Temporal Markers in Ghanaian Pidgin English

Bachelor Thesis, 2021

42 Pages, Grade: B


Table of Content

Background to the study
Statement of problem
Purpose of study
Research Questions
Significance of Study
Organisation of study

Sociolinguistic Context of Ghana
History of Pidgin in Ghana
Conceptual Review
Concept of Tense
Present Tense
Past Tense
Future Tense
Progressive Aspect
Theoretical Framework
Superstrate and Substrate
Empirical review
Chapter summary

Research Design
Data source and sample size
Data analysis procedure
Chapter summary

Temporal Markers in GPE
The bare form of the verb
The preverbal marker “dey”
The preverbal marker goes
Chapter summary

Summary of aim and methods
Key findings
Implications of findings
Recommendation for further studies







Few studies on Ghanaian Pidgin English have examined the grammar of the language. This research examined temporal markers in Ghanaian Pidgin English. The theoretical framework that served as a bedrock for the analysis was the superstrate and substrate theory. The methodology comprised recordings of conversation of students at the University of Cape Coast and excerpts from television programs. The research found out that the bare form of the verb is used to realise past time, present time and perfective meaning. While preverbal markers like “go” and “dey” are used to accompany the bare form of the verb to realise present time, future time and progressive meaning. The implication of these findings is that they contribute to studies in World Englishes, studies in pidgins/creoles and studies in temporality across languages. The work shows that GPE has temporal markers that are crucial in organising messages.






This chapter will give a background to the study, state the problem, ask the questions that are relevant to this study, and give the purpose and significance of the study. The background will explore and define the key terminology pidgin.

Background to the study

English is classified as a Germanic Indo-European language (Byrne, 2011). This classification is based on the fact that English, German, Dutch, Swedish, and Norwegian share similarities though English has gone through three stages, its lexis are predominantly Germanic. Due to British colonialisation, English has turned into a lingua franca. Thus, English can be classified as a contact language. Nordquist (2019) defines a contact language as a lingua franca used for the purposes of basic communication by people with no common language. Nordquist (2019) cites Latin, Arabic and Greek as other contact languages aside English. He states that over time Latin in particular has birthed new languages like French, Spanish, Portuguese and others. Winford (2020) states that language contact results in lexical borrowing, new languages being formed, and existing languages being nativised. When Winford (2020) talks about new languages being formed pidgin and creoles are what he refers to. When he speaks of nativisation, he refers to the process where a contact language takes new forms distinct from the original variety. Winford (2020) cites Nigerian English, Indian English and Singaporean English as nativised varieties of English. Guerini (2013) studies codeswitching in the Ghanaian community in Bergamo, Italy. Codeswitching is also an effect of language contact. Benguedda (2015) also studies codeswitching in Tiemcen, Algeria. The study looked at codeswitching in two contact languages, French and Arabic. Thus, as established so far, contact languages influence a society in different ways. Ghana uses English as its official language. This is because Ghana was a former British colony. In Ghana, some of the widely spoken native languages are Ga, Ewe, Akan, Gonja, Dagbanli and Kasem. The discussion so far has shown that contact languages results in the creation of a new language in some cases. In the West African context, contact languages have experienced borrowing, nativisation, codeswitching and as is relevant to this study, creation of pidgins and creoles. Pidgin is defined as an unstable and functionally and linguistically restricted form of communication arising from language contact. (Degraff 1997). Crystal (2011) defines pidgin as a system of communication which has grown up among people who do not share a common language but who want to talk to each other. Yakpo (2009, 2012,2017) has also researched extensively on language contact and the creation of pidgins and creoles. His main focus has been to look at English language in contact with other languages and the creation of pidgins and creoles in West Africa and the Caribbean. Ghanaian Pidgin English (GPE) is a sprout of the West Africa Pidgin English (Adjei-Tuadzra 2015). This pidgin developed as the English language of the British colonizers interacted with the languages of their colonies. West Africa Pidgin English can be found in Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. However, the interaction of English and Kwa languages (Akan, Ga, and Ewe) of Ghana makes Ghanaian Pidgin English quite different from other West African Pidgin English. Adjei-Tuadzra (2015) says that the literature differentiates between the two varieties of GPE based upon their social functions. Adjei-Tuadzra (2015) makes claims that Hubercalls these varieties “institutionalised” and “non-institutionalised”, based upon who use them and where. The institutionalised variety is used by students and alumni of higher educational institutions in Ghana and is mainly used as an in-group langue of solidarity. Forson (1996) calls this variety an “argot”. Dako (2000) refers to this variety as student pidgin or simply SP. Forson (1996, 2006) calls it “School Pidgin”. The other variety is labelled either as “non-institutionalised” or as “GhaPE” (Huber, 1999). This variety, the literature says is spoken in the densely populated multi-ethnic cities that team with illiterates and is thus used as a lingua franca. Thus, GhaPE fills a linguistic void by coming in as a language to bridge the communication gap among the different ethnic groups within its domain. (Adjei-Tuadzra, 2015).

