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Akan languages

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Native toGhana
Ethnicity14 million Akan (2021 census)[1]
Native speakers
L1: 8.9 million (2013)[1]
L2: 1 million (no date)[1]
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
Glottologakan1251  Akanic
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Akan (/əˈkæn/[2]) is a group of several closely related languages within the wider Central Tano languages. These languages are the principal native languages of the Akan people of Ghana, spoken over much of the southern half of Ghana.[3] About 80% of Ghana's population can speak an Akan language as a first or second language,[3] and about 44% of Ghanaians are native speakers.[3] There are populations of polyglots in Ghana who speak an Akan language as a third language.[4] They are also spoken in parts of Côte d'Ivoire.[3]

Four dialects have been developed as literary standards with distinct orthographies: Asante, Akuapem, Bono (collectively known as Twi), and Fante.[5][6] Despite being mutually intelligible,[7][8] they 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.[9] 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 Guan languages.[10] The Akan Orthography Committee has worked on the creation of a standard orthography.

With the Atlantic slave trade, Akan languages were 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.[7] The cultures of the descendants of escaped slaves in the interior of Suriname and the Maroons in Jamaica still retain Akan influences, 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.[7][8]


In history, the Akans who live in Ghana migrated in successive waves between the 11th and 18th centuries. Others inhabit the eastern part of Côte d'Ivoire and parts of Togo.[10] 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.[7] Their cultural ideas are expressed in stories and proverbs and also in designs such as symbols used in carvings and on clothes.[7] 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.[7]

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

Relationship to other Central Tano languages[edit]

Akan is a dialect continuum that includes Twi, Fante, and Wasa.[11] Ethnologue, whose classification is based on studies of mutual intelligibility and lexical similarity from a multitude of sources,[12] classifies the varieties of Akan as dialects of the overarching Akan language, which belongs to the Central Tano language family. Glottolog makes basically the same analysis, with the exception that the Akan dialect continuum is labeled "Akanic".[13]

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.[14][8] 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 Côte d'Ivoire, which have /l/ in place of /r/.[citation needed]


The Akan dialects contain 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].

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 tables below are in the order /phonemic/, [phonetic]. 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 [ɲᶣ].

Akan consonant phonemes
Labial Alveolar Dorsal Labialized
Nasal plain /m/ /n/ /nʷ/
geminated /nː/ /nːʷ/
Stop voiceless /p/ /t/ /k/ /kʷ/
voiced /b/ /d/ /g/ /ɡʷ/
Fricative /f/ /s/ /h/ /hʷ/
Trill /r/
Approximant /l/ /j/ /w/
Allophones of Akan consonants
Labial Alveolar Dorsal Labialized
Phoneme Allophones Phoneme Allophones Phoneme Allophones
Nasal plain /m/ /n/ [n~ŋ, ɲ, ɲĩ] /nʷ/ [ŋʷ, ɲᶣ]
geminated /nː/ [ŋː, ɲːĩ] /nːʷ/ [ɲːᶣ]
Stop voiceless /p/ /t/ [t, tçi] /k/ [k, tɕ~cç] /kʷ/ [kʷ, tɕᶣi]
voiced /b/ /d/ /g/ [g, , dʑ~ɟʝ] /ɡʷ/ [ɡʷ, dʑᶣi]
Fricative /f/ /s/ /h/ [h, ç] /hʷ/ [hʷ, çᶣi]
Trill /r/ [ɾ, r, ɽ]
Approximant /l/ /j/ /w/ [w, ɥ]
Akan consonant orthography
Labial Alveolar Dorsal Labialized
Nasal plain ⟨m⟩ ⟨n, ny, ngi⟩ ⟨nw, nu⟩
geminated ⟨ng, nyi, nnyi⟩ ⟨nnw⟩
Stop voiceless ⟨p⟩ ⟨t, ti⟩ ⟨k, ky⟩ ⟨kw, twi⟩
voiced ⟨b⟩ ⟨d⟩ ⟨g, dw, gy⟩ ⟨gu, dwi⟩
Fricative ⟨f⟩ ⟨s⟩ ⟨h, hy⟩ ⟨hu, hwi⟩
Trill ⟨r⟩
Approximant ⟨l⟩ ⟨y⟩ ⟨w, wi⟩


The Akan dialects have fourteen to fifteen vowels: four to five "tense" vowels (advanced tongue root; +ATR or -RTR), five "lax" vowels (retracted tongue root, +RTR or -ATR), which are not entirely contrastively 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. A tongue-root 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.[clarification needed] The two vowels written e (/e/ and /i̙/) and o (/o/ and /u̙/) are often not distinguished in pronunciation.

