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Native to Ghana, Ivory Coast
Region North-west corner of the Brong-Ahafo Region in Ghana, east of Bondoukou in Ivory Coast
Ethnicity Nafana
Native speakers
61,000 in Ghana  (2003)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 nfr
Glottolog nafa1258[2]
Nafaanra, some neighbouring languages, and other Senufo languages.
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Nafaanra (sometimes written Nafaara, pronounced [nafãːra]) is a Senufo language spoken in northwest Ghana, along the border with Ivory Coast, east of Bondoukou. It is spoken by approximately 61,000 people.[3] Its speakers call themselves Nafana; others call them Banda or Mfantera. Like other Senufo languages, Nafaanra is a tonal language. It is somewhat of an outlier in the Senufo language group, with the geographically closest relatives, the Southern Senufo Tagwana–Djimini languages, approximately 200 kilometres (120 mi) to the west, on the other side of Comoé National Park.

The basic word order is subject–object–verb, similar to Latin and Japanese. Like other Niger–Congo languages it has a noun class system where nouns are classified according to five different genders, which also affects pronouns, adjectives and copulas. The phonology features a distinction between the length of vowels and whether they are oral or nasal (as in French or Portuguese). There are also three distinct tones, a feature shared with the other Senufo languages. Nafaanra grammar features both tense and aspect which are marked with particles. Numbers are mainly formed by adding cardinal numbers to the number 5 and by multiplying the numbers 10, 20 and 100.

Geography and demography[edit]

Nafaanra is bordered by Kulango languages to the west, while Deg (a Gur language) and Gonja (Kwa) are found to the north and east. The closest eastern neighbour is the Mande language Ligbi, whose speakers are also called Banda) which, like Nafaanra, is an outlier to its own family. Southeast and south of Nafaanra and Ligbi, the Akan language Abron (also Bron or Brong) is spoken.

The Nafana people live in the north-west corner of the Brong-Ahafo Region of Ghana, concentrated mainly in Sampa (capital of the Jaman North district) and Banda. There are two dialectal variants of Nafaanra: Pantera of Banda, and Fantera of Sampa.[4] Bendor-Samuel gives a 79% cognate relationship on the Swadesh list between the two dialects, meaning that they have many basic words in common.[5] The Banda dialect is considered central. The terms "Fantera" and "Pantera" come from other peoples and are considered pejorative by the Nafana.[4]

The Nafana people say that they come from a village called Kakala in Ivory Coast. Their oral history says that some of their people are still there, and if they go back they will not be allowed to leave again.[6] They arrived in the Banda area after the Ligbi people, who came from Begho (Bigu, Bighu) to the area in the early 17th century.[7]

Many Nafana are bilingual in Twi, the regional lingua franca, to some extent. According to SIL, 50% of the people are able to "satisfy routine social demands and limited requirements in other domains", while 20% are able to speak Twi "with sufficient structural accuracy and vocabulary to participate effectively in most formal and informal conversations on practical, social, and occupational topics". The remaining 30% are either able to maintain only very simple face-to-face conversations on familiar topics (15%) or unable to speak Twi at all (15%). 15–25% of the Nafana people are literate in Twi, whereas only 1–5% are literate in Nafaanra.[3][8]

Nafaanra is the second language of the approximately 70 Dompo people living in the close vicinity of Banda. Dompo is their first language, thought to be extinct until a field work trip of Blench in 1998 proved the contrary.[9]


Maurice Delafosse was the first linguist to mention Nafaanra, calling it "a much dispersed Senufo tribe" in 1904.[10] Westermann in his classification of West-African languages, also grouped Nafaanra with Senufo, apparently based on the word list found in Rapp.[11] This classification is confirmed by Bendor-Samuel, who bases his internal Senufo classification on the comparative word lists in Swadesh et al.[5][12]

