Region of the Kasem language
Region of the Kasem language

Kasem is a Mabia language and has roughly 250,000 speakers. It is spoken in the Upper East region of Northern Ghana. There are two dialects, East Kasem and West Kasem. The language is also known as Kasena, Kasim, Kassem, Kasɩm or Kassena.

Linguistic classificiation

  • Niger-Congo
    • Atlantic-Congo
      • Mabia
        • Mabia East
          • Kasem

Tone System

Kasem has a three level tone system with a low tone, a high tone and a mid level tone. Tonal changes lead either to lexical or grammatical differences.

Lexical Function

(1)   a.   A
b.   Á

Grammatical Function

(2)   a.   Wu
b.   Wú

Noun Class System1

Class SG Suffix PL Suffix SG Noun PL Noun Gloss
I -u, -o, -ʊ -a, -ə bu biə child/children
II -ɪ, -i, -e, -ɛ -a, -ə bɪnɪ bɪna year/years
III -a, -ə, -ga, -gə, -ŋa, -ŋə -ɪ, -i, -e, -ɛ naga foot/feet
IV -ʊ, -u, -o, -ɔ, -gʊ, -gu, -go, -gɔ, -ŋʊ, -ŋu, -ŋo, -ŋɔ -rʊ, -ru, -nʊ, -nu, -lʊ, -lu piu pweeru mountain/mountains
V -ŋʊ, -ŋɔ, -rɔ, -ro, -gu, -u -nɪ, -ni, -m bʊŋʊ bʊm goat/goats

Pronominal System1

Personal Pronouns/Possessive Pronouns

The table below provides an overview of the personal pronouns in Kasem that are used only for persons. There are special personal pronouns, which are only used in order to refer to particular noun classes. Thus, the system for the personal pronouns in Kasem is divided into two classes of pronouns, namely those refering to persons and those refering to non-human entities. The personal pronouns in Kasem are used to express possession as well, meaning there are no special possessive pronouns.

Number Person Subject Function Gloss Object Function Gloss
SG 1st a I -nɪ me
2nd n you -m you
3rd o he/she -o him/her
PL 1st we -dɪbam us
2nd á you abam you
3rd ba they -ba them

The second table below shows the personal pronouns corresponding to the noun class system in Kasem.

Class SG PL
I o ba
II ya
III ka

Emphatic Pronouns

Emphasis is expressed by particular emphatic pronouns listed in the following table.

Person SG PL Gloss
1st amʊ dcbam me/we
2nd nmʊ abam you/you
3rd wʊm/wʊntu bam/bantʊ he/she/they

(3)   Wʊm yaru.
3SG.EMPH   be   forger
'He is a forger.’1

Reciprocal Pronouns

The reciprocal pronoun in Kasem is daanɪ ('each other') as in (4), which can also appear as a prefix da- in (5a) or as a suffix -da in (5b).

(4)   Ba   soe   daanɪ.
3PL   like each.other
'They like each other.’1

(5)   a.   Tu-na   á   tɪtɪ   da-tee   nɪ.
humiliate-IMP   2PL   self   each.other-to   at
'Humiliate each other!'1
b.   Kɪ-da   lanyɪranɪ.
do-each.other good
'Do good to each other.’1

Reflexive Pronouns

In Kasem, reflexivity is not expressed by a particular reflexive pronoun, rather the word tɪtɪ or katɪ ('-self') is added to the personal pronoun form.

Person SG PL Reflexive Marker Gloss
1st A tɪtɪ myself/ourselves
2nd N Á tɪtɪ yourself/yourselves
3rd O Ba tɪtɪ himself,herself/themselves

Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns are formed by the pronouns of the noun class system, to which the suffix -lʊ is attached to. Interestingly, these relative pronouns correspond to some forms of the indefinite pronouns introduced in the subsection below.

Class SG PL
I wʊlʊ balʊ
II dɪlʊ yalʊ
III kalʊ sɪlʊ
IV kʊlʊ tɪlʊ
V kʊlʊ dɪlʊ

(6)   Nɔɔnʊ   wʊlʊ   na   tu   tɪn   yɪ   a   ko   mʊ.
person   REL   SUBJ   come.PST   SUBJ   be   1SG.POSS   father   FOC
'The person that came is my father.’1

Demonstrative Pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns in Kasem are formed by the pronouns corresponding to the noun class system. Each pronoun takes the prefix of its corresponding noun class
and attaches it to the demonstrative -ntu.

Class SG Gloss PL Gloss
I wuntu this/that bantu these/those
II dɪntu this/that yantu these/those
III kantu this/that sɪntu these/those
IV kuntu this/that tɪntu these/those
V kuntu this/that dɪntu these/those

Indefinite Pronouns

There exist several indefinite pronouns. A few of those are presented in the table below.

Class Number Certain Some Any
I SG wʊdoŋ --- wʊlʊ wʊlʊ
I PL badonnə badaara balʊ balʊ
II SG dɪ doŋ --- dɪlʊ dɪlʊ
II PL yadonnə yadaara yalʊ yalʊ
III SG kadoŋ --- kalʊ kalʊ
III PL sɪdonnə sɪdaara sɪlʊ sɪlʊ
IV SG kudoŋ --- kʊlʊ kʊlʊ
IV PL tɪdonnə tɪdaara tɪlʊ tɪlʊ
V SG kudoŋ --- kʊlʊ kʊlʊ
V PL dɪdonnə dɪdaara dɪlʊ dɪlʊ

Interrogative Pronouns

In Kasem, interrogative pronouns can either occur clause-initially or clause-finally, respectively. Compare (a) and (b). These pronouns are also formed on the basis of the pronouns corresponding to the noun class system.

