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Languages Insight

Insight of Ghanaian Languages

Brief background

The Dangmes are believed to be part of the Israelites who traveled from Egypt to Canaan. It is said that they strayed when they were in transit and found themselves in Nigeria. Because they were being forced to worship Allah and pray as the Moslems did, which they were not comfortable with, they journeyed on to Benin, and then to Togo and finally had to cross the Volta River to Tagologo (now called Natreku – between Akuse junction and Akuse). From there again they moved, under their tribe heads, to the various places (dialectal areas) we find them now.

The Dangme Language & the Dangmes

Dangme is known as a Kwa Language - a branch of the Niger-Congo family of languages. It is the language of the people of Ada, Yilo and Manya Klo, Sɛ, Osudoku, Kpone (Kpomi), Gbugblaa (Prampram) and Nugo. They occupy about 70% of the Greater Accra Region and 15% of the Eastern Region of Ghana mainly.

Writing of Dangme & Orthography

The earliest attempts at literary production in Dangme, for obvious reasons, made use of the orthography that was developed to write the Ga School Primers in the latter part of the 19th century and to produce the Ga translation of the Bible. No further effective efforts were made to produce anything else in print, in Dangme, apart from the Book of the Prophet Jonah by the Missionaries and a very short, two-stanza, hymn (No. 343) in the Presbyterian Ga Hymn Book by K. Reindorf in 1867.

There were, of course, feeble endeavours as well as appreciable efforts by several individuals which never went beyond the manuscript stage. From the latter part of the 20th century onwards, a considerable number of manuscripts were produced in Dangme. Some of these were published. For example, Enoch Azu’s ‘Dangme Historical Songs’ (Klama) and ‘Dangme Proverbs’, D. A. Puplampu’s ‘Dangme Munyu Tub4’, ‘M4m4yo’, ‘An Dangme Script’, ‘A Grammar of Dangme’, T. N. N. Accam’s ‘Klama Songs and Chants’, ‘Adangme Vocabularies’ and others can be cited.

In the late 40’s D. A. Puplampu came out with a suggestion for a Dangme Orthography which included the use of ‘c’, ‘j’ and ‘ng’ in place of the Ga ‘t’, ‘dz’ and ‘n’ characters. Later when the United Bible Translation Committee decided to publish the Bible in Dangme and the Government at the time approved the teaching of Dangme in schools on Dangme land, the question arose as to whether Ga and Dangme must both use the same Orthography.

At this point in time (1968), the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana - Legon was invited to advise on Ga and Dangme Orthographies. It was then decided after a careful examination that the two Orthographies were different and that for practical reasons, a compromise should be struck between the two. It was conclusive that Dangme Orthography would drop the ‘c’ and ‘dz’ but retain the ‘j’, ‘ts’ and ‘ng’ while Ga retained ‘n’ and dropped ‘ts’. The only difference in the two Orthographies would then be the use of ‘ng’ by Dangme and ‘n’ for Ga. After the final decision on Orthographies, representatives of the Institute of African Studies (University of Ghana - Legon), the Bureau of Ghana Languages and the Dangme Bible Translation Committee met in 1969 and decided on the set of rules of spelling.

The First Dangme Language Committee

Owing to the dialectal differences that emerged in published books and a few shortcomings in the existing rules of spelling (after the above), a Dangme Standardization Committee was constituted by the Bureau of Ghana Languages in 1974. The Committee was to revise the existing Orthography, evolve a Standard Written Dangme and compile a basic Dangme word list. Dr. Apronti’s ‘The Writing of Dangme’ was in essence the basis and source material. It must be noted that the supreme objective of the committee was to prepare the way for Dangme writings that would be intelligible to any native Dangme speaker - no matter the dialectal region the person may come from (Manya Klo, Yilo Klo, S1, Osudoku, Kpomi, Gbugblaa, Nugo and Adaa).

The Dangme Alphabets

a b d e ɛ f g gb h i j k kp l m n ng ngm ny o 4 p s t ts u v w y z (Note that ‘r’ and ‘sh’ are sometimes used in words foreign to Dangme.)