Statement of problem

Scholars have worked on pidgins and creoles worldwide (Degraff 1997; Crystal 2011; Yakpo 2009, 2012, 2017.and on GPE in particular - Boadi 1971; Sey 1973; Huber 1999; Dako 2000, 2002; Sekyi Baidoo 2005; Adjei-Tuadzra 2015 have written on it. However, with the exception of Sekyi Baidoo (2005) and Adjei-Tuadzra (2015) and a few others, most of these works have not looked at the grammar of GPE but have focused on other aspects such as its history, its speakers and its usage in communication. The present study will analyse the temporal markers in GPE because not much focus has been given to the study of temporal marking in Ghanaian Pidgin English. Sekyi Baidoo (2005) examined the sentence types in GPE and in a small way described the verbal group of GPE. On the other hand, Adjei-Tuadzra (2015) considered the verbal group of GPE in a restricted location and thus his work cannot be generalized. The present study will analyse temporal markers of GPE in a generalised manner.

Purpose of study

The objective of this study is to analyse how Ghanaian Pidgin English realizes time.

Research Questions

The study is guided by the following research questions:

1. What temporal markers exist in Ghanaian Pidgin English?
2. What temporal meanings do they realise?

Significance of Study

This study is significant in providing information on an aspect of GPE grammar. Thus, it will add to knowledge on GPE and even inspire more studies on the grammar of GPE. As stated earlier, previous works on GPE did not look at its temporal marking but other features of the language and thus this work fill a lacuna. Future works on the grammar of GPE can rely on this work in their analysis. The work on the temporal marking in GPE is also relevant in studies in contact linguistics.

Organisation of study

The study will be organised into five chapters. Chapter one will deal with the background to the study, research questions, purpose and significance of the study and other relevant introductory issues. Chapter two will look at related literature, theoretical framework and other important issues. Chapter three will introduce the methodology for the study. Chapter four will be an analysis of data collected. Chapter five will then conclude the study and make recommendations.




This chapter will review literature on GPE and introduce the theoretical framework that guides this study. Key terminologies that guide this study will also be defined.

Sociolinguistic Context of Ghana

Adzei-Tuadzra (2015) argues that Ghana is a multilingual nation. He argues that the Ghana Statistical Service, the statutory authority mandated for national censuses, is unable to account for the number of languages spoken in Ghana. Thus, it is difficult to know the exact number of local. languages in Ghana. English is the official language and lingua franca of Ghana. English serves as the official language of Ghana due to British colonialization of Ghana. Eleven languages have the status of government-sponsored languages. Government sponsored languages are studied in schools across the country and are examinable in exams. These languages are Akuapem Twi, Asante Twi and Fante, Dagaare, Dagbanli, Ewe, Dangme, Ga, Nzema, Gonja, and Kasem. Certain languages like Standard English, Akan (Twi, Fante), GPE and even Hausa serve as lingua francas in Ghana. Standard English serves as a lingua franca in offices across the country. All government agencies conduct their activities using SE. Akan is popularly used by the media and in markets in the southern parts of Ghana. Hausa serves as a lingua franca in markets in the northern parts of Ghana. GPE is used in Senior High Schools and tertiary institutions across the country

History of Pidgin in Ghana

On the origins of GPE, Adjei-Tuadzra (2015) writes that the literature recognises WAPE as an English based family of pidgins that developed on the West African coast during the Afro-European trades in the 15th and 16th centuries. WAPE is spoken in Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon.’ Adjei-Tuadzra (2015) also claims that there are two theories on the origins of GPE. One school of thought has it that the language developed in Ghana whilst the other school of thought has it that the language was introduced from outside Ghana by foreign workers. For the first school of thought, Adjei-Tuadzra cites Spencer (1971), Huber (1999) as scholars who believe GPE developed in Ghana. I quote a portion of their argument as cited by Adjei-Tuadzra (2015) page 15,

The other side of the argument has it that a pidgin did develop in Ghana. Following Spencer (1971), Huber (1999) argues that there could have been a Ghanaian pidgin resulting out of the Portuguese long contact with the West African people. Huber then reasons that the said pidgin might have been relexified by the English when they took over the Gold Coast. The argument is supported by Huber (1999), who says the presence of some Portuguese lexical items in GhaPE, and SP is proof enough. These words include: Pikin-child, Dash-gratuity, to present, Sabi-know, Palaver-speech, contention, trouble, Fetish-protective charm (p.25). It is therefore not surprising some of these words have worked their way into Ghanaian English. One can mention words like palaver and dash, for instance, which are found in Ghanaian literary works, advertisements, and the media.

