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A DICTIONARY OF GHANAIAN ENGLISH

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These notes are intended to raise some issues on sources, interpretation and the definition of Ghanaian English.
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‘Observers are worried’



A DICTIONARY OF GHANAIAN
ENGLISH





[DRAFT CIRCULATED FOR COMMENT]



Roger Blench
Mallam Dendo
8, Guest Road
Cambridge CB1 2AL
United Kingdom
Voice/ Fax. 0044-(0)1223-560687
Mobile worldwide (00-44)-(0)7967-696804
E-mail R.Blench@odi.org.uk
http://www.rogerblench.info/RBOP.htm


Wa, Thursday, 12 January 2006




TABLE OF CONTENTS

Preface ...............................................................................................................................................................i
Introduction .....................................................................................................................................................2
Sources..............................................................................................................................................................2
Spelling .............................................................................................................................................................2
Ghanaian /Ghanaian/ West African English.................................................................................................2
West Coast Pidgin (WCP)...............................................................................................................................2
Student slang ....................................................................................................................................................2
Missionary English ..........................................................................................................................................3
Borrowings from indigenous Ghanaian languages.......................................................................................3
Scientific names, and trade names .................................................................................................................3
Regional variation ...........................................................................................................................................3
Parts of Speech.................................................................................................................................................4
Abbreviations ...................................................................................................................................................4
References.........................................................................................................................................................5


Preface

This dictionary of Ghanaian English was stimulated by preparing a dictionary of Nigerian English and
finding many similarities between the two. Although Ghanaian English is quite well-studied in some other
respects, only one compilation of Ghanaian English exists, by Fr. John Kirby. Valuable though it is, many
words that it contains are not specifically Ghanaian, but are standard British English, forms which may seem
unusual to North Americans, but which are not characteristic of Ghana. It therefore seems useful to prepare
something more scholarly with more attention to the sources of typical words and refer to outside
comparisons, where these exist. Language moves and new expressions have surfaced since the publication of
Kirby, which it seems worthwhile capturing. In its present form, this dictionary is very much a first attempt,
intended for circulation to interested parties, not for publication. Needless to say, the author would be
grateful for all additions and corrections.

Roger Blench
Wa
Thursday, 12 January 2006

i

Introduction

These notes are intended to raise some issues on sources, interpretation and the definition of Ghanaian
English.


Sources1

One of the most difficult issues in lexicography is documenting usages in a semi-written language. If
dictionaries of indigenous African languages are prepared they usually depend entirely on oral sources and
thus no specific justification is given for entries. However, Ghanaian English is sometimes written,
especially in newspapers and magazines, and thus has some sort of orthographic tradition. Nonetheless,
many of the most picturesque expressions are strictly oral and must still be captured in the present document.
Although previous studies in this direction have tended to cite novels or literary works these are sometimes
unrepresentative of the spoken language. I have therefore used newspaper, notices and overheard speech as
sources. Example sentences not specifically sourced should be treated as based on the author’s or his
correspondents’ experiences.


Spelling

Ghanaian writing of English has some widespread misspellings such as ‘portable’ for ‘potable’ and
‘groupper’ for ‘grouper’. If these seem to have gain wide currency they are included.


Ghanaian /Ghanaian/ West African English

One of the more surprising things about Ghanaian English is the extent to which it has a common lexicon
and grammar with other West African Englishes, notably Nigerian. I have less information about Cameroun,
Sierra Leone and Gambia and would welcome further insights. However, the puzzle is the history of some of
these forms. Do they go back to the early days of colonial presence on the coast or are they more recent
products of the massive migration of Ghanaians to Nigeria during the oil-boom era of the 1970s and 1980s?
Probably both, but only a detailed scanning of earlier sources will provide answers.


West Coast Pidgin (WCP)

I use this slightly ungainly term to cover the generic items that have come into Ghanaian English from the
Pidgin spoken along the West Coast of Africa from Gambia to Cameroun. Ghana has never had a recognised
Pidgin in the same way as Nigeria and Cameroun, but nonetheless, the ‘broken English’ of the markets
shares many common features, although it is less developed and more prone to relexification from SGE.
Typical terms that come from WCP are ‘pikin’ (=small child), ‘fit’ (=be able) and others.


Tropical English

There are numerous terms which may be termed ‘Tropical English’; unknown to most speakers of SE, they
are nonetheless not specific to Nigeria, but are nonetheless widely used across the Anglophone tropics. This
is very common in pan-tropical plants, for example ‘oil-palm’ or ‘yam-mound’. I have marked these in the
text as TE.

Student slang

University students are a rich source of rather ephemeral expressions everywhere and Ghana is no exception.
Such expressions are intended to lay down sociolinguistic markers as to the status of the speaker. As a

1 Thanks to Mary-Esther Kropp-Dakubu and Gordana



consequence, these idioms are not widely known outside the University environment and often disappear
quickly. The same is true of schoolchildren.

