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Documentation of Nkami

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Language Nkami
Depositor Rogers Krobea Asante
Affiliation Tongji University
Location Ghana
Deposit ID 0290
Grant ID IGS0228
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online


Summary of the deposit

Nkami is a South-Guang (Kwa, Niger-Congo) language, spoken by about 400 people in Amankwa, a resettlement community, in the the Afram Plains of the Eastern Region of Ghana, West Africa. The data were collected by Rogers Krobea Asante, linguist and principal investigator, team members, Enoch Kwadwo Akuamoah Botwe and Hayford Opreko (Ketewa), and some of the community members themselves. The deposit includes several hours of video and audio data covering varied aspects of the everyday life of the Nkami people, ELAN files, metadata on the data in CMDI-Maker, a dictionary, ethnic and language maps, population and language survey, one PhD dissertation and several peer-reviewed journal articles on the grammar of the language.


Group represented

The collection in this deposit focused on speakers of Nkami in Amankwa (also Amankwakrom) in the Afram Plains of the Eastern Region of Ghana. Other languages sporadically included in the collections are Akan, Ewe, Anum, Nkonya and English.


Language information

The name ‘Nkami’ refers to the language and the people who speak it. Legend has it that the name was derived from the expression ŋkεε mɪ ‘I remained here.’ Thus, due to wars, like other Guang language speaking groups, they had to migrate from down south to settle at several different places before they finally landed at Nkami Dɪdalɔ ‘Old Nkami’. It is said that when they finally arrived there, the chief priest declared: ŋkεε mɪ, meaning, ‘this is my (our) last point, I (we) have nowhere to go again.’ Prior to that, the people of the Nkami people believe that, together with other Guang groups, they had originated from Kenya as one people. In Ghana, the Nkamis first settled at a place called Nyanoase, which is close to Nsawam in the Eastern Region. At Nyanoase, they lived under the leadership of a chief called Sakyi, after whom a town called Sakyikrom in the Eastern Region, was later named. Presently, the people have Amankwa (also known as Amankwakrom) as their home of abode. Before 1964, they lived on some archipelagoes, close to Kpando and Nkonya, most of which have been submerged by the Volta Lake. At that time, four communities made up the Nkami State, i.e. Nkami Dɪdalɔ ‘Old Nkami’. The four communities were Nkami (capital), Bɪɛwbɪɛw, (O)Hetekuase and Ɔbosomano. In order to give way for the construction of the Volta Lake, in 1964 the Nkrumah government resettled them at Amankwa, which is about eight kilometers away from the lake but about 30 kilometers away from their original settlement, Nkami Dɪdalɔ. Apart from Amankwa, there is a sizeable number of Nkamis living in nearby communities such as Asikasu, Donkorkrom, Adeembra, Asɛmpanaye, Abomasarefo, Samanhyia and Apesika.

Administratively, the Nkamis belong to the Kwahu North District and the Afram Plains North Constituency, with Donkorkrom as its head. The Nkamis are bounded on the south and west by the Afram River, in the north by the Ɔbosom River, and on the east by the Volta Lake. Beyond the water bodies, they are bounded in the west by the Kwahus, on the east by the Ewes (Kpandos) and Nkonyas, on the south by the Anums, and on the north by the people of Akloso and Bono. The geographical reference for Amankwa, their current settlement, is Latitude 7°03’09.24 and Longitude 01’32.22 (Google Earth).

A census conducted by my team (consisting of the two consultants and I) on the field indicates that there are less than four hundred Nkamis living currently in Amankwa, though there are about twice or more of them living in neighbouring communities and in the diaspora, especially Accra, Kumasi and Nkawkaw. It is believed that their evacuation from Nkami Dɪdalɔ on the Volta Lake caused them to lose their belongings, farms and livelihoods, and that might have accounted for their penchant for economic migration into the cities. The good thing, however, is that the majority of them still keep in touch with their families back home. Many of them frequently visit home, especially during Odʒodʒi ‘yam festival’, funerals, Christmas and Easter.

