Jan 25, 2016
Dictionary of Mfantse Words and Idioms
DICTIONARY OF MFANTSE WORDS AND IDIOMS
This project aims to develop a comprehensive dictionary of Akan (Fantse) with English translation and an up-to-date bibliographic information on the language. Since J. G. Christaller published A Grammar of the Asante and Fante Language called Tshi (Twi) based on the Akuapem Dialect with Reference to Other Dialects in 1875 and A Dictionary of the Asante and Fante Language called Tshi (Twi) in 1881, and the Committee developed a unified orthography for Akan in 1975, there has not been any undertaking to provide a comprehensive and up-to-date dictionary of any of the dialects of the Akan (Fantse and Twi) language.
Publications (both print and electronic) resulting from this project will be an important boost to Akan linguistic studies, and will aid scholars and teachers in the study and teaching of the Akan language and the history and culture of the Akan people. Scholars engaged in Africa and diaspora studies, religion, sciences and multicultural education will benefit greatly from this project as the documents to be produced as a result of this project will be in Akan and English. There has been increased commercial, educational, and cultural interactions between the US and Ghana in recent years. Culturally, a lot of the tourism attractions in Ghana are in the Akan-speaking areas. Language proficiency will enhance these interactions and make the visits more memorable and beneficial to the US visitor to Ghana. Such a dictionary would lead to a knowledge and understanding of the African dimension of America’s multicultural past. Also, with the era of inevitable global connections, it will enhance American interaction abroad. Also, CD-ROM compilation of vocabulary and bibliographic entries will provide search facility under various subject headings (e.g., the arts, religion, and sciences) for easy use by scholars.
Akan is an official literary language used for education through the university. It is used as the medium of instruction for the first three grade levels of the primary school in areas where it is the mother tongue. Standardized orthographies exist for Asante Twi, Akuapem Twi and Fantse. Roman alphabet writing system for Akan has existed since the middle of the nineteenth century through the pioneering work of the Basel Mission and the Methodist Mission.
The Akan constitute about 44 percent of Ghana’s estimated population of 17.5 million people (UNESCO, 1995). As a language the Akan (Twi and Fantse) cluster belongs to the central subgroup of the Volta-Comoe group. The Akan language has five main dialects, generally considered mutually intelligible. They are Akyem, Akuapem, Asante, Brong and Fantse. Also, Akan is used as a lingua franca in the rest of the country. The total population within the reach of Akan in Ghana is estimated at well over 10 million. It is spoken primarily in southern Ghana but extends into northwestern Cote d’Ivoire.
RATIONALE AND GOALS OF THE PROJECT
There is a number of historical, socio-economic, educational, and cultural factors which favor the launching of this new Akan dictionary project at the present time.
In this project, we will bring together not only an extensive compilation of words in Akan with sample sentences and their English translations. Also, we will bring together figurative uses of some of these words and the etymological sources of some these words. Also, we will provide explanatory notes for the entries and the pronunciations of the words. There will be bibliographic entries of works in the Akan language or in other languages about the Akan. The bibliographic entries will improve and update the excellent works compiled by Arkaifie (1976), Warren (1976) and Arthur (2000).
THE AKAN DICTIONARY PROJECT - HISTORICAL BACKGROUND AND MAIN OBJECTIVE Akan is one of the major languages of Ghana, spoken as the mother tongue by 44% of the total population (Grimes, 1992:263) in vast areas of the south of the country, amounting to approximately 7 million people. Also, Akan is widely used as a lingua franca in the rest of the country. The total population within the reach of Akan is estimated at well over 10 million.
The primary lexicographic source on Akan is still J.G. Christaller’s dictionary, first published in 1881 (revised ed. 1933). This monumental work remains an invaluable source for the scholar familiar with the subtleties of Akan philology, but the obsolescence of part of the older vocabulary and the under-representation of current vocabulary and idioms as well as its user-unfriendly layout make it unsuitable for all practical purposes in the contemporary setting. The remarkable rise of Akan to a full-fledged literary language during the latter 19th and early 20th century, while enjoying the support of the Basel mission and in the 1920's of the colonial government, has its roots in Christaller’s and colleagues’ seminal work.
