Region of the Sisaali language
Region of the Sisaali language
Sisaali (or Sisaala) is a Mabia language, spoken in the Upper West Region of Northern Ghana. Sisaali is spoken by roughly 250,000 speakers. Sisaali is a cover term for dialect continuum consisting out of 7 dialects.

Linguistic classificiation

  • Niger-Congo
    • Atlantic-Congo
      • Mabia
        • Mabia East
          • Sisaali


There are seven dialects in Sisaali.1

  • Tumulung
  • Gbieni
  • Gilbagili
  • Buwaali
  • Kpatolie
  • Pasaali
  • Bosillu

Tone System

Grammatical Function

Changes in tone can lead to grammatical differences, such that tone differences are responsible for aspect changes. Thus, depending on the tones, a clause is either in perfective or imperfective form. The tonal pattern for imperfectives and perfectives is given in the table below, whereby * indicates an harmonizing vowel. While the imperfective form serves as a basic form, the perfective form involves an harmonizing final vowel and may be subject to lengthening of the final vowel as well2 .

Imperfective Perfective

Additionally, the examples in (1a) and (1b) compare the tonal pattern for imperfective and perfective aspect. Note that the exclamation mark indicates a downstep tone.

(1)   a.   ùú   mú!   nɛ.
3SG   go.IPFV   FOC
'He is going.’2
b.   ù   mʊa.
3SG   go.PFV
'He went.'2

Noun Class System3

Class Singular Marker Plural Marker Singular Noun Plural Noun Gloss
1 -+V/-∅ +Vowel (+ATR)/-ATR) gaal-ɩ, hↄ́l, suwoŋ, nɛl gaal-a, hↄl-ↄ, suwon-o, nɛl-ɛ thief, charcoal, bean, person
2 -+V/-∅ -hi/hɩ gbaɲ-a, bↄgↄ, bie, kuori gbaɲ-hɩ, bↄgↄ-hɩ, bii-hi, kuori-hi calabash, farm, child, chief
3 -∅ -ni/nɩ kpaha, vaha, nyu, fo kpahɩ-nɩ, vahɩ-nɩ, nyu-ni, fo-ni chair, dog, head, river
4 +consonant (l) -lɩ kↄlaa, sↄmpↄlaa, hakila, fↄkↄlↄ kↄↄl-lɩ, sↄmpↄↄl-lɩ, hakil-lɩ, fↄkↄl-lɩ mouse, toad, mind, streams
5 -∅ -ma kuwo, naa, yila, hila kuwo-ma, naa-ma, yila-ma, hila-ma father, mother, aunt, In-law

Pronominal System

Personal Pronouns

The personal pronouns in Sisaali have the same morphological form regardless of whether they are used as subjects or objects. There is only one exception. The first person plural pronoun changes if it is used as an object and interestingly has the same morphological form as the second person plural pronoun, which contrastingly has the same form for subject or object pronouns. The only option to disambiguate between the first person plural object pronoun and the second person plural pronouns relies on the given context.3

Person Subject Pronoun Object Pronoun
1st SG ŋ 'I' ŋ 'me'
2nd SG ɩ 'you' ɩ 'you'
3rd SG ʋ‘he, she, it’ ʋ‘him, her, it’
1st PL à ‘we’ mà ‘us’
2nd PL mà 'you' mà 'you'
3rd PL ba 'they' ba 'them'

Possessive Pronouns

In order to express possessives in Sisaali, no additional pronoun form is required, but juxtaposing the possessor and the possessum. The possessor is a pre-nominal element modifying the possessum, which in turn is the head of the NP.

(2)   Ba   dia.
3PL   house
'Their house.’3

(3)   Amina   kidiilee
Amina   food
'Amina's food.’3

Reflexive Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns are formed by a personal pronoun and the morphem tɩɩ ('self').3

Person Reflexive Pronoun Gloss
1st SG ŋtɩɩ myself
2nd SG ɩtɩɩ yourself
3rd SG ʋtɩɩ himself, herself, itself
1st PL atɩɩ (*matɩɩ) ourselves
2nd PL matɩɩ yourselves
3rd PL batɩɩ themselves

Reciprocal Pronouns

Reciprocal pronouns in Sisaali have the same morphological form as the reflexive pronouns and are thus ambiguous with respect to their interpretation either as a reflexive or reciprocal pronoun. Reciprocal pronouns however always need a plural antecedent, while this is not the case for reflexive pronouns.3

(4)   Issah   béé   Amina   àjàà   - bà-tɩ́ɩ́.
Issah   and   Amina   like   3PL-self
'Issah and Amina like each other/themselves.’3

(5)   Bà   pɛ́ɛ́   bà-tɩ́ɩ́.
3PL   help.PST   3PL-self
'They helped each other/themselves.’3

Demonstrative Pronouns

Demonstratives in Sisaali are mainly postnominal elements, that have deictic features and appear in two forms. The proximal form is used when the referent is close to the speaker, as in (6a), while the distal form is used in cases in which the referent is far away from the speaker, as in (6b). The demonstratives and in the following example are from the Kpatolie dialect.

