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
Location of the
Kwa family of
Down to the Tano
subgroup, the
biggest subgroup is
We focus on the
Akan subgroup.
The Akan Languages
There are several
languages in Akan.
The major ones
spoken in Ghana
– Fante,
– Akuapim and
– Asante.
They are spoken
around the central,
western and
southern parts of
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
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
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
– There are limited cases of free variation.
E.g. /d/, /r/ and /l/ in the word,
a$kwa$da$a /
ii. Vowels:
– There is the feature of vowel harmony (based on
Advanced Tongue Root (ATR)).
With VH, the vowels are divided into two sets; i.e.,
– +ATR (i, e, o, u, a) and
– –ATR (, E, , , )
Vowels from one set appear in a word.
E.g. afidie ‘machine’
fdE ‘what
is vomitted’
– There is also the feature of vowel harmony
(based on rounding) in Fante.
E.g. mE-rE- ‘I-Prog’ in
me-re-dzi ‘I’m eating’ and
mo-ro-ko ‘I’m fighting’.
iii. Syllabic nasality:
– This is a typological feature in the languages.
– Syllabic nasals are often realized as plural
markers in nouns and negative markers in verbs.
/N/ indicates plural number in some nouns,
mmfra ‘children’ (afra ‘a child’)
ntE ‘marbles’
(atE ‘a marble’)
/N/ also indicates negation in verbs,
mfa ‘don’t take’
(fa ‘take’ ) and
nnoa ‘don’t cook’
(noa ‘cook’)
iv. Tone:
– Akan languages are tone languages.
– They are primarily two-toned with cases of
downstep (H).
– tones express both lexical and grammatical
oppositions. Examples are:
in the nouns, pa$pa ‘father’ and
papa ‘goodness’
in the declarative and hortative readings of pronouns
e.g. Ko$fi nka$sa ‘Kofi does not
Ko$fi nkasa ‘Kofi should
v. Syllable structure:
– Asante always manifests open syllables, but
Fante and Akuapim may have close syllables.
E.g. Fante/Akuapim
kan ‘to read’
kai ‘to read’
– Other close syllables are reconstructed into an
open syllable in Asante.
e.g. e$tsir (V.CVC) ‘the head’ in
Fante becomes e$tire
(V.CV.CV) in Asante.
II. Morphology:
i. Noun classes:
– Most nouns exist in three forms:
the root, the singular, and the plural.
E.g. in the word for woman / wife:
-sEm (root), a$sEm (singular),
n$sEm (plural)
– In this example the singular/plural prefixes are
a- / n-.
– All nouns that exhibit this (a- / n-) pattern are
categorized into one class.
ii. Verb morphology:
– In all the Akan languages, there is a regular form
of marking aspects by affixes; e.g., perfective and
progressive by prefixes on the verbs.
– The perfective and progressive prefixes regularly
respond to the vowel harmony feature, since the
feature operates regressively.
E.g. Kofi -hm. ‘Kofi has rested.’
Kofi a-huri. ‘Kofi has jumped.’
– The verb is negated by a syllabic nasal prefix,
homorganic to the stem-initial consonant.
N-k  n$k ‘don’t go’
M$fa ‘don’t fight’
N-fa 
III. Syntax:
i. Word order:
– All the Akan languages exhibit the Subject Verb
Object order in their basic sentence patterns.
ii. Verb serialization:
– A syntactic construction in which two or more
lexical verbs may share arguments without
intervening connectors.
Examples in Akan (Asante)
t$$ n$to$ma
3sg. take cloth give 1sg.
‘S/he bought a cloth for me.’
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
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.:
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!

Akan and the Kwa Languages