Inaugural Lecture - Professor Nana Aba Appiah Amfo

Thursday, April 11, 2019 - 17:00
Great Hall, University of Ghana


Members of the University community are hereby invited to the Inaugural Lecture of Professor Nana Aba Appiah Amfo, Dean, School of Languages, University of Ghana


Topic: Beyond Babel: Communicating in Context and Across Domains


Date: Thursday, April 11, 2019

Time: 5:00 pm

Venue: Great Hall, University of Ghana

Chairman: Prof. Ebenezer Oduro Owusu, Vice Chancellor, University of Ghana


All are cordially invited



Linguistic structures like words, phrases, sentences, and longer utterances, whether spoken or written, are carefully chosen by speakers to reflect their intent and to direct the addressee in such a way that misinterpretation is minimised. Additionally, it has long been recognised that language is inextricably linked to culture and thought. Pragmatics, a sub-discipline of Linguistics, is defined by the International Pragmatics Association as “the science of language use, in its widest interdisciplinary sense as a functional (i.e. cognitive, social, and cultural) perspective on language and communication”. Studies within this sub-discipline allow practitioners to interrogate linguistic strategies at different levels and examine how these influence the behaviour and practices of the language user.

In this lecture, I provide an overview of how Pragmatics can be done at both ‘formal’ and social levels within a multilingual African context, such as Ghana. Drawing on my past and on-going research, I demonstrate that the study of language use in context is not restricted to the ‘formal’ level of language study. Thus, in addition to presenting work that has been done in ‘formal’ pragmatics, I consider the use of language in two domains which have engaged my attention in the past few years. The first is Language and gender, where I examine how language is used to create and sustain gender roles, while legitimising these roles within specified cultural contexts. The second is Language and health, where I examine how language reflects societal views of some medical conditions and how that is likely to affect the management of such conditions.

In both domains, I demonstrate that language reflects human thought, and that our cultural and behavioural practices emanate from there. A study of linguistic strategies employed in specific domains provides the basis for an appreciation of the thoughts of particular communities in specific contexts. Especially intriguing is the multiplicity of languages that African communities, such as ours, have to contend with, in addition to (non-indigenous) official languages. I interrogate how we have managed that process so far, and conclude that this aspect of our national and continental reality should not be overlooked as we seek to modernise, develop and globalise.




Professor Nana Aba Appiah Amfo was born in Kumasi. Following her nursery education at the then University Primary School (now KNUST Basic School), she continued her basic education at Services Primary School (Takoradi) and Goldfields Schools Complex (Tarkwa). She had her secondary education at Holy Child School (O’ Level, 1988) and Archbishop Porter Girls’ Secondary School (A’ Level, 1990). She proceeded to the University of Ghana, from 1991 to 1996, for a Bachelor’s degree in French and Linguistics. Both her MPhil (2001) and PhD (2007) degrees in Linguistics are from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, where she studied with sponsorship from the Norwegian government under the then Quota Programme. Professor Amfo has received additional training in higher education management and leadership from Harvard Business School, University of Applied Sciences, Germany, and INSEAD, France.

Professor Amfo’s career in academia started in 2001 as a Lecturer in the Department of Linguistics after her Master’s degree. In 2007, the same year she obtained her PhD degree, she was promoted Senior Lecturer. Her promotion to Associate Professor was in 2011, and Professor in 2017. Professor Amfo’s research interests are in the linguistic sub-discipline of Pragmatics, which allows her to explore the role that context plays in our conversational interactions and how that influences communication in different domains. Her research resulting in several publications in nationally and internationally reputable journals such as Acta Linguistica Hafnensia, Current Issues in Language Planning, Discourse and Society, Ghana Journal of Linguistics, Journal of Pragmatics, Journal of West African Languages, Legon Journal of the Humanities, Lingua, Linguistics, Nordic Journal of African Studies, Nordic Journal of Linguistics, Pragmatics, and Studies in African Linguistics, have covered the role of function words in communication, information structure, grammaticalisation, language use in specific domains such as health, gendered contexts, politics, religion and migratory contexts. Her (edited) books and book chapters have been published by Ayebia Clarke Publishing Company, John Benjamins Publishing Company, Novus Press, Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group) and Sub-Saharan Publishers. Her recently (2018) co-authored textbook on Therapeutic Communication Competencies for Nurses and Midwives, commissioned by the Nursing and Midwifery Council, is published by DigiBooks.

Professor Amfo has acquired extensive multi-cultural experience through various professional engagements in twenty countries in Africa, Europe, Asia, North America and Australia. These engagements include giving competitive and invited talks, serving as external assessor and engaging with research and professional collaborators. She has been an external examiner for a number of Universities including University of Nairobi, Kenya; University of the Western Cape, South Africa; Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway; Stockholm University, Sweden and University of Education, Winneba.

Professor Amfo is currently Dean of the School of Languages at the University of Ghana. She previously served as the Head of the Department of Linguistics (2013 – 2014). She has participated in the governance of the University of Ghana through her service on several statutory and adhoc boards and committees. These include her current membership of the Business and Executive Committee, and University and College of Humanities Academic Boards. She has served on the

Boards of the School of Graduate Studies (2012 – 2016) and Office of Research Innovation and Development (ORID [2014 – 2018]). She previously served as the Chair of the Management Board of the University Basic School (2011 – 2016), the College of Humanities Senior and Junior Staff Appointments and Promotions Committee (2014 – 2018) and the Mentoring and Professional Development Sub-committee of the Centre for Gender Studies and Advocacy (CEGENSA), University of Ghana (2010 – 2013). She was the University of Ghana’s representative on the Catholic University College Appointments and Promotions Committee (2011 – 2016). She currently chairs the School of Languages Management Committee and is a member of the College of Humanities Advisory Board. Professor Amfo is a life member of the University of Ghana Alumni Association and a member of its Council. She also serves as a Tutor of Mensah Sarbah Hall.

In addition to her teaching responsibilities on Legon campus and at the Accra City Campus, Professor Amfo has (co)supervised four undergraduate students, eighteen Master’s students and five PhD students for their long essays and theses. She is currently supervising one PhD student and co-supervising two others. Her passion for mentoring particularly younger professional women has driven her to organise and or facilitate several capacity building training programmes in both the public and private higher education sectors, as well as in other public and private organisations. She has been a consultant trainer for the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Ghana. Professor Amfo is currently an Advisory Board member of the Coalition of People Against Sexual and Gender Based Violence and Harmful Practices (CoPASH) – A UNFPA supported programme.

Professor Amfo is a member of several professional associations including the Society of Communication, Medicine and Ethics, International Pragmatics Association (where she serves on its Consultation Board; the first African to serve in this capacity since the Association’s establishment in 1986), West African Linguistics Society and Linguistics Association of Ghana (where she served as President from 2010 – 2014). She is a pioneer fellow, senior scholar and Chair of the Steering Committee of the African Humanities Program of the American Council of Learned Societies. She is also a fellow of the German Academic Exchange Services (DAAD), Commonwealth Professionals Fellowship and the prestigious International Women’s Forum Leadership Program. Professor Amfo has recently been awarded a Georg Foster Research Fellowship for Experienced Researchers from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Professor Amfo is a Christian who worships at Praise Community Church, Adenta. She is married to Frank Amfo and the couple have been blessed with three lovely children – Yoofi, Maame Araba and Efua Benyiwa.