Akan, also known as Twi [tɕɥi] and Fante, is an Akan language that is the principal native language of Ghana, spoken over much of the southern half of that country, by about 52% of the population, and to a lesser extent across the border in eastern Côte d'Ivoire. 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 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, Sefwi, Ahanta as well as the Guang languages.
The Akan people and those who have either lived around Akans or have absorbed Akan people into their population speak Kwa languages, of which Twi/Fante is just one. Twi–Fante consists of the following dialects:
Asante (Ashanti), which together with Akuapem is commonly called Twi
Agona (commonly considered Fante)
Fante (Fanti or Mfantse:Anomabo, Abura, Gomua) - Spoken in east coastal Ghana.
Brong - Spoken in west central Ghana and along the border in Côte d'Ivoire
The Bureau of Ghana Languages 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 Kromanti, 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 (for a boy) or Akosua (girl) born on a Sunday. In Jamaica and Suriname the Anansi spider stories are well known.
Relationship to other Akan languages
According to work done by P K Agbedor of CASAS, Mfantse (Fante), Twi (Asante and Akuapem), Abron (Bono), 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, Baule, 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 palatalisation, vowel harmony, and tone terracing.
Before front vowels, all Asante consonants are palatalized (or labio-palatalized), and the plosives 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
voiceless plosive /p/ [pʰ] ‹p› /t/ [tʰ, tçi] ‹t, ti› /k/ [kʰ, tɕʰi~cçʰi] ‹k, kyi› /kʷ/ [kʷ, tɕᶣi] ‹kw, twi›
voiced plosive /b/ [b] ‹b› /d/ [d] ‹d› /ɡ/ [ɡ, dʒ, dʑi~ɟʝi] ‹g, dw, gyi› /ɡʷ/ [ɡʷ, dʑᶣi] ‹gw, dwi›
fricative /f/ [f] ‹f› /s/ [s] ‹s› /h/ [h, çi] ‹h, hyi› /hʷ/ [hʷ, çᶣi] ‹hw, hwi›
nasal stop /m/ [m] ‹m› /n/ [n, ŋ, ɲ, ɲĩ] ‹n, ngi› /nʷ/ [ŋŋʷ, ɲᶣĩ] ‹nw, nu›
geminate nasal /nn/ [ŋː, ɲːĩ] ‹ng, nyi, nnyi› /nnʷ/ [ɲɲᶣĩ] ‹nw›
other /r/ [ɾ, r, ɽ] ‹r› /w/ [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 script of the colonial era.) An ATR distinction in orthographic a is only found in some subdialects of Fante, though 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.
−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.
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.
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 – welcome
aane – yes
daabi – no
da yie – good night (lit. sleep well)
Ete sen? – How are you?
me da se – thank you
me pa wo kyew – please/excuse me
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