Akan language

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
Native to Ghana, Ivory Coast (Abron), Benin (Tchumbuli)
Ethnicity Akan people
Native speakers
11 million (2007)[1]
1 million L2 speakers in Ghana (no date)[2]
Latin (Twi alphabet, Fante alphabet)
Twi Braille
Official status
Official language in
— Government-sponsored language of Ghana
Regulated by Akan Orthography Committee
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ak
ISO 639-2 aka
ISO 639-3 akainclusive code
Individual codes:
fat – Fanti
twi – Twi
abr – Abron
wss – Wasa
Glottolog akan1251  (Akanic)[3]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Akan /əˈkæn/[4] is a Central Tano language that is the principal native language of the Akan people of Ghana, spoken over much of the southern half of that country, by about 58% of the population, and among 30% of the population of Ivory Coast.[citation needed]

Three dialects have been developed as literary standards with distinct orthographies: Asante, Akuapem (together called Twi), and Fante, which despite being mutually intelligible were inaccessible in written form to speakers of the other standards. In 1978 the Akan Orthography Committee (AOC) established a common orthography for all of Akan, which is used as the medium of instruction in primary school by speakers of several other Akan languages such as Anyi, Sehwi, Ahanta, and the Guang languages.

The Akan Orthography Committee has compiled a unified orthography of 20,000 words. The adinkra symbols are old ideograms.

The language came to the Caribbean and South America, notably in Suriname spoken by the Ndyuka and in Jamaica by the Jamaican Maroons known as Coromantee, with enslaved people from the region. The descendants of escaped slaves in the interior of Suriname and the Maroons in Jamaica still use a form of this language, including Akan naming convention, in which children are named after the day of the week on which they are born, e.g. Akwasi/Kwasi (for a boy) or Akosua (girl) born on a Sunday. In Jamaica and Suriname the Anansi spider stories are well known.

Relationship to other Central Tano languages

In Ethnologue and ISO 693-3 Akan is a macrolanguage[5] that includes Twi and Fante. Akan is also the name of a language group that includes said macrolanguage and also Abron and Wasa.[6] The language group of Akan is ordered under Central Tano,[7] which also includes 8 more languages. This means that while they are all related, Abron and Wasa are not seen as dialects of Akan per se, but rather as sister languages. Ethnologue bases its classification on studies of mutual intelligibility and lexical similarity from a multitude of sources.[8] However, Ethnologue does not always cite all sources and the classification is not final.

Glottolog makes basically the same analysis, with the exception that the language group of Akan, which includes Wasa and Abron is labeled "Akanic" and that Akan is analysed as one language with Fante, Asante, Akuapem and many other dialects.[9]

According to work done by P K Agbedor of CASAS, Mfantse (Fante), Twi (Asante and Akuapem), Abron (Bono), Sefwi (Sehwi), Wassa, Asen, Akwamu, and Kwahu belong to Cluster 1 of the speech forms of Ghana. Clusters are defined by the level of mutual intelligibility.

Cluster 1 may better be named r-Akan, which do not explicitly have the letter “l” in their original proper use. On the other hand, l-Akan, refers to the Akan cluster comprising Nzema, Baoulé, Anyin and other dialects spoken mainly in the Ivory Coast, whose use of the letter “r” in proper usage is very rare.


Because the Akan dialects' phonologies differ slightly, Asante dialect will be used to represent Akan. Asante, like all Akan dialects, involves extensive palatalization, vowel harmony, and tone terracing.


Before front vowels, all Asante consonants are palatalized (or labio-palatalized), and the stops are to some extent affricated. The allophones of /n/ are quite complex. In the table below, palatalized allophones which involve more than minor phonetic palatalization are specified, in the context of the vowel /i/. These sounds do occur before other vowels, such as /a/, though in most cases not commonly.

In Asante, /ɡu/ followed by a vowel is pronounced /ɡʷ/, but in Akuapem it remains /ɡu/. The sequence /nh/ is pronounced [ŋŋ̊].

The transcriptions in the table below are in the order /phonemic/, [phonetic], ⟨orthographic⟩. Note that orthographic ⟨dw⟩ is ambiguous; in textbooks, ⟨dw⟩ = /ɡ/ may be distinguished from /dw/ with a diacritic: d̩w. Likewise, velar ⟨nw⟩ (ŋw) may be transcribed n̩w. Orthographic ⟨nu⟩ is palatalized [ɲᶣĩ].

