See also Africa: Texts and Sources


Dialect is a distancing device. Others speak indialect. You don't. I don't.

The characters in Ama speak Konkomba,Dagbani, Asante, Fanti, Dutch, Susu, English, Yoruba, Portuguese. I convey allthis in straight English, trying to show mutual incomprehension through context.

My one exception is the Liverpudlian seamen onthe slave ship. With them I deliberately use dialect as an ironic distancingdevice. Usually it is the 'natives' who speak in dialect. Not so in this case.But how did they speak in Liverpool in the late eighteenth century and how doesone convey their speech in writing? I could find little help on this issue ( noteven in Lynda Mugglestone's 'Talking Proper,' The Rise of Accent as SocialSymbol, Clarendon, 1997) and so I fell back on invention based on Cockney,with dropped and added aitches.

My agent advised that I was overdoing it. Icompromised by simplifying my invented orthography, leaving out most of theapostrophes. Here's an example.

" Ere, Fred, eres a loikly un fer yer," said Joe Knox as he dragged Ama up over the lee gunwale, "Got a bit of flesh on er, this un as."

Ama thought that she heard English, but the pronunciation was so strange that she could not make out the meaning of the words.

"Stan up straight now, an les get a look at yer," he ordered.

Bewildered, Ama did as she was told. She looked around her. Before her stood the tall main mast, stretching up into the sky. Stays and rigging ran out from it in all directions.

"Nice pair o tits," said Joe.

"Ere Fred, look at this uns boobs," he called, weighing each of Ama's breasts in a palm. "What dye think, eh?"

Ama stepped back and gave him an angry look; but she let the English profanity which rose to her throat die on her lips. Her mind was beginning to work again. It would be better if these white men did not realize that she understood their language. She took her wet cloth and rewrapped it under her armpits.

"Okwaseá. Foolish man," she spat out at him in Asante.

"Knox, stop foolin around," called the Bosun from the quarterdeck, cutting short Joe's reply.

Does it work?

Myers Robert A, Bibliography of works inGhanaian languages Bureau of Ghana Languages 1967 incl Konkomba

Christaller, Rev. J. G, Dictionary of theAsante and Fante Language called Tshi (Twi), Second Edition, Basel, 1933

This dictionary is a gem, a rich museum of Akan culture. Publication of a newedition is long overdue.  Project Christaller 2001 (Akan encyclopedicdictionary), a cooperative effort of the University of Zurich, Switzerland andthe University of Ghana, is addressing this need.  For more informationclick on and, about Christaller, the man:

AliAkan 2000, "African languages through internet" at publication shortly of a CD-ROM version of an experimental on-linecourse in Akan. Material from the CD-ROM is available on-line at the followinglink.


AkanTeleteaching Course (free, on-line, highly recommended)


Bearth, Thomas: (PhD) Professor for General Linguistics and African Languages andLinguistics at the University of Zurich,

Eichholzer,Erika: (lic.phil. I) Research assistent at theUniversity of Hamburg in a socio-linguistic project on "Twi in Hamburg:Language maintenance/language loss in an unstable social situation".

Frempong,Justin: (B.A.) Bible translator with GILLBT (GhanaInstitute of Linguistics, Literacy and Bible Translation),

Hirzel, Hannes: (dipl. El. Ing. ETH and lic. oec. publ.) EDP consultant,


The West Africa 7 font for Windows isavailable for download at

Shoebox Software,,also offers a free download of fonts which can handle the special Akan letters, Ń,Ď and Ç,but I have taken the easy way out, using e, oand n. Mytranscriptions, using OCR, of parts of Christaller's preface and introduction,should therefore be treated with reserve. MH

Preface to Second Edition

The first editionof the present work - commonly called ‘The Tshi Dictionary’ - published in1881, has for a number of years been out of print. As the book was much indemand by both Europeans and educated natives, it was decided that a new editionshould be issued. Unfortunately, financial difficulties, the uncertaintyconcerning a new script, and an accident which befell the editor, delayed itsappearance.

The Dictionary isbased on the Akuapem dialect, which was reduced to writing about 1838, andbecame afterwards the literary form.

The materialconsists, for the most part, of the contents of the former edition. To thesehave been added numerous words, meanings, and phrases gathered from the printedTshi literature and from manuscripts; also contributions sent in by Rev. A.Jehle, and the Editor's linguistic collection which he brought home with himfrom the. Gold Coast. The greater part of this material as well as the originalwork has been revised here with the assistance of Rev. D. E. Akwa.  Inorder to keep price and size of the book within moderate limits, not all thematerial available has been inserted. For the same reason some of the Appendicesalso have been omitted.

Of the Akuapemdialect not many words will be found wanting; which cannot, however, be said ofthe other dialects. Regarding this deficiency, and in other respects as well,there is still room left for improvement.

