‘Bra, sɛn, yɛnkↄ... that is all I know in Akan’: How female migrants from rural north survive with minimum bilingualism in urban markets in Ghana.

  • Gladys Nyarko Ansah University of Ghana
  • Jemima Asabea Anderson University of Ghana, Legon
  • Suleman Alhassan Anamzoya University of Ghana, Legon
  • Fidelia Ohemeng University of Ghana, Legon


In this paper, we explore the language-migration nexus among female migrants, kayayei, in three urban markets in Accra, Ghana. We assume in this paper that first time migrants from northern Ghana will face linguistic challenges in these markets because the linguistic situation in urban centers in Ghana is very diverse and complex. Typically, first time migrants from northern Ghana may hardly speak the major languages that are spoken in Accra: Ga, Akan, Ewe and English. Nevertheless, they have to learn to negotiate fees with the clients (whose luggage they carry) as well as tax officers who chase them all over the market to collect the daily income taxes from them. How do the migrants cope in such complex linguistic situation of the host community? What strategies do these migrants resort to in coping with the linguistic challenges they face in their new (host) communities? We investigate the linguistic challenges that migrants face in their new environment, and identify the coping strategies the migrants employ to meet these linguistics challenges. Wefirst identify the dominant language(s) of the markets to see if it is/they are indeed different from the languages spoken by the migrants. We then examine the language (s) migrants select for business transactions in these markets. Finally, we attempt to evaluate the level of competence the migrants have in the selected language for business and explore why migrants choose to do business in the particular language (s) irrespective of their level of competence in the selected language. Our investigation revealed Akan as the dominant language of all three markets. It also revealed that very minimum linguistic exchange is required in the line of business of the kayayei. This implies that very little linguistic knowledge in the market language may be sufficient to conduct business in their line of business. Incipient bilingualism, learning the appropriate registers (key vocabulary) needed to transact business in the markets, emerged as the most employed  coping strategy among the migrants.

Author Biographies

Gladys Nyarko Ansah, University of Ghana

Department of English

Senior Lecturer

Jemima Asabea Anderson, University of Ghana, Legon

Senior Lecturer

Department of English.

Suleman Alhassan Anamzoya, University of Ghana, Legon

Senior Lecturer

Department of Sociology

Fidelia Ohemeng, University of Ghana, Legon


Department of Sociology


Adams, R. H., & Page, J. 2005. Do international migration and remittances reduce poverty in developing countries?. World development, 33(10), 1645-1669.

Adsera, Alicia, and Mariola Pytlikova, 2015. The role of language in shaping international migration, Economic Journal, 125(586): F49–F81.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 2004. Knowledge and Skills Needed by Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists to Provide Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services [Knowledge and Skills]. Available from www.asha.org/policy. SLA (2016). http://www.linguisticsociety.org/resource/multilingualism. Retrieved on 20th January 2016.

Ansah, Gladys, 2011. Metaphor and bilingual cognition: The case of Akan and English in Ghana (Doctoral dissertation submitted to Lancaster University).

Ardayfio-Schandorf, E. and Kwafo-Akoto, K. (1990). Women in Ghana: an annotated bibliography. Accra, Woeli Publishing Services for UNFA.

Awumbila, Miriama; Alhassan Osman; Badasu Delali; Antwi-Bosiakoh, Thomas; and Dankyi, Ernestina K. (2011). Socio-Cultural Dimensions of Migration in Ghana. Migration Technical Paper. Accra: Woeli Publishing Services. No. 3. Centre for Migration

Awumbila, Miriama; Badasu, Delalili D. Anamzoya, A. S, & Alhassan, O. (2012). Urbanisation and Changing Dynamics of Migrant Domestic Work in Accra, Ghana. A paper presented at 1st international Conference on Urbanisation and Rural-Urban Migration in Sub-Saharan Africa Nairobi, Kenya, 26-27, November, 2012.

Awumbila, M, Teye, J, Owusu G, Anamzoya S, A. (2013). Urbanization, Rural-Urban Migration and Urban Poverty in Ghana: Regional Research Project Report. Brighton: Migration out of Poverty RPC, University of Sussex.

Baker, Colin, 1993. Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Belot, Michèle, and Sjef Ederveen, 2012. Cultural and institutional barriers in migration between OECD countries, Journal of Population Economics, 25.3: 1077–1105.

Belot, Michèle, and T J Hatton, 2012. Skill selection and immigration in OECD countries, Scandinavian Journal of Economics, 114.4: 681–730.

Bleakley, Hoyt, and Aimee Chin, 2004. Language skills and earnings: Evidence from childhood immigrants, Review of Economics and Statistics, 84.2: 481–496.

Bloomfield, Leonard, 1933. Language. New York: Henry Holt.

Bourhis, Richard Y. and Giles, Howard, 1977. The language of intergroup
distinctiveness. Language, ethnicity, and intergroup relations, pp.119-36.

Chiswick, B R, and P W Miller, 2014. International migration and the economics of language, in B R Chiswick and P W Miller (eds), Handbook on the Economics of International Migration, Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier, 2014: 211–270.

