Kissi language

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Native toGuinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone
Native speakers
(530,000 cited 1991–1995)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3Either:
kss – Southern Kissi
kqs – Northern Kissi
Linguasphere94-BAB-a (Kisi, incl. 94-BAB-aa Kisi-N. & 94-BAB-ab Kisi-S.)

Kissi (or Kisi) is a Mel language of West Africa, There are two dialects, northern and southern, and both are tonal languages. The northern dialect is spoken in Guinea and in Sierra Leone. In its northern form, it often uses loanwords from the Malinke and the Mende language. The southern dialect is spoken in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The two dialects are notably different, but are closely related.

In Guinea, the main places Kissi is spoken are the cities of Kissidougou and Guéckédou and their préfectures.



Front Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a


Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Labial-velar Glottal
Stop voiceless p t k kp
voiced b d (gb)
prenasalized mb nd (ɲɟ) ŋg (ŋmgb)
Affricate t͡ɕ
Fricative f s h
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Approximant l j w

Kissidougou dialects preserve a distinction between /r/ and /l/ phonemes that have been merged as allophones in dialects south of Guéckédou. For instance, "la huŋ" means exactly the same as "ra huŋ". Also, "Thank you" is realized as "barika" around Kissidougou and "balika" south of Guéckédou.

The voiced labial-velar stop /gb/ occurs only in onomatopoeic phrases, and medial gb can be regarded as an allophone of its voiceless counterpart.[2]

  • gbaala 'outdoor kitchen'
  • Gbgb (a river in Kissidougou)
  • gbɛŋgbɔ 'stool'
  • maagbana 'city taxi'


Kissi has four tones: two register and two contour. The two register tones are level and high, and the two contour tones are a rising mid tone and the a falling high tone. Kissi also has an extra-high tone, but occurs only sparingly, functioning in only a few grammatical contexts.[2]

Grammar (northern Kissi)[edit]


Kissi pronoun Pronunciation English pronoun Kissi example English translation
y /i/ I y tyo kɔlaŋ loŋ. I'm going there.
a /a/ You a tyo kɔlaŋ loŋ. You're going there.
o /o/ He/She o tyo kɔlaŋ loŋ. He's going there.
n /n/ We n tyo kɔlaŋ loŋ. We're going there.
la /la/ You (plural) la tyo kɔlaŋ loŋ. You're going there.
aa /aː/ They aa tyo kɔlaŋ loŋ. They're going there.

As you can already see from these examples, verbs aren't conjugated like English verbs, but they are inflected by tone.

Kissi pronoun Pronunciation English pronoun Kissi example English translation
ya /ja/ Me o tyo ya lɔ.
yɔŋgu ya ho. / k'ya ho.
He's going to beat me.
Give me that.
nɔm /nɔm/ You y tyo nɔm lɔ. I'm going to beat you.
ndu /ndu/ Him /Her y tyo ndu lɔ.
o tyo ndu pilɛ lɔ.
I'm going to beat him / her.
He's going to beat himself.
na /na/ Us o tyo na lɔ. He's going to beat us.
nia /nia/ You (plural) o tyo nia lɔ. He's going to beat you.
ndaa /ndaː/ Them o tyo ndaa lɔ. He's going to beat them.


Definite and indefinite articles do not exist in Kissi, so "muɛi" means "the knife" as well as "a knife". If an object has to be defined (because there are more than one, for example), "this" is used:

example: muɛi coŋ - this knife

If that is not exact enough, an object is described using adjectives.

yɔŋgu ya muɛi. / k'ya muɛi. - Give me a/the knife.

yɔŋgu ya muɛi bɛndɛi. / k'ya muɛi bɛndɛi. - Give me the big knife.


  1. ^ Southern Kissi at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Northern Kissi at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ a b Childs, G. Tucker (1995-01-01). A Grammar of Kisi: A Southern Atlantic Language. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 9783110810882.
  • G. Tucker Childs. A Grammar of Kisi, A Southern Atlantic Language. 1995. 370 pp.
  • G. Tucker Childs: A Dictionary of the Kisi Language. With an English-Kisi Index
  • Denise Paulme. Les Gens du Riz: Les Kissi de Haute-Guinée. Paris. Librairie Plon. 1954, 1970. 324 pp. Online version

External links[edit]