Missionary English

I have marked some entries ME, ‘Missionary English’. Missionaries seem to have been responsible for some
particular usages that were propagated via church materials. These include pejorative terms for traditional
religion such as ‘idol’, ‘fetish’ and ‘juju’, but also a series of terms for animals, assimilating indigenous
West African animals to those found in Europe and North America. These include ‘fox’ for genet (or
jackal?) and ‘rabbit’ for giant rat. [Many of the early missionaries were of Sierra Leonean rather than
European origin; possibly some of these are due to their interpretations of English words.] Missionary
English terms are sometimes characteristic of West Africa, sometimes part of the worldwide vocabulary of
missionaries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and turn up in the South Seas as much as in Africa.


Borrowings from indigenous Ghanaian languages

As elsewhere, the richest contributions to local English are borrowings from indigenous languages. Ghana
has some fifty indigenous languages, most with only a small number of speakers. However, the major
languages have millions of speakers and cultural borrowings, especially in the area of food and clothing are
extensive. There are also interesting calques, whereby the structure of an expression in an indigenous
language is translated word-for-word into English. The major languages are;

Twi
Ewe
Ga
Hausa Hausa is not technically an indigenous language, since it is spoken as a trade language in northern
towns.
Dagbane

Titles

Ghana has a rich heritage of traditional titles and many of the more common ones are regularly used in
newspapers, for example, Asantehene. I have not listed all of these since they are more resemble proper
names.

Scientific names, and trade names

In the early colonial era, when many new species were coming to scientific attention and the uses of those
known botanically were also being explored, many West African vernacular names were developed, notably
for timbers and for economic grasses. These were used in colonial literature but with a few exceptions never
really entered West African speech and are rarely heard today. For example, the African olive, Canarium
schweinfurthii
, is called the ‘bush-candle’ in older literature. Charming and evocative as this name is, I have
never heard it in current speech and perhaps it was only ever used by forestry officers in the colonial era. I
have entered such forms sparingly, pending further evidence of their context of use. Nonetheless, there are a
great many names for the timbers of Ghanaian trees that are used, although in the specialised context of the
timber trade. Some of these are Ghanaian, used in the West African region and some have become
international trade names. I have adopted the entries from Burkill (1985 ff.).


Regional variation


3


Parts of Speech

The following table shows the abbreviations used in Column 2 of the dictionary. Some of these assignations
should be regarded as highly provisional.

Abbreviation Full
form
Explanation
a.
Adjective
Describes a noun
a.p. Adjectival
Describes a noun
phrase
adv.
Adverb
Qualifies a verb
adv.p.
Adverbial phrase Qualifies a verb
cond.
Conditional
Expresses the relation between two events
conj.
Conjunction
A word used to join two or more nouns, verbs or clauses
dem.
Demonstrative
Words used to point out something. 'this', 'that' etc.
excl.
Exclamation
Greetings or expressions that do not form part of an ordinary sentence
excl.p. Exclamatory
Fixed phrases that form sentences indicating a single idea
phrase
int. Interrogative
Question
words
n.
Noun
Refers to things, objects etc.
n.p. Noun phrase
Phrase where a head-noun is joined to other words to form an
expression
num. Numeral
Number
part.
Particle
Short words added to complete the sentence
p.n.
Proper Name
A name of a person or object; always capitalised
p.u.t. Pre-utterance tag A tag or exclamation used prior to an utterance to indicate the
underlying sense of the utterance
prep.
Preposition
A word positioning nouns or verbs in time or space
pron.
Pronoun
A word that stands for a noun
sal. Salutation
A word or phrase that stands alone as a greeting or introduces a
dialogue
s.t.
Sentence tag
A word or clause standing at the end of a sentence, that intensifies the
meaning in some way but is unnecessary to the syntax.
v. Verb
Expresses
action
v.a.
Verbal auxiliary
An inflected verb that co-occurs with an uninflected main verb
v.c. Verbal
Additional word or words found in phrasal verbs [???]
complement
v.i.
Intransitive Verb A verb with no object
v.n.
Verbal Noun
A noun formed directly from a verb to express a state of being [only one
type; what of agentives?]
v.p. Verb phrase
A phrase where a head-noun is joined to other words to form an
expression [head-noun or verb?]
v.t.
Transitive verb
A verb with an object


Abbreviations

AE African
English
Ar.
Arabic
arch. archaic
BE
British English
CE Colonial
English
der.
derogatory
dial. dialect
e.g.
for example
euph. euphemism
4