The differentdialects have, as far as possible within the limits, found consideration. Wordsmore or less local and not yet in general use, have, as a rule been marked assuch by indicating the dialect to which they belong (i.e. by placing initialsafter the words).

A word orexpression styled obsolete in one district may be still in use in another.

The use of thewords in sentences is illustrated by definitions, expressions from daily life,proverbs &c. Being contributed by natives, all these examples are idiomatic,presenting the genuine manner of expressing thoughts. For further illustrationthe collection of proverbs and other books . . . are frequently referred to.. . .


§ 1. Name andTerritory of the Language. 

Tshi, or Twi, is the language prevalent in the Gold Coast countriesbetween the rivers Asini and Tanno on the W. and the Volta on the E., andextends even beyond this river; its southern boundary is the sea-coast, whilethe upper course of the Volta, and the Kong mountains are its northern limits.That is, roughly, the area of the old Asante empire when it had its greatestextension. Formerly Guang dialects were spoken throughout the Gold Coast, but inthe course of time they were, in most places, superseded by Tshi. - The numberof people who speak Tshi may be estimated at about 2 millions; and the languageis steadily gaining ground.  

Twi, rarely Etwior Otwi, is the form used in the vernacular. It is pronounced like ‘Chwee’,ch and w being uttered simultaneously. The vowel i has a rising and fallingtone, thus: î or íě. Twi probably denotes ‘polished, refined’; from twi,to rub, polish. The form ‘Tshi’, (a modification of the older spellings Tyi,Oji, Otyi), is, as a rule, employed in English. - Another name of the languageis Akan . . ., probably meaning ‘foremost; genuine’; fromkan, first; e.g.  oye Okanni, he isa born or genuine Tshi man. ‘Akan’ is used in a wider sense (a) for thedialects of Akem, Asante, Adanse &c. . . ., and (b) in a narrower for thoseof Akem and Asante only.  

The name ‘Twi’being used not only by the natives themselves, but also by the Accras and tribesto the east of the Volta, (in the form ‘Otshui’), it has been retained asthe generic appellation of the language. . . .

 § 2. Dialects.

The dialectswhich have found consideration in the Dictionary, may be comprehended under thefollowing three names: 1. Akan, 2. Bron or Kămănă, 3. Fante.

1. The Akandialect is considered to be spoken purest (a) in Akem; but by its “dainty andaffected mode of expression” . . . it appears less suited to become the commondialect of all Tshi tribes. - (b) The dialect of Asante agrees in all essentialswith that of Akem, only the pronunciation is “broad and hard”. . . whilst inAkem it is “soft and delicate”. . . . (c) The dialect of Akuapem, derivedfrom Akem and Akwam (an Akan dialect of old standing) and having points ofcontact with Bron and Fante, became about 1842 the literary form intelligible toall the other tribes.  It. has eversince been enriched by words and grammatical forms from the other dialects. . .

3. The Fante dialects, spoken by several maritime tribes in the South,have not followed the other dialects in changing the initial sounds kw, gw, hw,before palatal vowels, into tw, dw, fw, and in occasionally softening b (esp. indiminutives . . .) into w &c., but have deviated from them by changing t, d,n, before (e), e, i, into ts, dz, ny, (which change had not yet taken place in1764, when Ch. Protten published a short Fante Grammar at Copenhagen), and bycurtailing many terminations by cutting off their final vowels. They seem todiffer more from all the above dialects and among themselves than the Brondialects do from Akan. The Fante dialects are a branch of the Akan language, butare not acknowledged as pure by the Akans. As regards the number of people whospeak Fante and the territory where it is spoken, it is far surpassed by Akan.

As alreadyobserved, there are many differences (in sounds, forms, and expressions) withinthe three groups of dialects, but they are not so great as to prevent people ofthe one group from understanding readily those of the other. . .

 § 3. The Position ofTshi among other West African Languages

and a shortSurvey of the latter.

Tshi is one ofthe Sudanic languages prevailing in the area between Senegal and EasternNigeria. These languages may be divided into the following groups: - 

1. The so-calledKwa group, spoken in a broad coastal tract from the middle of Liberia to thelower Niger. Its subdivisions and languages (or dialects) are: 

a) The Ewe-Tshi subgroup, viz. Ewe (including the Dahomey dialect), spoken in the south- eastern corner of the Gold Coast east of the lower Volta, and in the southern half of Togo and Dahomey; and Tshi, i. e. the Akan-Fante dialects. Other members: Nzema (in Apollonia) and Doma (north-west of Asante); Anyi, Baule and Afema (Ivory Coast); Anufo (Northern Togo). The Ga, or Accra language, a comparatively young dialect, and the cognate and older dialects of Adangme and Krobo, W. of the lower Volta and in some parts E. of it. The Guang dialects, spoken on the Gold Goast and in Togo. - 

b) The Lagoon (or Kwakwa) languages, on the lagoons of the Ivory Coast. - 

c) The Kru subgroup, on the western Ivory Coast and the coast of Liberia. – 

d) The Yoruba subgroup, in Nigeria. - 

e) The Nupe subgroup, in Northern Nigeria. -

f) The Ibo subgroup, on both sides of the lower Niger. - 

g) The Edo or Bini subgroup, in Southern Nigeria.       