Labial Alveolar Dorsal Labialized
Nasal plain m ⟨m⟩ /n/ [ŋ, ɲ, ɲĩ] ⟨n, ngi⟩ /nʷ/ [ŋːʷ, ɲᶣĩ] ⟨nw, nu⟩
geminated /nː/ [ŋː, ɲːĩ] ⟨ng, nyi, nnyi⟩ /nːʷ/ [ɲːᶣĩ] ⟨nw⟩
Stop voiceless /p/ [pʰ] ⟨p⟩ /t/ [tʰ, tçi] ⟨t, ti⟩ /k/ [kʰ, tɕʰi~cçʰi] ⟨k, kyi⟩ /kʷ/ [tɕᶣi] ⟨kw, twi⟩
voiced b ⟨b⟩ d ⟨d⟩ /g/ [, dʑi~ɟʝi] ⟨g, dw, gyi⟩ /ɡʷ/ [dʑᶣi] ⟨gw, dwi⟩
Fricative f ⟨f⟩ s ⟨s⟩ /h/ [çi] ⟨h, hyi⟩ /hʷ/ [çᶣi] ⟨hw, hwi⟩
Other /r/ [ɾ, r, ɽ] ⟨r⟩ /w/ [ɥi] ⟨w, wi⟩


The Akan dialects have fourteen to fifteen vowels: four to five "tense" vowels (advanced tongue root, or +ATR), five "lax" vowels (retracted tongue root, or −ATR), which are adequately but not completely represented by the seven-vowel orthography, and five nasal vowels, which are not represented at all. All fourteen were distinguished in the Gold Coast alphabet of the colonial era. An ATR distinction in orthographic a is only found in some subdialects of Fante, but not in the literary form; in Asante and Akuapem there are harmonic allophones of /a/, but neither is ATR. The two vowels written e (/e̘/ and /i/) and o (/o̘/ and /u/) are often not distinguished in pronunciation.

Orthog. +ATR −ATR
i /i̘/ [i̘]
e /e̘/ [e̘] /i/ [ɪ~e]
ɛ /e/ [ɛ]
a [æ~ɐ] /a/ [a]
ɔ /o/ [ɔ]
o /o̘/ [o̘] /u/ [ʊ~o]
u /u̘/ [u̘]

ATR harmony

Twi vowels engage in a form of vowel harmony with the root of the tongue.

  1. −ATR vowels followed by the +ATR non-mid vowels /i̘ a̘ u̘/ become +ATR. This is generally reflected in the orthography: That is, orthographic e ɛ a ɔ o become i e a o u. However, it is no longer reflected in the case of subject and possessive pronouns, giving them a consistent spelling. This rule takes precedence over the next one.
  2. After the −ATR non-high vowels /e a o/, +ATR mid vowels /e̘ o̘/ become −ATR high vowels /i u/. This is not reflected in the orthography, for both sets of vowels are spelled ⟨e o⟩, and in many dialects this rule does not apply, for these vowels have merged.


Twi has three phonemic tones, high (/H/), mid (/M/), and low (/L/). Initial syllable may only be high or low.

Tone terracing

The phonetic pitch of the three tones depends on their environment, often being lowered after other tones, producing a steady decline known as tone terracing.

/H/ tones have the same pitch as a preceding /H/ or /M/ tone within the same tonic phrase, whereas /M/ tones have a lower pitch. That is, the sequences /HH/ and /MH/ have a level pitch, whereas the sequences /HM/ and /MM/ have a falling pitch. /H/ is lowered (downstepped) after a /L/.

/L/ is the default tone, which emerges in situations such as reduplicated prefixes. It is always at bottom of the speaker's pitch range, except in the sequence /HLH/, in which case it is raised in pitch but the final /H/ is still lowered. Thus /HMH/ and /HLH/ are pronounced with distinct but very similar pitches.

After the first "prominent" syllable of a clause, usually the first high tone, there is a downstep. This syllable is usually stressed.

