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Some notes on the encoding of property concepts in Vai from a typological and comparative Central Mande perspective

Quelques notes sur l’expression des qualities en Vai dans une perspective typologique et comparée du Mandé Central
Некоторые замечания относительно выражения качественных значений в ваи, в типологической и сравнительной перспективе
Holger Tröbs
p. 111-130


Le but général de cet article est de traiter en détails les différentes stratégies qui sont employées en Vai pour exprimer les prédicats de propriété. Comme l’a fait remarquer Stassen (1997) en discutant l’expression de la qualification du point de vue typologique, le trait le plus saillant du Vai est l’emploi de quatre stratégies différentes (deux stratégies non-verbales et deux stratégies verbales). L’encodage des mots de propriété est examiné en considérant les types sémantiques de Dixon (1977 ; 2004) et le concept de “time-stability” proposé par Givón (1984). De plus, les deux stratégies verbales (le factatif et le statif) sont étudiées dans une perspective comparatiste des langues du groupe Mandé-Central.

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Notes de l’auteur

This article is based on a paper read at the 4th International Conference on Mande Languages and Linguistics, Bobo-Dioulasso, September 15-17, 2014.

ADJ = adjective
ADV.COMP = adverbial complement
COP = copula
DEF = definite marker
FACT = factative
IPFV = imperfective
L = low tone replacing the stem tone of any verbs
Loc.COP =
locative copula
IPFV = imperfective
NEG = negation
NP = noun phrase
O = object
PART.RES = resultative participle
PL = plural
PM = predicative marker
PN = predicate noun
Pp = S
postposition = subject
SG = singular
VS = verb stem
Ø = absence of PM

Texte intégral

1. Introduction

1Vai is a Central Mande language spoken along the northwestern coast of Liberia, but also extending into Sierra Leone (Welmers 1976: 1). The Ethnologue-16 (Lewis 2009) gives the number of Vai speakers as 119,500. Vai belongs to the Manding-Jɔgɔ branch within the Central Mande languages (cf. Kastenholz 1996: 70f.). Its nearest relative is Kɔnɔ, which is spoken in Sierra Leone.

2Stassen (1997) has argued that, viewed from a cross-linguistic perspective, the encoding of property concepts in Vai represents an extreme case in that Vai makes use of four different encoding strategies, two non-verbal strategies (i.e., one nominal, one locational) and two verbal strategies. The prototypical feature of the nominal strategy is a nonverbal copula or, as Stassen (1997: 612) puts it, “a nonverbal supportive item”. An example of the use of the nominal strategy for property concepts in Vai is presented in (1).


Vai [= nominal strategy featuring the nonverbal copula ]







‘He is young.’ (Welmers 1976: 75)

3The locational strategy is also typically characterized by the presence of a supportive item, but, in contrast to the nominal strategy, by “a supportive item which has the morphosyntactic characteristics of a verb” (Stassen 1997: 55). Example (2) illustrates the use of the locational strategy for property concepts in Vai, which is featured by the locative copula ɓɛ̀.


Vai [= locational strategy featuring the defective verbal copula ɓɛ̀]







‘It is light (in weight).’ (Welmers 1976: 77)

4The cognate forms of the locative copulas belonging to the BE-type found in Vai and Manding are thus considered by Stassen (1997: 95) as defective existential verbs, which, at some historical level, have lost their verbal properties (for a detailed discussion of this point, cf. Tröbs 2009: Section 8.4.2).

5The verbal strategy typically allows independent, non-supported encoding of predicates and does thus not contain supportive items such as copulas or auxiliaries (Stassen 1997: 42). The two verbal encoding types employed for property concepts in Vai are illustrated in (3) and (4).

  • 1 (l) represents the morpheme internal alternation between [l] and zero.


Vai [= verbal strategy, factative construction marked by the suffix –(l)à1]





‘The orange is sour.’ (Welmers 1976: 84)


Vai [= verbal strategy, stative construction marked by low tone]





‘The man is tall.’ (Welmers 1976: 95)

6In my paper, I would like to elaborate on the encoding of property concepts in Vai from a typological and a comparative Central Mande perspective. More specifically, I shall focus on four points:

  1. The four encoding strategies for property concepts will be illustrated and analyzed against the theoretical background of two functional-typological approaches, namely Dixon’s (1977) pioneering survey on the morphosyntax and semantics of adjectives as well as Stassen’s (1997) typological study on intransitive predication.

  2. The verbal encoding strategies for property concepts will be discussed from a Central Mande perspective.

  3. By exploring the verbal encoding behaviour of property concepts in Vai the empirical base for a typology of quality (stative) verbs in Mande will be broadened.

