The Akan (Twi) Language

Africa is home to an estimated 1500-2000 languages. These languages are grouped into various families and sub-families. Each language family is made up of a number of languages that are related through a common ancestral language known as the proto-language of that particular family. The major language families of Africa are:

  • Akan language, Twi languageThe Afro-Asiatic
  • The Nilo-Saharan
  • The Niger-Congo
  • The Khoisan
  • The Austronesian.

Map: Mark Dingemanse

With over 1000 of its languages spread across two-thirds of the geographical area of Africa and spoken by more than 200 million people, the Niger-Congo family constitutes the largest of all the language families of Africa and one of the major families in the world. Some of the subgroups of the Niger-Congo family are the Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, Kwa, Nyo, Protou-Tano, Tano and Central Tano.

 

The Akan (Twi) Language

Akan, a Central Tano language, constitutes one of the many languages which form the Kwa sub-family of the higher Niger-Congo phylum. It is mainly spoken by the Akan ethnic group of Ghana in West Africa. Speakers of the language in Ghana are found in the Ashanti, Brong Ahafo, Eastern, Central, Western and parts of the Volta region.

The 2010 population and housing census by the Ghana Statistical Service pegged the percentage of native Akan speakers alone at 47.5%. Aside this, many non-native speakers use the Akan language as their second language, making it the most spoken indigenous language of Ghana.

The Akan language is made up of several mutually intelligible dialects. Broadly, these dialects can be grouped into the Fante and Twi varieties. The sub-dialects that make up the Fante variety include Gomoa, Ekumfi, Nkusukum, Iguae, Breman and Agona. The Twi variety, on the other hand, is made up of such dialects as the Asante, Akuapem, Wassa, Akyem, Kwahu and Brong. The Brong dialect is also spoken by a percentage of the population of the eastern parts of Côte d’Ivoire, a neighbouring West African country. There, the Brong dialect is called Abron.

A version of Akan is also spoken in parts of the Caribbean and South America. It is notably spoken by the Ndyuka of Suriname and the Coromantee of Jamaica. The Akan language came to these regions through slave trade.

Graphic1

In effect, and contrary to popular assumption, Twi is not the language. The language is Akan and Twi is only one of its dialects. The Twi variety, especially the Asante Twi dialect, is very popular in Ghana, perhaps, the most spoken dialect of the Akan language. The popularity of this dialect has resulted in people confusing it as the language itself.

In Ghana, Akan is used in several domains. It is used in churches, on radio and television programmes, for commerce, in movie dialogues, etc. The language is used as the medium of instruction in lower primary schools in the locations where it is spoken as the first language. Akan is also taught as a school subject in those locations , from lower primary level, through junior high to senior high school levels. It is even taught as an undergraduate and graduate programme in some of the country’s universities. Outside Ghana, Akan is studied in notable universities in the United States of America like Ohio University, The State University of New Jersey (Rutgers), Ohio State University, Boston University, Indiana University, University of Michigan, University of Florida, Harvard University, University of Wisconsin.

Bibliography

  • Guerini, F. (2006). Language alternation strategies in multilingual settings: a case study: Ghanaian immigrants in Northern Italy (Vol. 289). Peter Lang.
  • Ethnologue – Akan
  • Omniglot – Akan
  • Osam, E. K. (2004).  An introduction to the structure of Akan: its verbal and multiverbal systems. 

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