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The phenomenon of language endangerment and, ultimately, language loss is considered in regard to indigenous Ghanaian languages. It is established that two languages, namely, Ghanaian English (GhE) and Akan, especially the Twi dialect, and to a small degree, Ewe, are slowly killing off the smaller Ghanaian languages. For instance, in 1970 almost all Winneba natives spoke Efutu (Ewutu) as their first language. By 2010, 40 years later, only approximately 50% of children born to the Winneba natives speak Efutu as a first language. About 30% of these children speak no Efutu at all. Interestingly, medium-sized languages such as Ga and Dangme are also slowly losing grounds to the three languages cited. Meanwhile there are some dozen Ghanaian languages that have less than 1000 estimated speakers each. It is concluded that the closer a language community is to the major urban centers, the more likely it is to be endangered.


This paper takes a look at language loss in Ghana, noting the following:

  • What are the causes of language loss in Ghana?
  • Which languages are susceptible?
  • What is the extent of damage done?
  • What, if anything, can be done to curb this phenomenon?

Research reveals that the phenomenon of language loss follows a fixed pattern. First there is language shift (either forced or voluntary), and then there is language loss. There are two suggested models. One model posits five phases which may be summarized as follows:

  1. Relative Monolingualism in the indigenous language (L1). This is where all communities start, on account that no community can stay without a language.
  2. Bilingualism with the indigenous language as the dominant one.
  3. Bilingualism with the new/second (L2) language dominating.
  4. Restricted use of indigenous language.
  5. Monolingualism in the new language.

The rate at which a language shifts and, ultimately, becomes endangered depends on the amount of pressure or attraction from the second language. The more pressure exerted on the L1 the faster the rate of shift. Similarly, the more attractive the L2 is to the L1 community, the faster the shift.

The usual scenario, in terms of generations may be simplified as follows:

  • Grandparents speak only the traditional language;
  • Parents speak both the native language and the language of assimilation, and
  • Their Children become monolingual in the assimilated language.

It has been proven that the first step on the way to language endangerment and, subsequently, language loss, is cultural and linguistic assimilation. (Assimilation may be voluntary or forced.) In step two the next generation simply does not bother to learn the indigenous (first) language, mostly because it would have lost its communication value. When inter-generational transmission stops, that is the end of language.



As a result of the checkered history of Africa, from colonialism through neo-colonialism via coup d’etats, etc., the majority of African countries are multilingual. (This phenomenon in itself is a problem for the language teacher, especially in the urban schools who must find ingenious ways of catering for the needs of children from the various language backgrounds.) But very few of these countries have what can be remotely described as a definite (and/or sensible) language policy. This situation is not the best because a good language policy will shape the direction of language education.


2.1       Causes of Language Endangerment in Ghana

Batibo (2005) lists demographic superiority, socio-economic attraction, political dominance and cultural forces among the causes of language shift in Africa. All of these phenomena apply to the Ghanaian scene where English, the language of the colonial masters, has exerted a lot of pressure on all the local languages to the extent that a lot of children born to Ghanaians at the top of the socio-economic ladder speak only English at home. For these people, at least, English is a more prestigious and, possibly, superior language to the Ghanaian ones.

In the post colonial era, the Government sought to lessen the pressure English put on the indigenous languages by selecting six regional languages to be used on radio and television. These languages of the media are Akan, Ewe, Ga, Dagbani, Nzema, and Hausa. The six languages promoted in the news media included the three geographically dominant Akan, Ewe and Hausa. (Incidentally, Hausa is not indigenous to Ghana.) This aside, nobody can be certain what criteria were used for the selection of these languages. Regardless of the circumstances, these media languages became quite prestigious, after English. Currently, Akan seems to be doing more damage to the maintenance of the other indigenous languages than English.

2.2 The Language Policy of Ghana

Up until the last decade or so, each child who entered school was for the first three years taught in his “native” language, with English, the lingua franca, as a subject on the school time-table. From the fourth year of school, the medium of instruction gradually changed to English such that by the seventh year of school (i.e. first year of Junior High School) all subjects were taught in English. At this point the Ghanaian language became a subject in the curriculum. This gave primary school children sufficient time to grasp the new language before being taught in it.

In the past few years, however, this situation has changed. The Government of Ghana has decided to use English as the medium of instruction right from Primary One, when the majority of children know hardly a word of English. Almost all language experts consider this decision as uninformed, at best. It would seem that this new language policy of Ghana aims to alienate the Ghanaian child from its cultural heritage. And that is dangerous. Yet the Government has been unwilling to bulge on this issue. Meanwhile, there is evidence that the majority of schools, especially in the rural areas, do not even have competent teachers to implement this policy. The end result is that even the English language being taught is anything but standard.

The current situation in Ghana may be likened to what linguists refer to as forced assimilation. (Depending on who is counting, Ghana may be said to have approximately 50 indigenous languages.) The situation can best be summarized as follows: To start with, English is the Second Language (L2) of all educated citizens. Where the influence of English wears off a bit the languages of the media take over. For now it seems there is a conscious effort to promote Akan over the other languages. For instance, 90% of all non-English medium programs on TV are in Akan, especially Twi. These include game shows that have people glued to the sets. The languages that are most affected are those with less than 20,000 speakers (which is almost one third of the indigenous languages). These include Ewutu-Effutu in the Central Region; Larteh-Kyerepong in the Eastern Region; Ahanta and Sewhi in the Western Region; Bimoba, Buli, Kantosi, Kusaal, Sisali, Tampulma, Chakali, Anufo and Hanga all in the Northern part of the country; and the entire cluster languages in the Volta Region labeled the Ghana-Togo Mountain Languages (namely, Avatime, Sele, Logba, Lelemi, Nkonya, Akposo, Animere, Ligbi, Krache and sekpele).