  4. Finally, Stassen’s (1997: 30) so-called Adjective Principle which claims that property concepts (predicative adjectives) have no encoding strategy of their own will be disproved by data from different Central Mande and Northwestern Mande languages.

7My presentation is mainly based on Welmers’ grammar of Vai (1976), but also on earlier grammatical descriptions such as those of Heydorn (1971, published posthumously from a manuscript of 1934) and Klingenheben (1924/25, 1933) as well as Klingenheben’s collection of Vai lexical data adapted and edited by Raimund Kastenholz (unpublished manuscript).

2. Theoretical background

2.1 Dixon 1977

8A fundamental approach to the conceptual domain of property concepts has been offered by Dixon (1977) in terms of semantic types. Dixon (1977) explored the systematic correlation between the word class “adjective” as defined by morphosyntactic criteria and basic semantic types in 17 languages. Dixon worked from the assumption “that the syntactic properties of a lexical item can largely be predicted from its semantic description” (1977: 24). According to Dixon (1977: 31), there are seven semantic types that form the word class of adjectives.

Core semantic types (Dixon 1977: 31)

1. Dimension

big, large, little, small, long, short, thick, thin, etc.

2. Age

old, young, new

3. Value

good, bad, fine, excellent, proper, etc.

4. Color

black ,white, red, etc.

Peripheral semantic types (Dixon 1977: 31)

5. Physical property

hard, soft, heavy, light, hot, cold, sweet, sour, etc.

6. Human propensity

jealous, happy, kind, clever, rude, proud, etc.

7. Speed

fast, slow, quick, etc.

9Dixon’s survey discovered universal tendencies that govern the morphosyntactic behaviour of the semantic types mentioned above. The four core semantic types prototypically belong to languages with a small closed adjective class whereas in languages with a large open adjective class this class consists of all or most of the members of all seven semantic types (Dixon 1977: 55). In his later study on adjective classes in typological perspective Dixon (2004: 5) established some additional semantic types such as “Difficulty” (‘easy’, ‘difficult’, ‘hard’, ‘simple’, etc.) and “Similarity” (‘similar’, ‘different’, etc.). These additional semantic types are associated with languages disposing of very large adjective classes.

10Finally, Dixon’s (1977) survey reveals that in contrast to the two major word classes “nouns” and “verbs”, the word class “adjective” cannot be identified on morphosyntactic grounds in many languages. In other words, semantically adjectival lexemes (i.e., words denoting property concepts) can be affiliated either with verbs or nouns by sharing of the same morphosyntactic behaviour with one or the other of those two major word classes.

2.2 Stassen 1997

11Another fundamental approach which advocates the hybrid status of adjectives (property concept words) as a word class with respect to their categorial affiliation has been offered by Stassen (1997). In his extensive study on intransitive predication (based on a sample of 410 languages) Stassen explores the encoding strategies of four types of intransitive predicates: event, class-membership, locational, and property concepts. Each of the four types is typically associated with a specific word class, that is, verb, noun, adverbial, and adjective respectively. Among these four types the property concept typically represented by an adjective is the most problematic predicate type in terms of identification. The same holds true for the treatment of adjectives as a universal word class (cf. Dixon 1977; 2004; Croft 1990; Creissels 2003). Stassen (1997: 16-17), following Givón (1984), draws upon the intermediate, non-focal position of property concepts on the Time Stability Scale whose two extreme ends are formed by events and classes. Stassen, thus, claims that “property concept predicates do not form a universal, homogeneous, cognitive category in the same way as events or classes” (1997: 17). According to Stassen, property concepts can be defined cross-linguistically on the basis of the following features.

12Definition of property-concept predicates (Stassen 1997: 17)

A prototypical property concept predicate is a predicate which

(a) is intermediately time stable;

(b) is non-volitional; and

(c) does not refer to kinds.

13Feature (a) relates to the position on the Time Stability Scale, feature (b) distinguishes properties from states, and feature (c) properties from class-membership.

14With regard to the encoding behaviour of property concepts, Stassen argues that predicative adjectives (property concept predicates) have no prototypical encoding strategy of their own, rather they are aligned with verbs, nominals or locationals in terms of their formal encoding and, as a result, have a verbal, nominal or locational strategy. Thus, Stassen (1997: 30) claims that no language has an encoding strategy used exclusively for property concept predicates. To account for this fact, he proposes the so-called Adjective Principle:

The Adjective Principle (Stassen 1997: 30)
Predicative adjective have no prototypical encoding strategy of their own. In their predicative encoding, adjectives will align themselves either with verbs (and, as a result, have a verbal strategy), or with nominals, or with locationals. In no language is it possible to have an encoding strategy which is used exclusively for predicative adjectives.