The main economic activity in Nkami is agriculture. Cassava and yam are the two major crops they invest in. They also do some maize, groundnut and beans farming. Goats, sheep and pigs are generally reared on free-range basis. As in many areas of Ghana, the greater majority of Nkami farmers practice subsistence farming. Gari-making is also a major business in Amankwa.


Special characteristics

Besides displaying most of the areal-typological features of neighbouring languages (e.g. Akan, Ga, Ewe and Guang languages) such as being a tonal, vowel harmonic and verb serializing language, Nkami also showcases some extraordinary features that are of cross-linguistic typological interests. Among them include the fact that

• a head noun of a relative clause construction is never modified by a definite determiner (cf. Asante and Ma, 2016).

• It also shares with Akan as being the only two Kwa languages described (at least, as far as I am aware of) that obligatorily employ a resumptive pronoun strategy to mark the default slot of an object NP in focus.

• Unlike most Guang (and Kwa) languages which show evidence of stem-controlled rounding harmony in regressive direction, Nkami shows evidence of progressive affix-controlled rounding harmony (cf. Akanlig-Pare & Asante, 2016).

• Nkami shows remarkable evidence of animacy distinctions especially in forms and behaviours of pronouns, demonstratives, nominal affixes, nominal modifiers, and dispositional verbs in basic locative construction (cf. Asante & Akanlig-Pare, 2015).

• Nkami is one of the very few languages including Mandarin Chinese (cf. Haiman, 1985, Nichols, 1985), Ewe (Ameka, 1991), and Nkonya (Asante, 2009) that code kin terms in an inalienable structure in possessions, while other semantic types of nominals including body parts (assumed to be the most inalienable and permanent possesssum of the possessor) are coded in alienable structures (cf. Asante, 2016a).

• Unlike other regional languages, Nkami employs two distinct complementisers, yɛɛ and bɛɛ, to introduce complement clauses. While the former generally collocates with utterance verbs, the latter collocates with all other complement-taking verbs. Both complementisers are also multi-functional and are traceable to the verbs yɛɛ ‘say’ and dʒi bɛɛ/bɛ ‘be like’ respectively (cf. Asante, 2016b).

• Moreover, in addition to the vacuous verb, bʊ ‘be.located’, Nkami has an inventory of over twenty verbs that are used to localize entities (Figures) in relation to their reference objects (Grounds) in Basic Locative Construction (BLC) (cf. Asante, 2016c).


Deposit contents

1: Video and audio data (Recordings):

About a hundred individuals of different backgrounds including a deaf and a non-native Nkami speaker were recorded. The recordings covered several domains of the everyday life of the people. Over thirty hours of digital data on over eighty different topics and ninety different speakers were recorded in Nkami. Additionally, about sixty hours of mixed-code digital data (Nkami and Akan), primarily on grammatical elicitations and social events such as funerals and communal labour, were recorded.

2: Annotated data:

Annotation was done in ELAN. Six fields were created for each ELAN file. These are Nkami transcription, phonetic transcription, Akan translation, morphological break-down, interlinear glossing and English translation/glossing. Annotations are at different levels. About ten hours of recordings made up of twenty eight genres have been opened and named in ELAN. About four hours of data have been transcribed in NKami. About fifteen hours of data consisting of thirty eight genres have been translated into Akan. A total of 108 minutes of recorded data on 20 distinct genres have also been translated into Akan and English. All other fields; i.e., phonetic transcription, morphological break-down, and interlinear glossing are also at advanced stages in the latter category. While acknowledging that the totality of translations into English are still inadequate presently, we hope that gradually and steadily we will be able to add value to a significant amount of the data so that they will be accessible and useful to a larger audience.

3: Metadata:

In conjunction with ELAR, we adopted the CMDI-Maker, which has proved to be a very useful metadata tool. So far about ninety four bundles consisting of over 700 files (resources) have been created. Additionally, details of about seventy persons have been provided in CMDI.

4: Dictionary:

The deposit also includes a version of an on-going dictionary comprising of over 2000 lexical and grammatical items with some example sentences in FLEX.