It is less clear which particular Senufo branch Nafaanra is related to most closely. Bendor-Samuel gives a 60% cognate relationship on the Swadesh list with "Tenere" (a western Senari dialect), 59% with "Central Senari" (the Senari dialect spoken around Korhogo), and 43% with the non-Senufo languages Mo (or Deg), Kabre (or Kabiye), and Dogon.[5] The relatively low scores of about 60% point to a rather distant relationship. Likewise, Mensah and Tchagbale establish an intercomprensibility factor of 38% with "Tyebaara" (Senari), concluding that Nafaanra is only distantly related to this dialect.[13] Nafaanra has been tentatively linked to Palaka (Kpalaga) by Manessy, whereas Mills suggests a relation with the southern Tagwana–Djimini branch.[14][15]



Nafaanra has seven oral and five nasalized vowels. A difference in vowel length can make a difference in meaning, as in , "to go", vs. sɛɛ, "fetish" or o, "we" vs. oo, "we will". Similarly, the phonemic contrastiveness of nasalization can be seen in sii, "to be giving birth," vs. sĩĩ, "to build".[16] The vowel system closely resembles that of other Senufo languages. It is like the two Northern Senufo languages Supyire and Mamara in having only five nasal against seven oral vowels.[17] In the orthography, nasalization of vowels is marked by adding the letter "n" after the vowel.

Phonetic inventory of vowels in Nafaanra[18]
Front Central Back
Close iĩ uũ
Close-mid e o
Open-mid ɛɛ̃ ɔɔ̃
Open aã


In the table below, orthographic symbols are included between brackets if they differ from the IPA symbols. Note especially the use of "j" for IPA [ɟ] and the use of "y" for IPA [j], common in African orthographies.

Phonetic inventory of consonants in Nafaanra in IPA notation[19]
bilabial labio-
alveolar palatal velar labio-
plosive p   b t   d c (ch)   ɟ (j) k   ɡ kp   ɡb
fricative f   v s   z ç (sh) h
nasal m n ɲ (ny) ŋ ŋm
trill r
approximant w l j (y)

The consonant system of Nafaanra is fairly similar to that of other Senufo languages. Nafaanra has only one attested palatal fricative, /ç/, occupying an intermediate position between the Northern Senufo languages (Mamara, Supyire) that have both /ç/ and its voiced counterpart /ʝ/, and the Central and Southern Senufo languages (e.g. Karaboro, Senari, Djimini) that have no palatal fricatives at all.[This would be original research: Nafaanra h corresponds to the glottal consonant most other Senufo languages have, either in the form of a glottal stop /ʔ/ (Supyire, Senari, Karaboro) or a glottal fricative /h/ (Mamara)]


Like the other Senufo languages, Nafaanra has three contrastive tones: High, Mid and Low. Tone is normally not marked in the Nafaanra orthography. Examples are:[20]

  • kúfɔ̀ "yam" (High-Low)
  • dama "two pesewas (coin)" (Mid)
  • màŋà "rope" (Low)

The Mid tone sometimes has a rising feature, the High tone sometimes is subject to downstep (a tonal process resulting in a High tone being realised lower than a preceding High tone), and an upstep is also found.[21] The "rising feature" of Mid may be related to the fact that two different Mid tones are found in some other Senufo languages (e.g. Sucite and Supyire).[17] The High tone downstep (signified by a raised exclamation mark) occurs in the following context:[20]

  • we !   (he FUT go)   "he will go".

It is likely that the tonal lowering seen in this particular example is related to the low tone nasal prefix found in future tense constructions in some other Senufo languages. In fact, Supyire shows a similar phenomenon in future tense constructions with a direct object (in other future tense constructions, a low tone nasal is found).[22] In general however, downstep is more widespread than in Supyire; a similar phenomenon is found in Palaka, Tagwana, and Djimini.[23]

An upstep is found in the imperative tense of high tone verbs:[24]

  • ki   (it close)   "close it!"