F.
French
fem. feminine
hum. humorous
id. ideophone
ins. insulting
joc. jocular
lit. literally
masc. masculine
n.
noun
NE Nigerian
English
NGE Northern Ghanaian English
neg. negative
over. overused
pl.
plural
prov. proverb
refl.
reflexive
s.
singular
sc. sl. schoolboy slang
SE Standard
English
SGE
Southern Ghanaian English
st. sl. student slang
t.
transitive
TE Tropical
English
v.
verb
w.
with
WAE West African English
Y.
Yoruba


References

Bamgbose, Ayo et al. (ed) New Englishes: a West African perspective. Africa World Press
Burkill, H.M. 1985. The Useful Plants of West Tropical Africa, Families A-D, Kew, Royal Botanic Gardens.
Burkill, H.M. 1994. The Useful Plants of West Tropical Africa, Families E-I, Kew, Royal Botanic Gardens.
Burkill, H.M. 1995. The Useful Plants of West Tropical Africa, Families J-L, Kew, Royal Botanic Gardens.
Burkill, H.M. 1997. The Useful Plants of West Tropical Africa, Families M-R, Kew, Royal Botanic Gardens.
Burkill, H.M. 2000. The Useful Plants of West Tropical Africa, Families S-Z, Kew, Royal Botanic Gardens.
Kirby, J.P. 1998. A North American’s guide to Ghanaian English. Takoradi: TICCS.
Kropp Dakubu, M.E. ed. English in Ghana. Accra: Ghana English Studies Association.
Sey, K.A. 1973. Ghanaian English. Ikeja: Macmillan Education
Spencer, John (ed.) 1971. The English language in West Africa. London: Longman.
5

Ghanaian English Dictionary Roger Blench Circulation Draft
Ghanaian
PoS
Explanation
Example
Etymology
A.









A-1
n.p. monosodium
glutamate
cf. white Maggi
A.D. one one
adv.p.
by foot, walking


Aba!
excl. expression
of
surprise,

? Hausa haba (q.v.)
disbelief, annoyance
abinchi
n. food,
money

<Hausa
abinga
n.
thing, food, money

<Hausa
abolo
n. cassava
bread

<Ewe
abuse
v. to
insult


abuse
n. insult
it is an abuse it is
an insult
Accra
p.n.
only the Makola area within

Accra
achumo
n.
popular street food

<Ga
add
v.
to give something more


adinkra
n. Akan
symbols

<Twi
adinkra cloth
n.p.
cloth printed with traditional
<Twi
Akan symbols
Adjei!
excl.
expression of severe pain or
<Twi
bad news
adua
n.
stately Asante dance

<Twi
adua bie
n.
kind of bean soup

<Twi
advise oneself
v.p.
to think through, to have

second thoughts about
again
adv.
any more, any left


agbele kakolu
n.
food made of cassava

<Ewe
Aheeehn!
excl.
strong agreement: Yes, that's

my point!
ahenema
n.
broad leather Akan sandals

<Twi
air condition
n. lacy
blouse


airtight
n.
students' metal storage chest

see chop box
Akosombo
p.n.
electric power, reference to

hydro dam at A.
akpateshie
n. home-distilled
gin

cf. hot, patash, VC-
10
akpele
n.
unfermented maize porridge

<Ewe
akrantie soup
n.
grasscutter soup, cooked with

intestines
Akuffo
p.n.
small size Club beer, short like

Akuffo Addo
albarka!
excl. no
sale!

Ar. via Hausa God's
blessings
alele
n.
common street food in Tamale
<Ewe
Alfa
p.n.
respectful title for Muslim who

reads Arabic
Allah!
excl. God!

<Hausa
alligator
n. crocodile

true alligators are
only in the Americas
all two of us
a. both


alomo
n. sweetheart,
girlfriend

also
a. even


am
pron.
him, her, it, them, some


amanee?
int.
asking the purpose of

<Twi
6

Ghanaian English Dictionary Roger Blench Circulation Draft
Ghanaian
PoS
Explanation
Example
Etymology
someone's visit
America film
n.p.
film produced in USA, usu.

action-drama
America man
n.p.
person from the USA


America tin
n.p.
one US gallon, USAID relief
also oloka
oil container

ampe

girls' game with jumping and
<Twi
clapping
Anansi
p.n.
Anansi, the trickster spider of
<Twi
Akan folklore
anything
quant.
money, a gift


anything?
int.
What is the matter?


