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Gur-Oti-Volta-Western Nominal Classes

Tony Naden

Ghana Institute of Linguistics, Literacy, and Bible Translation (GILLBT), Tamale.

July 28, 2008

Introduction - Notes to the reader

This is not the assured results of scholarship; the reason I am trying to get on with the Comparative Dictionary is because we need a better quantity and quality of data before we can go further than we have reached so far. This is an ad hoc summary thrown together in response to a request from Hannes Hirzel. It is what I know about the subject without doing further specific research, but I suppose I know as much as most people.

I am presenting the system as primarily represented by Mampruli which I know best and which is also a fairly conservative language – it is more convincing (to me!) to derive the data for the other languages from something like the Mampruli system, and it also ties the immediate cluster into the less-closely-related languages better. Anyone working solely within the data of a single language, whether by limitation or conviction, would not see all of this, and would probably come up with a more-complex, less-tidy analysis which would, however, not postulate so many abstract underlying forms and processes.For more information see Geoffrey Hunt on Hanga[1], Paul Schaefer on Safaliba [2] and John Callow.[3]

This presentation fits Mampruli, and KusaalAgole (allowing for the peculiarities of its (morpho-)phonology, and apart from a few aberrations), Dagbani and Hanga (/KaMara/Kantoonsi). It should also fit Talni and Nabit. Although the data is still insufficient, we might want to say that Talni is like Mampruli while Nabit is like KLToende. Farefare, Moore and "Mwlx Wali have essentially-similar systems, as does Safaliba. In the Dagaari-Birifor cluster the sound-changes have muddied the system to the point where it is possible but of largely theoretical interest to link it to this system.[4]

In the following we will use the abbreviations: MP = Mampruli, DB = Dagbani, KLA = Kusaal, HG=Hanga

Declensions and Classes

We are primarily concerned with suffixes to the nominals which indicate the categories Singular, Plural and Non-Count. It is largely arbitrary which singular suffix a given stem takes, but, given the singular suffix, the one used for the plural is largely predictable. This is usually referred to as ‘Noun Class System’, and the term ‘class’ had been applied either to each separate suffix, or to the pairing of a singular with a plural; in the former case the sg./pl. pairings are sometimes called ‘gender’. Given that in most of these languages there is no concord with other elements in the phrase or clause, and the pairings do not systematically correlate with any semantic categories, let alone ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, I prefer to avoid these usages and talk of ‘declensions’ as is used for similar phenomena in Latin or Greek. If you want to call them ‘classes’ or ‘genders’ that’s fine with me, just make it clear how you are using your terms.

Semantic criteria: The idea of semantic correlation is unhelpful. Apart from a declension which contains only (but by no means all) human referents, and those referring to liquids/masses/ abstracts, which are as much syntactic as semantic categories, attempts to define other declensions by semantic criteria are either very full of exceptions, or have to associate disparate definitions (‘domestic animals and long-and-thin objects’), or are so abstract as to be vacuous. What can be said is that some groups referents, for no perceivable reason, stay together in the same declension as each other as one passes from language to language, even when the form, and function in the system, of the declension changes. Also that sub-regularities develop in different languages, such as having a group of roots which in one declension name a species of tree and in another the fruit, nut or seed of the said tree.

Presentation: There are seven nominal declensions to be considered. I will discuss each one under the formula for its pair of suffixes, or suffix. In my convention *NN refers, not to a formally-established Ur-form, but to a summary formula which will be recognised as, or as sufficiently like, the actual form in any language one is looking at. Within languages *nn is a comparable abstract or summary form representing a morpheme which may appear in different allomorphs. Thus “the suffix *-DI is represented in Dagbani by *-li which may appear as –ni”. I number the declensions with Roman numerals; this is an arbitrary device, but one needs some way of referring to a particular declension. The order is quasi-arbitrary: everyone starts with the persons declension and ends the core group with the liquid/mass one – the two with some semantic basis. The three which contain most count nouns follow, people differ in their order. I then put the smaller and rather irregular ‘cow, horse, snake and money’ group before the liquids (in earlier presentations the order of these two was reversed). It is also usual to list the odd or rare groups at the end: the only one of these in our languages I list as seventh.