The Nafaanra syllable comprises a vowel and a maximum of three consonants. A nasal consonant may occur as a syllable on its own, in which case it is called a syllabic nasal. The basic syllable structure can be rendered as (C1)(C2)V(C3), with a preference for CV and CVV. Position C1 may contain any consonant, although word-initial /r/ does not occur. Position C2 may contain only trills (/r/) or approximants (/w, l, j/). Position C3 may contain only nasals (/m n ɲ ŋ/), in which case the syllable as a whole is nasalized.[25]

Senufo languages have a typical Niger–Congo noun class (or gender) system. Suffixes on nouns mark membership of one of the five noun genders. Pronouns, adjectives and copulas reflect the noun gender of the nominal they refer to. Although none of the sources on Nafaanra provides any details, it can be inferred from a brief word list given by Jordan[26] that the Nafaanra noun class system resembles that of other Senufo languages.

The basic word order in Nafaanra is subject–object–verb, as can be seen in the following sentence:

  • bibilɛ ná pé nya   (boys PAST them see)   "The boys saw them"

Personal pronouns[edit]

Jordan lists the following list of pronouns, commenting, "Although the pronoun system appears quite simple, it becomes complicated because all the tenses are shown by a combination of pronoun plus particle."[27]

Nafaanra personal pronouns
Jordan 1980a:6 Singular Plural
1st person ni o
2nd person mu e
3rd person u pe

Tense and aspect[edit]

Tense and aspect in Nafaanra are generally encoded in two places: in preverbal particles and on the verb form. Nafaanra has past, recent past, and future tenses and continuative aspect. In a simple sentence, the order of the various constituents can be rendered as follows: SUBJECT • (NEGATION) • (TENSE) • (ASPECT) • VERB . When the negative suffix -n is present, no fusing of preverbal particles takes place. Nafaanra additionally expresses some tense/aspect matters by use of certain time adverbs and auxiliary verbs.[28]

Past tense is marked by the preverbal particle (high tone, as opposed to the low tone continuative particle). Future tense is marked by the particle . Simple sentences without a preverbal tense particle are interpreted as recent past (sometimes called immediate). If aspect marking is absent, simple sentences are generally interpreted as completive.[29]

  • kòfí sɛ́ About this sound    (Kofi PAST go-completive)   "Kofi went" — PAST
  • kòfí sɛ́   (Kofi FUTURE go-completive)   "Kofi will go" — FUTURE
  • kòfí sɛ́   (Kofi go-completive)   "Kofi just went" — RECENT PAST (no marking)

Continuative aspect (sometimes called progressive) denotes an action that is ongoing or repetitive. Continuative aspect is usually marked both by a preverbal particle (low tone) and by a change of the verb form. The verb sɛ́, "go" used in the sentences below has the continuative form síé. In sentences where both past tense particle and continuative particle are present, they combine to give the fused particle náà. In sentences in the recent past tense, the preverbal continuative particle is omitted and continuative aspect is shown only on the verb.[28]

  • kòfí náà síé   (Kofi PAST+CONT go-CONT)   "Kofi was going" — CONT + PAST
  • kòfí wè nà síé   (Kofi FUT CONT go-CONT)   "Kofi will be going" — CONT + FUTURE
  • kòfí síé   (Kofi go-CONT)   "Kofi is going" — CONT + RECENT PAST

Two classes of verbs can be differentiated on the basis of their behaviour in aspectually marked sentences.[30] One class of verbs has two aspectually distinct forms, as seen in the above example sentences. Another class of verbs does not distinguish aspect — one and the same form shows up in both completive and continuative aspect. In sentences in the recent past tense, this gives rise to ambiguity since the preverbal continuative particle is omitted there. Thus, the sentence kòfí blú can be interpreted in the following two ways:

  • About this sound kòfí blú    (Kofi swim-CONT)   "Kofi is swimming" — CONT + RECENT PAST
  • kòfí blú   (Kofi swim-completive)   "Kofi just swam" — RECENT PAST (no marking)

Considerable fusion takes place between pronominal subjects and the preverbal particles. For example, "PAST" fuses with , "they", to produce prá sɛ́ (they-PAST go-completive), "they went", and "FUTURE" fuses with in píè sɛ́ (they-FUTURE go-completive), "they will go".


