Region of the Kusaal language
Region of the Kusaal language
Kusaal is a Mabia language and has 500 000 speakers. It is spoken in Ghana, Togo and Burkina Faso. Kusaal has two dialects, Agole and Toende. Agole is spoken in the east of Ghana and Togo, whereas Toende is spoken across the border of the north of Ghana to the south of Burkina Faso. There are approximately 350 000 speakers of Agole and 87 000 speakers of Toende.

Linguistic classification

  • Niger-Congo
    • Atlantic-Congo
      • Mabia
        • Mabia Central
          • Mabia Kusaal
            • Kusaal

Tone system

Kusaal has three level tones and a downstepped high tone.

Lexical Function

(1)   a.  

(2)   a.   būk
'to devine, so to say’1
b.   búk
'to be weak'1
c.   bùk
'to subside e.g. from anger'1

Grammatical Function

In Kusaal, the perfective and future negations are expressed by tone marking on the preverbal particles. The particles pʊ/ku both are negative future morphemes. If these particles are expressed by a low tone, they are translated as will not, while if they are expressed by a high tone, they are translated as did not.

(3)   a.   ḿ kúà.
'I did not farm.’1
b.   ḿ kùà.
'I will not farm.'1
c.   ń kiń.
'I did not go, i could not go.'1
d.   ń kìn.
'I will not go.'1

Noun Class System

Classes Suffixes Examples Gloss
a. 1/2 -a/-ba púà/púàbà person/persons
-t,-d/-b níd/nídíb person/persons
b. 1/2 ∅/nam(a) mà/mànàm(à) mother/mothers
-b(a)/-nam(a) yààb(à)/yàànàm/yàànàmà ancestor/ancestors
3/4 -g/-s bííg/bíís child/children
- ŋ/-mis gúŋ/gúmís kapok tree/kapok trees
5/6 -g/-d mɔ̟̀ɔ̟̀g/mɔ̟̀ɔ̟̀d grass/grasses
a. 7/8 -r(i)/-a yír,yírí/yá house/houses
b. 7/8 -∅/-a sɛ´ɛ´m/sɛ´ɛ´má porcupine/porcupines
9/10 -f(o)/-gi,-di wááf(ò)/wíígì snake/snakes
11 -m kú'òm Water

Pronominal System1

Personal Pronouns/Possessive Pronouns

In Kusaal, the personal pronouns are homonymous with the possessive pronouns. The only difference between both kinds of pronouns is that personal pronouns can occur in subject and object positions, while possessive pronouns are restricted to genitive positions meaning that they obligatorily immediately precede the nominal element they modify.2 The table below illustrates the paradigm for both kinds of pronouns.1

Person Subject / Possessor Object Emphatic
1st m ti -m -ti man/man tinam
2nd ya -if -ya fʋn yanam
3rd [+human] o ba o ba on banam
3rd [-human] di/li ba li ba din ban

Emphatic Pronouns

Emphatic pronouns are used in order to emphasize a certain role, meaning that they pragmatically are exclusive in the discourse.

(4)   Man   ka   o   noki   tis.
1SG.EMPH   FOC   3SG   take   give
‘It is me he gave it to.’1

Reciprocal Pronouns

Similarly to Dagbani and Gurene, the reciprocal pronoun in Kusaal is taaba, which means each other or one another.

(5)   Kpɛɛmnam   la   pa   tuud   nɛ   taaba
elders   DET   PST   insult.IMPERF   FOC   RECP
‘The elders were insulting each other.’1

Reflexive Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns are formed by the form of the personal pronouns and the reflexive morphem mɛŋ. In contrast to Gurene, in Kusaal the reflexive pronouns do not inflect for number.1

Personal Pronoun Suffix Singular Reflexive Pronoun Plural Reflexive Pronoun
1st -mɛŋ M m mɛŋ ti ti mɛŋ
2nd -mɛŋ fu fu mɛŋ ya ya mɛŋ
3rd [+human] -mɛŋ o o mɛŋ ba ba mɛŋ
3rd [-human] -mɛŋ di di mɛŋ di di mɛŋ

Relative Pronouns

Relative clauses in Kusaal can be headed either externally or internally, meaning that the head of the relative clause either is outside or inside the relative clause.34 There are two relative pronouns in Kusaal, kane and onɛ. While the former can refer to human and non-human entities and has a plural form bane, the latter can only refer to human entities and does not have a plural form.1 the contrast between these relative pronouns is shown in (6a) and (6b).