It is a matter of taste where one draws the line between very-small classes and irregularities. Some items are regularly irregular, in many cases in the same way from language to language (but not the same as each other) – ‘guineafowl’, ‘hand’, and ‘sheep’, for instance have normal suffixation but abnormal sg./pl. pairing, ‘man’, ‘small’ and ‘money’ have a different form of the root for singular and plural (dropping or adding a consonant), ‘house’ may collapse its plural to a single syllable (*yi- + *-a > yiya > ya) and sometimes retains its suffix in compounded forms.

Stem/Suffix Boundary: The stems onto which these forms are suffixed may end with a vowel, a nasal, or the consonants –B-, –D-, -G-, -L-, -S- (voicing non-contrastive). It is the interaction between stem-ending and suffix-beginning that makes the actual data so much more complex than the basic system I postulate here.

The overall system for Mampruli can be seen in an item I omitted here.

General Observations: A number of the singular suffixes are most likely to be obscured by morphophonemics, so it is often more useful to look at the plurals first. Therefore, when collecting survey or sample data, you must get plurals where applicable. You can usually get the stem form by asking for the noun followed by an adjective. There is a widely-found rule that lengthens a stem-final vowel before a consonant-initial suffix. There is a tendency to drop final vowels, very common in Agole Kusaal, Talni, and the Dagaari cluster (also Buli). Sometimes the lost suffix-final vowel is echoed or metathesised too before the consonant.

The Declensions

In the following we will go through seven declension pattern and discuss them one by one.

I. The *-A~O~Ø / -BA Declension

The *BA element for persons plural goes right down to Bantu. It may assimilate a preceding nasal to make -m+b-, and may be in turn cross-assimilated to the nasality to give –m+m- The resulting geminate may be degeminated -m- .

Here an example for the word strangers --> *SAAN- + -BA  :

Language *SAAN- + -BA
Mampruli saamma
Dagbani saamba
Kusaal saam(a)

Following stem-final b the ‘devoicing’ rule may apply

Here an example for the word men:

Language *DAB- + *-BA
Mampruli dɔppa
Dagbani daba (~dabba~dɔbba)
Kusaal dap(pa)

The singular is usually *-A in this group, but *O and zero are found.

Founder-members of the declension are ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘person’ and ‘stranger’: other basic nouns are few, but forms in this declension are common as it is a productive or widely-lexicalised way of forming agent nouns from the imperfective forms of verbs.

Special item One special item which is found throughout is ta(a)ba 'together, each-other'.

The singular, presumably *ta.a, is rarely found as such, unless in compounds like:

Language use of ta(a)ba English translation
Mampruli nyintaa co-wife
Dagbani nyintaa co-wife
Kusaal nintaa co-wife

(MP/DB) nyintaa (KLA nintaa) “co-wife”, dataa “wife’s lover”, but these are now in Decl.3 (pl. –taas(i) ) :

“peer, equal, ‘fellow-friend’, neighbour”

MP taraana KLA tiraan HG to ~ todaana pl. (all) taaba : DB taba

II. The *-DI / *-A Declension

The plural suffix *-A derives from something like *ŊA seen in the archaic survival in the Dagbani indefinite shɛŋa “some, certain ones” (and, e.g. in Buli). Interestingly parallel to the historic development of that *Ŋ in initial position,the plural suffix has an allomorph *YA when following a stem-final vowel.

“roads” *SO- + *-A  : DB/MP sɔya HG soya KLA sueya

After all the consonant-final stems it just forms with the consonant a final CV syllable. One can therefore fairly confidently isolate the stem by removing the final -a.

It is in the singular that the fun starts. The most obvious (post-vocalic) form of II.sg. and IV.pl./collective in Mampruli is identical, -ri (In all the languages [r] is an allophone of /d/ but speakers familiar with English have insisted in representing it orthographically.

