Monday, April 13, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Ghana

After several weeks looking at the languages of countries in South America and Asia, we're back in Africa with a new look at the rich linguistic diversity of Ghana.

The Official Language

The official language of Ghana is English. As with other African countries such as Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya, the use of English dates back to Ghana's colonial past under British rule.

While English is its sole official language, Ghana's government does still recognize several other indigenous languages, and dozens of other languages are spoken throughout the country by small populations.

Government-Sponsored Languages

There are eleven languages that have been recognized as "government-sponsored languages" in Ghana. All of these languages belong to the Niger-Congo language family.

Kintampo waterfalls, Ghana
One of the most important languages in Ghana is Akan, which is spoken by over 8 million people. Three of Ghana's eleven government-sponsored languages are dialects of Asan which all have distinct orthographies. Asante Twi is spoken by approximately 2.8 million people, Fante is spoken by about 1.9 million, and Akuapem Twi is used by over 500,000 people. There is also a common orthography of the Akan language which is used in primary schools in Ghana.

Two other closely related languages that are recognized by Ghana's government are Dagaare and Dagbani, which both have around 700,000 speakers. Also on the list is Nzema, which is closely related to Akan and is spoken by over 200,000 Ghanaians.

The five remaining recognized languages are Ewe, Dangme, Ga, Gonja, and Kasem. Ewe is a tonal language spoken by over 2 million Ghanaians that is also used in Togo. The other four languages have smaller populations, with around 800,000 Dangme speakers, 600,000 Ga speakers, 230,000 Gonja speakers, and 130,000 Kasem speakers within the country.

Other Languages

Ghana is home to over 80 languages, so we thought we should look at a few more notable examples. There are over 800,000 speakers of the Farefare language, also known as Frafra, which is spoken in northern Ghana. The Mampruli language, also known as Mamprusi, is also widely spoken in northern Ghana by approximately 200,000 people.

Finally, we'd like to mention Ghanaian Pidgin English, which is also known as Kru English. This creole is used as a lingua franca in various cities of Ghana, but is primarily used by two distinct groups: multilingual immigrants and male students. Members of this second group use the language as a form of rebellion, since the use of Ghanaian Pidgin English is discouraged in schools, but it is also seen as a mark of solidarity and camaraderie by those who use it. It is spoken by approximately 5 million Ghanaians.