Ghana Journal of Linguistics

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“Paddling a Canoe and Preparing Rice Balls” The Semantics of Tafi Cuisine

Mercy Bobuafor


The culinary field is where three of the well-authenticated examples of human universals; tool making, use of fire and cooking of food, come together. Yet in this field, cultures differ in their conceptualisation and linguistic representation of food preparation. In this study, I discuss the language of cooking in Tafi, a Ghana-Togo Mountain Language, focusing on five verbs: tɔ́ “cook, boil”; pʊ́ɩ̄ “bake, roast”, gba “fry, roast; sweep”; ge “cook (e.g. dumpling); drive (e.g. a car)” and tú “pound”. I investigate the semantic relations among them and explore the cultural logic that unites the interpretations suggested by their translation equivalents. Thus, I show that the contextual interpretation of tɔ́ depends on the classes of nouns it collocates with: With kɩ́dɔ̄ “thing” it signals “prepare a meal”. Where its complement is a specific product, the interpretation is “to make something” e.g., tɔ́ bésh(e)ɔkɔ̃ɛ̃ “prepare local soap”. But if the complement names a food then it means “prepare that particular food” e.g. tɔ́ (elí) oni “prepare (oil-palm) soup”. If the complement is a (raw) foodstuff, it is interpreted as  “boil in water to”, e.g. tɔ́ kídzē “egg” is interpreted as “cook egg” or “boil egg in water”. Furthermore, I argue that the use of the activity verbs gba“sweep”, ge “drive, paddle” (cf. Akan ka) and tú “pound” in the culinary field is based on the manner of food preparation. The Tafi conceptualisations and lexicalisation patterns will be compared to the vocabulary in Ewe and Akan to discover the similarities and differences.
AJOL African Journals Online