Questions can be formed in several ways in Nafaanra. Basic yes/no questions are constructed by adding a sentence-final question marker . Constituent questions (sometimes called Wh-questions or question word questions) are doubly marked. They contain a sentence-initial question word and are marked with a sentence-final question marker hin.[31]

  • u pan   (he come Q)   "Has he come?" — basic yes/no-question
  • About this sound ŋgi wra nya hin    (what he+PAST see Q)   "What did he see?" — constituent question


The cardinal numbers without tonal marking are presented below;[32] where possible, the tone pattern is added based on the list in Rapp.[33] Some Supyire correlates are given for comparison.[34] Numbers six to nine are derived by adding the numbers one to four to kɔɔ, "five", by means of the conjunction na.

The cardinal numbers of Nafaanra without tonal marking
No. Nafaanra Supyire Notes
1 núnu nìŋkìn
2 shíín shùùnnì
3 táárɛ̀ tàànrè Mpre: eta[35]
4 jíjirɛ̀ sìcyɛ̀ɛ̀rè
5 kúnɔ kaŋkuro
6 kɔ́ɔ̀-ná-nù baa-nì 5 + 1
7 kɔ́ɔ̀-na-shin baa-shùùnnì 5 + 2
8 kɔ́ɔ̀-ná-tárɛ̀ baa-tàànrè 5 + 3
9 kɔ́ɔ̀-ná-jirɛ baa-rìcyɛ̀ɛ̀rè 5 + 4
10 kɛ́
20 fúlo benjaaga
30 fúlo na kɛ benjaaga na kɛ 20 + 10
40 fúloe shiin 20 × 2
50 fúloe shiin na kɛ 20 × 2 + 10, Rapp féleshen-ná-kɛ
60 fuloe taarɛ 20 × 3, however compare Rapp félèko-a-ná-nò
70 fuloe taarɛ na kɛ 20 × 3 + 10, Rapp féleko-náshèn
80 fuloe jijirɛ 20 × 4, Rapp féleko-ná-tàrɛ
90 fuloe jijirɛ na kɛ 20 × 4 + 10, Rapp félèko-ná-nyèrɛ
100 lafaa Mpre: ke-lafa (Rapp 1933)
200 lafɛɛ shiin
400 lafɛɛ jijirɛ
1000 kagbenge nunu Rapp láfâ-kɛĭ (100 × 10) or káboŋge
|2000 kagbenge shiin

The numbers 11–19 are formed by adding 1–9 to 10 by means of the conjunction mbɔ, e.g. kɛmbɔnunu, "eleven", kɛmbɔkunɔ, "fifteen". In the tens and higher, the Nafaanra and Supyire systems diverge. Multiplication of fulo, "twenty," and addition of , "ten", (by means of the conjunction ) is used to form the 30–90 tens. Perhaps surprisingly, there are considerable differences between Rapp (1933) and Jordan (1980) here. In Rapp's 60, 70 and 80, féle seems to be used to mark ten, which conjoined with 6, 7 and 8 forms 60, 70 and 80.

Rapp (1933) compares the Nafaanra numerals for three (táárɛ) and hundred (lafaa) with eta and ke-lafa from Mpre, a hitherto unclassified language from Ghana. It should be noted however that Mpre eta is Kwa-like (cf. Brong esã, Ga etɛ), whereas the Nafaanra form táárɛ is transparently related to the forms found in the other (non-Kwa) Senufo languages (e.g. Supyire tàànrè). Nafaanra lafaa "hundred" is a typical Kwa numeral and is most probably borrowed from one of the surrounding Kwa languages (cf. Dangme làfá, Gonja kì-làfá, Ewe alafá). Rapp's implication of affinity between Mpre and Nafaanra seems therefore unwarranted at this level.

