Akan language

Akan (/əˈkæn/[5]) is a Central Tano language and the principal native language of the Akan people of Ghana, spoken over much of the southern half of Ghana.[6] About 80% of Ghana's population can speak Akan,[6] and about 44% of Ghanaians are native speakers.[6] It is also spoken in parts of Côte d'Ivoire.[6]

Native toGhana
Native speakers
Ghana: 10.5 million,
9.0 million
Côte d'Ivoire: 569 thousand,
346 thousand
Togo: 70 thousand
  • Agona
  • Ahafo
  • Akyem Bosome
  • Asen
  • Dankyira
  • Fante
  • Kwawu
  • Twi
Adinkra Nkyea [4]
Official status
Official language in
— Government-sponsored language of Ghana
Regulated byAkan Orthography Committee
Language codes
ISO 639-1ak
ISO 639-2aka
ISO 639-3aka – inclusive code
Individual codes:
fat – Fante
twi – Twi
wss – Wasa
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Four dialects have been developed as literary standards with distinct orthographies: Fante, Bono, Asante, and Akuapem, collectively known as Twi;[7][8] which, despite being mutually intelligible,[9][10] were inaccessible in written form to speakers of the other standards until the Akan Orthography Committee (AOC)'s development of a common Akan orthography in 1978, based mainly on Akuapem Twi.[11] This unified orthography is used as the medium of instruction in primary school by speakers of several other Central Tano languages, such as Akyem, Anyi, Sehwi, Fante, Ahanta, and the Guang languages.[12] The Akan Orthography Committee has worked on the creation of a standard orthography.

With the Atlantic slave trade, the language was introduced to the Caribbean and South America, notably in Suriname, spoken by the Ndyuka, and in Jamaica, spoken by the Jamaican Maroons, also known as the Coromantee.[9] The cultures of the descendants of escaped slaves in the interior of Suriname and the Maroons in Jamaica still retain influences from this language, including the Akan naming practice of naming children after the day of the week on which they are born, e.g. Akwasi/Kwasi for a boy or Akosua for a girl born on a Sunday. In Jamaica and Suriname, the Anansi spider stories are still well-known.[9][10]


In history, the Akans who live in Ghana migrated in successive waves between the 11th and 18th centuries. Others inhabit the eastern part of Ivory Coast and parts of Togo.[12] They migrated from the north to occupy the forest and coastal areas in the south in the 13th century. The Akans have a strong oral history tradition of their past and they're also known in the art history world for symbolic artifacts of wood, metal and terracotta.[9] Their cultural ideas are expressed in stories and proverbs and also in designs such as symbols used in carvings and on clothes.[9] The cultural and historic nature of the Akans in Ghana makes it an area of research for various disciplines such as folklore, literary studies, linguistics, anthropology and history.[9]


The Akan dialects contain extensive palatalization, vowel harmony, and tone terracing.

Writing SystemEdit

Asantefoɔ used Adinkra in daily life, on walls and as a form of written communication. Adinkra Nkyea is a writing system based on the[4] Adinkra Symbols. The Akan Language and its dialects use the Adinkra Nkyea writing system. The majority of Adinkra Nkyea is derived from the original Adinkra symbols. Adinkra Nkyea contains some 39 characters, 10 numerals, and 3 punctuation marks.

All Adinkra Characters of Adinkra Nkyea.


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].

A word final /k/ can be heard as a glottal stop [ʔ]. There is also a nasalization of /h/ and of /j w/ as [h̃] and [j̃ w̃], when occurring before nasal vowels.

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, ny, 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⟩ /j/ [j] ⟨y⟩ /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~ə] /a/ [a]
ɔ /o/ [ɔ]
o /o̘/ [o̘] /u/ [ʊ~o]
u /u̘/ [u̘]

ATR harmonyEdit

Akan 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.


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

Tone terracingEdit

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.[7]

Relationship to other Central Tano languagesEdit

Akan is a dialect continuum that includes Twi, Fante, and Wasa.[13] Ethnologue, whose classification is based on studies of mutual intelligibility and lexical similarity from a multitude of sources,[14] classifies the varieties of Akan as dialects of the overarching Akan language, which belongs to the Cental Tano language family. Glottolog makes basically the same analysis, with the exception that the Akan dialect continuum is labeled "Akanic".[15]

According to work done by P. K. Agbedor, Fante, Twi (Bono, Asante and Akuapem), Sefwi, Wassa, Asen, Akwamu, and Kwahu belong to Cluster 1 of the speech forms of Ghana, defined as in Ethnologue by the level of mutual intelligibility.[16][10] Cluster 1 may better be termed r-Akan, which do not have /l/ as a phoneme, while l-Akan refers to the Akan cluster comprising Nzema, Baoulé, Anyin and other dialects spoken mainly in the Ivory Coast, which have /l/ in place of /r/.[citation needed]

A map of Ghana's ethno-linguistic areas. Akan areas (light green) extend west about halfway into Ivory Coast.