2. The Benue& Cross River group. To this belong e. g. Efik-Ibibio and Okoyong.     

3. The CentralTogo group, e. g. Adele, Akposo, Kebu. - 

4. The Gur group,approximately between 5o E. & 5o W. long., and 8o& 14o N. lat. Some of the subdivisions and languages are: 

a) The Mosi Dagomba subgroup comprising e. g. Mosi, Dagomba (Dagbane), Mamprusi, Gbanyang (Gondja). - 

b) The Grusi (Gurunsi) subgroup, between the White and the Black Volta: Awuna (Atyulo), Sisala, Kanjaga. - 

c) The Tem (Hausa: Kotokoli) subgroup, in eastern Togo. – 

d) The Bargu or Borgu (Barba), in northern Dahomey and Togo. - 

e) The Senufo (Siena) subgroup, on the northern Ivory Coast. - 

5. The WestAtlantic group, south of Senegal, with two subgroups, including e. g. Temne,Bulom, Gola; Wolof, Serer. - 

6. The Mandingoor Mande languages, spoken in western Sudan, between the two last-named groups,and north of the western parts of the Kwa group. They may be subdividedinto 

a) Mande tan, comprising e. g. Bambara, Malinke, Dyula, Vai-Konno; and 

b) Mande fu, including Soso, Mende, Kpelle. . . .  

§ 4.Characteristic Features of the Tshi Language.

The greatmajority of Tshi words are monosyllables, consisting of one consonant and onevowel, the latter sometimes enlarged, by the addition of a nasal consonant or a‘w’. There are, however, also a considerable number of polysyllables whichcannot be reduced to monosyllabic stems.

Tshi has threeclasses of words only, viz. nouns, pronouns and verbs. But even these, whenwithout affix, are not always distinguishable by their form. Part of theadjectives, adverbs and conjunctions are derived from nouns or verbs. Instead ofEnglish prepositions, either nouns of place or various verbs are used aspostpositions. The passive voice and participles are wanting. There is noinflexion in the strict sense of the term.  Cases are distinguished by their position in a sentence or expressed byverbs or postpositions. The plural of nouns is formed by affixes or indicated bya verb. The grammatical gender is wanting; natural sex is in some casesexpressed by particular words, or by composition with such, or by the femalediminutive suffix. For the tenses and other modifications of the verb prefixes(partly recognised as verbs) are used, in two cases the suffix e or i.

There is only ascanty number of particles to indicate the relation of sentences, or clauses, toone another. In many cases the sentences are placed together without aconjunction; (co-ordination being more frequent than subordination). In asimilar manner, two or several verbs may follow each other, where the Englishlanguage uses a single verb or adjective, participle, adverb, or preposition.The natives analyse every action or occurrence into its component parts, andexpress each of them by a special verb.    Another peculiarity is the use of subordinate sentences defined by thedefinite article ‘no’, or the demonstrative ‘yi’; whereby they areindicated to be equivalents of a single noun representing one idea.

There is to befound a large number of onomatopoetics, of which most are used as descriptiveadverbs, several also as nouns.

The vowel-harmony(i.e. assimilation of vowels to neighbouring vowel sounds) provides against toogreat or too small dissimilarities of vowels in successive syllables.

The nouns haveprefixes, which do not form such distinct classes of nouns as are found in Bantulanguages, but still convey some classification of persons as opposed to things,and of single or individual as opposed to plural or collective existence.

Of great importancefor the understanding of the language is its intonation. Every syllable of everyword has its own relative tone or tones, equal with or different from theneighbouring syllables, being either high or low, or middle. Besides thisintonation, inherent in the original formation of words, there are also ‘grammatical’tones, by means of which different tenses are denoted.

Akan Bibliography

And another Akan Bibliography

Akan Literature


JuliusCaesar, translated into Twi by B. Forson Accra 2001 ISBN 9988 591 00 4


Bu me Be, AkanProverbs, Peggy Appiah, Kwame Anthony Appiah with Ivor Agyeman-Duah, Accra,2002? ISBN 9988-8120-0-0

7015 Akan proverbs, eachwith a literal translation into English and an explanation.


2003. Odonko po bebrebe a,yede no ko ayie.

If a slave becomes toofamiliar we take him to a funeral custom.

(In the old days slaveswere sacrificed at funerals to go with the departed spirit into the next world.If someone abuses their position, they are removed.)

2004. Odonko nsiesie ne hose ne wura.

A slave does not dresslike his master.

(You must show due decorumin your behavior and not try and act above yourself.)