Twi Alphabet vowels and consonants + examples - PDF document
Of The Twi Alphabet and the letter C: A Rejoinder
That we have failed to develop a national language, or given sufficient indication that we need one, gives most Ghanaians only a good reason to make some conjectures. The language of the Akan people, Twi, has become the ‘national lingua franca’ perhaps, because of the concentration of commercial activity and white collar employment in the south. Except in cases where interlocutors want to express their identity through another ethnic tongue, Twi appears to be the usual mode of communication for most Ghanaians.
The absence of a national language has catapulted the English language unto heights of importance necessary for an official language. This trend has consequently diminished the premium we put on our supposed national language-Twi. It is therefore not unexpected that we have had to borrow from foreign languages to express our thoughts.
I had never noticed the intrusion of the ‘foreign letter’ C in some of our Ghanaian names, until Seth Nketiah recently raised the issue and questioned Ghanaweb readers whether our Twi alphabet is up to standard. So Acheampong, instead of Akyeampong and Quesi instead of Kwesi, have become fashionable. The people of Techiman have probably never realised that the letter C in the noun is an importation. Kwadwo has also found an anglicised manifestation in Kojo. Do we have letters Q and J in the Twi alphabet? By the way, what is the Twi word for letter? Remember that the word alphabet is not Twi either.
The Twi alphabet has 21 letters and English has 26. I feel ashamed that I struggled to remember all the 21 letters of the alphabet of my mother tongue, but had no problems with the English’s. It is even more shameful that I would not be able to write this article in Twi with the same proficiency level, as I would English. The irony however, is that, the native English would never expect a non-English, and indeed the black man, to speak the English language better than him, or just as well as he would. Language is part of our cultural expression; every culture is adequate for the language it expresses. Twi expresses the Ghanaian culture better than any friendly foreign tongue.
However, we have succeeded in superimposing a foreign mode on our Ghanaian tongue, and ended up becoming less proficient in our own language. For instance, when it is raining, we are all used to saying: ‘nsuo reto’. Judging from the semantics and the pragmatics of the language, this is not quite right. Nsuo denotes water, Asuo is river and Osuo is rain. From the perspective of register, when we say Nsuo reto, we mean to say something like: ‘the water is raining’, or ‘it is watering’. What we mean to say in fact is: ‘Osuo reto’, and the rain will fall. We are not talking water ‘nsuo’, not yet.
But when osuo falls into big drums ‘ankore’, as we do in our villages, we are interested in collecting nsuo for bathing and cooking. Interestingly, nsuo can be collected and concentrated at a waterlogged location, or a natural water source could be identified and preserved. In this case, we are talking about Asuo, as in Asuo Firaw and Asuo Tano.
The 60 year old who taught me this had learnt it from a white man-Kwasi Broni- couple of decades ago at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana. It is an insult to our very identity as Ghanaians, and to the spirit of our local languages that the first group of people who taught Twi at the Institute of African studies (I stand for correction), were whites. Of course, this development may have its antecedents in our colonial hegemony, but it should communicate to us why some sacred aspects of our traditions have been eloquently expressed and popularised by westerners, perhaps better than by ourselves.
Confront a full-blooded Akan-born and compound-house-bred man in the only street in Tweapease, near Asuom in the eastern region, and ask him to explain ‘Kame to mpa so’ in Twi. Chances are that, he would fill the air with pornographic images, or push you onto a bed, if there is one nearby, and lie on top of you, for demonstration. But ‘Kame to mpa so’ is a light food you would normally take before going to bed. It puts you to sleep.
British newspapers and the BBC know the causes of the Rwandan genocide or the Dafur clashes better than Ghanaians. Africa is too far from the Middle East, so we can understand why we would not be able to tell the Iraq story better than the BBC. But we are closer to Sudan more than the BBC or the Times (UK). See what I mean?
In his article, Nketiah wondered why the Ghana Institute of Languages has not done well to endorse or kick against certain linguistic behaviours. The French has an academy that every year assesses new words and expressions that have ‘smuggled’ their way into their lexicon of public discourse. It issues statements about such developments.
Following the recent demotion of Pluto, one of the nine planets, some English speakers in America and Britain have started using the word ‘Pluto’ in conversations, to mean debased, thought less of or demoted. So that, you are ‘plutoed’ these days means: You are demoted. Similarly, why have you ‘plutoed’ me, will mean to ask: Why do you think less of me? It is heart-warming that many British newspapers devoted a space for this new word. It was also on the internet. When was the last time the GIL did a thing like this?
When Dr Spooner, a British, mistakenly jumbled words together and ended up mispronouncing for example, ‘bikisle’ for bicycle, lexicographers quickly took notice and coined the word ‘spoonerism’, which has remained in all English dictionaries to date. If we had had this development in Ghana, it would have gone unnoticed, whereupon a fine word like spoonerism would have found its way into the jungle for good.
The trouble is, even if the GIL was proactive enough, they would only publish their findings in academic journals, and they will go to the jungle all the same. How many of us have seen a Twi dictionary before? We are happy to keep updated versions of the Oxford and the Penguin dictionaries. Some of us carry the electronic versions around.
But who wants to expend energy studying a language whose alphabet appears inadequate? Whenever a white person mispronounces ‘Tawi’ or ‘Tawa’ for my very Ghanaian name Tawiah, I look at him ‘from the corner of my eye’-(anikankye), to express my disapproval. But I would often reply a sarcastic yes, because I assume he shouldn’t bother to know. So I also pardon my supervisor at work, a Scottish, who asked me whether my mother, Yaa Yeboah is a sister to Tony Yeboah, the Ghanaian international footballer who played for Leeds United. Is every Blair in Britain a relation of the British PM, Tony Blair? Why do some people think like pregnant cockroaches?
These things happen because we have done very well to wipe our Ghanaian tongues clean of our local languages, in our quest for proficiency in the English language. Sadly, we have succeeded in losing both in the process. A Financial Times columnist-David Pilling, noted in the paper’s issue of August 26, 2006: “It is also legitimate to ask why anyone should feel obliged to speak English at all. Why should the people of a nation steeped in a rich culture and speaking the most subtle of languages be judged by their ability to converse in guttural tones that took root in a cold, dank island half way around the globe? Yet judged, of course, they are.”
All the same, I am happy that the name ‘Nketiah’ is not spelt ‘Ncetiah’. I hope Seth should be pleased that his father resisted the letter C and maintained his original K.