Morphophonological alternations occur here and there, most notably the reduction of kúnɔ, "five" to kɔ́ɔ̀ (preserving the tone pattern) and the change from lafaa to lafɛɛ in the hundreds.

Colour words[edit]

The three basic colour words of Nafaanra are: wɔɔ, "black", finge, "white", and ɲiɛ, "red". As with adjectives in Senufo languages, the form of the colour words reflects the noun class of the noun that is modified.

  • wɔɔ — ki   "it is black"
  • finge — ki fninge   "it is white"
  • ɲiɛ — ki ɲina   "it is red"

The cognate forms in closely related Supyire are -ɲyɛ-, "red; warm colored", and -fyìn-, "white; light colored", in Supyire. These adjectives are related to the respective verbs fíníŋɛ́, "be white; whiten" and ɲááŋá, "be red; redden", which in turn are causative forms of the now defunct verbs fini,"be white" and ɲana, "be red".[36]

Sample sentences[edit]

Sample Nafaanra sentences from the SIL:[37]

  • mùùrà kà ní čàà mè gbú mè é nyìè tɛ́ɛ́ mè kí lóóAbout this sound   
story some I want and-FUTURE beat and-FUTURE your ear put and-FUTURE it hear
"I want to tell a story for you to hear."
true that hyena hide-completive
"It's true that the hyena hid himself."
  • ké bĺè kà kpáhù wá
it day some frog not-there
"On a certain day the frog wasn't here."
  • ẃrè ǹnà pè kúú
he not-CONT them kill-CONT
"He wasn't killing them."
  • ná múúrò ḿnà kàà mà ná yo mà
if fish you-PAST-CONT chew-CONT you-not past say-completive that
"If you had been eating fish you would not have said that."


Map of two dozen locations in half a dozen regions. The central region's name, "NAFANA", is magnified in an inset. Other region names include "ABRON" and "NTAKIMA"; location names include "Bondoukou", the largest location in the NAFANA region.
Fragment of Delafosse's (1904) linguistic map highlighting Nafaanra ("Nafana") in the borderland of Ivory Coast and Ghana. Bonduku is found on the left.

There is relatively little published on or in the Nafaanra language. The first linguistic publication to mention Nafaanra is Delafosse (1904), containing some notes on the Nafana people and a fairly extensive comparative Senufo word list, though it lacked any proper tonal marking. Rapp (1933) is an appendix to an article on the Kulango language containing a German-Nafaanra (Nafana-Sprache) word list of around 100 items, gathered during a stay of four hours at Sampa. Rapp notes in passing that special attention was paid to the marking of the tones.[38]

