Adams B. Bodomo - Charles O. Marfo

The Morphophonology of Noun Classes in Dagaare and Akan

Earlier research indicates that the majority of African languages exhibit noun class systems (e.g. Heine et al. 1981; Bodomo 1994; Creissels 2000). A language may be said to have a noun class system if its nouns can be categorized according to a system of affixal markings on the nouns. A major issue is how to evolve a coherent set of criteria for establishing a convincingly consistent noun class system within individual languages and language groups. A leading approach is the use of mainly semantic criteria (e.g. Mohamadou 1994; Delplanque 1995). This paper proposes an alternative approach to the noun class system of Dagaare (Gur, Niger Congo) and Akan (Kwa, Niger Congo) based more on an interaction between morphology and phonology than on semantics (Bodomo 1994 & 1997). Dagaare and Akan are languages that exhibit mainly suffixal and prefixal nominal inflection respectively. The basic claim is that, by relying on number affixes, Dagaare and Akan nouns can be put into broad classes. This broad classification can be fine-tuned and categorized into sub-classes based on phonological processes such as vowel harmony and assimilation. While semantic and other non-morphophonological factors may be attested in noun class systems, it is argued that a comprehensive noun classification in both languages with these systems could hardly be evolved without recourse to morphophonology.