ALPHABETIC WRITING IN GHANA
The use of the Roman alphabet in Ghana dates back to the Portuguese who are believed to have introduced the phonographic writing system with the establishment of a trading post at the Elmina Castle, which was completed in 1482. In 1503 the Portuguese made their initial attempts to convert the indigenous people of Elmina to Christianity, and by 1529, a school had been set up to teach the children to ‘learn how to read and write’ in Portuguese ((McWilliam and Kwamena-Poh, 1975). When the Dutch routed the Portuguese out of Ghana, they did not only run schools in their castles in Ghana, the Dutch, (as well as the English, Danes and other Europeans who built castles in Ghana) sent some African children to continue their schooling in Europe. Some of these children educated in the castle schools and later in Europe helped to write the Akan language (Twi and Fantse) in the alphabetic form.
The development of the Roman alphabet for the Akan language dates to the seventeenth century according to European travelers’ accounts. For example, between 1600 and 1602, J. P. de Marees, a Dutch traveler on the Gold Coast, was able to compile a list of vocabulary of the Fantse and Ga-Adangme languages. The Danish chaplain in one of the first Danish settlements near Cape Coast, John Mueller listed 400 Akan (Fantse) words and their Danish translations as an appendix to his book Die Africanische Landschaft Fetu published at Hamburg in 1675. In 1743 Jacobus Capitein, an Elmina mullato who was sent to Leyden, Holland for schooling, translated into Fantse the Lord’s Prayer, the Twelve Articles of Belief, and the Ten Commandments. In 1764, Christian Protten, a mullato from Christiansborg, translated the Lord’s Prayer into Fantse. He published a Ga-Twi-Danish catechism and a grammar book, En nyttig Grammaticalsk Indledelse til Tvende hidinatil ubekiendte Sprog fanteisk ig Acraisk. In 1785, P. E. Isert, a Danish botanist and traveller, prepared a list of Ga, Asante, and Ewe (Krepi) words and their Danish translations. The two Asante princes Owusu Nkwantabisa son of Asanthene Osei Yaw (who ruled in 1824–34) and Owusu Ansah son of Asantehene Osei Bonsu (who ruled in 1800–24) were sent to England to go to school. They also published lists of Twi words (McWilliam and Kwamena-Poh, 1975; Graham, 1976).
The Basel Mission from about 1840 modified the existing Roman alphabet to write the Akwapim Twi. This was used to translate the Bible. Rev. H. N. Riis published two books on Twi grammar. One of the two books was entitled Elemente des Akwapim-Dialekts der Odschi-Sprache (Elements of the Akwapim Dialect of the Twi language). In 1854, Karl Richard Lepsius, a professor in Berlin and an Egyptologist, published Standard Alphabet for Reducing unwritten languages and Foreign Graphic Systems to a uniform Orthography in European letter. This rekindled interest in writing some of the Ghanaian languages using the newly standardized Roman alphabet. In 1860 Timothy Laing, a Methodist missionary published the Fantse primer, Fante Akenkan Ahyesie. Dan L. Carr and Joseph P. Brown published their book, The Mfantsi Grammar (in Fantse) in Cape Coast in 1868. In 1875, Rev. Johann Gottlieb Christaller wrote A Grammar of the Asante and Fante Language called Tshi (Twi) based on the Akwapim Dialect with Reference to other Dialects. In 1881 he published the Dictionary of the Asante and fante language called Tshi (Twi).
Despite the improvements, the Roman alphabet system still lacked sufficient letters to transcribe many languages. One solution has been to add new letters to existing ones. Another solution has been to create a new alphabet system, for example, the Cyrillic alphabet used in writing some of the Eastern European languages. In 1888, the International Phonetic Association (IPA) created in effect a new Roman alphabet, with lower case (small) letters only through the addition of a series of new letters (Dalby, 1986).
In 1930, the Government of Ghana (then called Gold Coast) adopted an offcial national alphabet for writing the languages in the country. This alphabet system has thirty-four (34) letters. Beginning from the end of the 19th century, the works of Rev. R. G. Acquaah (1884–1954), J. A. Annobil, C. A. Akrofi, J. J. Addaye, F. Safori, E. J. Osew, K. E. Owusu, S. K. Otoo, A. Crakye Denteh, A. A. Opoku, E. Effa, R. A. Tabi, Efua T. Sutherland, and J. H. Kwabena Nketia have contributed immensely in developing a corpus of literary classics in Akan (Asante Twi, Akuapem Twi and Fantse). The establishment of the Ghana Broadcasting Service in 1935 created a popular platform for young Ghanaian poets and writers. The establishment of the Bureau of Ghana Languages in 1951 served as an important center for the development of Akan literature using the alphabetic writing system. In the 1950’s and the 1960’s there were several newspapers and magazines that were published in Fantse and Twi. Popular among these were Amansuon, Nkwantabisa, and Dawuru. Since then, the erstwhile School of Ghana Languages at Ajumako, the Linguistics Department and the Language Center at the University of Ghana have contributed to the development of alphabetized writing in Akan. The work of the Methodist Book Depot, the Ghana Publishing Corporation, the Catholic Press, and the Presbyterian Book Depot in publishing a number of Akan books needs to be mentioned here.
