Conjoint and disjoint verb alternations in Dagbani

  • Samuel Alhassan Issah University of Education, Winneba Post Office Box 25, Winneba, Ghana, West Africa
Keywords: Dagbani, aspect, sentence structure, conjoint, disjoint, focus hypothesis, Gur


The goal of this paper is to understand the nature and functions of aspectual suffixes of Dagbani, a language belonging to the South-Western languages of the Western Oti-Volta subgroup of the Gur group of languages.  The paper considers the morphology of the verb and how it may be correlated with readily observable syntactic features of the language such as the presence or absence of certain arguments. The aspectual suffixes have different realisations which call for the presence or absence of certain structural arguments such as NP complements and adjuncts referred to as conjoint (CJ) and disjoint (DJ) verb forms respectively. I also propose three accounts in an attempt to account for the function(s) of the conjoint and disjoint alternations: the incorporated pronoun hypothesis, the medio-passive hypothesis, and the focus hypothesis, and conclude that the CJ/DJ forms are directly correlated with focus. It is concluded then that the CJ form correlates with focus on post-verbal materials, while the DJ focuses on the verb. The paper also discusses certain post-verbal particles whose distribution is affected by the aspectual markers. I give the paper a comparative flavour by drawing data from other languages of the Oti-Volta subgroup (excluding the Eastern languages) to buttress my claim based on empirical evidence that the phenomenon discussed is quite pervasive in this subgroup of Gur languages. The analysis is basically from a theory-neutral perspective. I conclude that the interaction between the aspectual suffixes and the sentence structure of Dagbani is (at least superficially) very similar to the so-called ‘short/long’ or ‘conjunctive/disjunctive’ verb which has been argued to be phenomenal in a number of Bantu languages. 

Author Biography

Samuel Alhassan Issah, University of Education, Winneba Post Office Box 25, Winneba, Ghana, West Africa

Institutional Affiliation: University of Education, Winneba.

Department of Gur-Gonja Education,

Current Status: Lecturer.

Mr. Issah holds an Mphil in Theoretical Linguistics awarded by the University of Tromsoe in Norway. His research interests include, syntax and semantics of Dagbani, language documentation and linguistics and literacy.


Abubakari, H., 2011. Object sharing as symmetric sharing: predicate clefting and Serial Verb Constructions in Kusaal. M.Phil Thesis, University of Tromsø, Norway.

Adger, D., 2004. Core syntax- A minimalist approach; Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Atintono. A.S., 2005. Aspectual modifiers in Gurunɛ. In M. E. Kropp Dakubu and E. K. Osam, eds., Studies in Languages of the Volta Basin (Proceedings of the Annual Colloquium of the Legon Trondheim Linguistics Project) Vol 3: 33-42.

Atintono. A. S., 2004. A morpho-syntactic study of the Gurunε verb. M.Phil Thesis, Department of Linguistics, University of Ghana, Legon.

Buell, L., 2005. Issues in Zulu morphosyntax. Ph. D. Dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles.

Buell, L., 2006. The Zulu conjoint/disjoint verb alternation: focus or constituency? ZAS Papers in Linguistics 43: 9-30.

Buell, L. and K. Riedel, 2008. The conjoint/disjoint alternation in Sambaa. Paper presented at Bantu Syntax Project, Leiden University.

Cahill, M., 1999. Aspects of the Phonology and Morphology of Konni. PhD Dissertation, Ohio State University.

Comrie, B., 1976. Aspect, An introduction to the study of verbal aspect and related problems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Creissels, D., 1996. Conjoint and disjoint verb forms in Setswana. South African Journal of African Languages 16: 109-115.

Dakubu, M. E. Kropp, 2007. Tone and the Gurene verb. Studies in the Languages of the Volta Basin 4.2: 52-62.

Dakubu, M. E. Kropp, 2006. Prosodic features of the Gurene verb. Gur Papers/ Cahiers Voltaïques 7: 16-27.

Dakubu, M. E. Kropp, 2000. The particle la in Gurene. Gur Papers/Cahiers Voltaiques 5: 59-65.

Dakubu, M. E. Kropp, 1995. A Grammar of Gurune: Trial edition, Legon: Language Centre, University of Ghana.

Dakubu, M. E. Kropp, 1989. The Dagaare verbal word and phrase. Ms. Language Centre, University of Ghana.