3. Identification of the main word classes “noun”, “verb” and “adjective” in Vai

15Before starting to examine the encoding strategies used for the expression of property concepts in Vai in detail, I shall briefly comment on the identification of the main word classes “noun”, “verb” and “adjective” in Vai.

16Nouns in Vai can be morphologically identified as lexical units taking two kinds of determiners: the definite marker -ɛ̌ and plural marker (cf. Welmers 1976: 30, 45). They can be syntactically identified as lexical units functioning as head of a phrase. In distributional terms, they appear in presentational identificational clauses (NP + copula ; cf. bǎ mù ‘it’s a goat’).

17Verbs in Vai can be formally identified as lexical units occurring with a particular set of suffixes (e.g. -(l)à in the future) or with a low tone replacing its stem tone. This tonal replacement is itself considered a suffix (Welmers 1976: 79).

  • 2 This definition of adjectives was also used in the context of the German/French collaborative proje (...)

18With regard to the definition of adjectives, this class is seen as a word class that is grammatically distinct from the noun and verb class and which, following Sasse (1993: 661), “prototypically serves the attribution of properties to individuals”. Thus, adjectives in Vai are narrowly defined by the following criteria:2

  • they function as modifier (attribute) to a noun in an NP

  • they cannot be conjugated (in opposition to verbs)

  • they cannot function as head of a phrase (in opposition to nouns)

19According to this definition, two subclasses of underived adjectives could be identified: a very small subclass of adjectives which has only a modifying (attributive) function (i.e., ɓɛ́lɛ̀ ‘good’, ‘nice’, mɛ́sɛ́ ‘(very) small’, nyàmá ‘tall’) and a larger subclass of adjectives which has a modifying (attributive) as well as a predicative functions (see Section 4.1 and 4.2).

4. The non-verbal encoding of property concepts in Vai

20As noted before, Vai employs two non-verbal strategies, a nominal as well as a locational encoding with a number of property concept words (adjectives). The non-verbal predication pattern in Vai are summarized in Table 1.

Table 1. Nonverbal predication pattern in Vai




(presentational value)

NP + mù

NP + máà


(class-membership / equation


predication of properties)

NP + NP + mù

[S + PN + COP]

NP + mù + NP + (l)à

[PN + COP + S + Pp]

NP + ADJ + mù

NP + PART.RES + mù

NP + NP + máà

NP + máà + NP + (l)à

NP + ADJ + máà

NP + PART.RES + máà


(locative relations and

predication of properties)

NP + ɓɛ̀ + NP + Pp

[S + Loc.COP + ADV.COMP]

NP + ɓɛ̀ + ADJ

NP + ɓé(l)è + NP + Pp

NP + ɓé(l)è + ADJ

Based on Welmers 1976: 74-78.

21Table 1 shows a two-way category split of adjectives in Vai, in that one subclass of adjectives is always encoded nominally, and a second subclass is always encoded locationally. I shall now examine the property concept words employed with each of the two non-verbal strategies in greater detail.

4.1 The nominal strategy

22Vai has two alternative constructions for expressing class-membership and equation. The first consists of a subject followed by a predicate nominal and the copula , as shown in (5). The second construction type is structured as follows: Predicate nominal + Copula + Subject + relational noun / postposition (6).











My older brother is a weaver.(Welmers 1976: 131)










‘You are a Vaiman.’ (Heydorn 1971: 183)

23The predicate nominal strategy is also employed with a very small group of underived adjectives, as shown in Table 2. Two of them (‘new’, ‘young’) belong to the semantic type “age”, the other two (‘unripe’, ‘fresh’ / ‘raw’) belong to the semantic type “physical property”. In the examples shown in Table 2, the property concept word is preceded by a noun or by the stem form of a pronoun, and followed by the copula .

Table 2. Property words (underived adjectives) used with the nominal strategy

námà ‘new’

sámbàǎ námà mù ‘the basket is new’

lólì ‘young’

à lólì mù ‘he is young’

ɓùlú ‘unripe’

lùmbólòě ɓùlú mù ‘the orange is unripe’

kúlà ‘fresh, raw’

à kúlà mù ‘it (fish / meat) is fresh / raw’

Based on Welmers 1976: 75.

24Moreover, the predicate nominal strategy is used in general for the encoding of resultative participles, that is, for verbal adjectives derived from process verbs by means of the suffix -le yielding a resultative meaning with present time reference, cf. Table 3.

