Ghana Journal of Linguistics

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Conjoint and disjoint verb alternations in Dagbani

Samuel Alhassan Issah


The goal of this paper is to understand the nature and functions of aspectual suffixes of Dagbani, a language belonging to the South-Western languages of the Western Oti-Volta subgroup of the Gur group of languages. The paper considers the morphology of the verb and how it may be correlated with readily observable syntactic features of the language such as the presence or absence of certain arguments. The aspectual suffixes have different realisations which call for the presence or absence of certain structural arguments such as NP complements and adjuncts referred to as conjoint (CJ) and disjoint (DJ) verb forms respectively. I also propose three accounts in an attempt to account for the function(s) of the conjoint and disjoint alternations: the incorporated pronoun hypothesis, the medio-passive hypothesis, and the focus hypothesis, and conclude that the CJ/DJ forms are directly correlated with focus. It is concluded then that the CJ form correlates with focus on post-verbal materials, while the DJ focuses on the verb. The paper also discusses certain post-verbal particles whose distribution is affected by the aspectual markers. I give the paper a comparative flavour by drawing data from other languages of the Oti-Volta subgroup (excluding the Eastern languages) to buttress my claim based on empirical evidence that the phenomenon discussed is quite pervasive in this subgroup of Gur languages. The analysis is basically from a theory-neutral perspective. I conclude that the interaction between the aspectual suffixes and the sentence structure of Dagbani is (at least superficially) very similar to the so-called ‘short/long’ or ‘conjunctive/disjunctive’ verb which has been argued to be phenomenal in a number of Bantu languages.

Keywords: Dagbani, aspect, sentence structure, conjoint, disjoint, focus hypothesis, Gur
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