Dangme has two types of Consonants.

1. Single Consonants: b d f g h j k l m n p s t v w y z
2. Consonant Clusters: gb kp ng ngm ny ts

Dangme also has nasalized and non-nasalized vowels.

1. Non-nasalized Vowels: a e ɛ i o ɔ u
2. Nasalized Vowels: a 1 i ɔ u
(From “Dangme Ngmami Bɔ” – The Writing of Dangme)


On record, we had 60 Dangme Publications as at 1994 (Bureau at a glance).


Dangmes are found in the Eastern Region (Yilo Krobo Municipality, Upper Manya, Lower Manya, part of Asuogyamang, part of East Akim and part of New Juaben), Greater Accra Region (Dangme East and West - Southeastern coast and inland) and in the Volta Region (part of North Tongu and Avatime) in Ghana. Their numerical strength is as follows. According to the 2010 Population Census (Ghana Statistical Service, October 2014), we have the following:

Economic Activity - Trading, Farming & Fishing Small Scale Industrial Activities & Farming
Tourism - Forts, Estuary,Holiday Chalets & Beaches Game Reserve Boti falls, Ancestral Homes on Mt. Yogaga (Caves, etc)
Location Population
Ada East - 71,671
Ada West - 59,124
Ningo Prampram - 70,923
Kpone Katamanso - 109,864
Shai Osudoku - 51,913
Yilo Krobo - 87,847
Lower Manya - 87,246
Upper Manya - 72,092
TOTAL - 610,680

(Note that we also have some Dangmes at the following places: Asuogyaman, New Juaben, Fanteakwa, Kwahu Afram Plains, Agotime - in the Volta Region - and other parts of Ghana.) The 1990 Population Census also states we have 1,250,000 Ga-Adangmes and 300,000 Gas. This means we had 950,000 Dangmes then.

Ashanti | Akuapim | Akyem | Fanti | Kwahu

Population 7,000,000 (1995 WA), 44% of the population (1990 WA). 1,170,000 Asante Twi, 4,300,000 Fante, 230,000 Akuapem Twi (1993 UBS).
Region The Asante are south central, Ashanti Province. The Akuapem are southeast, in areas north of Accra. The Fante are south central, between Winneba, Takoradi, and Obuasi.
Classification Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, Kwa, Nyo, Potou-Tano, Tano, Central, Akan.
Comments Dialects are largely inherently intelligible. The speech of the Asante and Akuapem is called 'Twi.' Dictionary. Grammar. SVO. Literacy rate in first language: 30% to 60%. Literacy rate in second language: 5% to 10%. Roman. Bible 1871-1964.

Bibliography about this language:

Abakah, Emmanuel N. 1998/1999. "On the question of standard Fante."
Cahill, Michael. 1985. An autosegmental analysis of Akan nasality and tone.
Savage, T. Dale. 1987. "Some abstract features of Kwa vowel harmony: An autosegmental approach to Engenni, Igbo, Akan, and Yoruba."
1. "A closer look at downstep in Akan" by Abakah, Emmanuel Nicholas. 2000. Afrika und Ubersee.
2. "The low tone in Akan" by Abakah, Emmanuel Nicholas. 2002. Proceedings of the 14th Afrikanistentag.
3. "Remarks on the Akan vocalic inventory" 2002. Ferstschrift in honour of the 3Ds (ie Prof. M.E. Dakubu, Prof. F.A. Dolphyne and Prof. A.S. Duthie.


