This provisional Engwo–English and English-Engwo Lexicon is compiled primarily for Engwo speakers but is also of great help to non-speakers who want to learn the language. The lexicon comprises approximately 6200 entries with (5902) in the main text and (298) in the appendix. The SIL Comparative Wordlist served as the basis for the initial collection of words. Julius A. EYOH, a native speaker and linguist, mostly wrote down the words but did the checking with several native speakers. Some entries were contributed by Debora ANGYIH EYOH, Mathias Edzeambo ESUA, ESAM Jerry ANKA, and Joshua N. EFON. Each lexical entry includes a phonetic transcription, part of speech, and the meaning of the entry in English. Where available, the plural forms of the nouns are given. Some entries have multiple unrelated meanings and so may occur more than once. Noun class numbers are given for the different nouns. Our wish is that this lexicon will arouse interest in the use of the Ngwo Language for both adults and children as they learn to read and write the language. The lexicon also serves as a repository of cultural terms and information, which may otherwise be lost as the language evolves.

Though a lexicon of this size can hardly provide you with all the words you want to find, it is a fundamental tool to build your understanding and usage of the language. The work to compile a lexicon (dictionary) is never completed. The volunteer linguist and the Ngwo Language and Cultural Committee (NLACCO) will gladly welcome your suggestions for improvement, which shall be reflected in future editions. Thanks and God bless you as you acquire more and more knowledge to become an expert in reading and writing Engwo. Please see more guidelines below.


Geographical Background

Ngwo (Njikwa) is located approximately at latitude 6.12° north and at longitude 9.51° east (EYOH 2007:6). It is located in Njikwa Subdivision in Momo Division of the North West Region of Cameroon. It is found around 70 kilometers southwest of the Regional headquarters in Bamenda. In the north, the Ngwo language area shares a boundary with the Benakuma Subdivision in the Menchum Division, in the east with Oshie and Meta’ villages, in the south with the Ngie Subdivision, in the Southwest with the Widikum Subdivision (Menka) and in the west with the Akwaya Subdivision (Amasi and others). The Ethnologue (Gordon, 2005:70) lists a population of 50,547 speakers (2000 WCD) including the different dialects. The Ngwo language area, according to the Cameroon Linguistic Atlas (ALCAM), includes some of the following villages: Bako, Bakwa (Okorobi), Banya, Basa, Ekwebo, Ekweri, Konda, and Ngwo. The villages are located far from one another and are mostly linked by footpaths which makes spontaneous meeting very difficult.

The topography of the area is comprised of hills and valleys and the roads are not very motorable especially in the rainy season, beginning in June to September, when the dry season begins. The terrain is partly grassland and partly forest. The Ngwo forest areas and neighbouring villages provide a habitat for animals like gorillas, baboons, different species of monkeys, rock badgers [dassies], antelopes, different kinds of rats, etc.


The Ngwo people lived by subsistence agriculture carried out in their dispersed forests and savannah hills. Today, many have acquired education and serve in different walks of life such as government administration, education, agriculture, medicine, engineering, etc. The climate of Ngwo is cold and the main crops cultivated there among others include coffee (arabica and robusta), plantains, bananas, cocoyams, yams, cassava, potatoes, corn, beans, and groundnuts. There are fruits grown in the area like plums, pears, mangoes, oranges, guavas, grapefruits, pawpaw, and a few pineapples. The area is very conducive for vegetables such as cabbages, carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, etc. Sugarcane does well there also. Rice is cultivated in Bako. Tapping the raffia palm wine is also a major activity. Some people do weaving and carving. Part of Ngwo (Kutin) has a warm climate that is conducive for crops like cocoa, oil palms, and many other products. Palm oil processing is also carried out though at a low scale. The Ngwo people raise animals like cows, horses, sheep, goats, and pigs. They also keep fowls and a few ducks.

Traditional Administration

The Ngwo traditional authority is handled by the fon, chiefs, quarter heads, title holders, village council and quarter councils in collaboration with cultural and development associations. The âkɛ̀n (juju authority) serves as the military in maintaining peace, discipline and protection for the village.

History of Origin

Speakers of Engwo and related dialects all trace their origin to the Widikum (Tadkon) ethnic group. The village name of the reference dialect (Ngwo) was taken from the first son of the founding ancestor Nkwɛdi and his wife Ekpàbyɛ̀. When they entered the village from Andek-Ngie through Mbɛ, they gave birth to three sons: Ngwo, Etse and Afli.

The name Ngwaw is used to refer to the clan which involves all the villages of Njikwa Subdivision with the clan head being the Ngwo fondom known as the paramount fondom. The paramount Ngwaw fondom with its customary court at its Sabli palace acted as a powerful unifying authority such that the whole of the Ngwaw clan was moving towards speaking a single language (Engwo) with very limited dialectal differences. The intervention of the colonial forces became a serious check to its unifying activities. This clan territory goes beyond linguistic boundaries because it includes Oshie village with a separate language (Ngɨshe). It is important to note here that the Oshie people are now claiming autonomy from the Ngwaw clan. The clan would then be limited to its linguistic boundaries which cover all the other villages of Njikwa which are listed as dialects of Engwo (Ngwo). The other names -NGUNI, MINGUHNI, NGUNU and ENGWINI mean the same thing used by neighbouring villages or poorly written by the colonial auhorities as a result of communication barriers or mispronunciation in their attempts to spell the name of the village. Some neighbouring villages still use these names to refer to Ngwo, though the Ngwo people see such usages as pejorative. The name of the Subdivision which is ‘Njikwa’ means ‘road to the farm’ in the Ngwo language because the people lived basically on farming.