Dryer, M. S., 2005. Position of tense-aspect affixes. In Martin Haspelmath, Matthew S. Dryer, David Gil and Bernard Comrie, eds., The World Atlas of Language Structures. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Givon, T., 1975. Focus and the scope of assertion: some Bantu evidence. Studies in African Linguistics 6.2: 185-205.

Güldemann, T., 2003. Present progressive vis-à-vis predication focus in Bantu: a verbal category between semantics and pragmatics. Studies in Language 27: 323-360.

Hiraiwa, Ken and Adams Bodomo, 2008. Object-sharing as symmetric sharing: evidence from Dàgáárè. In Charles B. Chang and Hannah J. Haynie, eds., Proceedings of the 26th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics, pp. 243-251. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project.

Hudu, F., 2012. Focus particles in Dagbani – a descriptive analysis. Journal of West African Languages 39.1: 97-107.

Hudu, F., 2006. Focus marking in Dagbani. Paper presented at the 23rd Northwest Linguistics Conference, Victoria BC, Feb. 17-19.

Issah, A. S., 2013a. The structure of the Dagbani simple noun phrase. South African Journal of African Languages 33.2: 203-212.

Issah, A. S., 2013b. The function of the post verb la in Dagbani. Studies in African Linguistics 42.2: 153-174.

Issah, A. S., 2012. Phrasal identification and contrastive focus in Dagbani”. Journal of West African Languages 39.1: 75-96.

Issah, A. S., 2008. Information Packaging in Dagbani, M.Phil Thesis, University of Tromsø, Norway.

Issah A. S., 2006. A survey of the Kusaal noun phrase. ms. Ghana Institute of Linguistics, Literacy and Bible Translation, Tamale.

Naden, T., 2005. Sentence perspective in Mampruli. Ms. GILLBT, Tamale.

Naden, T., 1989. The Gur Languages. In John Bendor-Samuel, ed., The Niger-Congo Languages. Lanham NY and London: University Pressof America.

Naden, A. J., 1988. Language, history and legend in Northern Ghana, Ms. GILLBT, Tamale.

Nicole, J., 1999. Noun classes in the Gur languages. ms. Transl. Alison Winton from Jacques Nicole, 1999. Les classes nominales dans les langues voltaiques. Esquisse d’un cadre de description. Lome, Togo: SIL.

Nurse, Derek, 2006. Focus in Bantu: verbal morphology and function. ZAS Papers in Linguistics 43: 189-207.

Olawsky, K. J., 1999. Aspects of Dagbani Grammar with Special Emphasis on Phonology and Morphology. PhD Dissertation, Munich.

Osam, E. K., 2003. An introduction to the verbal and multi-verbal system of Akan. In Dorothee Beermann and Lars Hellan, eds., Proceedings of the Workshop on Multi-Verb Constructions. Trondheim.

Reineke, Brigitte and Gudrun Miehe, 2005. Diathesis alternation in some Gur languages. In Erhard F. K. Voeltz, ed., Studies in African Linguistic Typology, pp. 337-360. Typological Studies in Language Vol. 64. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Saanchi, J. A., 2003. Aspect and the Dagaare verb. Cahiers Voltaiques/Gur Papers 6: 101-106.

Salifu, A. T., 2012. Yɛltɔɣataɣimalisi. Unpublished creative writing project work submitted to the Department of Gur-Gonja, University of Education, Winneba.

Sharman, J. C., 1956. The tabulation of tenses in a Bantu language (Bemba: Northern Rhodesia). Africa 16: 29-46.

Schwarz, A., 2008. A verb focus typology in Buli (Gur). A paper presented at the predicate focus workshop (University of Potsdam) November 14-15, 2008.

van der Wal, J., 2009. Word Order and Information Structure in Makhuwa-Enahara. PhD Thesis, University of Leiden.

van der Wal, Jenneke, 2013. What is the conjoint/disjoint alternation in Bantu languages? Ms. Cambridge University.

Voeltz, Erhard F. K., 2004. Long and short verb forms in Zulu. Paper presented at the Annual Conference on African Linguistics, Boston MA.

Yakubu A., 2012. Naanigoo. Unpublished creative writing project work submitted to the Department of Gur-Gonja, University of Education, Winneba.