Akan Teleteaching Course

Unit 4.6: Notes on grammar 1

Akan noun classes

Noun prefix class
Akan examples
1. -/o- sa war
odwan sheep
bo* price
ba child-of
2. a-/[-] ani [ni] eye
abfra child
ako ['ko] parrot
3. (0-) ddifo glutton
kt mat
kuro village
4. -/e- sono elephant
dan house
ebuo nest
eno mother
da day
5. n-/m- ns alcoholic drink
mpa bed
nwoma [woma] book
nkrane [kra'n] driver ant
mma (cf. ba [sg.]) children
Table 1

*(a variant of bo, in Unit 1)

  • The pronunciation of noun prefixes is subject to systematic variation. This is a very important part of understanding Akan and of learning to speak it correctly. Here is a brief summary of the essential rules: The pronunciation of the noun prefix vowels is determined by vowel harmony with the initial stem vowel. Thus, the prefix - alternates with e-, the prefix - with o-, and the prefix a- with -, depending on the harmony set to which the initial stem vowel belongs.
  • The nasal prefix alternates according to the place of articulation of the initial stem consonant.
  • The noun prefix is almost always Low-toned. An exception is ako 'parrot', which also is one of the rare cases of words having a [+ATR]-open stem vowel.
  • Elision of noun prefixes. The noun prefixes must always be pronounced if the word is quoted or if it stands at the beginning of an utterance or follows a pause. In connected speech, the -/e- and -/o- prefixes are usually omitted. Note, however, that the a- prefix and the nasal prefix must never be omitted:
  • me ()ba -> me ba "my child"
    me mma "my children"
    Kof ()dan -> Kof !dan "Kofi's house"
    Kof adan -> Kof a!dan "Kofi's houses"
  • At major syntactic boundaries, such as the transition from verb to object, the latter's noun prefix is often pronounced. For instance:
  • bware ()hene "She will marry a chief."
  • For more details see the excellent treatment in Dolphyne (1988).
  • Assimilation to preceding High tone. As the last example shows, the Low tone of the noun prefix becomes High if the final tone of the preceding word is High (High tone spreading). As a consequence, a High tone on the first vowel of the following word is downstepped
  • Further details on noun prefix morphology - am-/an-: A word-initial a- + [N-] syllable is considered to be part of the stem, not a prefix; e.g. ankaa 'orange' (Danso,1983: 16), cf. Dolphyne (1988: 82,3) - em-/en-: Word-initial e- + [N-] as a variant of a simple N- prefix occurs a dialectal pecularity of Asante Twi, e.g. en-s besides n-s. The eN- variant is used for emphasis. (Cf. Dolphyne, 1988: 82) 
  • Grammatical and semantic functions of the noun prefixes: 
1. Distinguishing between singular and plural (see below) 
2. The derivation of nominal expression from verbs and other nouns (-> Nominalisation) (cf. Dolphyne [1988: 83, 5])
  • Is there a correlation of noun prefixes with semantic features? See Christaller (1875: 21 f.); Danso (1983: 91 ff.; 115-118) on this issue. The question if there is a semantic basis for the assignment of prefixes to nominal stems is discussed in a stimulating way in Osam. Osam also draws attention to parallels in Bantu nominal classification. 
-> Research module (NomClSem)

Genera of the substantive

Combinations, according to Danso (1983: 97, 120)

Note: All noun prefixes may be used for singular or for plural. There are three possible ways of forming the plural from the singular:

(a) by using the same prefix for both (Xi);

(b) by replacing the singular prefix by the a- prefix (Xa);

by replacing the singular prefix by the N- prefix (Xn).

This is summarised in the following table:

1. -/o- 1i 1a 1n
2. a-/[-] 2i 2n
3. (0-) 3i 3a 3n
4. -/e- 4i 4a 4n
5. n-/m- 5i    
yafunu1i 'belly' yafunu    
odwan1a 'sheep'   adwan  
bo1a 'price'   abo  
ba1n 'child-of'     mma
ani2i 'eye'   ani  
abfra 2n 'child'     mmfra
didifo3i 'glutton' didifo    
kt3a 'mat'   akt  
kuro3n 'town'     nkuro
sono4i 'elephant' sono    
dan4a 'house'   adan  
ebuo4a 'nest'   abuo  
da4n 'day'     nna
mpa5 'bed' mpa    
nwoma5 'book' nwoma    
Table 2


  Singular Plural
Domicile, origin -ni -fo
Action -fo/-ni -fo
Relational (kinship)   -nom
Diminutives (Danso, 93 f.)   -wa
Table 3

-> Notes on grammar 2

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