The corresponding pronoun, historically and in systems which still (again?) have class-concord, is *DI

In several languages the pronoun has an allomorph li (Dagbani: di subject/possessive, li object, Kusaal: di and li in free, or(idio-?)dialectal variation. The suffix is basically *-li in Dagbani and some other languages:

For example: “road” = *SO- + *-DI

Language *SO- + *-DI
Dagbani Soli
Mampruli/Hanga Soori
Kusaar suer(e)

Following a nasal the *D becomes n and/or preceding the *D a stem-final nasal may become n: the cross-assimilation obscures the contrast of stem-final nasals which is visible before the vocalic plural suffix:

For example: “lion” = *GBIGM- *-DI / -*A  :

Language *GBIGM- *-DI / -*A
Mampruli gbigimni or gbiginni/ gbigima
Dagbani gbuɣinli/gbuɣima

Following an l a double ll results in Mampruli as much as in Dagbani:

For example “egg” = *GEL- + *-DI  :

Language *GEL- + *-DI
Dagbani galli/gala
Mampruli gyɛlli/gyɛla
Hanga jilli/jila
Kusaar gel(le)/gela

When the resulting geminates are degeminated, the singular suffix suffix looks like just *-I  :

For example “tooth”= *ÑIN- + *-DI/*-A:

Language *ÑIN- + *-DI/*-A
Mampruli/Hanga nyinni/nyina
Kusaar nyin(e)/nyina
Dagbani nyini/nyina

Following b, g, and s the normal morphology applies (may be epenthetic vocoid, s may be h in some contexts). Following another d~r, instead of the plain devoicing various things can happen (note that three results are possible with the same word in Mampruli)

*KPAD- + *-RI language word
Cross-assimilation Mampruli kpalli
No change Dagbani kparili
Dissimilation(metathesis?) Mampruli kparili1
Devoicing and retention Kusaal kparit
Devoicing and retention Mampruli/Hanga kpatiri

Membership has all sorts of animals (wild and domestic), body parts (single and paired) and inanimate objects, in many cases with semantically-comparable roots being found in II or IV. In DB and MP (? partially in the others) ‘tree’ stems in III refer to the tree and in II to the fruit.

III. The *-GA /*-SI Declension :

The related pronoun is *KA. *SI is very resistant to morphophonemic change (until you get to the Dagaari/Birifor area where a regional rhotacism changes *S >r thus completely confusing *-DI, *-SI and *-RI !) except that MP doesn’t seem to like -ssi and following a stem-final s uses the suffix *-a:

For example:

“gecko” (and “thatching-‘needle’”) = *SEBS- + *-GA/*-SI  : sɛbsiga /sɛbsa

The singular suffix has the ‘weak G’ which disappears after a(and in DB/HG e ando ) and becomes a weak vocoid or semivowel after (mid-)high vowel.

Following a nasal, the nasal assimilates to ŋand thegis either retained or cross-assimilates-ŋŋa, with possible degemination -ŋa.

A further complication is that there seems to be a tendency for final -ŋV to drop its vowel, even in languages that do not otherwise drop final vowels. As both singular and plural suffixes begin with consonants, roots in this declension never appear before a vowel so any contrast between the different nasals (m, n, and ŋcan all appear root-finally) is neutralised. This does not apply in KLA which metathesises or anticipates the final vowel of *-SI, but the stem-final nasal is always -m in these forms, which seems to be by rule rather than intrinsic.

donkey - *BUn- + *-GA/*-SI
language singular plural
Mampruli buŋŋa bunsi
Dagbane buŋa bunsi
Kusaal buŋ bumis

There are also cases in various languages where the nasal disappears altogether in the plural.

black-berry tree (Vitex)
  • ŊARn- + -*GA/*-SI
language singular plural
Dagbane ŋaringa ŋarinsi
Mampruli nyariŋga nyarinsi
Kusaal aariŋ aaris

Stem-final 'g' may give rise to devoicing, such as “stool” (and “mahogany tree”) – *KUK- + *-GA :

Language *KUK- + *-GA
Mampruli Kukka
Kusaal Kok
Dagbani kuɣa
Hanga Kogu

Stem-final b, l, r, s follow normal phonology with *-GA.

The statement for the semantics of the group is similar to that on Decl. II above. One curious anomaly is that W-O/V has two competing stems for “smoke” (*ÑO- and ZO-) but both have the III.pl suffix *-SI which is not used for any other non-count item. There is also a derivation which makes an instrument noun from a verb by using the imperfective stem in this declension.

