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About Twi Language

Twi (pronounced [tɕʷi]) is a dialect spoken in Ghana by the Akan people, which comprises the Asantes or Ashantis, the Fantes, the Akuapems, the Kwawus, the Akyems, the Bonos or Brongs and the Denkyiras. It is the most widely spoken language in Ghana, with about 8.3 million speakers. It consists of three mutually intelligible dialects of the Akan language: Asante Twi, Akuapem Twi and Fante, all of which belong to the Kwa language family. Twi is spoken in the Ashanti Region, parts of the Eastern, Western, Central, Volta and Brong Ahafo Regions of Ghana.

Phonology

Like all Akan dialects, Twi phonology involves extensive palatalisation, vowel harmony, and tone terracing.

Consonants

Before front vowels, all Twi consonants are palatalized, and the plosives are to some extent affricated. The allophones of /n/ are quite complex. In the table below, palatalized allophones which involve more than minor phonetic palatalization are specified, in the context of the vowel /i/.

In Asante, /ɡu/ followed by a vowel is pronounced /ɡʷ/, but in Akuapem it remains /ɡu/. The phones transcribed for convenience [tɕʷ], [dʑʷ], [çʷi], [ɲʷ] would be more narrowly transcribed as labio-palatalized [tɕᶣ], [dʑᶣ], [çᶣ], [ɲᶣ], for they are simultaneously labialized and palatalized. The sequence /nh/ is pronounced [ŋŋ̊].

The transcriptions in the table below are in the order /phonemic/, [phonetic], . Note that orthographic is ambiguous; in textbooks, = /ɡ/ may be distinguished from /dw/ with a diacritic: d̩w. Likewise, velar (ŋw) may be transcribed n̩w. Orthographic is palatalized [ɲʷĩ].

Vowels

The Akan languages have fifteen vowels: five "tense" vowels (Advanced tongue root, or +ATR), five "lax" vowels (Retracted tongue root, or −ATR), which are adequately but not completely represented by the seven-vowel orthography, and five nasal vowels. The tense/lax distinction in orthographic a is only found in Fante; in Twi they are both approximately [ɑ]. The two vowels written e (/e̘/ and /i/) and o (/o̘/ and /u/) are often not distinguished in pronunciation.

Tones

Twi has three phonemic tones, high (/H/), mid (/M/), and low (/L/). Initial syllable may only be high or low.

Tone terracing

The phonetic pitch of the three tones depends on their environment, often being lowered after other tones, producing a steady decline known as tone terracing.

/H/ tones have the same pitch as a preceding /H/ or /M/ tone within the same tonic phrase, whereas /M/ tones have a lower pitch. That is, the sequences /HH/ and /MH/ have a level pitch, whereas the sequences /HM/ and /MM/ have a falling pitch. /H/ is lowered (downstepped) after a /L/.

/L/ is the default tone, which emerges in situations such as reduplicated prefixes. It is always at bottom of the speaker's pitch range,, except in the sequence /HLH/, in which case it is raised in pitch but the final /H/ is still lowered. Thus /HMH/ and /HLH/ are pronounced with distinct but very similar pitches.

After the first "prominent" syllable of a clause, usually the first high tone, there is a downstep. This syllable is usually stressed.

 

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