(6)   a.   Báàl   nʋ́   yàà   ŋ̀   kúwò   chàná.
man   DEM   is   1SG   father   friend
'This man is my father’s friend.’
b.   Váhà   hʋ̀   à-húòsì   yʋ́gↄ̀.
dog   DEM   HAB-bark   a lot
'That dog barks a lot.’3

In the Kpatolie dialect the demonstratives are not sensitive to number, thus they have the same morphological form regardless of singular or plural referents. A similar pattern can be observed in the Paasaal and Gbieni dialects, in which the demonstratives also have the same form independent of number. This is illustrated in the following examples.

(7)   a.   Hááŋ   nʋ́   à-yɛ́lɛ̀   míílì   yↄ̀bↄ̀   má.
woman   DEM   HAB-sell   rice   market   at
'This woman sells rice at the market.'
b.   Háán-à   nʋ́   à-yɛ́lɛ̀   míílì   yↄ̀bↄ̀   má.
woman-PL   DEM   HAB-sell   rice   market   at
'These women sell rice at the market.'3

In the Bʋwaalɩ dialect on the other hand, demonstratives do inflect for number, such that there is a singular morphological form as well as a plural morphological form for demonstratives, which is shown in the example below.

(8)   a.   Haal   nee   ka   ŋ   yala.
woman   DEM   is   1SG   aunt
'This woman is my aunt.’
b.   Haal-a   wanyan   ka   ŋ   yala-wa.
woman-PL   DEM   are   1SG   aunt-PL
These women are my aunts.'3

Relative Pronouns

The relative pronoun in Sisaali is àà and there is no distinction between human vs. non-human or in terms of animacy, the relative pronoun always has the same morphological form. This is similar to Dagaare, that also has only one relative pronoun for all relativized elements.

(9)   A   bombie   àà   kpʋ   á   gélì   hʋ́.
DET   boy   REL   kill.PST   DET   cat   DEM   come.PST   here
'The boy who killed that cat came here.’3

Indefinite Pronouns

In (10), the affirmative as well as the negative forms of some indefinite pronouns are given.

(10)   a.   kʋŋkala.
b.   kʋŋkala   bɩ.
thing.all   NEG
c.   nʋʋkala.
d.   nʋʋkala   bɩ.
person.all   NEG

Word Order

Similar to the other Mabia languages, Sisaali has a strict SVO word order. This can be seen in an intransitive clause involving an adverb as in (11), in a transitive clause involving a PP as in (12), and in a ditransitive clause as in (13).

(11)   Luki   tɪma   nɛ   jɪnɪnŋ.
Luki   work   FOC   today
'Luki worked today.’

(12)   La   saa   dɪa   (nɛ)   la   jaŋ   lɛ   (nɛ).
1.PL   build.PFV   house   FOC   1.PL   village   in   FOC
'We built a house in our village.’

(13)   Haluki   pɪ   Hamua   pupoiŋ   (nɛ).
Haluki   give.PFV   Hamua   pot   FOC
'Haluki gave Hamua a pot’

Verb System

Preverbal Particles

Aspectual particles

Sisaali makes use of aspectual particles in order to express tense relations. The particle jaŋ is the aspectual particle encoding future as in (14a), the particle fa corresponds to the perfective form, as in (14b), and the imperfective is expressed by the particle faa. If the future particle and the perfective particle co-occur, they express a conditional, as in (14c).

(14)   a.   mɩ   jaŋ   kɔ.
1SG   FUT   come
'I will come.’
b.   mɩ   fa   kɔ   nɛ.
1SG   PFV   come   FOC
'I had come. '
c.   mɩ   fa   jaŋ   kɔ.
1SG   ASP   FUT   come
'I would have come.'2

In imperfective contexts, if a pronoun precedes the verb, the pronoun is lengthened and the particle “nɛ” is attached phrase-finally as a stress marker or focus marker, respectively.2 This is illustrated in the contrast between the perfective form in (15a) and the imperfective form in (15b).

(15)   a.   Ʋ   mʋ   yɔbɔ.
3SG   go.PFV   market
'He went to the market.’
b.   Ʋʋ   mʋ   yɔbɔ   nɛ.
3SG   go.IPFV   market   FOC
'He is going to the market.'2

In imperfective contexts, in which there is no pronoun preceding the verb, there are two different aspectual imperfective markers, nɩɩ or ka, which is accompanied by the focus marker . These are used in positive contexts, as the following example illustrates.