(6)   a.   Pu'a   kanɛ   da   ã   kʋndu'ar   la   du'a   biis   ayɔpɔ.
woman   REL   PST   COP   baren   DET   give.birth   children   eight
'The woman who was barren has given birth to eight children.’1
b.   Bipuŋ   la   onɛ   ziid   laa   la   li   nɛ.
girl   DET   REL   carry.IPFV   bowl   DEF   fall   FOC
'The girl, the one carrying the bowl, has fallen.'1

Demonstrative Pronoun

There are four demonstrative pronouns in Kusaal, which make a distinction in terms of number and distance. Thus, there is a distinction between proximate and distal demonstrative pronouns, whereby nwa and nɛ’ɛŋa/nɛ are used in singular for proximate elements, while bamma and 'banna'' are used in plural and refer to distal elements.1

Demonstrative Pronoun Gloss
nwa this/that
nɛ’ɛŋa/nɛ this/that
bamma these/those
banna these/those

Interrogative Pronoun

Interrogative pronouns in Kusaal can occur either clause-initially or they can stand in situ. The table below provides an overview of the interrogative pronouns in Kusaal, whereby kanɛ and banɛ can be used for human and non-human entities.2

Singular Gloss Plural Gloss
Human anɔ’ɔnɛ who anɔ’ɔnama which people
kanɛ which one banɛ which ones
Non-human din(ɛ)/ lin(e) which one
yaanɛ where
dakanɛ which day/ when
bɔ’ what bɔnama what things

(7)   a.   Anɔ’ɔn   fuug   ka   o   nɔk-kɛ?
whose   dress   FOC   3SG   take-INT
‘Whose dress did s/he take?’2
b.   …anɔ’ɔn   na   baŋ-ŋɛ?
…who   FUT   know-INT

‘... who will know?’2

Word Order

Kusaal has a strict SVO word order, but clefting is common. The following examples show the word order for an intransitive, a transitive and a ditransitive clause with either an adverbial or with an adjunct.

(8)   Adam   na   tʊm   France.
Adam   FUT   work   France
'Adam will work in France.’

(9)   Adam   kɔdig-nɛ   núá   (la) su'os?
Adam   slaughter-FOC   fowl   DET   yesterday
'Adam slaughtered the fowl yesterday.’

(10)   Ziema   tisi-(nɛ)   Napog   yʊʊr   su'os.
Ziema   give-FOC   Napog   pot   yesterday
'Ziema gave Napog a pot yesterday.’

Verb System

The VP in Kusaal consists of preverbal particles encoding tense, aspect, mood and polarity, and the main verb.

Preverbal Particles

The table below provides an overview of the most common preverbal particles.2

Temporal Particle Gloss Translation
pa/paa HOD.PST earlier today
sa/saa HEST.PST only yesterday
da/daa DIST.PST two or more days ago
Modality yan as usual
lɛn again
pʊn already
ɛ̃ɛti often
pa’ati may be
yaa COND if/when
nan still
sid actually
na FUT will
saa + na FUT.CRAS only tomorrow
ING going to
Polarity pʊ̀ NEG not
kʊ́ NEG.FUT will not
NEG.IMP don't

Main Verb

Verbs in Kusaal do not inflect for number, but for aspect. The aspectual system is split into the perfective form and the imperfective form. The perfective is marked by the suffix -ya, whereas the imperfective is marked by the suffix -t/-d. For instance, the verb di ('eat') in the perfective form is diya ('has eaten'), while in the imperfective it is dit ('eats'). In the progressive form on the other hand, it is ditnɛ, thus the imperfective form of di with the additional suffix -nɛ as a marker indicating the progressive.2 The examples below show the different aspectual marking of the verb in Kusaal, but note that the habitual marker in the glosses corresponds to the imperfective marking on the verb.

