|Ghana: 10.5 million,|
(2010)Côte d'Ivoire: 569 thousand,
(2017)Togo: 70 thousand
|Latin (Twi alphabet, Fante alphabet)|
Official language in
-- Government-sponsored language of Ghana
|Regulated by||Akan Orthography Committee|
Akan () 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. About 80% of Ghana's population can speak Akan, and about 44% of Ghanaians are native speakers. It is also spoken in parts of Côte d'Ivoire.
Four dialects have been developed as literary standards with distinct orthographies: Fante, Bono, Asante, and Akuapem, collectively known as Twi; which, despite being mutually intelligible, 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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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 their also known in the art history world for symbolic artifacts of wood, metal and terracotta. Their cultural ideas are expressed in stories and proverbs and also in designs such as symbols used in carvings and on clothes. 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.
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, /?u/ followed by a vowel is pronounced //, but in Akuapem it remains /?u/. The sequence /nh/ is pronounced .
A word final /k/ can be heard as a glottal stop [?]. There is also a nasalization of /h/ and of /j w/ as [h?] and [j? w?], 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⟩ = /?/ may be distinguished from /dw/ with a diacritic: d?w. Likewise, velar ⟨nw⟩ (?w) may be transcribed n?w. Orthographic ⟨nu⟩ is palatalized .
|Nasal||plain||m||⟨m⟩||[?, ?, ]||⟨n, ny, ngi⟩||/n?/||[?:?, ]||⟨nw, nu⟩|
|geminated||/n:/||[?:, ?:?]||⟨ng, nyi, nnyi⟩||/n:?/||[?:]||⟨nw⟩|
|Stop||voiceless||[p?]||⟨p⟩||[t?, tçi]||⟨t, ti⟩||[k?, ti~cç?i]||⟨k, kyi⟩||/k?/||[ti]||⟨kw, twi⟩|
|voiced||b||⟨b⟩||d||⟨d⟩||[d?, d?i~i]||⟨g, dw, gyi⟩||//||[di]||⟨gw, dwi⟩|
|Fricative||f||⟨f⟩||s||⟨s⟩||[çi]||⟨h, hyi⟩||/h?/||[ç?i]||⟨hw, hwi⟩|
|Other||/r/||[?, r, ?]||⟨r⟩||[j]||⟨y⟩||[?i]||⟨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 (/e?/ and /i/) and o (/o?/ and /u/) are often not distinguished in pronunciation.
|e||/e?/ [e?]||/i/ [?~e]|
|o||/o?/ [o?]||/u/ [?~o]|
Akan vowels engage in a form of vowel harmony with the root of the tongue.
Akan 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.
Akan is a dialect continuum that includes Twi, Fante, and Wasa. Ethnologue, whose classification is based on studies of mutual intelligibility and lexical similarity from a multitude of sources, 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".
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. 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/.
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. This literature began to be documented in written form in the late 1800s. 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). 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.
In 1978 the AOC established a common orthography for all of Akan, which is used as the medium of instruction in primary school. The Akan language is recognized for literacy, from at least the lower primary level (primary 1-3).
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. The Akan language is studied in these universities as a bachelor or masters program.