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Negation is a grammatical process that turns all or part of the meaning of an affirmative construction/sentence into its opposite/negative.
In English, verbs, clauses and sentences are commonly negated by introducing the negative particle ‘not’ or its contracted form ‘-n’t’.
|I am your friend||I am not your friend|
|I can help you||I cannot help you|
|I have paid the money||I have not paid the money|
So how do we negate in Twi? This will be our focus for today’s lesson: lesson 36 of the Twi grammar course.
Whereas in standard modern English, negation is mainly done by placing not after an auxiliary or modal in a clause/sentence, negation in Twi is mostly done right on the verb. Yes, on the verb.
How do we do it? We simply prefix either n- or m- to the verb stem (for the purpose of this lesson, ‘verb stem’ is used here to denote the verb devoid of a prefix). After we attach either of the prefixes, assimilation causes the verb stem’s initial consonant to change to become more like the n- or m- prefixes. Confused? You may skip the ‘somehow’ technical aspects and move straight to the examples tabulated below. I’m sure the many examples I’ve tabulated will be enough for you to get the idea about how negation is done in Twi. But for those of you who want to know the nitty-gritty of how we arrived at the negative forms of the examples, read on.
‘da’ means ‘sleep’ in English. If we want to form its negative, we will first consider the place of articulation of the initial consonant ‘d’. This will enable us to settle on which prefix amongst the two (n- and m-) to use. Basically, if the first consonant of the verb’s stem is one that you produce by moving your tongue to touch the ridge behind your teeth or the roof of the mouth (alveolar sounds such as d, t, n, s), you need to use the n- prefix. Also, if the initial consonant of the verb’s stem is one that is produced with the back of the tongue against the soft palate (velar sounds such as k, g), you need to use the n- prefix. Again, if the initial consonant of the verb’s stem is one that is produced using your glottis (the glottal sound h), you need to use the n- prefix.
On the other hand, if the first consonant of the verb’s stem is one that is produced with both lips (bilabial sounds such as m, p, b), or with the bottom lip and the upper teeth (the labiodental sound f), then you negate it by prefixing it with m-.
So, to summarise the above, if you have a Twi verb that starts with the letter m, b, p or f, you negate it by prefixing it with the letter m. Twi verbs that do not begin with any of these letters (m, b, p, f) are to be negated by prefixing them with the letter n. Of course there are a few exceptions but this rule should apply to most Twi verbs.
As we indicated earlier, after prefixing the verb stems with their respective prefixes, assimilation then sets in. In phonology, assimilation is a common phonological process by which one sound becomes more like a nearby sound. Assimilation will cause the initial consonant of the verb’s stem to change to become more like the prefix introduced.
So, going back to our earlier example ‘da (sleep)’, ‘d’ is an alveolar sound so, to negate, we will introduce the n- prefix to get
–> ‘d’ then assimilates to become ‘n’ (like the n- prefix). We get: nna.
Let’s do another one.
‘bɛfa’ means come and take/pick in English. To settle on which prefix to use in its negation, we consider the place of articulation of the first consonant of the verb which is ‘b’. ‘b’ is produced with both lips (a bilabial sound) so we need to use the m- prefix to get
–> Assimilation then causes ‘b’ to change to become ‘m’, just like the introduced prefix. We get: mmɛfa.
Do note, however, that the assimilation of the initial consonants of the verb stems after the introduction of the appropriate negative prefix tends to affect only voiced consonants. Voiceless initial consonants of verb stems undergoing negation tend NOT to assimilate.