Table 3. Property words (resultative participles) used with the nominal strategy

kìlá ‘become sick’

kàíɛ̌ kìlà-lé mù ‘the man is sick’

dhɔ́gbɔ̀ ‘become wet’

kòláǎ dhɔ́gbɔ̀-lé mù ‘the cloth is wet’

màló ‘become ashamed’

à màlò-lé mù ‘he is ashamed’

Based on Welmers 1976: 75.

4.2 The locational strategy

25Locative relations are expressed by a locative copula ɓɛ̀ and an adverbial phrase containing a noun phrase followed by a locative relational noun or postposition.










‘The snake is on the rock.’ (Welmers 1976: 48)

26The locational strategy is used with a small number of underived adjectives, as shown in Table 4. The adjectives belong to various semantic types comprising core semantic types as well as peripheral semantic types (cf. ‘short’, ‘thin’ = “dimension”; ‘flexible’, ‘light (in weight)’ = “physical property”; ‘different’ = “similarity”).

Table 4. Property words (underived adjectives) used with the locational strategy

kúndú ‘short’

kàíɛ̌ ɓɛ̀ kúndú ‘the man is short’

à ɓélè kúndú ‘he isn’t short’

lɛ́fɛ́ ‘thin’

à ɓɛ̀ lɛ́fɛ́ ‘it is thin (as sheet metal)’

lɛ̀kpɛ̀ ‘flexible’

kɔ̌ŋɛ̌ ɓɛ̀ lɛ̀kpɛ̀ ‘the stick is flexible’

làà ‘light’

à ɓɛ̀ làà ‘it is light (in weight)’

gbà ‘different’

à ɓɛ̀ gbà ‘it is different’

Welmers 1976: 77.

27It should be noted that qualificative ideophones are also used in locative constructions.








‘The road is muddy mess.’ (Welmers 1976: 77)

4.3 Discussion

28As regards the finding of an underlying functional explanation for the observed adjective split between a predicate nominal and a locational encoding in Vai, Welmers states:

The assignment of one qualificative to one construction, and another to another construction, appears to be completely arbitrary. (Welmers 1976: 75)

29However, with regard to the concept of Time Stability the following observation can be made: Following Stassen (1997: 162f.), the concept of time-stability is in itself complex, and consists of at least two parameters: “permanency” and “ingressivity”. According to the permanency parameter, property concepts ascribed to entities can be viewed as relatively stable or permanent over time as opposed to relatively unstable or non-permanent over time. This corresponds to the original version of the time-stability hypothesis (cf. also Pustet 2003: 20-22).

30On the other hand, the “history” or the status of the starting point of a property concept may also manifest itself in the encoding of predicate adjectives. Thus, the ingressive parameter makes a distinction “between a DYNAMIC phase of ‘becoming’, in which the entity is viewed as gradually ‘acquiring’ the property, and a STATIC phase in which the entity is seen as ‘having’ the property which may or may not be resultative in meaning” (Stassen 1997: 163).

31Against this background, I would like to argue that, what the four adjectives (‘new’, ‘young’, ‘unripe’ and ‘fresh’/‘raw’) used in nominal constructions have in common is that they show conflicting values on the two parameters. They can be rated as time stable on the ingressive parameter because entities do not, in general, become new, young, unripe or fresh. On the permanency parameter, however, these items can be rated as time unstable because entities normally lose such properties (like ‘new’, ‘young’, ‘unripe’ or ‘fresh’) after a certain period of time.

5. The verbal encoding of property concepts in Vai

32In addition to the two non-verbal encoding strategies discussed so far, Vai also employs two verbal constructions, that is, a factative and a stative construction for the encoding of property concepts. The verbal predication pattern in Vai are summarized in Table 5.

Table 5. Verbal predications pattern in Vai





S + ɓɛ̀ + (O) + VS-nà

S + ɓé(l)è + (O) + VS-nà



S + ì + (O) + VS-L

S + wé(l)è + (O) + VS-L


NP + ì + (O) + VS-(l)à

NP + wé(l)è + (O) + VS-(l)à



S + ì + (O) + VS-L

S + má + (O) + VS-L


S + (l)à + (O) +VS-(l)éè

S + má + (O) + VS-L



S + (l)à + (O) +VS-L

S + má + (O) + VS-L


S + Ø + VS-(l)à

VS = intransitive action and intransitive quality verbs

S + má + VS-L

[= perfect / perfective]


S + Ø + VS-L

VS = small number of intransitive quality verbs

S + má + VS-L

[= perfect / perfective]

  • 3 The terminology indicated in square brackets is mine.

Based on Welmers 1976: 79-963.

