Posts Tagged With: language

A Lesson in Ghanaian English

One of the most interesting things I’ve encountered here is the Ghanaians’ way of using English words. English is Ghana’s official language, but for most (probably all) Ghanaians, English is not just a second language – it’s a third or fourth or fifth language, and they primarily speak tribal languages. One of the teenagers in Potter’s Village, 16-year-old Stephen, speaks five languages! To add to that, Ghanaians use British English (sort of), and often they’ll use very proper British words like “hex” or “madame.” Their names are old English names as well.

Names I’ve heard here:
And many, many more

Here are some words and phrases they use that are different from home (USA):

“Some few” = a few

“Many” = a lot/tons/a bunch. Ex: “It’s okay that I dropped that stone; I have many.”

“Plenty” = similar to above, though it’s used slightly differently. Ex: “Your hair is plenty.”

“Several” = a large amount. In the U.S., we generally use “several” to describe a handful of something. Here, a phrase like “We have helped several people” means they’ve helped many people. They usually emphasize “several” as well, which confused me the first time.

“Small small” = little by little, or gradually

“Away” = phrase used by the mate on the trotro to tell the driver it’s okay to start moving again after picking someone up

“Please, I am coming” = I’ll be back. This is my personal favorite, since they usually say they’re coming and then walk away.

“You should go and come back” or, for short, “Go and come.” This one is exactly what it sounds like, and it makes me laugh every time because it’s purely Ghanaian.

“Small boy” or “small girl” = nickname for someone who is young or small for their age. Sometimes used to describe a person, but also often used in direct address.

“By the grace of God, I am fine” = the ultra-religious way of answering the question, “How are you?” Sometimes it gets shortened to just, “By the grace of God,” which doesn’t even make sense but which always makes me smile. In both Twi and English, Ghanaians have only one answer when asked how they are: fine. If I slip up and say “I’m good” instead of “I’m fine,” they are concerned that something is wrong.

“You look sweet” = You look cute. Used by both men and women, but I’ve only heard it used in reference to a woman. I’ve never heard children say it. One day, when wearing my skirt made of Ghanaian fabric, a man called out, “You look sweet, my African princess!”

“Madame” = a respectful title used when addressing a woman. It’s also the word they use for their teachers. Ex: “Madame says she will beat you.” (Actual quote from one 3-year-old to another, haha)

“It’s paining me” = it hurts. One of the volunteers, Laura, would occasionally get so fed up with little children whining, “It’s paining me” that she would counter it with, “You’re paining me!” Haha. I laughed every time. It’s amazing how many ailments the children suddenly have when the medicine cabinet gets opened…

“Rubber” = black plastic bag used for purchased goods. I.e., “a rubber” is a plastic bag

“Safe journey” = Travel safe. I just think it’s a cute way of saying it 🙂

“Slippers” = flip flops

“Paste” = brush teeth. I.e., “pasting” is brushing your teeth, and we tell the kids, “Go paste.”

“Hallelujah” – “Amen” = a call and answer when someone is preaching or speaking in public. The speaker says “Hallelujah” and the audience answers with “Amen.”

“The light is off ” = the electricity is out/the power is off. We hear this much more often than you might expect, as power cuts are frequent and unpredictable throughout the country.

“We are three (or two, or four, etc.)” = there are three of us

“I will beat you” = I will hit/kick/punch/any other violent action. I assume they use the word “beat” because children still get caned here, which is a “beating,” but they use the word in casual conversation and for minor threats, too, even if a cane (thin stick) isn’t involved.

“Sorry” = sorry. Sometimes they use it the same way we do. If I spilled something on a person’s shirt, I would say, “Sorry,” and so would the Ghanaians. But they also use it anytime they witness something bad happening to you, even if they had nothing to do with it. I could trip over a rock and stub my toe, and a Ghanaian watching from 10 feet away would say, “Sorry.” I always have to fight the impulse to say, “It’s not your fault.”

“Fly-over” = a walking bridge that spans over a road. I believe there are several words for this in the U.S. too, but I would use “skywalk”

“Seriously” or “It’s true” = these have the same meaning as in the U.S., but they use them frequently here – following any statement that is particularly spectacular or horrifying (just in case you think it’s not true, I guess) or anytime they suspect you’re hearing a fact for the first time.

“You are lying” = again, just as it sounds. Like the above, this phrase is used frequently, and they often laugh after saying it. I think it could be compared to saying,  “You’re kidding” when someone says something spectacular or horrifying. A very common conversation will include one person saying,  “You are lying” and the other responding, “It’s true.”

“Torch” = flashlight. The British influence is palpable.

“Plaster” = Band-aid or bandage. I think this is British as well.

“Pawpaw” = papaya. This one might just be one of the local languages, but “pawpaw” is used all over Ghana, and there are about 50 languages/dialects, so I don’t know which language it would be.

“Stool” = basically anything you sit on, though it’s used mostly for stools or chairs.

“Pass this way” = “let’s go this way” or “let’s walk this way”

Don’t you feel so educated about Ghana now? Start using phrases like “small small” and “I will beat you,” and you’ll fit right in with the Ghanaians!

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