IV.*-GU /*-RI ~ *-GU /*-A/*-RI Declension

There is good reasons to believe that the original value of the plural suffix of this declension was non-count, aggregate or mass. Manessy [4] speaks of collectives but this refers to an aggregate of potentially-countable items whereas some common lexemes with this suffix are ‘mist’, ‘laziness’, ‘mucus’; which are not particularly that, while bees are typically a referent where the swarm is salient and the single insect a member, in MP bee/bees is in Decl. III, while the IV.pl is the liquid/mass “honey”

MP “bee” SI- “a bee/bees” siiya/siisi “honey” siiri

Abstracts like “readiness” are also in this sub-declension. Presumably, however, those which are aggregates, plus the system-pressure towards singular-plural pairings, led to the adoption of *-GU as initially a ‘singulative’ and eventually to *-GU/*-RI as a normal singular/plural declension. Individual items may vary:

rubbish - *SA- + (*-GU/)*-RI
language singular plural
Mampruli sa'ari Ø
Dagbani saɣiri Ø
Kusaal sauk a piece if rubbish sa'ad

The original form of the suffix is problematic: it varies within and across languages between -ri, -di, -ni, -to, -te and maybe others. The most we can probably say at the moment is that it was an alveolar consonant different but similar to that in the II.sg. suffix. Vowels tend to vary, again within as well as across languages, at least one place (change between front-back, high-mid, mid-low). In these languages there does not seem to be a clear related pronoun, even in FR which preserves (has re-formed) a concord system. May be the MP/DB.KL di conceals two pronouns, II.sg. and IV.coll. (in MP it is used for abstracts but not inanimates as in DB/KL).

When the singular morphophonemics obscures the root, its form is usually clear in the plural:

The pattern below needs to be verified

MP |doo/ dɔppa [man/men] MP| /daari [stick/sticks], MP| dawadawa/dawadawas [pod/pods]

DB| doo/daba [man/men] DB| dɔɣu/dari [stick/sticks]

In MP there is a clear rule that automatically uses *-a for the plural where the stem ends in a nasal; this is also found elsewhere but not so unequivocally. Dagbani manages to make the best of both worlds:

skin - *GBAN- + *-GU / *-RI ~ -A
language singular plural Notes
Mampruli/Hanga gbaŋŋu gbana “skin, hide, ‘throne’ (thing a chief sits on), chiefly office, leather, paper, card, letter, book …”
Dagbani gbɔŋ gbana “‘throne’ (thing a chief sits on), chiefly office” (***CHECK:*** gbandi used once in Bible for animal hides)
Kusaal gbauŋ gbana as MP/HG

“disease” – *DOOD- + *-GU/*-RI

Language *DOOD- + *-GU/*-RI
Mampruli dooru / dootti
Dagbani dɔro / dɔriti

Following a stem-final 'l' the suffix is usually *-A and there may be a nasalization which also occurs in verbs in similar contexts:

“leather bag” – *KOL- + -GU/*-A  :

Language *KUK- + *-GA
Mampruli kɔlug / kɔla or kɔna
Kusaal kolug / kon
Dagbani koligu / kola, kolti or kolisi
Hanga koligu / kolisi

This last example leads us on to the problems of the singular *-GU. The pronoun is *KU, seen in the archaic survival in the Dagbani and Mampruli bun’ kuŋ ka ni ‘a thing which does not exist’, traditional euphemism for the death of a chief (“he has become …”). Hanga very commonly, Dagbani frequently, and other languages sporadically, show singular *-GU paired with plural *-SI. On the broader canvas this is definitely an aberration, but may justify setting up a further declension in the internal systems of the languages where this is too common to be considered an irregularity. In ‘Reinterpretation’ I am arguing that this is a generalising of the *-SI plural, probably helped by the similar behaviour of the ‘weak G’ in the two singular suffixes, leading to obfuscation. Also the tendency to drop the final u after the g has assimilated to ŋ (see singulars of “skin …” in example above). General rules can probably cover the ‘weak G’ in both singular suffixes; the difference in the forms is due to the strong backing-and-rounding prosody earlier in the word anticipating the *-GU suffix; this is the main topic of ‘SVMR’. In earlier examples see how “stick” *DA- and “dawadawa” *DO- come out the same in MP/DB with *-GU, and MP gbaŋŋu “skin” ends up as gbɔŋ in Dagbani. However the *G of *-GU maintains itself better after high vowels – see ‘stick, dawadawa’ above and:

“red” – *ZE- + *-GU

Language *ZE- + *-GU
Mampruli (IV) zeoo/zeeri
Mampruli (III) zeaa/zeesi
Dagbani ʒiɛɣu/ʒiɛri
Dagbani ʒee/ʒiɛhi
Hanga zee/zeesi

(“dawadawa pod” HG doo/doori )

Following *B- , *L- , *R- and *S- the *-GU and the *RI (or *-A) look pretty much like the starred forms some of these roots are useful o check on the existence and form of this declension in a language or dialect being surveyed.