33Table 5 shows that both verbal construction types (the factative and the stative construction) are only used with intransitive verbs and make no use of predicative markers. The negation of both construction types is identical with the negation pattern of the perfect/perfective. I shall now examine the quality verbs exclusively used either in the factative or in the stative construction in greater detail.

5.1 Quality verbs and the factative construction

34Some of the verbally encoded property predicates always occur in the so-called factative construction (cf. Welmers 1973: 346). This construction is characterized by the verbal suffix –(l)à, while the verb stem keeps its lexical tone with no alternations. After verb stems ending in ŋ, the stem-final ŋ combines with the initial (l) of this suffix as an intervocalic nd. When used with action verbs, the factative construction has simply past time reference without looking at the situation in terms of its results or consequences.






‘I woke up.’ (with no implication that the speaker stayed awake after that time)
(Welmers 1976: 82)

35By contrast, with quality verbs the factative has present time reference (Welmers 1976: 82-83), as shown in Table 6.

Table 6. Quality verbs occurring in the factative

kpɛ́ ‘be white’

kòláǎ kpɛ́-(l)à ‘the cloth is white’

fíŋ ‘be black’

kòláǎ fínda ‘the cloth is black’

‘be red’

kòláǎ jǎ-(l)à ‘the cloth is red’

nɔ́ɔ́ ‘be dirty’

kòláǎ nɔ́ɔ́-(l)à ‘the cloth is dirty’

zɛ́nɛ̀ ‘be clean’

kòláǎ mɛ̀ɛ́ zɛ́nɛ̀-(l)à ‘the cloth is clean’

kónà ‘be bitter’

bólíɛ̌ kónà-(l)à ‘the medicine is bitter’

kímà ‘be cold’

jíɛ̌ kímà-(l)à ‘the water is cold’

lólà ‘be sour’

lùmbólòě lóla-(l)à ‘the orange is sour’

tâŋ ‘be straight’

kɔ̀ŋ mɛ̀ɛ́ tândà ‘this stick is straight’

tɔ̀ɔ́ ‘be fat’

kàí mɛ̀núú tɔ̀ɔ́-(l)à ‘that man is fat’

tùlú ‘be fat, greasy, oily’

à tùlú-(l)à ‘it (meat, animal) is fat’

tíndí ‘be valuable, oriented’

kàí mɛ̀ɛ́ tíndì-(l)à ‘this man is valuable’

kpɔ́ɔ́lì ‘be smooth’

à kpɔ́ɔ́lì-(l)à ‘it is smooth’

kúndá ‘be bent, crooked’

à kúndá-(l)à ‘it is bent’

kínyá ‘be tasty, agreeable’

à kínyá-(l)à ‘it is tasty’

Based on Welmers 1976: 82-83; Kuznetsova 2004: 10; Kastenholz, Ms.

36The quality verbs occurring in the factative belong predominantly to the semantic types “color” and “physical property”.

5.2. Quality verbs and the stative construction

37Another small group of verbally encoded property concepts always appear in the so-called stative form, which is marked by low tone (Welmers 1976: 95). This group contains eight quality verbs as well as two modal verbs, as shown in Table 7.

Table 7. Quality verbs occurring in the stative

kòsá ‘be able (acquired ability)’

à kòsa wúndé málà ‘he can cook’

(lit., ‘he can cooking do’)

kúŋ ‘be able (native ability)’

ŋ kúŋ à málà í yè ‘I can do it for you’

(lit., ‘I can it do you for’)

kòlò ‘be large, be wide’

kéŋɛ̌ kòlò ‘the house is large’

lɔ̀ɔ̀ ‘be small, be narrow’

kéŋɛ̌ lɔ̀ɔ̀ ‘the house is small’

jàŋ ‘be tall’

kàíɛ̌ jàŋ ‘the man is tall’

kpɛ̀lɛ̀ ‘be hard’

kɔ̌ŋɛ̌ lɔ̀ kpɛ̀lɛ̀ ‘the wood is hard’

nyì ‘be fine’

kéŋɛ̌ nyì ‘the house is fine’

jáò ‘be bad’

kílàǎ jáò ‘the road is bad’

námàà ‘be slippery’

kílàǎ námàà ‘the road is slippery’

fànyá ‘be heavy’

à fànyá ‘it is heavy’

  • 4 The last three verbs are included by Welmers although their tones are not low throughout. Welmers ( (...)

Welmers 1976: 95, 984.

38The quality verbs occurring in the stative belong to three semantic types, i.e., “dimension”, “value” and “physical property”.

