The Nkonya Alphabet

The Letters

The Nkonya alphabet has 28 letters:

a b d e ɛ f g h i ɩ j k l m n ŋ o ɔ p r s t u ʋ v w y z

Nkonya words are arranged alphabetically in the above order. There are some sounds that are represented by two letter combinations, e.g. gy kp, and ts. However, they are sorted as if they were separate letters.


Some Nkonya words differ from others only by tone. For example: ntsú "tears (eye)" and ntsu "water"; "him/her"  and mʋ́ "it". The form with a high tone is marked with an acute accent over the vowel. High tones are not written in every word they occur in, only those where the tone changes the meaning of the word.

Nkonya and Other Ghanaian alphabets

Many Ghanaians will be familiar with the Akan (Twi) alphabet. The Nkonya alphabet uses the same letters and adds two letters, ɩ and ʋ.

Twi uses the letter e for both the sound written in Nkonya as ɩ and the sound written as e. Likewise, it uses the letter o for both the sound written in Nkonya as ʋ and o.

The fact that ɩ and e are different is shown in the two different words klɩ "to tie". and kle "to want". You can see that the vowels are different by the way that kle "to want" changes the Ɔlɛ- pronoun and tense to Ole-. klɩ "to tie" doesn't make that change.

Nkonya Word English Meaning
to want
He/she wanted
to tie
He/she wanted

In a similar way we can show that ʋ and o are different by the way that they change when followed by the ending -bi which means "little one".

Nkonya Word English Meaning
ɔtʋ ladle
otubi spoon (little ladle)

You can see that ɔ- changes to o- and that ʋ changes to u. This means that o and ʋ are different vowels.

You can read more about the way these vowels change is described in sections 4.3, 4.4. and 5.2.1 of the downloadable PDF: The Phonology of Nkonya.

More information about the Nkonya Alphabet is available in the downloadable PDF: Reading and Writing the Nkonya Language.

Pronunciations in the Dictionary – the IPA

This section explains some of the special symbols used in the pronunciation part of the dictionary entry. It́'s a bit complex. If you want to skip it, you can still use the dictionary without knowing what's here.

The pronunciation uses an alphabet called the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). This allows a more precise way of marking the pronunciation of the Nkonya words. Most of the letters are the same as Nkonya, but there are a few differences. There are also some additional tone marks and other symbols.

Letters that Replace Nkonya Letters in the IPA

For some letters in Nkonya, the IPA uses a different letter. These are:

Nkonya Spelling IPA Spelling
ɩ ɪ
ʋ ʊ
gy ʤ
ny ɲ

Letters Sometimes Different in the IPA

The Nkonya letter "w", when it follows some other letter is written as a raised letter, e.g., . This shows that the two letters come together to make one sound. The Nkonya letter "n" also has several ways it is spelled in the IPA, following vowels and before some other consonants.

Nkonya Spelling IPA Spelling
bw/dw/gyw/kw, etc. bʷ/dʷ/ʤʷ/kʷ, etc
an/en/ɛn/in, etc. ã/ẽ/ɛ̃/ĩ, etc
nf ɱf
ng & nk ŋg & ŋk
ngb & nkp ŋ͡mg͡b & ŋ͡mk͡p
nw ŋʷ

Other Letters and Marks in the Pronunciations

There is a sound that is not written in Nkonya. It occurs between the two o's in O - o "No!". It is called a glottal stop, and in the IPA it looks like a question mark without a dot. So, the pronunciation of O - o! looks like this, [oʔo]. The glottal stop occurs at the end of many words and often makes a difference in the way that tone works between words.

Nkonya writes a vowel twice to indicate a long vowel. IPA uses a special colon following the vowel. For example, faan & kwɩɩ are written as [fãː] & [kwɪ̌ː] in the pronunciation.

In Nkonya, ts & kp are each a single sound. In the IPA, there is a mark over the two letters to show that they are one sound: they are written t͡s & k͡p.

Tone in the Pronunciations

In the section on the Nkonya alphabet, we stated above that only high tones that are necessary to indicate meaning are written in Nkonya. The pronunciations mark all high tones. Long vowels and vowels followed by a glottal stop can carry more than one tone. A vowel with low tone followed by a high tone is marked like this: ◌̌. A vowel with high tone followed by a low tone is marked like this: ◌̂.

Some words have a tone that can carry onto certain following words, for example When it is a high tone, this is indicated by (H) when it is low it is indicated with (L). For a more technical discussion of this, see section 6.6.3 of The Phonology of the Nkonya Language.

Different tenses of a verb can affect its tone. We have not marked the tone of a verb according to the command form or when the word is said by itself. Instead, we have marked it the way it occurs following the tense marker -la-. The reasons for this are fairly complicated. They are explained in Section 6.6.4 of The Phonology of Nkonya.

Dialect Differences in the Pronunciations

The sound written in Nkonya as 'ts' is pronounced differently in North and South Nkonya. The IPA pronunciation follows the Southern pronunciation [t͡s] rather than the Northern [t͡ʃ].