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.[17] This literature began to be documented in written form in the late 1800s.[18] 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).[17] The Bureau of Ghana Languages has been unable to continue printing novels in the language, and the following are out of print: Obreguo, Okrabiri, Afrakoma, Obeede, Fia Tsatsala, and Ku Di Fo Nanawu.[19]



In 1978 the AOC established a common orthography for all of Akan, which is used as the medium of instruction in primary school.[20][21] The Akan language is recognized for literacy, from at least the lower primary level (primary 1-3).[9]


Akan language is studied in major universities in the United States, including Ohio University, Ohio State University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Harvard University, Boston University, Indiana University, Michigan University, and The University of Florida. Akan has been a regular African language of study in the annual Summer Cooperative African Languages Institute (SCALI) program.[22] The Akan language is studied in these universities as a bachelor or masters program.[9]

Common phrasesEdit

  • Akwaaba – Welcome
  • Aane (Twi) - Yes
  • Nyew (Fante)– Yes
  • Yiw (Akuapem) – Yes
  • Yoo – Okay/Alright
  • Oho/anhã (Fante)/Daabi– No/Nope
  • Da yie – Good night (literally "sleep well")
  • Me rekɔ da(Fante) – I'm going to sleep
  • Ɛte sɛn? – How is it going/How are you? (could also be used in the non lit. sense as "hello")
  • Medaase – Thank you
  • Mepa wo kyɛw – Please/excuse me/I beg your pardon
  • Ndwom (Fante)/nnwom (Twi) – Song/songs or music
  • Wo din de sɛn?/Yɛfrɛ wo sɛn? - What is your name?
  • Wo dzin dze dεn? – What is your name?
  • Me dzin dze.../Wɔfrɛ me... (Fante) – My name is/I'm called...
  • Woedzi mfe ahen? (Fante) – How old is he/she?
  • Edzi mfe ahen (Fante) – How old are you?
  • ɔwɔ hen? – Where is it?
  • Me rekɔ – I am going/ I am taking my leave.
  • Mbo (Fante)/Mmo (Twi)– Good
  • Jo (Fante)/ (Twi) – Leave
  • Ayɛ Adze (Fante) – well done
  • Gyae – Stop
  • Da – Sleep

Formation of plural nouns in AkanEdit

Akan forms some plural nouns by adding the prefixes 'm' or 'n' to the original word and removing the first sound of the noun. Example include nouns like abofra (child), which forms its plural by removing the 'ab' from the word and adding 'mm' to form its plural: mmofra (children). Same goes for aboa (animal) to mmoa (animals), abusua (family) to mmusua (families), abirekyie (goat) to mmirekyie (goats) etc. in the Twi dialect.

The nouns which use the 'n' prefix include; adaka (box) to ndaka (boxes), adanko (rabbit) to nnanko (rabbits), aduro (medicine) to nnuro (medicines), atar (dress) to ntar (dresses), odwan (sheep) to nnwan (sheep.PL), aduane (food) to nnuane (food.PL), kraman (dog) to nkraman (dogs), kanea (light) to nkanea (lights), safoa (key) to nsafoa (keys).

Akan can create plural nouns by adding the suffix nom to the original word. Examples include; agya (father) to agyanom (fathers), nana (grandparent/grandchild) to nananom (grandparents/grandchildren), nua (sibling) to nuanom (siblings), yere (wife) to yerenom (wives).

Some Akan nouns are the same in both singular and plural. Nouns such as nkyene (salt), ani (eye), sika (money) e.t.c are written the same in both singular and plural.[23]


  1. ^ "UNdata | record view | Population by language, sex and urban/rural residence". data.un.org.
    The following entries represent Akan speakers: Asante, Fante, Boron (Brong), Akyem, Akuapem, Kwahu, Wasa, Asen (Assin), Denkyira, Agona, Ahafo, Aowin, Akwamu, Evalue & Akan nec.
  2. ^ "Côte d'Ivoire".
  3. ^ "Togo".
  4. ^ a b Nkyea, Adinkra. "Adinkra Syllabary". Biswajit Mandal.
  5. ^ Bauer, Laurie (2007), The Linguistics Student's Handbook, Edinburgh
  6. ^ a b c d "Akan (Twi) at Rutgers". Rutgers University. Retrieved 2019-03-23.
  7. ^ a b Schacter, Paul (1968). A Phonology of Akan: Akuapem, Asante, Fante. Los Angeles: UC Press.
  8. ^ Arhin, Kwame; Studies, University of Ghana Institute of African (1979). A Profile of Brong Kyempim: Essays on the Archaeology, History, Language and Politics of the Brong Peoples of Ghana. Afram.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h "Akan (Twi) at Rutgers". www.amesall.rutgers.edu. Retrieved 2020-01-22.
  10. ^ a b c The Brong (Bono) dialect of Akan” by Florence Abena Dolphyne University of Ghana, Legon 1979.
  11. ^ Harries, Patrick; Maxwell, David (2012-07-20). The Spiritual in the Secular: Missionaries and Knowledge about Africa. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4674-3585-7.
  12. ^ a b "Akan people /Britannica".
  13. ^ "Akan Subgroups". Ethnologue. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
  14. ^ "Language Information". Ethnologue. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
  15. ^ "Glottolog: Akan". Retrieved 11 January 2015.
  16. ^ Agbedor, P. K.; Society, Centre for Advanced Studies of African (1999). Speech forms of Ghana. CASAS. ISBN 978-1-919799-20-9.
  17. ^ a b 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).
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ "BGL starved of cash, idle for a decade". myjoyonline. August 5, 2011. Archived from the original on 2015-02-13. Retrieved February 12, 2015.
  20. ^ Akan language.
  21. ^ Guerini, Federica (2006). Language The Alternation Strategies in Multilingual Settings. Peter Lang. p. 100. ISBN 0-82048-369-9.
  22. ^ "Akan – Languages". amesall.rutgers.edu.
  23. ^ LearnAkan.com


  • 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.
  • Schacter, Paul (1968). A Phonology of Akan: Akuapem, Asante, Fante. Los Angeles: UC Press.
  • 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 linksEdit