39Furthermore, in addition to the ten forms occurring in the stative recorded by Welmers (1976), older sources such as Klingenheben’s collection of Vai lexical data (cf. Kastenholz, Ms) and Heydorn (1971: 173) mention a few more forms such as lɔ́ ‘to say (that)’ and fàní ‘to lie, to tell lies (as a habit)’ (cf. also Kuznetsova 2004: 11).

5.3 Quality verbs and the formation of resultative participles

40It is interesting to note that the two groups of quality verbs show a different behavior with regard to the suffixation of the resultative marker -lé. Quality verbs occurring in the stative construction need first to obtain a dynamic reading by adding the suffix -yáà deriving inchoative/causative verbs in order to admit the application of the resultative suffix -lé. Thus, these verbs only have a stative reading.

Table 8. Formation of resultative participles from quality verbs used in the

kòlò ‘be large’

kòlòyáà ‘become larger’

kòlòyáà-lé ‘large’

lɔ̀ɔ̀ ‘be small’

lɔ̀ɔ̀yáà ‘become smaller’

lɔ̀ɔ̀yáà-lé ‘small’

jàŋ ‘be tall’

jànjáà ‘become taller’

jànjáà-lé ‘tall’

kpɛ̀lɛ̀ ‘be hard;

kpɛ̀lɛ̀yáà ‘become harder’

kpɛ̀lɛ̀yáà-lé ‘hard’

nyì ‘be fine’

nyíà ‘become fine’

nyíà-lé ‘fine’

fànyá ‘be heavy’

fànyáà ‘become heavy’

fànyáà-lé ‘heavy’

Stative (based on Welmers 1976: 67, 80 and Heydorn 1971: 180-181).

41By contrast, quality verbs appearing in the factative construction may directly be suffixed with -lé. Thus, these verbs seem to conflate two readings: a stative reading and a change of state reading.

Table 9: Formation of resultative participles from quality verbs used in the factative

nɔ́ɔ́ ‘be(come) dirty’

nɔ́ɔ́-lé ‘dirty’

zɛ́nɛ̀ ‘be(come) clean’

zɛ́nɛ̀-lé ‘clean’

kónà ‘be(come) bitter’

kóná-lé ‘bitter‘

kímà ‘be(come) cold’

kímá-lé ‘cold’

lólà ‘be(come) sour’

lólá-lé ‘sour’

tâŋ ‘be(come) straight’

tândé ‘straight’

tɔ̀ɔ́ ‘be(come) fat’

tɔ̀ɔ̀-lé ‘fat’

tùlú ‘be(come) fat, greasy, oily’

tùlú-lé ‘fat, greasy, oily’

tíndí ‘be(come) valuable, oriented’

tíndí-lé ‘valuable, oriented’

kpɔ́ɔ́lì ‘be(come) smooth’

kpɔ́ɔ́lì-lé ‘smooth’

kúndá ‘be(come) bent, crooked’

kúndá-lé ‘bent, crooked’

kínyá ‘be(come) tasty, agreeable’

kínyá-lé ‘tasty, agreeable’

Based on Welmers 1976: 66-67; Heydorn 1971: 180-181; Kastenholz, Ms.

5.4 Discussion

42I shall now discuss the Vai data on the verbal strategies for property concepts from a comparative Central Mande perspective. In contrast to Vai, most other Central Mande languages exclusively use either a so called factative or a special stative construction for the predicative encoding of property concepts.

43As noted by Lüpke (2005: 97), Yalunka exclusively has a so-called factative or “zero-marked” construction for property concept words. As in Vai, this construction makes no use of predicative markers, but in contrast to Vai, the verb stem is zero-marked (and does thus not show any tonal alternation or suffixation). With quality verbs (or stative verbs in Lüpke’s terminology, for a discussion of this point, see Section 6), the default tense/aspect interpretation is present/imperfective, while all other verbs convey a past/perfective meaning (Lüpke 2005: 120), as illustrated in the following two examples. In (10), the zero-marked quality verb melun ‘be pointed’ has a present tense interpretation and is thus compatible with the temporal adverb xɔri ‘now’, whereas the dynamic verb faa ‘to come’ in (11) receives a past perfective interpretation and does not admit the temporal adverb xɔri ‘now’.







‘The pencil is pointed.’ (Lüpke 2005: 64, 158)







‘They came.’ (Lüpke 2005: 64, 149)

44Moreover, Lüpke (2005: 158) observes that quality verbs in Yalunka are not exclusively stative – most of them can be used with the imperfective marker. As shown in (12), the quality verb melun ‘be pointed’ conveys a change-of-state reading when used in the imperfective. Quality verbs in Yalunka thus conflate a stative and a change of state reading. A similar behavior has been argued for quality verbs in Vai which appear in the factative construction on the basis of their formation of resultative participles (see Section 5.3).