“body-hair, fur, feather: single strand/mass” – KOB- + *-GU / *-RI :

Language KOB- + *-GU / *-RI
Mampruli kɔbgu/kɔbri
Dagbani kɔbigu/kɔbiri
Kusaal kon1bug/konbid

(HG goes to Decl.2, kobiri/koba, which makes it symonymous with “bone”)

  • L- ‘skin bag’ see above

“fool” – JED- + *-GU\ *-A  :

Language JED- + *-GU\ *-A
Mampruli gyɛrigu/gyɛra
Dagbani jɛrigu/jɛra ~ jɛriti (cf. gbarigu/gbariti “cripple”1)

“old” – *KUD- / *-GU / *-A :

Language *KUD- / *-GU / *-A
Mampruli kurigu/ -kura
Dagbani kurigu/ -kura
Hanga kurigu/ -kura
Kusaal kudug/ -kuda

Language Singular/Plural English translation
Mampruli bɔsigu/bɔsa ~ bɔsiri puff-adder
Dagbani nyimsigu/nyimsa warning
Kusaal besug/besid pot (type)
Hanga nyesigu/nyesa black ant

The vast majority of *–sigu nouns are gerunds and plural formations like (MP) boosigu/boosa “question/questions” are secondary.

After a velar stop devoicing may apply:

“(cooking-1)pot” *DUG- + *-GU / *-RI:

Language *DUG- + *-GU / *-RI
Mampruli dukku / dugri
Kusaal duk / dugud2
Dagbani duɣu / duɣiri
Hanga dugu / dugiri3

(MP pɛkku / pɛ'ari4 “piece of bark/bark” sɔkku /sɔ'ari “trenching-hoe”)

The membership of the paired declension is much as for II and III. Some variation where the same stem is in II or IV, either within one language or in different languages, I suspect to be due to the similarity of the form in the II.sg. and IV.pl (what I am calling here *-DI and *-RI but in MP both *-ri) – “rubbish” (see above) in HG is Decl. II sagiri/saga. As we have seen the subclass with *-RI only is non-countables.Both plural and singular suffix can be found as verbal noun markers, for derived stems ending in a velar and other derived stems respectively.

V.*-FU /*-I Declension

The declension is small and most members show vagaries not covered by strict regularity. However all the languages have “cow”1, “snake” and “money2” with a *‑FU suffix in the singular and *-I in the plural. Other common members are “horse” (except HG which uses ‘riding-thing’ for both horse and donkey), “genet”, “millet/ cereal3” and “guinea-worm”.

The *‑FU is fairly unreactive morphophonemically. In this declension only it is the plurals which are funny. When you get down to the phonetic level there are some interesting effects (*-F as well as *-S may come out as [h] in various situations; with apocope of final vowel the suffixes *-SI and *-FU come out in Talni as [-h] with respectively spread and rounded lips).

There are two oddities in the plural: one is that the suffix *-I is anticipated by umlaut on a vowel in the root:

Mampruli - *-FU/*-I
English singular plural
cow 'naafu/na'a- nigi
snake waafu/wa'a- wigi
coin/money la'afu/la'a- ligidi

The notable item is “millet/cereal” where the root is just *KA- and when the *a becomes /i/ before *-I the *k may be fronted as in :

MP: “millet/cereal” kaafu/ka-/kyi (DB/HG spelling chi')

Learners and some analysts take some time to recognise the identity of chi and the ka- prefix (one type of guineacorn is often ‘red-millet’ kazeoo in MP) and kaafo if it exists.

