Akan and the Kwa Languages Charles Marfo The University of Hong Kong [email protected] Akan and the Kwa Languages 1. Location and classification: – Akan and the Kwa languages are situated in the West African sub-region. – They cover countries such Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, Togo, Benin, Liberia, and Nigeria. – They are members of the Niger-Congo language family Location of the Kwa family of languages Down to the Tano subgroup, the biggest subgroup is Akan. We focus on the Akan subgroup. The Akan Languages There are several languages in Akan. The major ones spoken in Ghana are: – Fante, – Akuapim and – Asante. They are spoken around the central, western and southern parts of Ghana. 2. Some facts about Akan a. Asante and Akuapim are also referred to as Twi. b. So Akuapim and Asante are also often respectively called Akuapim-Twi and Asante-Twi. c. Fante, Akuapim and Asante are largely mutually intelligible; i.e., speakers of the languages understand each other. d. They may be typologically similar or different: • i.e., phonological, morphological, and syntactic features I. Phonology In the languages: There are more consonants than vowels. There is syllabic nasal usage; i.e. /N/. There is also tone representation. i. Consonants: – Some consonants are palatalized or labialized. E.g. /ky/ in kyerE ‘to show’ and /dw/ in dwene ‘to think’ – There are limited cases of free variation. E.g. /d/, /r/ and /l/ in the word, a$kwa$da$a / ii. Vowels: – There is the feature of vowel harmony (based on Advanced Tongue Root (ATR)). With VH, the vowels are divided into two sets; i.e., – +ATR (i, e, o, u, a) and – –ATR (, E, , , ) Vowels from one set appear in a word. E.g. afidie ‘machine’ fdE ‘what is vomitted’ – There is also the feature of vowel harmony (based on rounding) in Fante. E.g. mE-rE- ‘I-Prog’ in me-re-dzi ‘I’m eating’ and mo-ro-ko ‘I’m fighting’. iii. Syllabic nasality: – This is a typological feature in the languages. – Syllabic nasals are often realized as plural markers in nouns and negative markers in verbs. E.g.: /N/ indicates plural number in some nouns, mmfra ‘children’ (afra ‘a child’) and ntE ‘marbles’ (atE ‘a marble’) /N/ also indicates negation in verbs, mfa ‘don’t take’ (fa ‘take’ ) and nnoa ‘don’t cook’ (noa ‘cook’) iv. Tone: – Akan languages are tone languages. – They are primarily two-toned with cases of downstep (H). – tones express both lexical and grammatical oppositions. Examples are: in the nouns, pa$pa ‘father’ and papa ‘goodness’ in the declarative and hortative readings of pronouns e.g. Ko$fi nka$sa ‘Kofi does not talk.’ Ko$fi nkasa ‘Kofi should v. Syllable structure: – Asante always manifests open syllables, but Fante and Akuapim may have close syllables. E.g. Fante/Akuapim Asante kan ‘to read’ kai ‘to read’ – Other close syllables are reconstructed into an open syllable in Asante. e.g. e$tsir (V.CVC) ‘the head’ in Fante becomes e$tire (V.CV.CV) in Asante. II. Morphology: i. Noun classes: – Most nouns exist in three forms: the root, the singular, and the plural. E.g. in the word for woman / wife: -sEm (root), a$sEm (singular), n$sEm (plural) – In this example the singular/plural prefixes are a- / n-. – All nouns that exhibit this (a- / n-) pattern are categorized into one class. ii. Verb morphology: – In all the Akan languages, there is a regular form of marking aspects by affixes; e.g., perfective and progressive by prefixes on the verbs. – The perfective and progressive prefixes regularly respond to the vowel harmony feature, since the feature operates regressively. E.g. Kofi -hm. ‘Kofi has rested.’ Kofi a-huri. ‘Kofi has jumped.’ – The verb is negated by a syllabic nasal prefix, homorganic to the stem-initial consonant. N-k n$k ‘don’t go’ M$fa ‘don’t fight’ N-fa III. Syntax: i. Word order: – All the Akan languages exhibit the Subject Verb Object order in their basic sentence patterns. ii. Verb serialization: – A syntactic construction in which two or more lexical verbs may share arguments without intervening connectors. Examples in Akan (Asante) i. $ t$$ n$to$ma ma$a$ me$ 3sg. take cloth give 1sg. ‘S/he bought a cloth for me.’ ii. $ re$no$aa adi 4. Conclusion Most of these languages are being used for educational purposes in the central, western and southern parts of Ghana. There are serious attempts at functional literacy and mass communication in all these indigenous languages. Gradually, awareness is being raised about the importance of the mother tongues as important languages of mass communication for socioeconomic development in this part of West Africa. Further Reading Abakah, E.N. 1999. On the question of standard Fante. Journal of West African Languages 27(1): 95-115. Acquaah, G.R. 1968. A Brief Ghana History in Fante Verse. Cape Coast: Methodist Book Depot. Berry, J. and A. Aidoo. 1975. An Introduction to Akan. Evanston, IL.: Northwestern Christaller, J.G. 1967. A Grammar of the Asante and Fante Language, Called Tshi [Chwee, Twi]. Ridgewood, NJ: Dolphyne, F. A. 1988. The Akan (Twi-Fante) Language: Its Sound Structure and Tonal Structure. University of Ghana Press. Welmers, W.E. 1946. A Descriptive Grammar of Fanti. Baltimore: Linguistic Society of America. Pp. 78. Thank you!