The simple sentence in Akan : An introduction to Akan syntax
Nucleus and periphery - overviewAs in most Niger-Congo languages the basic word order of Akan is SVO: The subject (S, position 1) precedes the verb (V, position 2) and the object follows it (O, position 3). This basic sentence structure is called the nuclear predication.
The nuclear predication may in turn be modified by one or more peripheral elements, mostly adverbial adjuncts. These occupy position 4. For instance:
If both the subject and the object occur, the nuclear
predication is transitive:
A nuclear predication with a subject but no object is called intransitive.
The following example also illustrates the co-occurrence
of several adjuncts in the simple sentence.
Orthographic note: -> notes on orthography
A nominal subject is written separately from the verb (6), i.e. positions 1 and 2 are separated by a space.
The subject prefix, followed by aspect markers if there are any (-> structure of the verb), forms one single graphic word with the verb stem (7):
As can be seen by comparing (7) and (8), the absence vs. presence of a space between the constituents shows that the person marker meà functions as subject in (7), but as possessor in (8).imperative singular:
See example (20) below for another case where the subject may or must be omitted.
Whether the object is expressed or not, depends on the valency of the verb:
Ditransitive verbs have to do with transferring physical objects or ideas between people.
However, the conditions under which this class of verbs is used differ greatly from the use of comparable constructions e.g. in English. Let us look at the verb maá 'give' for illustrating Akan usage. The following list of sentences contains variations on Kofi's going to give money to some other person (his friend or a child) tomorrow.
-> Those sentences which are not acceptable to Akan speakers are starred (*).
What distinguishes the starred sentences from those which are not starred and hence are grammatical?
The following observations should be helpful in trying to answer this question:Position 3a - the object position closer to the verb - accommodates the mostly human and personal target of the transaction implied by verbs such as maá,whereas the object of the transaction (its position 3b corresponds to position 3 in bivalent constructions) is placed in the final position of the nuclear predication.
Comparing Akan to English, one could say that the Dative always precedes the Accusative in Akan. Whereas English allows "Kofi gave (the) money to a child/to him" AND "Kofi gave the child/him money", Akan permits only the latter sequence. This accounts for the ungrammaticality of (19).
Moreover, definite referents (including pronouns) are not normally tolerated in position 3b. This accounts for the unacceptability of (13-16). Note that possessive constructions where the possessor is definite (16-17) count as definite in this respect.
We conclude that double object (or ditransitive)constructions are constrained by information structure, more precisely by the obligation to put 'old information' in position 3a and 'new information' in position 3b.
These restrictions are not exactly the same for all verbs belonging to the class of trivalent verbs. See Osam (1994a: 161 ff.), and the chart on p. 169, which summarises the rules for various sub-groups of trivalent verbs.
Research noteOsam (1994a: 161-179) provides an excellent discussion of the syntactic properties of ditransitive verbs. This may be used as a starting point for doing your own experimentation and making your own observations on this matter which is by no means definitively settled in every respect.
Valency extension by means of verb serialisationHow then do Akan speakers express complex transactions involving both an object/patient and a recipient if the information structural conditions are not fulfilled? In other words, how can the English counterpart of a sentence such as (13) be expressed in Akan if (13) is not permitted?
The strategy available to the Akan speaker for extending the valency of a verb consists in adding another verb. In the case of (20), this is the verb deà 'hold, take'. It allows the distribution of the complements over more than one verb: The definite object sìkaá noá 'the money' becomes the object of deà 'take', whereas the beneficiary n'aàdaámfoá 'his friend' remains attached to the main verb maá 'give'.
This ingenuous strategy of extending verb valency will be dealt with in more detail under the heading of Verb serialisation.
(20) illustrates a major difference between European languages on the one hand and Akan and many other West African languages on the other. Understanding this difference means a giant leap forward in learning to speak and understand Akan. European languages resort preferentially to case markers or prepositions (for, to, with, by etc.) for accommodating additional complements. In Akan, additional positions are opened by adding more predicates and combining them into a single sentence structure. This type of sentence is known as serial verb construction.
Serial verb constructions will be dealt with in detail
in later sections. At this point, we will simply observe that the subject
typically occurs only once, namely preceding the first verb of the series.
In (20), the subject Koàfä
only before deà
and is not repeated before bñámaá
For practical purposes, it is important to distinguish between locational complements of verbs of motion and position on the one hand and locational complements of other verbs. Locational complements of verbs of motion such as 'go, come, pass through' indicate the source, the goal or the path of a movement; they may be said to denote an inherent aspect of the process described by the verb. Similarly, locational complements of positional verbs such as 'lay, stand' or of verbs of movement to a position such as 'put' also carry an inherent locational complement. Inherent locational complements are inserted in position 3 next to the verb of location or position to which they belong.
While locational complements behave like objects in certain respects, they differ from objects by the fact that they are not replaced by pronouns but for instance by deictic locational nouns, e.g. ñàhaá 'here' or ñàhõá 'there'.
For verbs expressing "movement to a position", see
-> Verb serialisation (in
Locational complements of other verbsLocational complements occurring with non-motional verbs are added through valency extension by means of the stative verb wõà 'be in a place' -> 'to be'
Inanimate pronominal objects - when are they expressed and when not?
Pronouns replacing inanimate nouns are only expressed in position 3 if a complement occurs in position 4: