‘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




Language and Migration, female migration, incipient bilingualism, Ghana


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


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How to Cite

Ansah, G. N., Anderson, J. A., Anamzoya, S. A., & Ohemeng, F. (2017). ‘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, 6(1), 49–74. https://doi.org/10.4314/gjl.v6i1.69