Short History of the Akwamus

The Akwamus like most Akans also migrated from Adanse to settle at the Twifo-Heman forest at the later part of the 16th century. This group of Akans belonged to the Aduana family and are blood brothers of Asumennya, Dormaa and Kumawu. According to oral tradition it was as a result of succession dispute that compelled Otomfuo (brass-smith) Asare to desert the family to form a new state or city called Asaremankesee- Asares big state. The modern city of Asaamankese was originally founded and occupied by the Akwamus. Akwamus expansion started between 1629 1710 and this took them to places like the whole Akuapem area including Kyerepon and Larteh, Akyem, Denkyera, Ga-Adangbe, the Ladoku states of Agona, Winneba, Afram plains, Southern Togoland and finally Whydah in present Benin. The powerful king Nana Ansa Sasraku l annexed the Guans and took over the traditional areas of the Kyerepons and ruled over them until Asonaba Nana Ofori Kuma and his followers after a succession dispute in their effort to form their own State engaged them in a fierce war after which the Akwamus were driven away from the mountains. These Asona family members and their followers then were given a piece of land from the original settlers the Guans, Kyerepons, to form the Akuapem state. However, most of the present Akuapems still have their roots at Akwamufie especially those bearing the names Addo and Akoto or from the Aduana family. Nana Ansa Sasraku also played an important role in the life of the King Osei Tutu of Asante. He protected him from the Denkyiras and when he was called to take over the Kwaaman stool Nana Ansa Sasraku provided him with 300 Asafomen from Akwamu to guide him to Kwaaman. When Nana Osei Tutu arrived, he gaved all the men to Kwaaman Asafohene and they became citizens of Asafo and that won the Kumase Asafohene the title Akwamuhene of Kumase. According to oral tradition, the whole structure of the Asante army that was started by Nana Osei Kofi Tutu l and helped the Asantes through many wars, was a replicate of the well organised Akwamu army. Nana Osei Tutu was also assisted by the Anumfuo (later Adumfuo) who accompanied him from Akwamu, in execution cases. A large number of the Asantes of today originated from Akwamu especially, people from Asafo and Adum as well as sections of people from Bantama and Barekese. After the death of Nana Ansa Sasraku, he was succeeded by two kings collectively, Nana Addo Panin and Nana Basua. It was during this time that the Akwamus took over the possession of the Danish Castle at Christianborg or Osu. Because of the cordial relationship that existed between Akwamu and Asante, during the 19th century expansion of Asante, the Akwamu unlike most states after war, was never annexed by Asantes but rather the Akwamu Stool became the wife of the Asante Stool during the reign of Nana Odeneho Kwafo Akoto l. That is the reason why during the Golden Anniversary of Nana Kwafo Akoto ll Nana Opoku Ware ll crossed the Pra river to spend two days at Akwamufie. At the peak of their power the Akwamus had embraced much of the Gold Coast and traditionally the Akwamuhene still has the jurisdiction of the Akosombo part of the Volta River. Sadly and unfortunately the Akwamus have however lost most of their lands to Akuapems, Akyems, Kwahus, Fantes and Krobos. I would like recall that the Kingdom of Akwamu was one of the most powerful among the Akans.

Rulers of Akwamu

Name Date
Nana Addo 1699
Nana Akwamu Panin 1702
Nana Ansa Sasraku aka Ansa Kwao 1726
Nana Obuaman Darko 1730
Nana Darko 1772
Nana Akoto 1815
Nana Kwaafo Akoto 1830
Nana Kwaafo Akoto ll 1936
Nana Kwaantwi Barima ll
Odeneho Nana Kwaafo Akoto lll - not very sure of when he ascended the throne
Nana Owusu Agyare ll 1997
Nana Ansah Sasraku lV 1999


Baafuor Ossei-Akoto (SIL)