Class SG who, what, which PL who, what, which How much
I wɔɔ bra bagra
II dɔɔ yɔɔ yagra
III kɔɔ sɔɔ sɪgra
IV kɔɔ tɔɔ tɪgra
V kɔɔ dɔɔ dɪgra

(7)   a.   Wɔɔ   mu   tuə?
who   FOC   came
'Who came?’1
b.   N   ve   yən?
2SG   go   where
'Where did you go?'1

Word Order

Kasem has a basic SVO word order. This is shown below for an intransitive, a transitive and a ditransitive each involving an adverb.

(8)   Ada   diim   toŋe.
Ada   yesterday   work.PFV
'Ada worked yesterday.’
(9)   A   go   boŋo   mo   diim.
1SG   slaughter   goat   FOC   yesterday
'I slaughtered a goat yesterday.’
(10)   Ziema   pɛ   Napog   kambia   diim.
Ziema   give.PFV   Napog   pot   yesterday
'Ziema gave Napog a pot yesterday.’

Verb System


In general, negation in Kasem is expressed by particles, which occur between the subject and the predicate. The particle wu is used to negate accomplished actions or event, while the particle ba is used for actions and event that are not accomplished. Thus, the former is used in the imperfective, while the latter is used in the perfective aspect. Negation in imperatives and involving future is expressed by the particles and , respectively.

Verbal Negation

There are particular verbs that have a specific morphological form for the affirmative as well as for negation. The verb ('be') for instance has the negative counterpart daɪ ('not be'), but note that the verb is homophone with the negative particle used in imperatives. The verb wu ('be') also has two morphological forms, whereby the affirmative and negative form are illustrated below. Whereas the verb in (11) is a state verb, the verb in (12) corresponds more to a motion verb.

(11)   a.   Wuntu   yɪ   a   kaanɪ.
DEM   be   1SG.POSS   wife
'This is my wife.’1
b.   O   daɪ   a   kaanɪ.
3SG   not.be   1SG.POSS   wife
'She is not my wife.'1

(12)   a.   O   wu   sɔŋɔ   nɪ .
3SG   be   home   at
'S/he is at home.’1
b.   O   təri   sɔŋɔ   nɪ .
3SG   be.NEG   home   at
'S/he is not at home.’1

Negation of a declarative

The negative particle precedes the predicate and follows the subject, as shown in the contrast between the affirmative in (13a) and the negative in (13b).

(13)   a.   O   ve   sɔŋɔ.
3SG   go.PFV   home
'He went home.’1
b.   O   wu   ve   sɔŋɔ.
3SG   NEG   go.PFV   home
'He did not go home.’1

Negation in an interrogative

In interrogative clauses, the negative particle is also wu preceding the predicate.

(14)   a.   Kaanɪ   zɔgɪ   mɪna   na?
woman.DEF   pound.PFV   millet.PL   Q
'Did the woman pound any millet?’1
b.   Kaanɪ   wu   zɔgɪ   mɪna   na?
woman.DEF   NEG   pound.PFV   millet.PL   Q
'Did the woman not pound any millet?’1

Negation involving future

If negation refers to an action or event that takes place in the future, thus in the imperfective form, the particle is used to negate the expression. The same particle, however, is also used in the present tense, if the action or event is not accomplished yet, but it changes its tone to mid low, ba.

(15)   a.   A   lagɪ   a   leeni.
1SG   be.about   1SG   sing
'I will sing.’1
b.   A   bá   lagɪ   a   leeni.
1SG   NEG.FUT   be.about   1SG   sing
'I will not sing.’1

Negation of an imperative

Similar to other Mabia languages, Kasem has a particular preverbal negative particle that is only used in imperatives. The negative particle wu can not be used in imperative contexts. In some cases, the particle na is attached as a suffix to the verb, which stresses the interdiction and can be translated by the referent making sure that the hearer understood the imperative expression.

(16)   a.   Yɪ   kɪ   kuntu.
'Don't do this!’1
b.   Yɪ   kɪ-na   kuntu.
'Don't do this, understood?!’1
c.   Yɪ   kɪ-na   sɔɔ.
NEG.IMP   do.IMP-PTCP   noise
'Don't make noise, ok?!’1

Question Formation

In Kasem, it is possible for the question word to occupy several positions in the clause. It can appear ex situ, in situ as well as embedded.

Ex situ

In ex situ questions, the question word occurs clause-initially.

(17)   Bɛ   mo   Adam   kea?
what   FOC   Adam   do
'What did Adam do.’

In situ

In situ questions exhibit the question word either as the clause-final element or in a position somewhere higher than the VP.

(18)   a.   Ziema   pɛ   bɛ   *(mo)   Napog?
Ziema   give   what   FOC   Napog
'What did Ziema give to Napog?’
b.   Ziema   pɛ   Napog   bɛ   *(mo)?
Ziema   give   Napog   what   FOC
What did Ziema give to Napog?

Multiple Questions

In Kasem, multiple questions correspond more to echo questions. In general, questions involving more than one question word are more acceptable, if one is a coordination as shown below.

(19)   a.   Wɔ   mo   yeigi   bɛ   de   bɛ?
who   FOC   buy   what   and   what
'Who bought what and what?’
b.   Napari   *(mo)   yeigi   sɔŋɔ   de   lɔɔre   (*mo).
Napari   FOC   buy   house   and   car   FOC
'Napari bought a house and a car.'


  • 1. Niggli, Urs and Idda Niggli (2008): Grammaire élémentaire du kasim . Burkina Faso: Société Internationale de Linguistique 
  • 2. Awedoba, A.K. (1996): Kasem Nominal Genders and Names. Research Review (NS) Vol. 12, NOS 1 & 2.: 

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Page last modified on Thursday March 23, 2023 12:37:09 CET by Melissa.