After a period of silence on Nafaanra, Painter (1966) appeared, consisting of basic word lists of the Pantera and Fantera dialects. The SIL linguist Dean Jordan published an article on Nafaanra discourse in 1978, and together with his wife Carol Jordan has produced a translation of the New Testament, which appeared in 1984.[39] Kropp-Dakubu's 1980 West African language data sheets vol II contains a few pages on Nafaanra put together in the late seventies by Dean and Carol Jordan, including a phonology, a list of nouns, a list of pronouns, a list of numbers, and some example sentences; tones are not marked. A more detailed phonology of Nafaanra by Jordan, also containing a Swadesh list, appeared in 1980. Several books of Nafana folk tales have been published by the Summer Institute of Linguistics. Mensah and Tchagbale in their 1983 linguistic atlas of Ivory Coast include a comparative Senufo word list of about 120 items; Nafaanra is present under the name "Nafara of Bondoukou". An orthography of Nafaanra, lacking tonal marking, is included in Hartell (1993). The area where Nafaanra is spoken has been the subject of recent archaeological-anthropological studies (Stahl 2004).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nafaanra at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Nafaanra". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ a b Ghana Institute for Linguistics, Literacy, and Bible Translation (GILLBT) 2003, as cited in Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (ed.), 2005. Nafaanra: a language of Ghana. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International. Retrieved on 2007-04-10
  4. ^ a b Jordan 1980:1
  5. ^ a b c Bendor-Samuel 1971
  6. ^ Jordan 1978:84n1
  7. ^ Stahl 2004
  8. ^ Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (ed.), 2005. Introduction to the printed volume. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International. Retrieved on 2007-04-10
  9. ^ Blench 1999
  10. ^ Delafosse 1904:195
  11. ^ Westermann 1970[1952]:56
  12. ^ Swadesh et al. 1966
  13. ^ Mensah and Tchagbale 1983:19
  14. ^ Manessy 1981
  15. ^ Mills 1984
  16. ^ Minimal pairs from Jordan 1980b:13–15
  17. ^ a b Carlson 1994
  18. ^ Jordan 1980b:16
  19. ^ Jordan 1980a:5
  20. ^ a b Jordan 1980b:23
  21. ^ Jordan 1980a,b
  22. ^ Carlson 1994:334
  23. ^ Mills 1984:xvi.
  24. ^ Jordan 1980b:24
  25. ^ Jordan 1980b:2
  26. ^ Jordan 1980a:1–2
  27. ^ Jordan 1980a:6
  28. ^ a b Jordan 1978
  29. ^ Example sentences adapted from Jordan 1978:85–87.
  30. ^ Jordan 1978:85ff.
  31. ^ Examples adapted from Jordan 1980:NAF4
  32. ^ Jordan 1980a:2
  33. ^ Rapp 1933:66–67
  34. ^ As given in Carlson 1994:169
  35. ^ Rapp 1933
  36. ^ Carlson 1994:154,710n9,10
  37. ^ Jordan 1978:88–90
  38. ^ ...besondere Aufmerksamkeit wurde auf die Aufzeichnung der Tonhöhen verwandt, Rapp 1933:66
  39. ^ International Bible Society 1984


Primary sources
Secondary sources
  • Bendor-Samuel, John (1971) 'Niger–Congo: Gur' in: Thomas Sebeok & Jack Berry (eds.), Linguistics in sub-saharan Africa (Current trends in linguistics 7), The Hauge/Paris: Mouton, 141–178.
  • Blench, Roger (1999). Recent Field Work in Ghana: Report on Dompo and a note on Mpre.
  • Carlson, Robert (1994). A Grammar of Supyire. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-014057-6.
  • Hartell, Rhonda L. (ed.) (1993). The Alphabets of Africa. Dakar: UNESCO and SIL.
  • Manessy, Gabriel (1981) 'Les langues voltaïques', in: Les langues dans le monde ancien et moderne vol. I, Paris, CNRS, 103–110.
  • Mensah, E.N.A.; Tchagbale, Z. (1983) Atlas des langues gur de Côte d' Ivoire. Abidjan, Paris: ILA.
  • Mills, Elizabeth (1984) Senoufo phonology, discourse to syllabe (a prosodic approach) SIL publications in linguistics (ISSN 1040-0850), 72.
  • Stahl, Ann (2004). "Making history in Banda: Reflections on the construction of Africa's past", in Historical Archaeology, 38, 1, 50–56.
  • Swadesh et al. (1966) 'A preliminary glottochronology of Gur languages', Journal of West African Languages, 3, 2, 27–65.
  • Westermann, Diedrich & Bryan, M.A. (1970 [1952]). The Languages of West Africa. Oxford: International African Institute / Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-7129-0462-9.

Further reading[edit]

  • Brɔfu ni yuu (a bridge material to English) Nafaanra. Ghana Institute of Linguistics, Literacy and Bible Translation (1994)
  • Nafaanra dictionary (PDF), by Dean Jordan of SIL.