Akan Teleteaching Course

Unit 2.5: Notes on pronunciation 1: Consonant chat

Student 1 to Ghanaian friend Can you help me with these two words? They are different in writing, you see, one is hw, the other hy - but I can't hear the difference.
Ghanaian friend This one (points to hw)means 'to look at', and this one (points to hy)means 'to fix' or 'to wear'. For instance, you would say hw ataade ff y "Look at this nice dress!" But if you say hy ataade ff y it means "Put on this nice dress!"
Student 1 To me both sound the same. The beginning sound is like shin share, isn't it?
Student 2 The word which means 'to look at' is pronounced with lip rounding, the one which means 'to put on' without lip rounding. Look and listen! (Produces hw then hy, then repeats it twice.)
Student 1 Well yes, I tried this, too, but I always seem to get it wrong.
Ghanaian friend Try again!
Student 1 pronounces hwas ƒw (w follows the ƒ).
Ghanaian friend pronounces ƒ and repeats it twice.
Student 1 You see, this is what I thought I said - I simply don't get it.
Student 2 You know what? Try to pronounce the two letters ƒand w together - at the same time rather than one after the other.
Student 1 pronounces ƒw, then pronounces ƒ correctly.
Ghanaian friend Excellent! That sounds like real Akan!
Student 2 Oh, I simply pronounced it the same way as I pronounced hy,but I rounded the lips while pronouncing ƒinstead of pronouncing w after ƒ. That's really simple but newcomers need to be told.
Teacher You see, there are a number of sounds in Akan which are just like that. If you look at the way they are written you tend to get it somehow wrong.
twa dwa

You hear? 

Student 2 Yes, I hear.
Student 1 What?
Student 2 Well, it's a bit like whistling. Imitates tw, dw with a whistling sound.
Teacher Now take a word like Twias in Twi kasa "Twi language" or Twifo"Twi people".
Student 1 This is another one I never seem to get right!
Teacher Do you have a problem pronouncing taa, tie, t?
Student 1 Pronounces taa, tie, t. This is okay. I don't seem to have a problem here but…
Teacher Hm. You see. Now what's the difference between twa and twi if you look at the writing?
Student 2 Well, it's that whistled w which comes between the t and the vowel.
Teacher Right. Pronounce the t as if you were going to whistle, then move the tongue slowly from the palate towards the front!
Student 1 (pronounces something like tƒi.)
Ghanaian friend tƒi, tƒi, tƒi
Student 2 Oh, I see it's the same thing as we had before with hw- while you move the tongue forward you also round the lips, all at the same time. (Pronounces tƒi, tƒi, tƒi!)
Ghanaian friend y papaapa!I think I never heard a European pronounce this word so correctly!
Teacher Ampa!But now, there are many words like this. For instance:
tw pull, drag
twene lean against
twim wring, twist
dwene think

It is always the same routine: While you pronounce the consonant at the beginning of the word, the front part of the tongue moves forward towards the teeth, at the same time your lips are being rounded. The linguists call the special effect which comes through the combination of these two moves labio-palatalisation. Labio-palatalisation is something very special and very characteristic of the Akan language.

Student 1 If you had tried to teach me labio-palatalisation I would have thought, what's that, I'll never understand it. But this way, it seems quite natural. I can even hear it when they talk to each other!
Teacher Now can you read these two words:
nwene "(S)he weaves."
akonnwa 'stool'
Student 1 (tries.)
Student 2 (reads them correctly.)
Teacher Exactly. nw is like tw and dw, only it starts with n. Now there are also words which have only palatalisation. They are easy to recognise by their written form because they have y following the consonant, for instance ky/gy/hy/ny. In pronunciation, too, they don't have any lip rounding.

Compare palatalisation and labio-palatalisation.
1. Look and listen.
kyiri avoid
kyer teach
kyre last, delay
kyn surpass
twi Twi
twenee drum (n.)
twer write
twre gnash
twn wait

Student 2 One thing I still don't understand. Take kyi and twi. The first has k at the beginning, the second t. But I don't hear a real difference.
Teacher You are right. Take kaa and taa. kaa is pronounced in the back of the mouth, taa in the front, towards the teeth. But ky is pronounced in the front, just like tw. The position in the mouth where ky, gy, tw and dw are articulated is exactly the same, namely in the front of the palatal. They are therefore called "pre-palatal consonants" (Dolphyne, 1988: 26 f.). What makes ky and tw different is the way in which these two consonants are released.
Listen again to some examples:
kyiri avoid
twitwa cut into pieces
kyekyere be arresting
tw pull
ky(re) last
tw vulgar word for: "the private parts of a woman"

The voiced counterparts gy and dw differ in exactly the same way between themselves:
gyina stand (palatalisation)
gyae go along (palatalisation)
gye di believe (palatalisation)
dwa carve (labio-palatalisation)
hye burn (palatalisation)
hwe beat (labio-palatalisation)

Student 2 Are there also consonants which are just labialised, without being palatalised?
Teacher Yes, of course. Take for instance a word which you know very well - kwadu.
Student 1 Banana.
Ghanaian friend Kwabena,wop kwadu?
Teacher Correct, there are some names, too: Kwabena,Kwadwo,Kwas.
Student 2 Now this Kwasounds not as unfamiliar too me as the other two kinds of - how did you call it again -
Teacher … the various types of release.
Student 1 Sounds less threatening to me now that I know what it is.
Student 2 Okay, what I was going to say, this kwa sounds just like the first part of English words like qualm, quandary, quasi. How does it sound before i, e, - something like kwior kweor kwor perhaps kw?
Ghanaian friend I can't think of any words like that.
Student 2 May be there are words like kw, kwo, kwu.
Ghanaian friend No.
Teacher If you look again at the examples, you see that ky only occurs before front vowels, kw only occurs before a. But gy occurs before both. There is no gw in Asante. (cf. Dolphyne1988). (-> Distribution of consonants)
Student 2 And the - what are they called again - tw and dw?
Student 1 The labio-palatalised consonants?
Teacher They combine with all vowels. We have already seen them with front vowels and with a. Now they also may be followed by back vowels, for instance 
Kwadwo personal name
adwuma 'work'
to dwom 'to sing'
ntwoma 'red soil'

Let's leave this for today. For those who are interested we will have another session tomorrow where we will talk about the finer point of the analysis.

As for today, let's keep in mind that there are three kinds of modified consonants:
Type of release Orthographic representation Distribution before vowels
Palatalised ky, hy

gy, ny

front vowels only

front vowels and a

Labialised kw before a only
Labio-palatalised tw, dw, hw, nw front vowels, a, back vowels

-> Note on pronunciation 2

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