Akan Teleteaching Course

Unit 7.5: Notes on grammar 3


Compounds are formed of two or more stems, each of which may be simple or may itself be derived or composite (cf. Dolphyne, 1988: 117 ff.).

The internal structure of compounds reflects that of the Associative construction: Ina two-part compound, stem1 compares with the POSSESSOR and stem2 the POSSESSUM (i.e. the possessed item); the latter may also be called the Head of the genitive construction (-> associative construction in Unit 4).

abusĢśpaŠnin head of the family abusĢťś 'family'; űpanšn 'elder'
onuaŠbaŠa sister onuaŠ 'sibling'; űbaŠa 'woman'
aheŠmfše palace oheŠne 'chief'; efše 'house'

I. Formation of compounds

Akan compounds undergo one or more of the following phonological processes:
  1. Loss of prefixes
  2. Loss of final vowel or final syllable
  3. Homorganic nasal assimilation
  4. Vowel harmony
  5. Tonal changes of stems

1. Loss of prefixes

The head noun of a compound, i.e. the second element of the nominal construction from which the compound is derived, looses its prefix. 

The first element replaces its inherent nominal prefix by a 'new' prefix (which may be zero) which belongs not to anyone of the constituent elements, but to the compound as such:
agyaŠbaŠ child of the father agyaŠ 'father'; űbaŠ 'child'
abŮŠkwaŠn palmnut soup abŮŠ 'palmnut'; nkwaŠn 'soup'
yareŠpaŠ sick-bed űyareŠŮ 'sickness'; mpaŠ 'bed'
ofšewuŠra landlord, landlady efše 'house'; owuŠra 'owner'

2. Loss of final vowel or final syllable

The first stem of a compound may loose its final vowel or even its final syllable. Nouns with a phonological structure: CV1NV1 will be reduced to CVN and CV1L/rV1 to CV:
akumfše husband's house okuŠnu 'husband'; efše 'house'
aheŠnkuŠro capital town űheŠne 'chief'; kuroŠ 'town'
agopraŠaŗmśť playground agoŠrű 'game'; pramśť 'place'

3. Homorganic nasal assimilation and nasalisation

If the first stem ends in a nasal (cf. also the above examples under 2.), the nasal will be assimilated to the consonant of the second noun. At the same time, voiced plosives or voiced affricates at the beginning of the second stem undergo nasalisation (-> nasalisation rule):
űmaŠmpanin president űmaŠn 'country'; űpanšn 'elder'
űheŠmmaa queen mother oheŠne 'chief'; űbaŠa 'woman'
akuŠmmaa sister-in-law okuŠnu 'husband'; űbaŠa 'woman'

Exception: In compounds with -deŮ which are very frequent (cf. Danso 1983) - nasal assimilation does not take place:
nimdeŮŠ knowledge nžm 'know'; adeŮŠ 'thing'

4. Vowel harmony

The vowels of the head of the construction, the second element in the compound, govern the vowels of the first element, since vowel harmony is predominantly a regressive process. An unadvanced vowel of the first stem will become advanced if the initial vowel of the second stem is advanced.

-> Vowel harmony sets A and B

[űŗhÚŠnÚŠ] [eŗfšeŠ] - > [aŗhžmŗfšeŠ]
unadvanced advanced 'palace'
[aŗsŮŠmŠ] [huŠnuŠ] -> [aŗseŗnŗhuŠnuŠ]
unadvanced advanced 'useless talk'

5. Tonal changes in stems (cf. Dolphyne, 1988: 120 ff.)


II. Head nouns in compounds

The most frequent head nouns in compound are listed below:
Head noun in a compound
1. űbaŠ child -ba 'child of', origin
2a. űbaŠa woman -baa female gender (of humans)
2b. űbaršma man -barima male gender (of humans)
3a. űpanšn elder, old person, adult -panin chief, elder
3b. kuŠmaa young, small -kumaa junior
4a. űbeŠdeŮ female (of animals) -bedeŮ female gender (of animals)
4b. űnšni male (of animals) -nini male gender (of animals)
5. asŮŠm word, matter -sŮm abstract nouns
6. adeŮŠ thing -deŮ abstract nouns

