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The Twi Language

Pronunciation: chwee

Twi is an Akan language which is widely spoken among the people of Ghana, including a large percentage of the Ghanaian population who are not Akans.

To understand the place which Twi holds in Ghanaian society today, you first need to understand that Ghana has many different tribes, each of which has its own native language. You also need to understand the geography of the country, which is divided into ten regions.

Figures from the Ghana Population Census of 2000 show that the total population of Ghana was 18,800,000 people of which 49.1% were Akans (approximately 9,231,000). The Akan people are found mainly in the southern half of Ghana, as well as in the neighbouring country of Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) on Ghana's western border. Population estimates available on March 2007 show that Cote d'Ivoire has a population of 17,654,843 people of which 42.1% are Akans (approximately 7,433,000).

Although the Akan people of West Africa share common customs, cultural practices and religious beliefs, they are divided into dozens of different tribes. Each tribe speaks its own dialect or version of Akan language, most of which are easily understood by other Akans

The Akan tribes of Ghana (with percentage of the total Ghanaian population in brackets) include the Agona (1.4%), Ahafo (1.1%), Ahanta (1.5%), Akuapem (2.9%), Akwamu (0.6%), Akyem (3.4%), Aowin (0.6%), Asante (14.8%), Assin (0.8%), Brong (4.6%), Chokosi (0.4%), Denkyira (0.5%), Evalue (0.1%), Fante (9.9%), Kwahu (1.9%), Nzema (1.2%), Sefwi (1.2%) and Wassa (1.4%).

The Akan tribes of Cote d'Ivoire are mainly the Baoule and Agni (same as Aowin in Ghana), along with much smaller numbers of Abbe, Abidji, Aboure, Abron (same as Brong in Ghana), Adjukru, Akye, Alladian, Attie, Avikam, Ebrie, Ehotile and Nzema.

Although Akans in Ghana are found mainly in the southern half of the country, there are Akans living in each of the country's ten regions. As of 2000, the Akan percentage of the regional populations were Central Region (82.0%), Western Region (78.3%), Ashanti Region (77.9%), Brong-Ahafo Region (62.7%), Eastern Region (52.1%), Greater Accra Region (39.8%), Northern Region (10%), Volta Region (8.5%), Upper West Region (3.2%), Upper East Region (2.3%).

In Ghana today, the most prominent Akan dialects are Asante Twi, Fante and Akuapem Twi, which are all closely related. For a number of different reasons, Asante Twi has become the leading Akan language (and leading native language) spoken in Ghana. Historically, the Asante kingdom played a powerful and dominant military role in this part of West Africa for a number of centuries until it was defeated by the British in 1901 and annexed as a crown colony. At the height of its power the Asante kingdom controlled an area roughly the size of modern day Ghana which would have included many traditional Akan and non-Akan territories. These were times when rival Akan kingdoms fought among each other primarily for control of the regional trade in gold and slaves, and the area was known as the Gold Coast. Although Ghana today is an independent country with a democratic system of government, most of the traditional tribal chiefs still possess a high degree of influence, power, authority and respect among their respective people. Among the traditional chiefs in Ghana, the king of the Asantes, who is called the Asantehene, is still a very powerful and highly respected royal figure. Due to the strong influence (past and present) of the Asante people, Asante Twi has long been a language of trade among Ghana's diverse tribal groups. Asante Twi has also gained prominence by becoming the main language of Ghana's musicians, with most of the country's (older) highlife and (newer) hiplife songs being performed and recorded in Twi. Some popular Ghanaian singers may sing in Twi, though they themselves are not Akan. Okomfoo Kwaadee is just one such example. Officially, Ghana's national language is English, but many radio stations broadcast news and programs in Twi as well as English. And despite the fact that only 49.1% of Ghana's population is Akan, a high but unknown percentage of the non-Akan population speaks Twi as a second language.

The successful spread of Twi in Ghana is no doubt also due to the fact that Twi is mainly a spoken language as opposed to a written one. The literacy rate in Ghana is 74.8%, defined as people aged 15 and over who can read and write. Regardless of the literacy rate, people still have to communicate with each other, and like everywhere else in the world, the spoken word is the most powerful and effective way of doing so.

What all this means is that if you can speak Twi, you should be able to communicate fairly easily with people in Ghana, regardless of where you are in the country. And if you have any interest in travelling to Ghana or doing business in Ghana, knowledge of Twi will certainly prove helpful.

To listen to Twi being spoken (and sung) please visit the links below and tune in to any of the Ghanaian radio stations broadcasting live on the internet.

MyGhanaRadio.com
GhanaBeats
Ghanaweb Live Radio

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