Dagaare and the Gur Languages
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Dagaare and the Gur Languages
Dr. A. Bodomo
The University of Hong Kong
Dagaare and the Gur Languages1. Location and classification:
Dagaare and the Gur languages are situated in the interior parts of West African sub-continent.
They cover countries such Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and the northern parts of the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria.
Location of the Gur family of languages
The most prominent languages of the Gur family are in the Mabia subgroup.
We focus on the Mabia subgroup.
The Mabia languages are divided into five main groups. These are:
Western Mabia Northern Mabia Central MabiaSouthern Mabia Eastern MabiaBodomo (1994)
Western Mabia It includes Dagaare, Waale, Birifor and Safaliba.
Northern MabiaIt includes just Moore and its dialectal forms.
Central Mabia (also called Gurenne).It includes Frafra, Nankani (Buli, Konni) and Nabit.
Southern MabiaIt includes Dagbane, Mampruli and Nanuni
Eastern MabiaIt is composed of Kusaal and Talni.
2. Some facts about the languagesThere are no clear boundaries between the languages, but a continuum. E.g. Mampruli may relate to Dagbane or to Kusaal; i.e., Manpruli could belong to Southern Mabia or Eastern Mabia.
Typological features:i.e., phonological, morphological, and syntactic features
Phonology:The languages are marked by preponderance of consonants and a scarcity of vowel phonemes. There are also syllabic nasal usage and tone representation.
i. Consonants:Some consonants are in double articulation.E.g. voiceless labio-velar stop: /kp/ in kpi$ to die
Regular allophones often involve /d/ and /r/, and /g/ and // across the various languages.
There are limited cases of free variation.E.g. /h/ and /z/ in the Dagaare word, haa / zaa@ all
ii. Vowels:There is the feature of vowel harmony (based on Advanced Tongue Root (ATR)) that divides the languages into harmonizing and non-harmonizing languages.
harmonizing languages: Western Mabia (e.g. Dagaare and Waale)non-harmonizing languages: The rest of the group
Front rounded vowels and back unrounded vowels are absent in these languages, except in phonetically conditioned environments.
iii. Syllabic nasality: This is a typological feature in the languages.
Syllabic nasals are often realized as pronouns and particles. E.g.:
the first person pronoun /N/ in Dagaare as in mba my father, nzu, my head and
the particle, -N, in Dagaare which is a cliticised form of the polarity marker, la.
iv. Tone:Gur languages are tone languages.
They are primarily two-toned with cases of downstep (H) in some of the languages.
tones express both lexical and grammatical oppositions. Examples in Dagaare:
in the verbs, da@ push and da buy
in the declarative and hortative readings of pronouns e.g. u kuli la yiriHe went home u kuli yiri He should go home
v. Syllable structure:Gur languages usually manifest open syllables.
Usually, a close syllable can be reconstructed into an open syllable.
e.g. ba$r (CVC) to leave could become ba$rI$ (CV.CV).
Morphology:i. Noun classes:In noun classification, most Niger-Congo languages use a system of class prefixes, but
Gur languages use a system of class suffixes.
The noun classification is typically based on singular/plural alternations (in relation to the root).
That is, most nouns exist in three forms: the root, the singular, and the plural. E.g. in the Dagaare word for woman/wife:pg- (root), pga (singular), pgba (plural)
In this example the singular/plural affixes are -a / -ba.
All nouns that exhibit this (-a / -ba) pattern are categorized into one class.
ii. Verb morphology:In most of the languages, there is a regular form of marking perfective and imperfective aspect by suffixes on the verbs.
The perfective and imperfective suffixes regularly respond to the vowel harmony feature for languages that have this.
Syntax:i. Word order:Most Gur languages exhibit the Subject Verb Object order in their basic sentence patterns.
ii. Verb serialization:A syntactic construction in which two or more lexical verbs may share arguments without intervening connectors.
Examples in Dagaarei.O de lagankoma3sg.take FACT.bookgive1sg.S/he gave me the book.ii.Odadaamalal3sgPASTpush1sgFACT.caus.fallS/he pushed me down.
3. Description of some Gur languagesMooreIt is the language of the Mossi.
It is the de facto national language in Burkina Faso.
It is the most prominent of the Gur languages in terms of the number of speakers and its political importance.
It is spoken by about 5 million people in Burkina Faso and about 1 million more in neighboring countries such as Cote dIvoire, Ghana, and Togo.
It is more closely related to Dagara, a variant of the Dagaare language.