5: Ethnic and Language Maps:

The deposits also includes ethnic and language maps. One of the reasons that make Nkami’s situation special and remarkably endangered is due to the multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic nature of Amankwa, the present home of the Nkami people. To capture that, in conjunction with the community, maps detailing the geography of the different ethnic groups and languages in Amankwa were prepared.

6: First ever recorded drama in Nkami:

Thanks to ELDP, the people of Nkami for the first time could hear and see themselves in a drama recorded in Nkami. This was an amazing time for the project. We did not organize the group; it was there before the project started. Though the founder and leader of the group is not an Nkami only, but also the spiritual leader of the Nkamis (wife of Afram deity), the medium of communication of the group was Akan, not Nkami. The reason was simple when we enquired from her about the rationale for the choice of medium: “If we wanted audience from the entire community of Amankwa and beyond then we had to settle on a ‘popular’ language”. Just one thing, however, changed the thinking of the group. This was the simple but very powerful camcorder the ELDP provided for Nkami Documentation Project. Without much hesitation, the group decided to change their ‘tongue’ and had their drama performed in Nkami. It may be interesting to find that because of the camcorder, perhaps, for the first time, the Nkami language became so ‘important’ to the extent that non-Nkamis, who were members of the group, did not give up but happily continued to perform their assigned roles in Nkami, though with some difficulties.

7: Population and language survey:

One of the major successes of the project was the conduction of a comprehensive population and language census. Using a questionnaire, we gathered data on the Nkami people capturing their biodata; number of languages spoken in order of competence; language(s) they usually use at home, with children, with parents and outside home; and reason(s) for selecting which language(s) for each of the contexts. While in Amankwa, we got the impression that the number of Nkami people living outside Amankwa, their present abode, was more than those living within. So, there were also questions that sought to find out about the number and language competence of this category of Nkamis. To do that, we included in the questionnaire questions such as “how many children/siblings do you have?, which of them live within and outside Nkami?, and which languages do they speak?”. Conducting this exercise, however, came with some difficulties. First was the lengthy nature of the questionnaire which made the whole process very exhausting. There were also some people, though few, who wished they were rewarded before responding to our questions. The most crucial, however, had to do with how to manage the issue of language emotions/loyalty. There were people (even including my team/census officials) who would assert that they were more or less competent in one language than another, even though they, together with I, were aware that their assertions were false. Nonetheless, we are still processing the data and we believe it is a good start for further exploration.

8: Dissertation:

The deposit also includes a PhD dissertation on the grammar on Nkami titled ‘Nkami Language: Description and Analysis’, which was completed in July 2016.

9: Journal Publications:

The deposit also includes high-quality journal articles on varied domains of the language. So far, seven papers on Nkami have been published in peer-reviewed journals, one has been accepted and awaiting publication this year (2018), and there are some others too in preparation, under review or revision. Those that have been deposited so far are:


1/ Animacy in Nkami/Yes

2/ Vowel Harmony in Nkami Yes

3 Relative Clause Constructions in Nkami Yes

4 Introducing Nkami: A forgotten Guang Language and People of Ghana Yes

5 Coordination in Nkami Yes

6 Complement clause Construction in Nkami No

7 Expressing Location and Disposition in Nkami No

8 Nominalization in Nkami No


Deposit history

The data for this deposit were collected during the doctoral research of Rogers Krobea Asante, the principal investigator. The data were collected in September 2013 and August 2014, when Rogers Krobea Asante went on fieldwork in Amankwa (also Amankwakrom) of the Eastern Region, Ghana.


Other information

All the data in this collection can be used for only academic and research purposes.


Acknowledgement and citation

Anyone who uses any part of the data in this collection should acknowledge the principal investigator, Rogers Krobea Asante, team members, Enoch Kwadwo Akuamoah Botwe and Hayford Opreko (Ketewa), and the entire people of Nkami. They should also acknowledge the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP) as the funder of the project (IGS0228). Individual speakers whose words and/or images are used should be acknowledged by name. Any other contributor who has collected, transcribed or translated the data or was involved in any other way should be acknowledged by name. All information on contributors is available in the metadata.

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Asante, Krobea Rogers. 2014. Documentation of Nkami. London: SOAS University of London, Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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