(16)   a.   Haal-la   nɩɩ   mʋ   yɔbɔ.
woman-DEF   IPFV   go   market
'The woman is going to the market.’
b.   Haal-la   ka   mʋ   yɔbɔ   nɛ.
woman-DEF   IPFV   go   market   FOC

'The woman is going to the market.'2

In negative imperfective contexts, the negation particle precedes the object, which in turn precedes the verb. Interestingly, in negative imperfective context the word order changes from SVO to subject > negation > object > verb, thus to SOV. The example in (17) demonstrates the changed word order and that the imperfective marker ka is optionally accompanied by the focus marker.

(17)   a.   Haal-la   bɩ   yɔbɔ   mʋ.
woman-DEF   NEG   market   go
'The woman is not going to the market.’
b.   Haal-la   bɩ   yɔbɔ   ka   mʋ.
woman-DEF   NEG   market   IPFV   go
'The woman is not going to the market.'2

Temporal/Adverbial particles

Other particles that occur preverbally in Sisaali correspond to temporal and adverbial particles, respectively. The table below provides an overview of the most common particles.

Particle Gloss
yie always
saa then/therefore
bɩra again
yaaŋ habitually/regularly
paala even
ha still

In positive contexts, the particle occurs between the subject and the verb, while in negative contexts it follows the subject, but precedes the negation, which in turn changes the word order to SOV. Thus, in negative contexts, the particle precedes both the negation and the verb. This is shown in the example in (18)

(18)   a.   Ʋ   yie   mʋ   dɩa.
3SG   always   go   home
'He always goes home.’
b.   Ʋ   yie   bɩ   dɩa   ka   mʋ.
3SG   always   NEG   home   IPFV   go
'He never goes home.'2

Motion verbs

There is the option to have a sequence consisting of two motion verbs, as in the example below. One motion verb immediately precedes the other motion verb, such that there can be no additional element intervening between both verbs.

(19)   Ʋ   fɩɛla   vɛnɛɛ   mʋ   dɩa   nɛ.
3SG   slowly   walking   go   home   FOC
'He is walking home slowly.’2

Auxiliary verbs

There are three auxiliary verbs kɛŋ ('have') in (20), joŋ ('take') in (21) and (22), and ('come'), that obligatorily precede the verb. According to Frempong (2015), auxiliaries can also precede the complement of the verb.

(20)   Ʋ   kɛŋ   ʋ   nandɔŋɔ   kaa   mʋ   dɩa.
3SG   have   3SG   friend   take   go   home
'He took his friend home.’2

(21)   Ʋ ~hs joŋ   pupoiŋ   kʋ   tinteeŋ.
3SG   take   pot   put   down.ground
'He put the pot on the ground.’2

(22)   Ʋ   joŋ   kʋdiilee   pɩ   ʋ   nandɔŋɔ.
3SG   take   food   give   3SG   friend
'He gave food to his friend.’2

Serial verbs

It is possible in Sisaali to have a range of verbs in a serial verb construction, in which no other particle can intervene.2

(23)   Fá   mʋ   kaa   mʋ   pʋ.
Run   go   take   go   give.3SG
'Run and give it to him.’2


Negation in Sisaali is expressed by the particle , which occurs in general between the subject and the predicate, but after Tense and Aspect particles.

Verbal Negation

There exist several intransitive verbs in Sisaali that do not take the perfective form, when they are negated as in (24). Instead, these verbs take the infinitive form.

(24)   a.   Ʋ   jaŋ   zɔŋ.
3SG   FUT   be.good
'It will be good.’2
b.   Ʋ   zɔmɔ.
3SG   be.good.PFV
'It is good.'2
c.   Ʋ   bɩ   zɔŋ.
3SG   NEG   be.good
'It is not good.'2
d.   *Ʋ   bɩ   zɔmɔ.
3SG   NEG   be.good.PFV
'*It is not good.'2

Negation of a declarative

Negation is marked by the particle . The word order in a negated declarative clause is S-NEG-OV. The particle can co-occur with other preverbal particles like tense and aspectual markers, whereby the negative particle immediately follows a tense particle giving rise to the order of Tense-Negation-Aspect for preverbal particles.

(25)   a.   Haal-la   bɩ   yɔbɔ   mʋ.
woman-DEF   NEG   market   go.IPFV
'The woman is not going to the market.’2
b.   Haal-la   bɩ   yɔbɔ   ka   mʋ.
woman-DEF   NEG   market   FOC   go.IPFV
'The woman is not going to the market.’2
c.   Haal-la   fa   bɩ   yɔbɔ   mʋa.
woman-DEF   PST   NEG   market   go.PFV
'The woman had not gone to the market.'2

Negation of an imperative

In order to negate an imperative, the particle is used instead of the particle . Importantly, the particle is used in imperatives only. In some dialects of Sisaali, the particle ta is the negative particle used in imperatives, as in (27).