(11)   a.   Da-u   la   wa’-ad.
man-SG   DEF   dance-HA
‘The man dances.’
b.   Awam   di-t-nɛ   mui.
Awam   eat-HAB-FOC   rice
'Awam is eating rice.'2


In general, negation in Kusaal is expressed by a negator that precedes the negated element like the verb or nominal. There exist also verb forms that are inherently polar to each other like mi' ('know') and zi' ('not know').

(12)   a.   M   mi'.
1SG   know
'I know.’
b.   M   zi'.
1SG   NEG.know
'I don't know.'2

(13)   a.   M   mi'   biig   la.
1SG   know   child   DET
'I know the child.’
b.   M   zi'   biig   la.
1SG   NEG.know   child   DET
'I don't know the child.'2

Nominal negation

In order to negotiate a nominal predicate, the generic nominal negator ka' is placed immediately before the predicate. This form is the polar equivalent to the copula ã ('to be') and also reflects the negative form of ('be at') and mɔr ('to have'). Note that the abbreviation SFE in the glosses stands for sentence final element.

(14)   a.   O   ã -nɛ   mam   biig.
3SG   COP-FOC   1SG.EMPH   child
'S/he is my child.’
b.   O   ka'   mam   biig-a.
3SG   NEG.COP   1SG.EMPH   child-SFE
'S/he is not my child.'2

(15)   a.   Ti   baaba   bɛ   yin.
1PL.POSS   father   EXST   home.LOC
'Our father is at home.’
b.   Ti   baaba   ka'   yin-nɛ.
1PL.POSS   father   NEG.EXST   home.LOC-SFE
'Our father is not at home.'2

(16)   O   ligidi   ka'   bɛn-nɛ.
3SG.POSS   money   NEG.has   end-FOC
'His wealth/money has no end.’2

Negation of a declarative

In contrast to the nominal negator ka', there also exists a generic verbal negator that is mainly used for ditransitives in the present and past tense, but importantly not for future tense and imperatives. The verbal negator functions like a preverbal particle in that it immediately precedes the verb, as in (17a). In cases in which there are other preverbal particles as well, the verbal negator still immediately precedes the verb and thus follows other preverbal particles, like in (17b).

(17)   a.   O   nam   pʊ   nyɛ   saŋ-ŋa.
3SG   still   NEG   seen   time-SFE
'S/he has still not had time.’
b.   Biis   la   da   pʊ   lɛb   anina-a.
children   DET   DIST.PST   NEG   return   there-SFE
'The children did not return here.'2

If a delacrative is negated in the perfective form, the verbal negator again immediately precedes the verb, but as a result the verb loses its perfective marker -ya, whereas the final vowel is lengthened.

(18)   a.   O   di-ya.
3SG   eat-PFV
'S/he has eaten.’
b.   O   pʊ   di-i.
3SG   NEG   eat-SFE
'S/he did not eat.'2

Declaratives in the imperfective form, either habitual or progressive, are negated in the same way, but the verb does not lose its imperfective marker.

(19)   a.   O   pies-id   daar-woo.
3SG   wash-HAB   day-every
'S/he washes every day.’
b.   O   pʊ   pies-id   daar-woo   nɛ.
3SG   NEG   wash-HAB   day-every   FOC
'S/he doesn't wash every day.'2

Future time negation

The negator that is used in order to negate a clause in the future tense is . It reflects the negative meaning as well as the future reading. The preverbal particles for negation and future tense are thus in complementary distribution.

(20)   a.   O   na   pies   la'ad   la.
3SG   FUT   wash   clothes   DET
'S/he will wash the clothes.’
b.   O   kʊ   pies   la'ad   la.
3SG   NEG.FUT   wash   clothes   DET
'S/he will not wash the clothes.’

c.   *O   kʊ   na   pies   la'ad   la.
3SG   NEG.FUT   FUT   wash   clothes   DET
'S/he will not wash the clothes.’2

Negation of an imperative

In order to negate an imperative, there is an additional preverbal particle da that is only used in imperatives. In contrast to the verbal negator that changes the verb form like in the perfective, the negator for imperatives does not change the form of the verb.

