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The structure of Yoruba syllables is slightly different from English. There are three kinds of syllables that may be formed:

  • Consonant + vowel
  • Vowel alone
  • Syllabic nasal

Consonants[edit | edit source]

Letter IPA Pronunciation of the letter (English approximation)
B b b Like in English
Ch ch t͡ʃ Used in only some dialects, like "cheese" in English
D d d Like in English
F f f Like in English
G g g Like in goal
Gb gb ɡ͡b G and b pronounced simultaneously
H h h Like in English
J j d͡ʒ Somewhere between English j and y
K k k Slightly aspirated like in English
L l l Hard like in British English
M m m Like in English
P p k͡p K and p pronounced simultaneously
R r r~ɹ Either trilled or like in English
S s s Like in sit
Ṣ ṣ ʃ Like in English sh
T t t Slightly aspirated like in English
V v ʋ Somewhere between v and w
Y y j Like in yes

In Benin, Ṣ/ṣ and V/v are represented, respectively, as Sh/sh and W/w.

Vowels[edit | edit source]

Letter IPA Pronunciation of the letter (English approximation)
A a a Like a in father
E e e Almost like in say, but a single release
Ẹ ẹ ɛ Like in "well"
I i i Like in see
I i ɪ Used only in some dialects, like bit
O o o Like in low, but a single release
Ọ ọ ɔ Like in "mom"
U u u Like in you
U u ʊ Used in only some dialects, like hook

In Benin, Ẹ/ẹ and Ọ/ọ are represented, respectively, as Ɛ/ɛ and Ɔ/ɔ.

"N"[edit | edit source]

The letter n, in Yoruba, does not exist as a phoneme, but it may have three uses, depending on the context:

  • Syllabic nasal
  • Nasal vowel
  • Allophone of "l"
  • The letter "m"

Syllabic nasal[edit | edit source]

When a syllable is formed only by an n, it is called a syllabic nasal. It may have different pronunciations, depending on the following consonants.

When it precedes a vowel it is a velar nasal /ŋ/, like in sing. In other cases its place of articulation is homorganic with the following consonant, using the same place of articulation.

Nasal vowel[edit | edit source]

When n follows a vowel by the end of the syllable, it causes the preceding vowel to be nasalised. The vowel may either be , i, or u, that get a nasal vibration during their respective realisations. Sometimes, nasal sounds pretty much like nasal a. However, vowels e and o cannot be nasalised.

Sometimes, nasal vowels are not represented not by a preceding, but by a succeeding n (see below.)

In IPA, nasalisation is represented by a tilde (~) over the vowel.

Allophone of l[edit | edit source]

The letter l can never precede a nasal vowel. If it appears in such environment, the nasal vowel is written as oral (that is, without the succeeding n) and the l is written as n, pronounced /n/, like in English.

The letter "m"[edit | edit source]

The letter m is also a nasal vowel. However, it is only used for the letters b and p. An example would be the word "jambà" which means crash.

Tone[edit | edit source]

Yoruba is a tonal language with three level tones: high, low, and mid (or "the default tone".)

Every syllable must have at least one tone, a syllable containing a long vowel can have two tones. Contour tones (i.e. rising or falling tone melodies) are usually analysed as separate tones occurring on adjacent tone bearing units (morae) and thus have no phonemic status.

Tones are marked by use of the acute accent for high tone (⟨á⟩, ⟨ń⟩), the grave accent for low tone (⟨à⟩, ⟨ǹ⟩). Mid is unmarked, except on syllabic nasals where it is indicated using a macron (⟨a⟩, ⟨n̄⟩).

Colloquial writing and even some literary texts may ignore diacritics, usually these representing tone, but also the dot used under e, o and s, seen as completely different letters.