DagbaniIncluding Nanuni, Dagbani is spoken by about 1 million people in Ghana.
It is a trade language in and around Tamale, the fourth largest town in Ghana.
It is a major language of education and literacy in Dagbon, home of the Dagomba.
It is taught in various undergraduate programmes at universities in Ghana.
Dagbane is more closely related to Mampruli than all the other languages.
DagaareDagaare, including Waale and Birifor, is spoken in north-western Ghana around towns like Wa, Tuna, Jirapa, Lawra and Nandom.
It is also spoken in Burkina Faso around towns like Dano and Dissin.
Native speakers of Dagaare number up to 2 million.
It is taught in primary and secondary schools in Dagao, homeland of the Dagaaba, and at universities in Ghana and Burkina Faso.
GurenneIncluding Frafra, Nankanne and Nabit, Gurenne is also has a large number of native speakers, numbering about a million.
It is the language of Bolgatanga, one of the cosmopolitan towns in northern Ghana.
It is fast becoming a lingua franca in north eastern Ghana for speakers of different languages such as Kusaal, Kasem, Mampruli, Talni, etc. in the Bolgatanga metropolitan area.
KusaalIt is the language of the Kusaasi.
It is spoken by about 250,000 people in the extreme north-eastern Ghana around towns like Bawku.
It is an important literacy language in the area.
It is related to Mampruli.
MampruliIt is the language of the Mamprussi.
It is spoken by about 100,000 people around towns such as Gambaga, Nalerigu, and Walewale.
It is very closely related to Kusaal and Dagbane.
It is quite intelligible to speakers Dagbane and Kusaal.
BuliIt is the language of the Bulsa.
It has about 65,000 speakers in and around Sandema.
It is closely related to the much smaller language, Konni, but quite distinct from all the other major Gur languages.
KasemIt is the language of the Kasena.
It belongs to the Grusi subgroup along with other languages such as Sisaali, Chakali, Tampulma, Kabre, Vagla, and Mo.
It is spoken around towns such as Navrongo in Ghana, and in adjacent settlements in Burkina Faso.
It is spoken by approximately 300,000 people. Kasem, like Dagaare, was one of the first literary languages of northern Ghana, having benefited from early missionary activities.
Sisaali (or Isaaleng)It is the language of the Sisaala.
It is spoken around the towns of Tumu, Gwellu and Lambussie in Ghana, and also in adjoining areas of Burkina Faso.
It is spoken by about 200,000 people.
It is hardly intelligible with the other languages. However, many speakers of Sisaali speak Dagaare as a second language.
KonkombaIt belongs to the Gurma group along with languages such as Moba and Bassari.
It is also called Likpakpalnli.
It is spoken by about 500,000 people.
Many speakers of this language speak Dagbane as a second language in their homeland around Saboba and Zabzugu.
It is taught in primary schools and there are many literacy programmes involving Konkomba.
4. ConclusionMost of these languages are being used for educational purposes in the communities.
Hausa is often thought by many people to be an effective lingua franca in the Gur speaking area but this is hardly a fact.
There are serious attempts at functional literacy and mass communication in all these indigenous languages.
Gradually, awareness is being raised about the importance of the mother tongues as important languages of mass communication for socio-economic development in this part of West Africa.
Further Reading Barker, P., Peoples, Languages and Religion in Northern Ghana, Ghana Accra: Evangelical Committee, 1986Bodomo, A. B., Dagaare: Languages of the World Materials No. 165. Munchen, Germany: Lincom Europa, 2000Bodomo, A. B., The Structure of Dagaare, Stanford Monographs in African Languages, Stanford, USA: CSLI publications, 1997Bodomo, A. B., Language, Culture, and History in Northern Ghana: An Introduction to the Mabia Linguistic Group, Nordic Journal of African Studies, vol. 3:2, 1994Goody, J., The Social Organisation of the LoWiili, London: IAS, 1967St. John-Parsons, D., Legends for Northern Ghana, London: Longmans, Accra: SPC, 1958.Manessy, G., Les Langues Oti/Volta, Paris: SELAF, 1975Manessy, G., Les Langues Voltaiques, in Les Langues dans le Monde Ancien et Moderne, edited by Jean Perrot, Paris: CNRS, 1981Naden, A., Language, History, and Legend in Northern Ghana, Sprache und Geschichte in Afrika 9 (1988)Naden, A., Gur, in Niger-Congo, edited by Bendor-Samuel, Lanham, MD: Universities Press of America, 1989Nikiema, E., Moore: L