Language and Liberty in Ghanaian Political Communication

A Critical Discourse Perspective


  • Samuel Gyasi Obeng Indiana University



language, liberty, law, Ghana, Danquah, Nkrumah, language, liberty, law, ghana, danquah, nkrumah


The object of this study was to illustrate the entwining between language and liberty in Ghanaian political discourse. Using three letters written by Dr. J. B. Danquah (two addressed to President Nkrumah and one to the Speaker of Ghana’s Parliament) and working within the framework of language and liberty (Obeng, in press), I demonstrate that even though by being candid, Ghanaian political actors in opposition risked personal danger, such actors had communicative ways for pursuing and defending their negative liberty and positive liberty and for challenging powerful political actors’ oppressive and illegitimate actions. The discursive features employed to pursue liberty include: deferential mode of address, candour, inferencing, glittering generalities, emotional valence, politeness and intertextuality. The syntactic features used included conditional sentences, pronouns, physical verbs, lexical collocation and uppercase letters. The study concludes by submitting that liberty relies on language to become actuality and that political actors’ views on liberty and the historical, legal, political and cultural contexts of the discourse ecology in which they operate all impact their discourse performance in their fight for liberty.


Keywords: language, liberty, law, Ghana, Danquah, Nkrumah

Author Biography

Samuel Gyasi Obeng, Indiana University

Samuel Gyasi Obeng is a Professor of Linguistics in the Department of Linguistics, Indiana University, Bloomington. His research interests include African languages, political discourse analysis, multilingualism, language contact, and ethnopragmatics.


Akyeampong, H. K. 1966. Journey to Independence and After (J. B. Danquah's Letters)
1947-1965. Accra: Waterville Publishers.
Berlin, Isaiah. 1960. Four Essays on Liberty. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Danquah, Joseph Boakye. 1970. Journey to Independence and After —1947-1965. Accra:
Waterville Publishing House.
Date-Bah, Samuel Kofi. 2008. On Law and Liberty in Contemporary Ghana. Accra: Ghana
Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Harris, Sandra. 1995. “Pragmatics and power.” Journal of pragmatics 23(2): 117-135.
Labov, William and D. Fanshel. 1977. Therapeutic discourse: Psychotherapy as
conversation. New York: Academic Press.
Martin, D. and P. Johnson. 1981. The struggle for Zimbabwe. Boston: Faber and Faber.
Nowell Commission 1937-38. On the Hold-up of Cocoa. Accra: Gold Coast Records.
Obeng, Samuel. 1997. Selected Speeches of Kwame Nkrumah. Accra: Afram Publications.
Obeng, Samuel Gyasi. In press. “Grammatical Pragmatics: Language, Power and Liberty
in African (Ghanaian) Political Discourse.” Discourse and Society 29 (7).
Obeng, Samuel Gyasi. 2016. “Biblical Intertextuality in Ghanaian Political Text and Talk.”
Issues in Political Discourse Analysis. 5(1): 23-46.
Obeng, Samuel Gyasi. 2001. African anthroponymy: an ethnopragmatic and
morphophonological study of personal names in Akan and some African societies. Munich: LINCOM.
Obeng, Samuel Gyasi. 2000a. “Speaking the Unspeakable: Discursive Strategies to
Express Language Attitudes in Legon (Ghana) Graffiti.” Research on Language and Social Interaction. 33(3): 291-319.
Obeng, Samuel Gyasi. 2000b. “Doing Politics on Walls and Doors: A Linguistic Analysis
of Graffiti in Legon (Ghana).” Multilingua 19(4) 337-365.
Obeng, Samuel Gyasi. 1999. “Grammatical Pragmatics: Power in Akan Judicial
Discourse.” Pragmatics 9:2.199-229.
Obeng, Samuel Gyasi. 1999. “Apologies in Akan Discourse.” Journal of Pragmatics 31(5):
Obeng, Samuel Gyasi. 1997a. “Language and Politics: Verbal Indirection in
Political Discourse.” Discourse and Society 8 (1): 49-83.
Obeng, Samuel Gyasi. 1997b. “Communication strategies: Persuasion and politeness in
Akan judicial discourse.” Text 17(1): 25-51.
Obeng, Samuel Gyasi. 1997c. “From morphophonology to sociolinguistics: The case of
Akan hypocoristic day-names.” Multilingua 16 (1): 39-56.
van Dijk, Teun. 2004. Communicating Ideologies. Multidisciplinary Perspectives on
Language, Discourse and Social Practice. Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang.
Watson Commission of Inquiry. 1948. Accra Riots. Accra.




How to Cite

Obeng, S. G. (2018). Language and Liberty in Ghanaian Political Communication: A Critical Discourse Perspective. Ghana Journal of Linguistics, 7(2), 199–224.