(26)   Sí   tèníŋ   ŋmúnsú.
NEG.IMP   write letter.DEF
'Don't write the letter!’2

(27)   a.   Ta   diye!
NEG.IMP   eat
'Don't eat!'
b.   Ta   dii   kapala.
NEG.IMP   eat   fufu
'Don't eat fufu!'

Question Formation

Ex situ

Due to the word order being SVO, most of the questions in Sisaali are built by an ex situ strategy. The question word occurs clause-initially and replaces the object in (28a) and the subject in (29a), respectively.

(28)   a.   Bɛɛkoŋ   (nɛ)  Haluki   pɪ   Hamua?
what   FOC   Haluki   give   Hamua
'What did Haluki give to Hamua?’
b.   Haluki   pɪ   Hamua   pupoiŋ   nɛ.
Haluki   give   Hamua   pot   FOC
'Haluki gave Hamua a pot.'

(29)   a.   Kʊbɛɛ   nɛ   Haluki   pɪ   pupoiŋ?
who   FOC   Haluki   give   pot
'Who did Haluki give a pot?’
b.   Hamua   nɛ   Haluki   pɪ   pupoiŋ.
Hamua   FOC   Haluki   give   pot
'Hamua gave Haluki a pot.'

In situ

A declarative clause can be transformed into a question by lengthening of the final vowel, such that no additional question word is required. This case corresponds to echo-questions.

(30)   a.   Ʋ   mʋ   dɩa   nɛ.
3SG   go   home   FOC
'He went home.’
b.   Ʋ   mʋ   dɩa   nɛɛ?
3SG   go   home   FOC
'Did he go home?'2


The question word can also be embedded in a subordinated clause, where it appears clause-finally as in (31).

(31)   a.   Haluki   sɪ   dɪ   Baluki   kɔrɪkɪ   bɛɛkʊŋ   nɛ?
Haluki   say   COMP   Baluki   slaughter   what
'Haluki said that Baluki slaughtered what?’
b.   Pita   sɪ   dɪ   Baluki   kɔrɪkɪ   jimiŋ   nɛ.
Pita   say   COMP   Baluki   slaughter   fowl   FOC
'Pita said that John slaughtered a fowl.'

Multiple Questions

Questions with more than one question word are theoretically possible, but not very acceptable by native speakers.

(32)   a.   Kʊbee   nɪ   yɔɔ   kɪa?
who   FOC   buy   something
'Who bought what?’
b.   #Kʊbee   nɪ   yɔɔ   bɛɛkoŋ?
who   FOC   buy   what
'Who bought what?'

Long distance extraction

The question word in Sisaali can occupy several different positions within the clause, such that long distance extraction is possible. It can stay in its base position as in (33a), move to the edge of the embedded clause in (33b) or raise to the clause-initial position as in (33c).

(33)   a.   Haluki   sɪ   dɪ   Baluki   kɔrɪkɪ   bɛɛkʊŋ   nɛ?
Haluki   say   COMP   Baluki   slaughter   what   FOC
'Haluki said that Baluki slaughtered what?’
b.   Haluki   pɪɛsa:   Bɛɛkʊŋ   Baluki   kɔrɪkɪ?
Haluki   ask   what   Baluki   slaughter
'Haluki asked: What did Baluki slaughter?'
c.   Bɛɛkʊŋ   *(nɛ)   Haluki   sɪ   dɪ   Baluki   kɔrɪkɔ?
what   FOC   Haluki   say   COMP   Baluki   slaughter
'What did Haluki say that Baluki slaughtered?'


  • 1. Moran, Steven Paul (2006): A grammatical sketch of Isaalo (Western Sisaala). MA Thesis. Master´s thesis: Eastern Michigan University, https://commons.emich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://en.wikipedia.org/&httpsredir=1&article=1072&context=theses 
  • 2. Margrit Frempong (2015): Grammar Analysis - Sisaaliŋ Tumuluŋ. Ghana: SILDEP/GILLBT, 1-29 
  • 3. Mustapha, Nuuratu (2018): The morpho-syntax of the noun phrase in Sisaali. MA Thesis. Accra: University of Ghana, Legon 
  • 4. Blass, Regina (1989): Baa in Sissala—truth-conditonal or non—truth-conditonal particle?. In: Harald Weydt (ed.), Sprechen mit Partikeln. Berlin: De Gruyter 
  • 5. Blass, Regina (1989): Grammaticalisation of interpretive use: The case of rɛ in Sissala.: Lingua, 79. 299-326 
  • 6. Blass, Regina (1990): Relevance relations in discourse: a study with special reference to Sissala. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 
  • 7. Fembeti, Samuel, Stuart McGill and Michael Toupin (1999): A grammar of Sisaala-Pasaale. Accra: Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon 

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Page last modified on Friday December 29, 2023 15:08:56 CET by Ates.