Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

English in West Africa - Ghana

A Research Project at the Department of Linguistics
Institute of English and American Studies
Humboldt University, Berlin


Ghana: Brief Introduction


Extract from: Wolf, Hans-Georg (2001). English in Cameroon. Contributions to the Sociology of Language 85. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
[see this volume for the references given]


Ghana, a country with about 18,490,000 inhabitants (July 1998 est., see US.G.CIA 1999c, online), had been a trading ground for several European powers since 1470, when the Portuguese reached the coast of this area. At first, gold was the desired commodity, as is reflected in the “original” name for that part of West Africa, Gold Coast. Later, the Gold Coast became one of the centers of the slave trade, until the British prohibited slave trade in 1807 and subsequently campaigned against the Atlantic slave trade on an international basis (which stopped in 1850; Der Grosse Brockhaus vol. 10 1980: 485). According to Fage (1991: 822), “the first serious advance of British power in western Africa occurred on the Gold Coast.” Having seized power from the Danish and Dutch and the local Ashantis, the British established the colony of Gold Coast in 1874 (Fage 1991: 882; for details, see Boahen 1974). In 1895 the British government incorporated the northern territories, in 1902 the land of the Ashanti (also Asanti, Asante), and in 1922 West Togo into the colony. T. Jones (n.d. [1921?]) claimed that “it is generally agreed that European colonization has had a more beneficent influence and a greater degree of success in the Gold Coast than in any other African colony.” In 1957 the colony became the independent state of Ghana (Der Grosse Brockhaus vol. 4 1978: 521).

As in the other anglophone West African countries, English is the official language and is used for official purposes (cf. Criper 1971). From statements in Sey (1973: 10), Gyasi (1990), and a debate on the detrimental influence of Pidgin on literacy referred to in Huber (2000: 3), one can get the impression that Ghanaians seem to be very conscious about the “correctness” of their English, that is, they aspire to live up to the English English norm, perhaps more so than speakers of English in other anglophone West African countries. This attitude may be seen in the light of Jones’ claim, quoted above.

Despite the importance of a standard form of English, PE is widely used as a lingua franca in the urban centers and is gaining considerable prestige among male secondary and university students, as Dolphyne (1995: 32) has observed (see Dolphyne 1995, and Huber 2000: ch. 5 for more information on the linguistic situation in Ghana). SIL (1996-99c, online) mentions English to be the L2 of about 1,000,000 Ghanaians, but this figure is from 1977 and may have increased since then. According to SIL, 33 languages besides English are spoken in Ghana. Hausa is the trade language of the northern part, where it is spoken as an L2 (no numbers given for Ghana). In terms of the number of speakers, Akan, a Kwa language comprising several “inherently intelligible” dialects, is the dominant language in the country, especially in the south. It is the L1 of about 7,000,000 speakers, of whom 4,300,000 speak the dialect Fante, and 1,170,000 the dialect Asante Twi (1996-99c, online). The government seems to be supportive of the major languages by sponsoring the publishing of written material in these languages (see Dolphyne 1995: 27).


Speech sample Ghanaian English