DAGOMBA (better pronounced as DAGBAMBA) speak Dagbani (better pronounced as Dagbanli). The language belongs to the More-Dagbanli sub-group of Gur languages. The More or Moshi now have their homeland in present day Burkina Faso, while the Dagbanli sub-group today has broken up into three ethnic groups: The Dagbamba, the Mamprusi and the Nanumba. Even though these groups today constitute three apparently distinct ethnic groups, their people still identify with each other and the bond is strongest among the Dagbamba and Nanumba. The homeland of the Dagbamba is called Dagbon and covers about 8,000 sq. miles in area and has a total population of about 650, 000. The area constitutes seven administrative districts in present day Ghana. These are Tamale Municipality, Tolon/Kumbungu, Savelugu/Nantong, Yendi, Gushegu/Karaga, Zabzugu/Tatali and Saboba/Cheriponi. The overlord the Dagbon Traditional Kingdom is the Ya- Na, whose court and administrative capital is at Yendi. Yendi is reputed to be the largest village in West Africa. The Dagbon Kingdom has traditional administrative responsibilities for hitherto acephalous groups like the Konkomba, the Bimoba, the Chekosi, the Basaari, the Chamba, and the Zantasi. Though ethnic Dagbamba are in the majority, the people of the subject ethnic groups have equal citizenship rights in the Kingdom. The seat of the Ya Na literally translated as King of Absolute Power, is a collection of cow skins. Thus when we talk of the political history of Dagbon, we often refer to it as the Yendi Skin. (Not throne or crown). Na Gbewaa is regarded as the founder of Greater Dagbon (Present day Dagbon, Mamprugu and Nanung). Lacking in a writing culture, Dagbamba are one of the cultural groups with a very sophisticated oral culture woven around drums and other musical instruments. Thus most of its history, until quite recently, has been based on oral tradition with drummers as professional historians. So according to oral tradition, the political history of Dagbon has its genesis in the lifestory of a legend called Tohazie (translated as Red Hunter.). Culturally, Dagbon is heavily influence by Islam. Inheretance is patrilineal. Prominent festival they celebrate include the Damba, Bugum (fire festival) and the two Islamic Eid Festivals. The most cosmopolitan city of Dagbon is Tamale, which also serves as the Northern Regional capital.


Population 1,615,700 in Ghana (1991), 13% of the population (1990 WA). Population total both countries 2,477,600 (1991 L. Vanderaa CRC). Including second language users: 3,000,000 (1999 WA).
Region Southeast corner. Also spoken in Togo.
Classification Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, Kwa, Left Bank, Gbe.
Comments Language of wider communication. Grammar. Literacy rate in first language: 30% to 60%. Literacy rate in second language: 75% to 100%. Roman. Christian, traditional religion. Bible 1913-1931.
The Ewe occupy southeastern Ghana and the southern parts of neighboring Togo and Benin. On the west, the Volta separates the Ewe from the Ga-Adangbe, Ga, and Akan. Subdivisions of the Ewe include the Anglo (Anlo), Bey (Be), and Gen on the coast, and the Peki, Ho, Kpando, Tori, and Ave in the interior. Oral tradition suggests that the Ewe immigrated into Ghana before the midfifteenth century. Although the Ewe have been described as a single language group, there is considerable dialectic variation. Some of these dialects are mutually intelligible, but only with difficulty. Unlike the political and social organization of the Akan, where matrilineal rule prevails, the Ewe are essentially a patrilineal people. The founder of a community became the chief and was usually succeeded by his paternal relatives. The largest independent political unit was a chiefdom, the head of which was essentially a ceremonial figure who was assisted by a council of elders. Chiefdoms ranged in population from a few hundred people in one or two villages to several thousand in a chiefdom with a large number of villages and surrounding countryside. Unlike the Asante among the Akan, no Ewe chiefdom gained hegemonic power over its neighbor. The rise of Ewe nationalism in both Ghana and Togo was more of a reaction to the May 1956 plebiscite that partitioned Eweland between the Gold Coast and Togo than to any sense of overriding ethnic unity. Substantial differences in local economies were characteristic of the Ewe. Most Ewe were farmers who kept some livestock, and there was some craft specialization. On the coast and immediately inland, fishing was important, and local variations in economic activities permitted a great deal of trade between one community and another, carried out chiefly by women.
Bibliography about this language:
Akuetey, Caesar. 1995. "Are `le' and `li' dialectal variants in the Ewe language?."
Akuetey, Caesar. 1998/1999. "A preliminary of Yeegbe: Animist cult language in Eweland."
Callow, John C. 1973. "Two approaches to the analysis of meaning."
Duthie, Alan S. 1993. "Semantic diversity in Ewe words."
Dzameshie, Alex K. 1998/1999. "Structures of coordination in Ewe."
Neeley, Paul. 1997. Review of African Rhythm: A northern Ewe perspective, by Agawu, Kofi.
Ring, J. Andrew. 1981. Ewe as a second language: A sociolinguistic survey of Ghana's central Volta region.
Ring, J. Andrew. 1991. "Three case studies involving dialect standardization strategies in northern Ghana."