The other oddity is that there is often an extra consonant between the root (as shown in the singular and the combining-form) and the *-I suffix, see ‘money’ above and:

MP “guineaworm” nyirifu / nyilli “adze” leefu / leemi “genet” peefu / peri ~ peemi “dawa-dawa seed” zunfu / zunni

I have always assumed that this is stem allomorphy and not allomorphy of the suffix or an alternative suffix, but I’m not sure I could prove it. The range cannot be brought under either *-DI or *-RI and a third almost-homonymous suffix is a bit much. Sometimes the alveolar appears in the combining-form (see below ‘horse’), a third approach would be to say that the *-FU swallows a root-final consonant … ?

There are other stem oddities in the declension:


language "Snake"
Mampruli waafu / wa'a- / wigi ~ wugi ~ wiigi
Dagbani wahu / waɣi’ / yuri ~ waɣiri ~ wɔɣiri
Kusaal waaf(o) / wa'a- / wiigi


Language "Horse"
Mampruli yoofu / wuri- / wuri ~ yuri
Dagbani wahu ~ wɔhu / wɔr’ / yuri
Kusaal wief(u) / wed- / widi

While about half of the members are some sort of creature (more if we include compounds with ‘horse’ (“mantis” in MP is ‘God’s horse’) and ‘snake’, they are creatures of very different kinds, and the rest is a rag-bag.

VI. *-M Declension

The sixth declension is non-count, liquids and masses. There is no semantic contrast between members of this declension and the non-counts which appear in IV.pl. – founder-members here are “water”, “oil”, “fire”, “urine”, “salt”, “blood”, “milk”1, “pito”, “dew”, “sand” (World-English sense), “ashes”, “flour”, “medicine” (the ‘tree’ root with liquid/abstract suffix) but it also includes abstracts – MP sonya/sooba' is “witch/witches” (irreg. decl.I ), “witchcraft” is soom, toom is “bitterness”, n-dɔ'ai is “to bring forth”, dɔ'am is “birth. This is even a productive pattern for abstracts from adjectives, detailed in ‘Derivation’ < TN-VNderivn06u.doc#Abstract >. The *-M suffix seems to resist any spectacular morphophonemic changes.

Language: Mampruli Hanga Dagbani Kusaal
"Water" koom koom kom ku'om
"Pito" daam daam dam daam
"Ashes" tampɛ'alim tampiligim tampiligim tampeligim

It seems that epenthetic vowels are inserted between stem and suffix in this declension, so there is not much morphophonemics. Only there is a progressive weakening to a syllabic *Ŋ > nasalization of vowel > total loss as one moves south and west through the Dagaari/Birifor dialects into the extinction of the system.

Although the rubric is ‘non-count’, the pressure of the system towards singular/plural pairing means that several languages use a plural formation for senses like “three beers (please, waiter!)”, “drops or portions of water”, “types of flour”. A common suffix is *‑MA < TNnClas1u.doc#Class6pl >. It is not clear whether *-MA is another Gur ‘class’ (Manessy’s various reconstructions have numerous not-very-clear *-Mv markers), is a local ad hoc strengthening of *-M , or is *-M + *-A .

It seems that epenthetic vowels are inserted between stem and suffix in this declension, so there is not much morphophonemics. Only there is a progressive weakening to a syllabic *Ŋ > nasalization of vowel > total loss as one moves south and west through the Dagaari/Birifor dialects into the extinction of the system.

Although the rubric is ‘non-count’, the pressure of the system towards singular/plural pairing means that several languages use a plural formation for senses like “three beers (please, waiter!)”, “drops or portions of water”, “types of flour”. A common suffix is *‑MA < TNnClas1u.doc#Class6pl >. It is not clear whether *-MA is another Gur ‘class’ (Manessy’s various reconstructions have numerous not-very-clear *-Mv markers), is a local ad hoc strengthening of *-M , or is *-M + *-A .