Connell, J., Dasgupta, B., Laishley, R., & Lipton, M. (1976). Migration from rural areas: The evidence from village studies.

Cummins, Jim, 1984. Wanted: A theoretical framework for relating language proficiency to academic achievement among bilingual students. In C. Rivera (Ed.), Language Proficiency and Academic Achievement. Pp. 3-20.

Deshinkar, P. (2005). ‘Maximizing the Benefits of Internal Migration for Development’, in IOM (Ed.) Migration Development and Poverty Reduction in Asia. Geneva: International Organization for Migration.

Diebold, A. Richard, 1964. Incipient Bilingualism. In D. Hymes (Ed.), Languages in Culture and Society. Pp. 495-511. New York: Harper and Row.

Dustmann, Christian, and Francesca Fabbri, 2003. Language proficiency and labour market performance of immigrants in the UK”, Economic Journal, 113.489: 695–717.

Guerini, Federica, 2006. Language Alternation Strategies in Multilingual Settings: A Case Study. Ghanaian Immigrants in Northern Italy. Bern: Peter Lang.

Harvey, M. E., & Brand, R. R. (1974). The spatial allocation of migrants in Accra, Ghana. Geographical Review, 1-30.

Herk, Gerard Van, 2012. What is sociolinguistics?.

IOM. International Organization for Migration (2005). Migration, Development and Poverty Reduction in Asia. Geneva: International Organization of Migration.

Kroll, Judith F., and Annette De Groot, 1997. Lexical and Conceptual Memory in the bilingual: Mapping form to meaning in two languages. In A. M. B. De Groot & J. F. Kroll (Eds.), Tutorials in Bilingualism: psycholinguistics perspective. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Kropp Dakubu, Mary Esther, 1997. Korle Meets the Sea: A Sociolinguistic History of Accra. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Li, Wei, 2000. Dimensions of Bilingualism. In Li Wei (Ed.), The Bilingualism reader. London: Routledge.

Mackey, William F., 1970. The Description of Bilingualism. In Joshua. A. Fishman (Ed.), Readings in the Sociology of Language (pp. 554-584). The Hague: Mouton.

Massey, D. S., Arango, J., Hugo, G., Kouaouci, A., Pellegrino, A., & Taylor, J. E. (1993). Theories of international migration: A review and appraisal. Population and development review, 431-466.

Ntewusu. S. A., 2005. The Northern Factor in Accra: A Historical Study of Madina Zongo as a Sub-Urban Settlement 1957-2000. Unpublished Thesis, Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon.

Ogbu, John, 1978. Minority education and caste (Vol. 581). New York: Academic Press.

Portes, A. (1994). Introduction: Immigration and its aftermath. The International Migration Review, 28(4), 632-639.

Quarcoo, A.K., Addo, N.O. and Peil, M., 1967. Madina survey. Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon.

Rhoda, R. (1983). Rural development and urban migration: can we keep them down on the farm?. International Migration Review, 34-64.

Sedlak, Philip, 1983. The Kenyan Language Setting.

Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove, 1981. Bilingualism or Not: The Education of Minorities. Clevedon: Multilingualism Matters.

Skutnabb‐Kangas, Tove, 2000. Linguistic genocide in education or worldwide diversity and human rights. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Skutnabb‐Kangas, Tove, 2001. The Globalisation of (Educational) Language Rights. International Review of Education, 47.3/4: 201‐219.

Skutnabb‐Kangas, Tove, 2003. Linguistic Diversity and Biodiversity: The Threat from Killer Languages. In Christian Mair (Ed.). The Politics of English as a World Language: New Horizons in Postcolonial Cultural Studies (pp. 31‐52). Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Skutnabb‐Kangas, Tove, & Phillipson, Robert, 1998. Language in human rights. The International Communication Gazette, 60.1: 27‐46.

Skutnabb‐Kangas, Tove, & Phillipson, Robert, (Eds.). 1994. Linguistic human rights: Overcoming linguistic discrimination. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Sridhar, Kamal, 1996. Language in education: Minorities and Multilingualism in India. International Review of Education, 42.4, pp.327-347.

Weinreich, Uriel, 1968 [1953]. Languages in Contact. Findings and Problems. The Hague: Mouton.

Yaro, J., Codjoe, A. N. A., Agyei-Mensah, S., Darkwah, A., & Kwankye, S. O. (2011). Migration and Population Dynamics: Changing Community Formations in Ghana. Accra: Woeli Publishing Limited.
How to Cite
ANSAH, Gladys Nyarko et al. ‘Bra, sɛn, yɛnkↄ... that is all I know in Akan’: How female migrants from rural north survive with minimum bilingualism in urban markets in Ghana.. Ghana Journal of Linguistics, [S.l.], v. 6, n. 1, p. 49-74, june 2017. ISSN 2026-6596. Available at: <http://www.laghana.org/gjl/index.php/gjl/article/view/69>. Date accessed: 22 aug. 2017. doi: https://doi.org/10.4314/gjl.v6i1.69.


Language and Migration, female migration, incipient bilingualism, Ghana