The name of the geographical area is called Ngwo but the language name is Engwo. It is spoken in Njikwa Subdivision, Momo Division in the North West Region of Cameroon. The language is homogenously spoken in about 15 different quarters (equal to villages) within the Ngwo reference dialect area but becomes heterogeneous (with a low degree of intelligibility) when we extend to the other villages listed as dialects: Konda, Basa, Ekweri, Banya, Bako, Okorobi, Bakwa, Ekwebo and Amasi (see ALCAM (Dieu and Renaud 1983), Ethnologue (Gordon, 2005) and Brye 1999).

Linguistic Classification and Dialects

Engwo is classified in the Cameroon Linguistic Atlas (ALCAM) under “Ngwɔ” code [861] as follows: Niger-Kordofanian, Niger-Congo, Benue-Congo, Bantoid, Bantu, Grassfields, Momo, with the following listed as dialects: Konda, Basa (Bassa), Ikweri (Ekperi), Banya, Bako and Okorobi (Bakwa) (Dieu and Renaud 1983:352). The Ethnologue (Gordon 2005:70) lists Ngwo (Ngwaw) [ngn] with the following linguistic classification: Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, Benue-Congo, Bantoid, Southern, Wide-Grassfields, Narrow-Grassfields, Momo.
The Ethnologue lists a population of 50,547 speakers (2000 WCD) and includes the following as dialects: Ngwo (Nguni, Ngwaw, Minguhni, Ngunu), Konda (Eza), Basa (Bassa), Ikweri (Ekperi), Banya, Bako, Okorobi (Bakwa). A Rapid Appraisal Survey of Ngwo (Brye 1999:15) proposes Bakwa (Okorobi), Ekwebo, and Amasi as some of the dialects. Additional Engwo speakers are scattered all over the world with a very high population in the Southwest Region of Cameroon, some in Europe and many in the United States of America (USA).

The following tree diagram based on ALCAM’s classification of Engwo is more explicit:











Momo, Menchum, Ring, Eastern-Grassfields


 Engwo, Ngɨshe, Ngie, Meta, Moghamo

Reference Dialect

This lexicon like other literacy materials written on the language is based on data collected from the reference dialect only: [ALCAM]: Ngwɔ (Engwo as spoken in Ngwo).

Neighbouring Languages

Neighbouring languages include Meta’, Mundum, Ngie, Ngɨshe, Manta, Ihatum, Batomo, Menka, Atong (Atoŋ), Caka and Beba’ (see Brye 1999:10). Within the Ngwo geographical area and environs are nomadic herders called Bororos who speak Fulfulde and many Engwo speakers have learned to speak it also.

Official Language

English and French are the official languages of Cameroon adopted from their two colonial masters, England and France. As an integral Anglophone part of Cameroon, speakers of the Ngwo language use the English language as their official language. French is used to a lesser degree by those who have studied it in school or by those who have lived in francophone regions of Cameroon. Whereas English is used basically as the official medium of instruction, French serves mostly as a school subject. Whenever and wherever the Ngwo people gather, the language they most often use is Engwo.

Language of Wider Communication

Within the different villages listed as dialects, the mother tongue is spoken but when it comes to communicating with speakers across these dialects, the mother tongue is not frequently used; the language of wider communication, Pidgin English, is mostly used because mutual intelligibility between the dialects is very low.

Vitality and Viability

The Ngwo language is spoken within the Ngwo area and within the related dialects between native speakers. It is used at all local gatherings and during church sermons but is gradually being threatened by European languages (especially English) and Pidgin English where some native speakers are gripped with an inferiority complex towards their own local language and cultural identity. Many nevertheless are realizing the importance of upholding their cultural identity and using their local language with pride. Our hope is that learning to read and write Engwo will be a challenge to all the native speakers – young and old alike.


Engwo is an agglutinating language. This means that a word in the language can be made up of two or more segments (called morphemes) glued together. For instance;

agwɔ̀ “midrib of plantain leaf”
ebíiríbwa “manner of asking”
e “firewood”
abwádándà / éfúundà “rubber foam (Dunlop)”

The first underlined part of the words above is the prefix, helping to indicate that the noun is either singular or plural. The middle part is the root and the last underlined part is the suffix, giving more clarification on the nature (material) of the noun. All parts are compounded to form the noun. Thus the name agglutinating language. Engwo is a noun class language.

It is also a tone language because tone plays a vital role in distinguishing the meaning of words, as we shall see subsequently. The order of clause constituents is Subject Verb Object (SVO).

Previous Works on Engwo

Different persons have carried out research on different topics on the Ngwo language (grammar) and culture (literature) either to earn a school certificate or to promote the language and culture. Some literacy materials have been produced for local use. Further ahead is a list of the Engwo research works that we could find. You will see them under the heading ‘Bibliography.’