FR on the other hand uses the *-FU suffix as a singulative giving kɔhɔ “a single drop, portion of water” the only logic I can see here would be that cows are the most salient member of Decl.V and are a herd beast, with *‑FU as a single member. “coin/money” and “grain/cereals” would back this up, though most of the others are not things that come in aggregates,

VII.*-BU Declension

There is only ordinary noun in this declension, and that sometimes moves into VI :

“t.z.” MP sa'abu HG sogibu KLA sa'ab DB saɣim

but the forms are quite common because this is the regular ending for verbal nouns of non-extended roots (and spreading further in DB) : < TN-VNderivn06u.doc#Gerund >. There is a tendency already noticed for these gerunds to develop usage as common nouns: widely found is diib(u) functioning much more commonly as just “food” than as ‘act or manner of eating’ < TN-VNderivn06u.doc#Gerund2noun >. Like the *-M of Decl.VI the suffix seems to insert an epenthetic vowel after several of the consonant stems rather than assimilating. However roots ending in *B- may give a devoicing effect MP n-sɔbi “to write” sɔppu “writing”, and the other homorganic root-final consonant *M- may also lead to some adjustment: MP n-wum “to hear” wumpu “hearing”.

As in Decl.VI a plural may be made with *-MA to indicate several portions or types of t.z.: I have never heard a plural of diibu – the alternative formation of gerund-to-adjective (see above) is used MP bundirigu / bundira (lit. ‘thing-eatable/s’): also a plural adjective can be used – disuma “good foods”.

Extra-systemic Items

There is usually a way of making a plural of nouns which do not belong to a historic declension/class/gender. Because the most common basic-vocabulary items in this group are persons, I for a long time lumped these as Decl.I.a or I.x or I.bis. These person nouns are particularly “father” “mother” and “friend”. Though we talk of “my mothers/fathers”, ‘mothers’ being genetrix, her co-wives, and sisters, and her side of the family generally, and ‘fathers’ the genitor and his brothers and his side of the family, it might be that the terms were originally intrinsically singular as referring to the biological parents, and that in some social system a ‘friend’ was some unique relation, such as a ‘godfather’ in an initiation rite. In MP there is a disyllabic morpheme *dima which is suffixed or cliticised to these items to make the plural:

ba/badima “fathers” ma/madima “mother/s” zɔ/zɔdima “friend/s

This also functions as a free noun, more or less as plural of daana “person distinguished by or associated with sth.” So Seydu dima is “Seydu and his mates, gang, associates” and the Tammali dima are the people in/of Tamale. HG is identical to M here: in DB the setup is the same but the form is nima ([nəma] ::

DB ba/banima ma/manima zo/zɔnima Tamali nima

In Kusaal there is a contrast, however, dim(a) is the “people of” form, the external plural being nam(a) :

KLA saam/saamnam ma/manam zua/zuanam Tamali dim

These external pluralisers are also used for items which are already plural, either ‘plural of majesty’:

“chief” – *NA- + *-A/*-BA  :

MP Naa! “O Chief,” / naaba “a chief” / nadima “chiefs”

“senior sibling of the same sex” – *BE- + *-DI/*-A  :

KLA bier “senior” / bieya “seniors” (but more commonly) bieya nam

This approach can also be used to mean “assorted collections or types of …”, and in Hanga this sense can be obtained by adding *-si to an already plural form:

gagiri "a gourd" gaga "gourds (one type)" gagasi “a number of gourds of different types”

The other class of nouns “which do not belong to a historic declension/class/gender” are loanwords. Sometimes the form of the original fits into an existing declension:

ENG “lorry” MP loori > pl. lɔya cf. soori/sɔya

ENG “book” MP bukku cf. dukku but more often' ENG “books” MP bugsi > sg. bukka cf. kugsi, kukka “stools, stool”

It is much more common, though, just to stick dima/nima/nam on the end of the borrowed singular.

“trucks, carts” MP tarɔkkudima DB tɔrokɔnima KL terokonam

 here again HG shows the generalisation of the *-si for pluralisation : tirooko/tirookosi


  1. Hunt, Geoffrey R. and Rosemary Hunt. 1981. A phonology of the Hanga language. Collected Language Notes, 18. Legon: Institute of African Studies of the University of Ghana. 47 p.
  2. Paul Schaefer and Jennifer Schaefer. 2003. Collected Field Report on the Phonology of Safaliba. Collected Language Notes No. 25. Legon, Institute of African Studies.
  3. John Callow. 1965. Kasem nominals - a study in analyses. JWAL II(1) pp 29-36.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Gabriel Manessy. 1968/71 Langues voltaïques sans classes. In Actes du huitième congres international de linguistique africaine. Abidjan, Université d'Abidjan , 335–346.