–> ‘sere (laugh)’ becomes n-sere (don’t laugh) and NOT ‘nnere’
–> ‘pra (sweep)’ becomes m-pra (don’t sweep) and NOT ‘mmra’
–> ‘kasa (speak)’ becomes n-kasa (don’t speak) and NOT ‘nnasa’
Again, verb stems which begin with the semivowels ‘y’ and ‘w’ tend not to assimilate after the negative prefixes are attached to them. For example, constructions such as ‘meyɛ (I am)’, ‘woyɛ (you are)’, ‘yɛyɛ (we are), etc. have their verb stems beginning with the semivowel ‘y’. So, to negate them, we simply introduce the negative marker ‘n-‘ to get ‘menyɛ (I am not)’, ‘wonyɛ (you’re not)’, ‘yɛnyɛ (we’re not)’, etc. No assimilation occurs. Think about it, if the initial ‘y’ did assimilate, we would’ve ended up with ‘ɛnnɛ’, ‘wonnɛ’, ‘yɛnnɛ’, etc. which have nothing to do with the meaning of the positives. You may have come across ‘mennyɛ’, ‘wonnyɛ’, ‘yɛnnyɛ’, etc. (with double ‘n’) before. That brings us to the next point.
There are cases where you’ll find a double ‘n’ or ‘m’ used in the negative of verbs whose stems begin with either of the semivowels (‘y’ and ‘w’). That happens when the verb, in its positive form, already has an ‘n’ before the semivowel. This is usually the case with imperatives. Imperatives are constructions used to give orders, commands, instructions, warnings, etc. For example, to tell people to do something in Twi, we say ‘monyɛ (do it)’. If we want to make this negative, then we need to add an additional ‘n’ to the one that already exists in the positive form to get ‘monnyɛ (don’t do it)’.
–> ‘Ɔse menyɛ (he/she says I should do it)’ becomes ‘Ɔse mma mennyɛ (he/she says I shouldn’t do it).
–> ‘Monyi Onyankopɔn ayɛ (praise God – plural addressees)’ becomes ‘Monnyi Onyankopɔn ayɛ (don’t praise God).
Alright! Let me not bore you any further. Let’s look at some examples.
|English||Affirmative (Aane Kabea)||Negative (Dabi Kabea)|
|you (pl.) are||moyɛ||monyɛ|
|begin||hyɛ aseɛ||nhyɛ aseɛ|
|compete||si akan||nsi akan|
|he/she will sleep||ɔbɛda (‘bɛ’ is the future tense marker)||ɔnna|
|I will dance||mɛsa||mensa|
|I will sleep||mɛda||menna|
|we shall meet||yɛbɛhyia||yɛnhyia|
|we will help||yɛbɛboa||yɛmmoa|
|I will help||mɛboa||memmoa|
|I will go with you||me ne wo bɛkɔ||me ne wo nkɔ|
|I have bathed||madware||mennwareeɛ|
|you are a man!||woyɛ barima!||wonyɛ barima|
|give me some (to plural addressee)||momma me bi||mommma me bi|
|run home (plural addressee)||monnwane nkɔ fie||monnnwane nnkɔ fie|
|take it to school (plural addressee)||momfa nkɔ sukuu||mommfa nnkɔ sukuu|
|fold the cloth (plural addressee)||mommobɔ ntoma no||mommmobɔ ntoma no|
|eat the food (plural addressee)||monni aduane no||monnni aduane no|
|wake up (plural addressee)||monsɔre||monnsɔre|
|we will come||yɛbɛba||yɛmma|
|I’m surprised/shocked||me ho adwiri me||me ho nnwirii me|
|show me the way (plural addressee)||monkyerɛ me kwan no||monnkyerɛ me kwan no|
|send me some money (plural addressee)||mommane me sika||mommmane me sika|
|ask Kofi (plural addressee)||mommisa Kofi||mommmisa Kofi|
|I need your help||mehia wo mmoa||menhia wo mmoa|
|help me (plural addressee)||mommoa me||mommmoa me|
|listen to me||tie me||ntie me|
|jump the fence (plural addressee)||monhuri ban no||monnhuri ban no|
|think about yourself||dwene wo ho||nnwene wo ho|
|he/she is shy||ɔfɛre||ɔmfɛre|
|he/she is sitting on me||ɔte me so||ɔnte me so|
|are you feeling sleepy?||w’ani kum?||w’ani nkum?|
|eat, drink and sleep (plural addressee)||monnidi, monnom, na monna||monnnidi, monnnom, na monnna|
I know, negation in Twi is not as easy as it is in other languages. But with time and practice, I’m hopeful that you’ll grasp it fully. Do watch out for the video for this lesson. I will try to make things easier to grasp in that.
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