(21)   a.   Di   diib   la!
eat   food   DET
'Eat the food!’
b.   Da   di   diib   la!
NEG.IMP   eat   food   DET
'Don't eat the food!'2

Question Formation

Main Question Words

The table below offers an overview of the most common question words in Kusaal.2

Question Word Gloss
yáanɛ̀ where
kānɛ̀/līnɛ̀ which
wálà how
àlà how much/many
ànɔ̄’ɔnɛ̀ who
dàakānɛ̀ which day
sáŋkānɛ̀ what time

Ex situ

In general, questions in Kusaal strictly obey the word order SVO, whereby the subject is replaced by a question word, as in the examples below. In ex situ questions, the focus marker obligatorily immediately follows the question word.

(22)   Yáanɛ́   kā   nī’im   lā   bɛ̀?
where   FOC   meat   DET   EXST
‘Where is it that the meat is?’2
(23)   Bɔ́’   kā   nā’ayīig   lā   zù?
what   FOC   thief   DET   steal
‘What did the thief steal?’2
(24)   Dāa-kānɛ   kā   yà   ná   kē-nà?
day-which   FOC   2PL   FUT   come-VEN
‘Which day will you come?’2
(25)   Ànɔ́’ɔn   ká   ō   nɔ̄k-í   tīs-ɛ̀?
who   FOC   3SG   take-FOC   give-Q
‘Whom did he give it to?’2
(26)   Ànɔ́’ɔn-ɛ́   dā’a   lɔ̄r-ɛ̀?
who-FOC   bought   lorry-Q
‘Who (has) bought a lorry/car?’2

In situ

Regular interrogative questions exhibit the question word in situ as the last element of the clause and also strictly obey the word order SVO, as shown below. These questions correspond to echo-questions.

(27)   Fʊ̄   bɛ́   yáanɛ̀?
2SG   EXST   where
‘Where are you (lit.: you be where)?’2
(28)   Nā’ayíig   lá   zú   bɔ̀’ ?
thief   DET   steal   what
‘What did the thief steal (lit.: the thief steal what)?’2
(29)   Ò   nɔ̀k-í   tīs   ànɔ̄’ɔnɛ̀?
3SG   take-FOC   give   who
‘Whom did s/he give it to (lit.: s/he take it give who)?’2
(30)   Ná’af   lá   zēm   wala?
cow   DET   size   how
‘How big is the cow (lit.: the cow is sized how)?’2
(31)   Yā   bɔ̄ɔ̀d   dɔ̄-kānɛ̀?
2PL   want   room-which
‘Which room do you want (lit.: you want room which)?’2


In embedded contexts, the question word can occupy several distinct positions. In (32a), it occurs in situ in the subordinated clause, whereas it occurs ex situ in the subordinated clause in (32b), where is appears between the complementizer introducing the embedded clause and the focus marker ka. In (32c) the question word occurs ex situ in the matrix clause, showing that long distance extraction is possible.

(32)   a.   Ama   b​ʊ 'os   ye   John   kɔdig   bɔ?
Ama   ask   COMP   John   kill   what
'Ama asked John slaughtered what?’
b.   Ama   b​ʊ'os   ye   bɔ   ka   John   kɔdig?
Ama   ask   COMP   what   FOC   John   kill
'Ama asked what did John slaughter?'
c.   Bɔbun   ka   Ama   bʊ 'os   ye   John   kɔdig-yan?
what.ting   FCO   Ama   ask   COMP   John   kill-as.usual
'What did Ama ask that John slaughtered?'

Multiple Questions

In Kusaal, a question can consist of more than one question word, whereby one question word occurs ex situ and the other one in situ as in (33a). As shown in (33b), only one question word can occupy the clause-initial position, such that more than one question word at the beginning of the clause leads to ungrammaticality. The answer to the multiple question given in (33c) shows morphological focus marking on the subject, which is only possible in multiple questions.

(33)   a.   Anɔ'ɔn   da'   bɔ?
who   buy   what
'Who bought what?’
b.   *Bɔ   ka   anɔ'ɔn   da'-a?
what   FOC   who   buy-Q
Lit. 'What did who buy?'
c.   Napari-i   da’   yir.
Napari-FOC   buy   house
'NAPARI bought A HOUSE.'


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Page last modified on Monday March 6, 2023 15:03:24 CET by Melissa.