Interestingly, a number of the smaller languages have resisted extinction while some of the medium-sized languages seem to be losing speakers at alarming rate. For instance, while Ga (the language of Accra and its environs) is losing grounds to Akan (see Section 1.0), the number of speakers of much smaller languages such as Siwu and Logba have changed little since 1932 when Westerman first lamented their endangerment. On the other hand, Ga and Nzema are both medium-sized languages that are used in the news media but there is evidence that they are both losing grounds to Akan. The present study is an attempt to find out the extent to which some Ghanaian languages are shifting. The study focuses on a few of the smaller languages from the Central, Eastern and the Volta Regions of Ghana. Even though Ga is a medium-sized language, it is included in this study because there is evidence that it is losing out to the Twi dialect of Akan. Similarly, Nzema is included because it seems to be losing out to the Fante dialect of Akan.


A set of questionnaire was used to collect data in six language communities (from three language areas) suspected to be shifting from one language to another, possibly endangering the language’s survival. The languages and communities include the Ewutu-Effutu language (Winneba), the Ga language (Teshie – Accra), the Dangme language (Dawhenya – Prampram, Ningo, Sege – Ada, and Kasseh – Ada). The four Dangme-speaking communities (i.e. Dawhenya, Ningo, Sege and Kasseh) were included based on their distances from cosmopolitan Accra.

3.1 Selection of Language Communities

Selection of the language communities was based on two assumptions. First it was assumed that the language of a community that has a large proportion of immigrants that come from a different language background is likely to be endangered. Similarly, it was assumed that the closer to Accra (Ghana’s capital and major cosmopolitan city) a language community is, the more endangered that community is likely to be. This is due to the fact that currently, Ghana is faced with a major rural migration problem where all the migrants are heading for Accra or Kumasi, the second most important business center. Based on these assumptions, the following communities were selected.


Awutu-Effutu is the language spoken by the indigenous people of Awutu, Senya, and Winneba, all in the Central Region of Ghana. Winneba, a mostly fishing community on the coast some 50 kilometers due west of Accra, is the home of the Effutu dialect of this language. The community is surrounded by Akan (especially, Fante) settlements. Approximately 50 years ago, the township embarked on a steady growth when Ghana’s first President, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah established the Ideological Institute used in training ‘freedom fighters’. In the past 20 years or so there has been major incursion of immigrants from other parts of the country as a result of the establishment of the country’s only purely teacher training university. The official languages studied in the local basic schools are English and Fante, the main language of the Central Region. The local radio station does almost all its programming in Fante, allowing only one slot of Effutu on Tuesday afternoons. The 1990 Ghana Census figures estimate that there are approximately 100,000 speakers of the combined dialects of Awutu-Effutu. This is not a literary language.

Winneba is a small fishing town of Effutu-Awutu speakers in the Central Region of Ghana. The town, which is almost surrounded by Fante speaking towns, is currently the home of a major national university. During each school semester, the number of non-natives outnumbers the indigenes.

Ga-Adangme-Krobo is the indigenous language of the people of the Greater Accra Region as well as some of the eastern parts of the Eastern Region of Ghana. The 1990 population census estimates that there are approximately 1,250,000 speakers of this language, making it the third largest indigenous language (after Akan and Ewe). Dangme speakers (i.e. Adangme and Krobo) clearly outnumber Ga speakers, who are estimated to be a little over 300,000. While Ga and Dangme are mostly mutually intelligible, they are separate official literary languages.

Teshie is a popular suburb of Accra, the capital of Ghana. Initially, this was a community of Ga speakers only. Like Winneba, the area is now home to a lot of Akan and Ewe speakers. Additionally, speakers of almost all the Ghanaian languages can be found in this part of Accra as they find housing not too far from their jobs in the city center. Teshie is approximately 20 kilometers from downtown Accra.

Dawhenya, which until about twenty years ago is a small settlement on the Accra-Ada-Togo highway, is one of the fastest growing townships in Ghana. All its inhabitants used to be Dangme speakers from Prampram and Ada. As housing shortages hit the harbor city of Tema, some 20 kilometers to the west, more and more workers began to build houses there. The establishment of the church-owned Central University College three kilometers to the east of this settlement has caused the population to double in less than six years. The majority of new settlers are Akan speakers. Dawhenya is approximately 55 kilometers from downtown Accra.

Ningo is an old settlement of Dangme speakers. It is almost six hundred years old. In the past thirty to fifty years Ningo has been an important fishing town where fishmongers from the Accra-Tema megapolis go to buy fish. While the majority of fishmongers are Ga- or Dangme-speaking, a number of them are speakers of the Akan language. The majority of these people commute to the township on a daily basis. The settlement is approximately 70 kilometers from Accra.

Kasseh-Ada began as a small market town on the Accra-Togo highway. It also happens to be the main turnoff to Big Ada and Ada-Foah, the two principal towns of the Ada State. On market days (i.e. Tuesdays and Fridays), the town is flooded with traders from many southern Ghana towns. The majority of commuters on these two days are from Accra and Aflao, a major Ewe speaking town on the Ghana-Togo boarder. Kasseh is approximately 110 kilometers from Accra.

To Be Continued



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