Akan vowel phonemes
Front Central Back
Close /i/ // /u/ //
Mid /e/ // /o/ //
Open /a/ //
Orthog. -RTR +RTR
i /i/ [i]
e /e/ [e] /i̙/ [ɪ~e]
ɛ /e̙/ [ɛ]
a /a/ [æ~ɐ~ə] /a̙/ [a]
ɔ /o̙/ [ɔ]
o /o/ [o] /u̙/ [ʊ~o]
u /u/ [u]

Tongue root harmony[edit]

Akan vowels engage in a form of vowel harmony with the root of the tongue.[15]

  1. +RTR vowels followed by the -RTR non-mid vowels /i a u/ become -RTR. 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 +RTR non-high vowels /e̙ a̙ o̙/, -RTR mid vowels /e o/ become +RTR high vowels /i̙ u̙/. 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 terracing[edit]

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.[5]


Formation of plural nouns in Akan[edit]

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 nnaka (boxes), adanko (rabbit) to nnanko (rabbits), aduro (medicine) to nnuro (medicines), atare (dress) to ntare (dresses), odwan (sheep) to nnwan (sheep plural), aduane (food) to nnuane (food plural), 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), etc., are written the same in both singular and plural.[16]


The Akan languages have 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).[7]


Akan languages are studied at several major universities in the United States, including Ohio University, Ohio State University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Harvard University, Boston University, Indiana University, University of Michigan, 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.[7]

Common phrases[edit]

  • Akwaaba – Welcome
  • Aane (Twi) - Yes
  • Nyew (Fante)– Yes
  • Yiw (Akuapem) – Yes
  • Yoo – Okay/Alright
  • Oho / anhã (Fante)/Daabi (Twi)– No/Nope
  • Da yie (Twi) – Good night (literally "sleep well")
  • Me rekɔ da(Fante) – I'm going to sleep
  • Ɛte sɛn? (Twi) – 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? (Twi) - What is your name?
  • Wo dzin dze dεn? (Fante) – 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
  • Bra - Come
  • Bra ha - Come here
  • Bɛ didi - Come and eat

Names of places[edit]

  • Fie - Home
  • Sukuu - School
  • Asɔre - Church
  • Dwaaso - Market
  • sukuupon - University or a tertiary Institution
  • Ayaresabea - Hospital


  1. ^ a b c Akan at Ethnologue (27th ed., 2024) Closed access icon
    Wasa at Ethnologue (27th ed., 2024) Closed access icon
  2. ^ Bauer, Laurie (2007), The Linguistics Student's Handbook, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, ISBN 978-0-7486-3160-5
  3. ^ a b c d "Akan (Twi) at Rutgers". Rutgers University. Retrieved 2019-03-23.
  4. ^ "Akan Language". Center for International Studies. Ohio University. Retrieved 2023-07-09.
  5. ^ a b Schacter, Paul (1968). A Phonology of Akan: Akuapem, Asante, Fante. Los Angeles: UC Press.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h "Akan (Twi) at Rutgers". www.amesall.rutgers.edu. Retrieved 2020-01-22.
  8. ^ a b c The Brong (Bono) dialect of Akan” by Florence Abena Dolphyne University of Ghana, Legon 1979.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ a b "Akan people /Britannica".
  11. ^ "Akan Subgroups". Ethnologue. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
  12. ^ "Language Information". Ethnologue. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
  13. ^ "Glottolog: Akan". Retrieved 11 January 2015.
  14. ^ Agbedor, P. K.; Society, Centre for Advanced Studies of African (1999). Speech forms of Ghana. CASAS. ISBN 978-1-919799-20-9.
  15. ^ Obeng, Samuel Gyasi (2000). "Vowel harmony and tone in Akan toponyms". Studies in the Linguistic Sciences. 30 (2): 173–183. Retrieved 20 February 2024.
  16. ^ LearnAkan.com
  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.


  • Cleland, Esi; Gyang, Kofi Oteng; Imbeah, Nana Kodwo (Jojoo); Imbeah, Paa Kwesi (2005). Modern Akan: A concise introduction to the Akuapem, Fanti and Twi language. Kasahorow Language Guides. Accra: Kasahorow. ISBN 978-9988-0-376-7-3.
  • Dolphyne, Florence Abena (1988). The Akan (Twi-Fante) Language: Its Sound Systems and Tonal Structure. Accra: Ghana Universities Press. ISBN 9964-3-0159-6.
  • Dolphyne, F. A. (1996). A Comprehensive Course in Twi (Asante) for the Non-Twi Learner. Accra: Ghana University Press. ISBN 9964-3-0245-2.
  • Schacter, Paul (1968). A Phonology of Akan: Akuapem, Asante, Fante. Los Angeles: University of California Press.
  • Nketia, William (2004). Twi für Ghana: Wort für Wort (in German). Bielefeld: Reise Know-How Verlag. ISBN 3-89416-346-1.
  • Obeng, Samuel Gyasi (2001). African anthroponymy: An ethnopragmatic and norphophonological study of personal names in Akan and some African societies. LINCOM studies in anthropology. Vol. 08. München: LINCOM Europa. ISBN 3-89586-431-5.
  • Redden, J. E.; Owusu, N. (1963). Twi Basic Course. Foreign Service Institute. hdl:2027/mdp.39015005280261. Reprint: Twi basic course. Hippocrene. 1995. ISBN 0-7818-0394-2.

External links[edit]