‘It’s in its young age that a thorn becomes pointed.’ (Lüpke 2005: 158)

45On the other hand, most members of the Manding-Mokɔle sub-branch have a special stative construction for the predicative encoding of property concepts, but lack a so called factative construction.

46As in Vai, the stative constructions found in the Mokɔle cluster (i.e., in Mɔgɔfin, Koranko and Lele) make no use of predicative markers, but in contrast to Vai, the verb stem does not show any tonal alternation or suffixation.









‘The rope is short.’ (Kastenholz 1987: 110)

  • 5 Within the Manding language/dialect cluster, Mandinka represents a special case in that it has no s (...)

47In contrast to Vai, most stative constructions found in the Manding language/dialect cluster make use of a predicative marker, as shown for Xasonga.5









‘Ginta is beautiful.’ (Tveit 1997: 14)

48As in Vai, the negation pattern of the stative constructions in the Manding-Mokɔle sub-branch are identical or quasi-identical with the negation pattern of the perfective, as illustrated in (15)-(18).








‘The rope is not short.’ (Kastenholz 1987: 110)








‘He has not come.’ (Kastenholz 1987: 95)









‘The road is not far away.’ (Tveit 1997: 14)











Musa has not opened the door.(Tveit 1997: 3)

49The number of quality verbs varies within the Manding language/dialect cluster. With respect to Bambara, for example, Vydrine (1990) lists 53 items. According to Creissels (1985), twenty three quality verbs constitute the core of quality verbs in Manding. It is interesting to note that none of the quality verbs belonging to the core of this category is attested as a process verb. Moreover, the color terms ‘red’, ‘white’ and ‘black’ do not belong to the core, since they are attested in most Manding variants as process verbs (Creissels 1985: 16-17). Out of the eight quality verbs appearing in the stative in Vai, five have cognate forms among the core quality verbs in Manding, as shown in Table 10. Please note that the “Manding” quality verbs given in Table 10 are actually Standard Bambara forms.

Table 10. Core quality (stative) verbs in Manding and their cognate forms in Vai

quality (stative) verb in Manding


cognate form in Vai always appearing the stative form


be big, large

be numerous

be good, pleasing


be small, narrow



be deep


be blazing


be better


be light


be heavy


be hard / difficult



be long / far (away)



be bad



be equal


be clever


be healthy

be unpleasant (senses)


be bitter


be soft


be small, thin


be good



be short, near


be fast


be sweet

Cf. Creissels 1985: 12f., 29f.

50The comparison of the encoding of quality (stative) verbs in Central Mande which I have undertaken above raises a question, which is still unresolved: Did the special stative construction in Manding originally contain a predicative marker or not?

51In dealing with this question, Creissels (1985) argues that the starting point for what is now in Manding a special stative construction was probably a stative form that did not contain a predicative marker. Creissels notes:

[…] le proto-manding aurait connu dans sa conjugaison une forme stative dépourvue de marque segmentale explicite. (Creissels 1985: 32)

52According to Creissels (1985: 30), one might thus imagine that the evolution of a special stative construction in Manding was the result of a specialization process in so-called factative or zero-marked constructions as found in Vai and Yalunka leading to the development of two morphosyntactically different verb classes, that is, quality (stative) verbs and process verbs. Creissels (1985) explains the supposed specialization process as follows:

[…] un nombre limité de verbes auraient cessé de pouvoir fonctionner aux formes autres que la forme stative, alors que la plupart des verbes auraient par contre perdu cette forme – processus qui n’exclut pas un enrichissement ultérieur de la catégorie qui se serait ainsi constituée. (Creissels 1985: 30)

53The hypothesis put forward by Creissels is without doubt plausible for the development of special stative affirmative constructions containing no predicative marker as found in the Mokɔle cluster. However, as Creissels (1985: 30) himself concedes, the weak point of this hypothesis is that the special stative affirmative constructions in Manding do have predicative markers whose emergence and possible origin is still unknown.

6. Closing remarks

  • 6 The following argumentation is taken from the „Questionnaire for quality verbs in African languages (...)

54Since quality verbs are sometimes referred as stative verbs in the literature (cf. Creissels (1985), Lüpke (2005)), some comments are in order.6 It has to be kept in mind that when we speak of word classes, be it “quality verbs” or “stative verbs”, we always have to combine morphosyntactic and semantic criteria. From a semantic point of view quality verbs represent a special set of verbs (like in Manding) referring to properties and qualities which are prototypically associated with adjectives, that is, in Dixon’s terms, to semantic types such as “dimension”, “age”, “value”, “color”, “physical property”, “human propensity” and “speed” (cf. Dixon 1977). Stative verbs – lacking the notions of dynamism and change – semantically represent a larger class that comprises besides quality verbs (‘be small’) also verbs of perception (‘to hear’), psychological verbs (‘to believe’), relational verbs (‘to cost’), locative verbs (‘be there’) and modal verbs (‘to be able’).