-> "Formation of compounds"

1. -ba denotes "child-of" (humans, animals, plants, etc.)

akoŠkűbaŠ akoŠkűmmaŠ chicken
odwaŠmmaŠ (> odwaŠn-baŠ) odwaŠmmaŠ lamb
űheŠnebaŠ űheŠnemmaŠ prince(ss)

2a. -baa

Since Akan is not a gender language it becomes sometimes necessary to specify genders. -baa denotes females:
onuaŠ-baŠa onuabaŠa sister
aseŠ-baŠa asebaŠa mother-in-law
űheŠne-baŠa űheŠmmaŠa queen (mother)
Whereas onuaŠ 'sibling' and aseŠ 'in-law' are neutral, űheŠne is intrinsically male.

2b. -barima denotes males:

onuaŠ-baršma onuabaŠršma brother
aseŠ-baršma aseŠbaršma father-in-law

3a. -panin

To express seniority - which is an important principle in Akan, -panin is used in compounds:
onuaŠ-panšn onuapaŠnin senior sibling
onuaŠ-baršma-panšn onuabaŠršma paŠnin senior brother
onuaŠ-baŠa-panšn onuabaŠa paŠnin senior sister
agyaŠ-panšn agyaŠpanin father's senior brother
ŮnaŠ-panšn ŮnaŠpanin mother's senior sister
okuŠnu-panšn okuŠnupanin husband's senior brother
oyeŠre-panšn oyeŠrepanin wife's senior sister
űmaŠn-panšn űmaŠmpanin president
abusĢťś-panšn abusĢśpaŠnin family head (intrinsically male)
űbaŠa-panšn űbaŠapanin eldest woman (e.g. in family)

3b. -kumaa

To express 'juniority' -kumaa is used in compounds:
onuaŠ-kuŠmaa onuakuŠmaa junior sibling
onuaŠ-baŠrima-kuŠmaa onuabaŠrimaŠ kuŠmaa junior brother
onuaŠ-baa-kuŠmaa onuaŠbaŠa kuŠmaa junior sister
agyaŠ-kuŠmaa agyaŠkuŠmaa father's junior brother
ŮnaŠ-kuŠmaa ŮnaŠkumaa mother's senior sister
oyeŠre-kuŠmaa oyeŠrekumaa wife's junior sister (or: junior wife in a polygamy)
okuŠnu-kuŠmaa okuŠnukumaa husband's junior brother

Cf. kinship in Akan in Unit 4

4a. -bedeŮ

Animal names are not specified for male or female, to denote females, -bedeŮ is used:
akoŠkű-beŠdeŮ akoŠkűbedeŮ hen
nantwš-beŠdeŮ nantwibeŠdeŮ cow

4b. -nini denotes males (of animals):

akoŠkű-nšni akoŠkűnini cock
nantwš-nšni nantwinšni bull

5. -sŮm is frequently used in compounding and very productive. Compounds with -sŮm denote abstract nouns:

ananse-sŮŠm anansesŮŠm (ananse) story
nkwaseaŠ-sŮŠm nkwaseasŮŠm foolishness
abaŠkű-sŮŠm abaŠkűsŮm history
ahķaŠ-sŮŠm ahķaŠsŮm important matter
The first element of such compounds can be a noun: ananse ('wisdom'), nkwaseaŠ ('fools') or a verb hķaŠ('need').

6. -deŮ is also frequently used in compounding and likewise productive.

agoŠ-deŠŮ agodeŠŮ toy
akyŮŠ-deŠŮ akyŮŠdeŮ gift
nžm-deŠŮ nimdeŮŠ knowledge
The first element of such compounds is usually a verb.

cf. Danso (1983) for 5. and 6.

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