Lesser-known language in the spotlight: Twi

21 March 2023

On 26 February, Foyer and Bib Sophia in Schaerbeek organised a successful record attempt at reading aloud in multiple languages. One of the 65 languages represented there was Twi. This language is a dialect of the Akan language, spoken in central and southern Ghana. The Akan are the most numerous ethnic group in Ghana and it is estimated that about 80 per cent of the Ghanaian population has Twi as their first or second language.

Foyer staff member Whitney, who read aloud during the record attempt, was born in Brussels, but her Ghanaian-born parents always spoke Twi to her at home. She later learnt French at school and then Dutch as well. Twi was a real home language for her, “a bubble,” as she puts it herself. Indeed, there are relatively few Ghanaians in Brussels. This has to do with the fact that not French but English was Ghana’s colonial language, which is why Ghanaians in Belgium prefer to settle in Flanders. Incidentally, that English has left a strong mark on contemporary Twi: people tend to mix Twi and English strongly. Among young people, moreover, it is trendy to speak English among themselves.

“When we are in Ghana, people there also often speak English to people born outside of the country, because they assume we no longer know Twi,” Whitney says.

At the same time, there is a movement both inside and outside Ghana working to preserve and promote Twi. The government also has plans to make Twi a compulsory language of instruction.

Twi is also used in popular culture, including for music and films. Below is a piece of lyrics from the song “Akonoba (Sweet Lady)”, a love song by Kojo Antwi. Here, the singer lists what he would like to do with his beloved: have a child together, have fun, chat, and experience great love together.

Na mese me ne wo bɛwo akɔnɔba
Ahh, me ne wo bɛwo akɔnɔba
Ohh, me ne wo bɛwu o
Ohh, me ne wo bɛwo akɔnɔba
Ahh, yɛbɛgoro ama adeɛ akye o
Ɔdɔ, woba a, mɛka wo aseresɛm bi
Mɛto nnwom dɛɛdɛ de adeda wo o, wo dabrɛ ɛne m’akoma mu o