[chwee, chee, twee]

Twi (in Twi, , /ˈtʃiː/, or /ˈtʃwiː/ in English), specifically Ashanti Twi, is a language spoken in Ghana by about 15 million people. It is one of the three mutually intelligible dialects of the Akan language, the others being Akuapem Twi and Fante, which belong to the Kwa language family. Twi is spoken in the Ashanti Region and in parts of the Eastern, Western, Central, Volta and Brong Ahafo Regions of Ghana.


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


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 Ashanti, /ɡu/ followed by a vowel is pronounced /ɡʷ/, but in Akuapem it remains /ɡu/. The phones transcribed for convenience would be more narrowly transcribed , 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], <orthographic>. 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].

labial alveolar dorsal labialized
voiceless plosive /p/ [pʰ]

/t/ /k/ /kʷ/
voiced plosive /b/ [b] ''' /d/ [d] /g/ /ɡʷ/
fricative /f/ [f] /s/ [s] /h/ [h, çi] /hʷ/
nasal stop /m/ [m] /n/ /nʷ/
geminate nasal /nn/ /nnʷ/ [ɲɲʷĩ]
other /r/ /w/


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.

Orthog. +ATR −ATR
i /i̘/ [i]
e /e̘/ [e] /i/ [ɪ~e]
ɛ /e/ [ɛ]
a /a̘/ [æ] /a/ [ɑ]
ɔ /o/ [ɔ]
o /o̘/ [o] /u/ [ʊ~o]
u /u̘/ [u]

ATR harmony

Twi vowels engage in a form of vowel harmony with the root of the tongue.

  1. −ATR vowels followed by the +ATR non-mid vowels /i̘ a̘ u̘/ become +ATR. This is generally reflected in the orthography: That is, orthographic become i e a o u. However, it is no longer reflected in the case of subject and possessive pronouns, giving them a consistent spelling. This rule takes precedence over the next one.
  2. After the −ATR non-high vowels /e a o/, +ATR mid vowels /e̘ o̘/ become −ATR high vowels /i u/. This is not reflected in the orthography, for both sets of vowels are spelled , and in many dialects this rule does not apply, for these vowels have merged.


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.


  • J.E. Redden and N. Owusu (1963, 1995). Twi Basic Course. Foreign Service Institute (Hippocrene reprint). ISBN 0-7818-0394-2
  • Obeng, Samuel Gyasi. (2001). African anthroponymy: An ethnopragmatic and norphophonological study of personal names in Akan and some African societies. LINCOM studies in anthropology 08. Muenchen: LINCOM Europa. ISBN 3-89586-431-5.
  • F.A. Dolphyne (1996) A Comprehensive Course in Twi (Asante) for the Non-Twi Learner. Ghana University Press, Accra. ISBN 9964-3-0245-2.
  • William Nketia (2004) Twi für Ghana: Wort für Wort. Reise Know-How Verlag, Bielefeld. ISBN 3-89416-346-1. (In German)

External links

See also

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