55Against this background quality verbs are thus considered to be cross-cutting with semantically stative verbs. In some languages quality verbs represent a subset of stative verbs, they have no-change-of-state reading and are always [-dynamic]. They typically do not occur in the progressive or as imperatives. This holds true, for example, for the subset of quality verbs in Vai which is exclusively used in the stative construction, but which, in addition to the eight quality verbs, also contains two (stative) modal verbs (see Table 7).

56In other cases, however, the restriction on semantic stativity is less strong for quality verbs: They allow for a stative and a dynamic reading depending on the TAM-marking, as has been illustrated for quality verbs in Yalunka (cf. examples (10) and (12)).

57Finally, the special stative constructions found in the Manding-Mokɔle sub-branch can be regarded as exceptions or even counterexamples to Stassen’s (1997: 30) Adjective Principle claiming that no language has an encoding strategy which is used exclusively for property concept predicates. Such unique encoding strategies for property concepts are not confined to Central Mande; they are also well attested in the Northwestern branch, more precisely, in Tigemaxo (Bozo) and Duun (Samogo). Tigemaxo has a special affirmative copula n which is only used with predicative adjectives (Blecke 1996: 94), whereas Duun has a special word class “quality verb” which, in contrast to process verbs, is zero-marked in the affirmative (Tröbs 2008b).

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Blecke Thomas, 1996, Lexikalische Kategorien und grammatische Strukturen im Tigemaxo (Bozo, Mande), Köln, Köppe.

Creissels Denis, 1983, Éléments de grammaire de la langue mandinka, avec la collaboration de Sidia Jatta et Kalifa Jobarteh, Grenoble, Université des Langues et Lettres.

Creissels Denis, 1985, « Les verbes statifs dans les parlers manding », Mandenkan 10, pp. 1-32.

Creissels Denis, 2003, « Adjectifs et adverbes dans les langues subsahariennes », in Sauzt P., Zribi-Hertz A. (eds.), Typologie des langues d’Afrique et universaux de la grammaire, vol. 1, Paris, Harmattan, pp. 17-38.

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Dixon R.M.W., 2004, “Adjective classes in typological perspective”, in Dixon R.M.W., Aikhenvald A.Y. (eds.), Adjective classes. A cross-linguistic typology, Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp. 1-49.

Elders Stefan, Tröbs Holger, Mettouchi Amina. Questionnaire for quality verbs in African languages. (Accessed 2014-10-22.)

Givón Talmy, 1984, Syntax: a functional-typological introduction, vol. 1, Amsterdam - Philadelphia, Benjamins.

Heydorn Richard W., 1971, “The Vai language in Liberia”, Afrika und Übersee 54(3), pp. 149-205. [Ms 1934].

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1 (l) represents the morpheme internal alternation between [l] and zero.

2 This definition of adjectives was also used in the context of the German/French collaborative projects “Eigenschaftskonzepte in westafrikanischen Sprachen” (University of Bayreuth) and “Typologie des adjectifs et de la qualification dans les langues africaines” (LLACAN, CNRS) (cf. Tröbs 2008a).

3 The terminology indicated in square brackets is mine.

4 The last three verbs are included by Welmers although their tones are not low throughout. Welmers (1976: 95-96) notes: “The lexical tones of many of the qualificatives cannot be determined; they have been recorded only in this construction, and perhaps do not occur in other constructions in which their lexical tone would be expected to occur.”

5 Within the Manding language/dialect cluster, Mandinka represents a special case in that it has no stative construction. However, Mandinka has a (kind of) factative construction marked with the suffix –ta (cf. Creissels 1983: 105-109).

6 The following argumentation is taken from the „Questionnaire for quality verbs in African languages” elaborated by Stefan Elders, Holger Tröbs and Amina Mettouchi. The questionnaire is meant as a tool for field workers to guide the identification and description of verbs expressing property concepts in African languages.

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Holger Tröbs, « Some notes on the encoding of property concepts in Vai from a typological and comparative Central Mande perspective », Mandenkan, 52 | 2014, 111-130.

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Holger Tröbs, « Some notes on the encoding of property concepts in Vai from a typological and comparative Central Mande perspective », Mandenkan [En ligne], 52 | 2014, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2014, consulté le 26 avril 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/mandenkan.347

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