According to a recent survey carried out by ODA (Overseas Development Agency), only 20% of the pupils handle English well enough after 6 years of primary school to be able to read a book or a newspaper. According to the same source, only 3% pass the English proficiency exams at grade 6. As far as Akan is concerned, inadequate teacher training (in spite of some efforts in the 1980's to incorporate the teaching of Ghanaian languages into the curriculum of teacher training colleges), lack of teaching materials, and above all, the scarcity of incentives in the form of suitable reading material capable of bridging the gap between classroom teaching and preoccupations of daily life and personal advancement mean that most students soon lapse back into functional illiteracy. The net result is that a majority of those having attended school must be counted as “nominal literates” or “functional illiterates” in both English and Akan.
This is all the more a matter of concern as enrolment in primary and secondary schools in Ghana is estimated at only 57 % of the population of school-going age, while adult literacy is estimated at 53 % (Ghana News and Views, Government Information Services, autumn 1995).
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PROJECT IN THE CONTEMPORARY EDUCATIONAL AND SOCIO-CULTURAL CONTEXT
At the heart of the planned new Akan dictionary lies the conviction of the project partners that it will constitute the centerpiece of a strategy aiming at strengthening the Akan language in its respective roles (a) as one of the two pillars of Ghana’s educational system and as the privileged means for conveying basic education in harmony with the natural and social milieu of the pupils, and (b) as a bridge—particularly in the rural areas—between traditional concepts of life and challenges and opportunities of modern life, (c) as an instrument of human and socio-economic advancement in both rural and urban settings; providing a new impetus not only to language professionals and students but to writers, journalists and above all to the vast potential readership of Akan for using Akan as an instrument of written communication in literature, newspapers, information outlets, etc, and (d) as a bridge—through the fast developing networks of information and communication technology—in enhancing US position in the global market competition. The decision to launch the Akan dictionary project at this time is motivated by a convergence of a number of factors favoring a revitalization of the written use of major African languages in general, and of Akan in particular.
There is simply no alternative to the mobilization of the neglected potential of African languages for purposes of education and publication, unless one is prepared to perpetuate the exclusion of the vast majority of citizens from active participation in the development discourse and in the process of democratization. This view, which has been pervasive among leading sociolinguists inside and outside of Africa for some time (see, among others, Bamgbose 1991, Boadi 1976, Fardon & Furniss 1994, Herbert 1992, Laitin 1992, Mansour 1993),—a view also consistently held by UNESCO (1953)—is now being vigorously endorsed not only by many Ghanaians, particularly of the younger generation, but also and above all by what may be called “trendsetters,” in particular leading development agencies such as the USAID, German Foundation for International Development, the Working Group on Higher Education of Donors to African Education (DEA) and others (Prah 1995).
The creation of a work comparable in scope to Christaller's original work, but reflecting current usage and responding to the various needs and expectations of a vast, educationally and socially fragmented contemporary audience, is key to the revitalization of Akan as a literary language and to its full efficacy as an instrument of mediation between traditional and modern values for a very large segment of the Ghanaian population, in accordance with its double role as a majority language of national importance and as a lingua franca.
It is hoped that this work will be found useful in the home, schools and colleges, and in the office—in short, wherever information about Akan language is likely to be sought. The front matter—those pages preceding the A–Z vocabulary—will contain two important sections. The first section will be the Explanatory Notes. The second section will be a short lucid essay on the Akan language.
The back matter—those pages following the A–Z vocabulary—will contain several sections that dictionary users have long found helpful. These will include more than figurative uses of some words and several Foreign Words and Phrases that occur in Fantse texts but that have not become part of the Akan vocabulary and Geographical Names of Akan states and towns.