Marking Exhaustivity in Dagbanli

  • Abdul-Razak Inusah Tamale College of Education
  • Edward Salifu Mahama University for Development Studies, Tamale
Keywords: Focus marker, Dagbanli, ex-situ, exhaustivity, ko


The paper examines the semantics of the so-called focus particle ko as an exhaustive marker in Dagbanli, a Gur language spoken in Ghana. The paper argues that ko expresses exhaustivity in both in situ and ex situ when it occurs in a focus sentence. In Dagbanli, contrastive focus is marked only by the presence of a focus marker. The paper explores ko as an operator expressing exhaustive focus on constituents and examines exhaustivity of ko as a pragmatic inference giving specific meaning to it. It shows that the particle only occurs in exhaustive focus environments in the language and focuses on both non-subject constituents and subject constituents. The paper argues that Dagbanli expresses exhaustive in ex-situ and in-situ with evidence to show that the construction of Dagbanli is established as monoclausal. Finally it shows that ko can co-occur with the focus markers [ka, n, la] in ex-situ. The paper employs four standard tests for exhaustivity using mainly Kiss’s (1998) distinction between the two types of focus and a test of exhaustivity developed by Szabolcsi (1981).

Author Biographies

Abdul-Razak Inusah, Tamale College of Education

Eglish department 

Rank: Tutor

Edward Salifu Mahama, University for Development Studies, Tamale

Institute of Interdisciplinary Research and Consultancy Services (IIRaCS)

rank:director / snr lecturer


Bendor-Samuel, J.T. (1971). Niger-Congo Gur. In Sebeok T.(ed.) Current Trends in linguistics. Linguistics in Sub-Saharan Africa.Vol7, pp 53-75

Bodomo, A. (1999). The structure of Dagaare. Stanford Monographs in African Languages.Stanford: CSLI publications.

Cahill, M. (1999). Aspects of the Phonology and Morphology of Konni. Dissertations in Linguistics. Ohio State University

Cahill, M. (1993). Notes on Konni verb and verb phrase. MS, Tamale, Ghana,GILLBT.

Dagbani Text Ministry of Education (2008). Chɛliyakatikarimkasabi Dagbani Karim Kundili 2 Accra: Ministry of Education, Science and Sports.

Dakubu, M .E. K. (2000). The particle la in Gurune.Cahiers Voltaiques/Gur papers 5: 59-6

Dakubu, M. E. K. (1999). A grammar of Gurune: Trial edition. Legon Centre,University of Ghana Legon.

Dakubu, M. E. K., and Saanchi, J. A. N. (1997). Constituent focus in Dagaare. Paperpresented at the 9th Niger-Congo Syntax and Semantics Workshop, University of Ghana.

Duah, R. A. (2014). Focus Exhaustivity in Akan. Interdisciplinary Studies on Information Structure. University of Ghana.

Dik, S., Maria E. H., Jan R., de Jong, SieIng, D., Harry, S. &Lourens de Vries.(1981). On the typology of focus phenomena. In: Hoekstra, Teun, Harry van der Hulst& Michael Moortgat.(Eds.) Perspectives on Functional Grammar. Dordrecht: Foris.

Fiedler, I, Katharina, H., Reineke, B., Anne, S. and Malte, Z. (2009). Subject Focus inWest African languages. In Information Structure: Theoretical, Typological, and Experimental Perspectives, InZimmermann, M and C. Fery (2009), Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp 234–257.

Fiedler, I. (2007). Focus Expressions in Foodo. Humboldt University of Berlin 08, 97–114.

Fiedler, I. and Anne, S. (2005) Out-of-focus encoding in Gur and Kwa. Interdisciplinary Studies on Information Structure 3, Shinichiro Ishihara Michaela Schmitz, and Anne Schwarz (eds.), 111–142. Potsdam: Potsdam University

Hudu, F. (2006). Focus marking in Dagbani. Working Papers of the Linguistics Circles.University of Victoria, 19, 13–29.

Greenberg, J. A. (1996). The Languages of Africa. Indiana, Indiana University Research.

Horn, L. (1981). Exhaustiveness and the semantics of clefts. InVictoria A. Burke andJames Pustejovsky (Eds), Proceedingsof the North Eastern Linguistic Society (NELS 11), 125–142. Amherst, MA: GLSA.

Issah, S. A. (2008). Information packaging in Dagbani. Master’s Thesis-Department of Language and Linguistics Faculty of Humanities University of Tromsø.

Issah, S. A. (2013). Focus and constituent question formation in Dagbani. Ghana Journal of Linguistics 2(1).39-62

Issah, S. A. (2013). The function of the post verbal la in Dagbani. Studies in African Linguistics, 42(2).

Jackendoff, R. (1972). Semantic Interpretation in Generative Grammar. Cambridge, MA:MITPress.

Kiss, K. È. (1998). Identificational focus versus information focus. Language, 74(2): 245 273

Lambrecht, K. (1994). Information Structure and Sentence Form- Topic, Focus and menta representation of discourse referents:
Cambridge,Cambrideg Univesrity Press.

Naden, T. (1988). The Gur Languages‟: In M. E Kropp Dakubu (ed) The Languages ofGhana. London: KPI.

Olawsky, K. J. (1999). Aspects of Dagbani Grammar – with Special Emphasis on Phonology and Morphology.Lincom. Munich.

Rullmann, H. (2003). Additive Particles and Polarity.Journal of semantics20(4), 329–401

Saanchi, J A. N. (2005). Focus in Dagaare, a paper presented at the 4thInternational Colloquium on Gur Languages.

Schaefer, P. and Schaefer, J. (2004). “An overview of Safaliba morphology and syntax”, Paper presented at 2000 G.I.L.L.B.T. Seminar, Tamale, Ghana.

Schwarz, A. (2007). The Particles lé and lá in the Grammar of Konkomba. In Ishihara, Shinichiro, Stefanie Jannedy & Anne Schwarz (Eds.), Interdisciplinary studies on information structure pp 115-139.

Schwarz, F. (2007). “Ex-situ in focus in Kikuyu”: In Aboh, Hartmann & Zimmermann (Eds); focus strategies in African languages, the interaction of focus and grammar in Niger- Congo and Afro-Asiatic: Berlin, de Gruyter.

Schwarz, A. and Fiedler, I. (2007). Narrative focus strategies in Gur and Kwa. InZimmermann, Malte, Enoch, Olade Aboh& Hartmann, Katharina (eds). Focus Strategies in African Languages: The Interaction of focus and Grammar in Niger-Conger and Afro-Asiatic. Berlin. New York.

Schwarz, A. (2004). Aspekte der Morphosyntaxund Tonologie imBuli. Mit Schwerpunktauf demBuli von Wiaga.Dissertation, Humboldt-Universitätzu Berlin.

Szabolcsi, A. (1981). The semantics of topic-focus articulation. In Jan G., Janssen, T. and Martin,S. Informal Methods in the Study of Language., 513 – 541. Amsterdam: Matematisch Centrum.

Wei, L, & Milroy L. (1995). Conversational code-switching in a Chinese community inBritain : A sequential analysis. Journal of Pragmatics(23) 281-299

Wilson, W. (1970). External Tonal Sandhi in Dagbani .African Language Studies, No. 11 pp.