Important words and phrases

  • Akwaaba/Akɔaba – Welcome
  • Aane – Yes
  • Yiw (Akuapim) - Yes
  • Yoo - oh Okay/Alright
  • Daabi – No/Nope
  • Da yie – Good night (lit. sleep well)
  • Me rekɔ da (pronounced mee ko da) -I'm going to sleep
  • Ɛ te sεn/Wo ho te sɛn? – How is it going/How are you? (could also be used in the non lit. sense as "hello")
  • Me da wo ase – Thank you
  • Me pa wo kyɛw – Please/excuse me/I beg your pardon
  • Dwom/nnwom - Song/songs or music
  • Wo din de sεn? - What is your name?
  • Me din de .../Yɛfrɛ me ... - My name is/I'm called ...
  • Wadi mfeɛ ahe/sɛn? - How old is he/she?
  • Woadi mfeɛ ahe/sɛn? - How old are you?
  • Ɛ wɔ hen? - Where is it?
  • Me rekɔ - I am going


The Akan language has a rich literature in proverbs, folktales, and traditional drama, as well as a new literature in dramas, short stories, and novels.[10] This literature began to be documented in written form in the late 1800s.[11] Later, Joseph Hanson Kwabena Nketia collected a number of proverbs and folktales, including Funeral Dirges of the Akan People (1969); Folk Songs of Ghana (1963); and Akan Poetry (1958). Some of the important authors in the language are A. A. Opoku (dramatist), E. J. Osew (dramatist), K. E. Owusu (novelist), and R. A. Tabi (dramatist and novelist).[10] Unfortunately, the Bureau of Ghana Languages has not had the funding to keep up its printing of novels in the language, and has let the following novels go out of print: Obreguo, Okrabiri, Afrakoma, Obeede, Fia Tsatsala, and Ku Di Fo Nanawu.[12]

See also

  • Akan is one of the source languages of the conlang Afrihili.


  1. Mikael Parkvall, "Världens 100 största språk 2007" (The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007), in Nationalencyklopedin
  2. Akan at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)
  3. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Akanic". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  5. "Documentation for ISO 639 identifier: aka". SIL International. Retrieved 13 January 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Akan Subgroups". Ethnologue. Retrieved 13 January 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Central Tano Subgroups". Ethnologue. Retrieved 13 January 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Language Information". Ethnologue. Retrieved 13 January 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Glottolog: Akan". Retrieved 11 January 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 Nina Pawlak, “Akan Folk Literature and the Beginning of Writing in Twi,” Literatures in African Languages: Theoretical Issues and Sample Surveys by B. W. Andrzejewski and S. Pilaszewicz, 128-157 (Cambridge University Press, 2010).
  11. J G Christaller, Twi mmebuse̲m, mpensã-ahansĩa mmoaano. A collection of three thousand and six hundred Tshi proverbs, in use among the Negroes of the Gold Coast speaking the Asante and Fante language, collected, together with their variations, and alphabetically arranged,The Basel German Evangelical Missionary Society, 1879.
  12. "BGL starved of cash, idle for a decade". myjoyonline. August 5, 2011. Retrieved February 12, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • kasahorow Editors (2005), Modern Akan: A concise introduction to the Akuapem, Fanti and Twi language. kasahorow, Accra. ISBN 9988-0-3767-8
  • Dolphyne, Florence Abena (1988), The Akan (Twi-Fante) Language: Its Sound Systems and Tonal Structure. Ghana Universities Press, Accra. ISBN 9964-3-0159-6
  • F.A. Dolphyne (1996) A Comprehensive Course in Twi (Asante) for the Non-Twi Learner. Ghana University Press, Accra. ISBN 9964-3-0245-2.
  • William Nketia (2004) Twi für Ghana:; Wort für Wort. Reise Know-How Verlag, Bielefeld. ISBN 3-89416-346-1. (In German)
  • Obeng, Samuel Gyasi. (2001). African anthroponymy: An ethnopragmatic and norphophonological study of personal names in Akan and some African societies. LINCOM studies in anthropology 08. Muenchen: LINCOM Europa. ISBN 3-89586-431-5.
  • J.E. Redden and N. Owusu (1963, 1995). Twi Basic Course. Foreign Service Institute (Hippocrene reprint). ISBN 0-7818-0394-2

External links