Apostolic
p.n.
general name for Independent

Churches
aprapransa
n.
corn TZ with ingredients
<Twi
mixed in
Are you sure?
excl.p.
I don't believe you!


arrest
v.t. catch,
seize


articulator
n.
truck-tractor and trailer, semi-
<articulated-lorry
truck
as for + pron.
part.
in my case, in your case, in his

case etc.
as if
cond. like


ashawo
n. prostitute(s)

<Yoruba
at
prep. in
(place)
I am living at Wa

at all
adv.
really, if ever, if at all possible

at least
adv. surely


aunty
sal.
term of respect for an older

woman, like madam
Ayekoo!
excl. well
done












B.








bad death
n.p.
certain kinds of anti-social

deaths have no funeral
balance
n.
change from an amount paid


balance
v.t.
to give change, to complete a

sum of money
banana
n. fashionable
hair-style

banku
n.
fermented maize cooked in
<Ewe
leaves
baranzim
n.
multi-strand whip used by a

chief's bailiff
barber
n.
shaves hair, does minor

surgery, circumcises
7

Ghanaian English Dictionary Roger Blench Circulation Draft
Ghanaian
PoS
Explanation
Example
Etymology
barber
v.
to cut hair


barbering
n. barber’s
shop


salon
basabasa

a.
unorganised, untidy, useless

<Twi
basaa
a.
mess, dirty, confused

<Twi
Basel-Mission
p.n. Presbyterian
Church


batakari
n. long
loose
cotton

<Hausa
Hausa/Muslim over garment
bathe
v.
to swim or take a shower


bathroom
n.
room with open drain for

bathing and urinating
battery water
n.p. sulphuric
acid


baturi
p.n.
white man, foreigner

<Hausa lit. child of
Toure Toure = N.
Africa, the Fezzan
baya
n. backside,
behind

<Hausa
be
v.
indeclinable; to be
I be; ibi fine, you
be fine too; we all
be fine!
beat
v.t.
attack, overcome, thump,

knock, harass
been-to
n.
person who has been to Europe
NE.
beg
v.t.
ask for, request earnestly


beg for the v.p.
ask permission to leave

ans. The road is
road
there
bend
v. turn


baby-Benz
n.
smaller Mercedes-Benz car

e.g. 190)
big big
a.
very big, great, enormous


big man
n.p.
boss, higher authority, chief,

manager
bitter tomato
n.
garden egg, local eggplant,

Solanum incanum
black
a.
all dark colours


black
n. evil,
dire
circumstances,


deadly situation
black
n.
racially nuanced term for an

African person
black
a.
darker colouring; not racially

nuanced
black-and-
n.
candy, esp. peppermint, from

whites
type of striped candy
blackman
n.p.
juju, witchcraft, family


palaver
problems, etc.
blade
n.
double-edged razor blade


bleach
v.
use strong chemicals to lighten

skin colour
blood
n. strength


blow-man
n. fighter,
tough


blows
n.
strikes with fist or open hand


blue blue
n.
popular name for valium


bluff
v.
to posture, show off, try to

impress, boast, brag
bo!
excl.
expression of surprise and

being impressed
8

Ghanaian English Dictionary Roger Blench Circulation Draft
Ghanaian
PoS
Explanation
Example
Etymology
bo-belt
n.
red and black medicine
<Twi
capsule, ampicillin
bodi boys
n.
boys around lorry parks

<SE via Hausa
(<boarding ???)
body-condom
n.
any very tight clothes on a
st. sl.
young person
bo-fruit
n. round
doughnut

lit. ball-float also
bol-flot
bo-styles
v.p.
be in style, stylish clothing


bogadiceous
a. bogah
like

cf. bogah
bogah
n. flashy
wheeler-dealer,
gold

<Hamburg
chains, baggy trousers
bogah-meat
n. pork


bogus
a. unreal,
false

obsolete
boil in oil
v.p. fry


bola
n. garbage
dump

<Twi
Bolga bag
n. colourful straw/twine


handbags from Bolgatanga
bone-shaker
n.
old Bedford truck, maame
archaic BE
truck
bo!
excl.
sound made when shocked or

startled
bo (styles)
v.
knows how to (be stylish), live
<Twi lit. beat
it up
book
v.
to mark well, enter in a

register, book, journal
book doctor
n. Ph.D.


booklong
a. having
knowledge
derived


from school, books
bookman
n.
ticket seller esp. at lorry parks


boozed
a. be
drunk


borrow
v. to
lend


bosom
n. fetish
shrine/spirit,
earth

<Twi
shrine/spirit
boss
n.
as SE but only used if there is

a joking relation with superior
boss-ism
n.
obsolete despotism, too many

orders
both the two of a.p.
both of us, the two of us

(see all two )
us all
boy

n.
any young man up to about 30

years old, a servant (even an
old man) CE. <Hindi bhai
boys’ quarters
n.p.
usually a row of small rooms

NE.
behind a large house where
house-servants or younger
relatives live
branch
v.i.
to turn aside, to divert to
I am going to
NE.
(when on the way to
branch at his house
somewhere else)
bread
n.
sweetened bread, sugar bread

(see tea bread and
butter bread )
bread fat
n. shortening


breakfast
n.
heavy starchy meal ca. 10.00

AM
9

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