “j” nor the double consonants “sh” as
well as their sounds can be found in the Edo alphabetical system. Although,
sociologically, language is flexible, ´yet a foreign or new or modified word,
symbol or sound cannot be regarded as belonging to the given culture unless´
and until it is forthwith included in the linguistic/alphabetical frame of such

There is, therefore, no word as “Jesu” or “ljesu” or any of its inflections as in “Jesurobo”, in the ´Edo language. Similarly, there are no words like “Oshodin”, “Ologboshere”, “Iyashere”, “Tatashe”, etc whether in their spellings
or pronunciation, in the Benin language. These are improper words or names and
do not, reasonably and culturally speaking, fit into the Benin linguistics or
socio-cultural realities. This is because there is no “j” letter nor the “Stl”
in the Bini alphabet. Words which are expressed with such symbols are not B-ini
words neither in their spelling, as in “Oshodin” nor in their pronunciation
/osodin/. However, an accurate spelling and pronunciation of these words would
exclude the “j” symbol and substitute it with “y” as in “Yesu”, “Iye”, whereas
“oshodin”, “tatashe”, will loss the “h” letter and the “sh”1s1 sound to become
“Osodin”, “tat´ase”, “Iyase” etc. ´ The use of the “j” and “sh” letters and sounds
is due partly to inadequate knowledge of the Edo, alphabet and partly to the
influence of foreign and local cultures.


For example “Jesu” is a corruption of the foreign word Jesus and in an attempt to arrive, at a near accurate of the word, the letter “j” was equally used for the localized name, disregarding the fact that the “j” letter does not
exist in the Benin alphabet. The common misapplication and mispronunciation of
the “y´ letter and sound for “j” also aided this inaccurate and intolerable transliteration.
As for example, in some homes you hear some children call their mother “ije”
rather than “iye”. , The, occurrence of the “j” letter in some Edoic culture
like U-le Esan, as well, hastens its use in the Benin language . The “sh”/ S I
and “Ch”/tS I sound can be found in some Nigerian languages like Haus3, Yoruba
and Igbo. In unequivocal terms, neither the “j” nor the “sh” feature in the
Benin language. It ´will be submitted that though, the “j” and “sh” symbols and
sounds form part of the linguistics of some Nigerian languages, they are
however not included in that of the Benin - the primordial


Edoic tribe - and as such cannot ´be used for constructing or forming words, names or anything whatsoever within the cultural existence and experience of the, people. Until these symbols and sounds are so incorporated
into the Benin alphabetical system, they, and whatever words are formed
therefrom, remain linguistic misnomers.

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Replies to This Discussion

Edo (with full diacritics, Ẹ̀dó; also called Bini (Benin)) is a Volta–Niger language spoken primarily in Edo State, Nigeria. It was and remains the primary language of the Edo people of Igodomigodo. The Igodomigodo kingdom was renamed Edo by Oba Eweka, after which the Edos refer to themselves as Oviedo 'child of Edo'. The Edo capital was Ubinu, known as Benin City to the Portuguese who first heard about it from the coastal Itsekiri, who pronounced it this way; from this the kingdom came to be known as the Benin Empire in the West.


Edo has a rather average consonant inventory for an Edoid language. It maintains only a single phonemic nasal, /m/, but has 13 oral consonants, /ɺ, l, ʋ, j, w/ and the 8 stops, which have nasal allophones such as [n, ɲ, ŋʷ] before nasal vowels. There are seven vowels, /i e ɛ a ɔ o u/, all of which may be long or nasal, and three tones. Syllable structure is simple, being maximally CVV, where VV is either a long vowel or /i, u/ plus a different oral or nasal vowel.

The three rhotics have been described as voiced and voiceless trills plus a lax English-type approximant. However, Ladefoged found all three to be approximants, with the voiced–voiceless pair being raised (without being fricatives) and perhaps at a slightly different place of articulation compared to the third, but not trills.

The Edo alphabet has separate letters for the nasalized allophones of /ʋ/ and /l/, mw and n:

A B D E Ẹ F G Gb Gh H I K Kh Kp L M Mw N O Ọ P R Rh Rr S T U V Vb W Y Z
/a/ /b/ /d/ /e/ /ɛ/ /f/ /ɡ/ /ɡb/ /ɣ/ /h/ /i/ /k/ /x/ /kp/ /l/ /m/ /ʋ/ /l/ /o/ /ɔ/ /p/ /ɹ/ /ɹ̝̊/ /ɹ̝/ /s/ /t/ /u/ /v/ /ʋ/ /w/ /j/ /z/
Long vowels are written by doubling the letter. Nasal vowels may be written with a final -n or with an initial nasal consonant. Tone may be written with acute accent, grave accent, and unmarked, or with a final -h (-nh with a nasal vowel). // SOUCES --


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