Population 526,300 in Ghana (1991 L. Vanderaa CRC) including 400,000 in the Upper East Region, perhaps 100,000 in various towns and cities in other regions (1988 SIL). Population total both countries 551,400 (1991 L. Vanderaa CRC).
Region Northeast Ghana, Upper East Region around Bolgatanga, Frafra District, and as far west as Navrongo. Also spoken in Burkina Faso.
Classification Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, North, Gur, Central, Northern, Oti-Volta, Western, Northwest.
Comments The dialects are named after towns or localities. They consider Dagaare in particular to be a sister language. 5 major dialects and many minor ones, all able to use the published materials. They call themselves their clan or dialect name, and their language 'Farefare'. Speakers of Talni are called 'Talensi.' Dictionary. Grammar. Literacy rate in first language: 1% to 5%. Literacy rate in second language: 5% to 15%. Roman. Taught at the University of Ghana. Radio programs, videos. Traditional religion, Christian, Muslim. NT 1986.

The Ga

Population 300,000 in Ghana (1993 UMS). Population total both countries 300,000 or more.
Region Southeast, coast around Accra. Also spoken in Togo.
Alternate names AMINA, GAIN, ACCRA, ACRA
Classification Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, Kwa, Nyo, Ga-Dangme.
Comments Ga is the major language of Accra, the capital. Literacy rate in first language: 30% to 60%. Literacy rate in second language: 75% to 100%. Traditional religion. Bible 1866, in press (1997).
Homowo MEANING: The Homowo Festival's ties lie with the Ga people and their migration to Ghana. The Ga traveled for many years before reaching the West Coast of Africa where they presently live. Along the way, they experienced famine, but because they helped each other, they survived. Later, when their harvests were bountiful, they held a feast at which they mocked and jeered at hunger and the hard times that had plagued them. This was the first Homowo.


The Guan are believed to have begun to migrate from the Mossi region of modern Burkina around A.D. 1000. Moving gradually through the Volta valley in a southerly direction, they created settlements along the Black Volta, throughout the Afram Plains, in the Volta Gorge, and in the Akwapim Hills before moving farther south onto the coastal plains. Some scholars postulate that the wide distribution of the Guan suggests that they were the Neolithic population of the region. Later migrations by other groups such as the Akan, Ewe, and Ga-Adangbe into Guan-settled areas would then have led to the development of Guan-speaking enclaves along the Volta and within the coastal plains. The Guan have been heavily influenced by their neighbors. The Efutu, a subgroup of the Guan, for example, continue to speak Guan dialects, but have adopted (with modifications) the Fante version of some Akan institutions and the use of some Fante words in their rituals. As far as the other Guan subgroups are concered, the Anum-Boso speak a local Ewe dialect, whereas the Larteh and Kyerepong have customs similar to Akwapim groups. Constituting about a quarter of the Guan, the Gonja to the north have also been influenced by other groups. The Gonja are ruled by members of a dynasty, probably Mande in origin. The area is peopled by a variety of groups, some of which do not speak Guan. The ruling dynasty, however, does speak Guan, as do substantial numbers of commoners. Although neither the rulers nor most of the commoners are Muslims, a group of Muslims accompanied the Mande invaders and have since occupied a special position as scribes and traders. The Gonja founded one of several northern kingdoms. In the eighteenth century, they, like their neighbors, were defeated by the expanding Asante Empire. Gonja became part of the British Northern Territories after the fall of Asante. Even though long-distance commerce led to the development of major markets, the Gonja continued to be subsistence farmers and migrant workers.