For those who believe the language was introduced by foreigners, Adzei-Tuadzra 2015 cites Dadzie (1985) and Dako (2002). Adjei-Tuadzra (2015) page 15, citing these two scholars, writes,

Dadzie explains that “Kroo Brofo” [a synonym for GhaPE] was named after the Liberian labourers and deck hands on ships, who were of the Kroo tribe of Liberia, because they spoke Pidgin English. Another possible source through which Pidgin English came to be spoken in Ghana was through migrant workers from Nigeria, especially the lower rank military troops who had earlier populated the Ghanaian army (Dako, 2002a). Dako therefore argues that no wonder Pidgin English was at a point in Ghana referred to as „Abongo Brofo" [English of the army] (p.55). Dako (2013a) also asserts that before Ghana‟s independence there was a red lantern district in downtown Accra, where many of the sex workers originated from Riverine/Niger Delta areas of Nigeria, and that they conducted their business in pidgin. Dako’s (2002a, 2013b) argument seeks to explain that Ghana did not have a need for a pidgin language since over 60% of Ghanaian could speak Twi, a local language (Dako, 2002, p.53). This position asserts that a pidgin language could not have developed in Ghana.

Thus, as argued by the scholars, the origins of GPE can be said to be inconclusive. However, both arguments are sound and not flawed. Since this work tries to understand the verbal processes of GPE. The origin of GPE will not be the focus and so this work does not have any intent to ascertain which of this school of thought is right or wrong.

Conceptual Review

This section of the study will review key terminologies that guide this study.

Concept of Tense

Tense in English is used to mark time (Downing & Locke 2006, Huddleston & Pullum 2015). Comrie (1985) in his book Tense defines tense as a grammaticalised expression of location in time. He argues for the universal nature of tense, though languages may have different ways of marking tense. Tense studies are considered as crucial in the analysis of a language. Comrie (1985) dedicated his entire book to the study of tense across languages. Dahl and Velupillai (2013), writing in the World Atlas of Languages, make claims that tense is difficult to describe across languages. This, they claim, is due to the different morphological processes involved in marking time in different languages. Thus, it is very difficult to use one criterion to describe tense across all languages. One such example of the differences that exist in different languages is the use of verbs that denote events being used to refer to the past. Examples of such verbs are “arrived”, “kill” and “close”. While verbs that denote states are used are used to refer to the present. This they claim is due to such languages not marking imperfective- perfective distinction.

Present Tense

Comrie (1985) says that the basic meaning of present tense is the location of a situation at that point. He cites examples and explains them. Comrie (1985) says examples include performative sentences. These are sentences where the act described by the sentence is performed by uttering the sentence in question, I promise to pay you ten pounds

I name this ship the Titanic

He argues that although these situations are not strictly momentaneous, since it takes a certain period of time to utter even the shortest sentence, they can be conceptualised as momentaneous, especially in so far as the time occupied by the report is exactly the same as the time occupied by the act, i.e. at each point in the utterance of the sentence there is coincidence between the present moment with regard to the utterance and the present moment with regard to the act in question.” Huddleston & Pullum (2015) say that present tense is used to indicate present time. They cite the example “The door opens inwards” and say that it describes a state of affairs that obtains now, at the moment of speaking. Dahl and Velupillai (2013) did not treat present tense in their description of languages across the world. However, from the literature, one feature of the present tense is that it usually does not go through any morphological process and is essentially the bare form of the verb. In English, the morphological processes present time goes through is because of concord, the requirement that singular noun must take a singular verb. The singular verb in English is realized by the introduction of the “s’ affix.

Past Tense

Comrie (1985) defines past tense as location in time prior to the present moment, and any further deductions about temporal location that are made on the basis of individual sentences in the past tense are the result of factors other than simply the choice of tense. Thus, past tense refers to event that occurred earlier. Dahl and Velupillai (2013) make claims that English, like virtually all European languages, has a systematic grammatical distinction between present tenses and past tenses.

The temperature is below zero right now.

The temperature was below zero yesterday at noon.

They cite the examples above to show how English distinguish between past and present tense. The first statement is in the present whilst the second statement is in the past. They focus on the past tense than the present tense in their analysis because it is generally the past tense rather than the present that is overtly marked. They cite an example from Indonesian to show that not all languages distinguish between present and past with affixation.

Air itu dingin.

The water is/was cold

The example can be translated as ‘The water is cold’ or ‘The water was cold’. This illustrates the lack of a present/past distinction in some languages. They argue that none of the two ways of realising present and past tense has an upper hand. Both methods, morphologically distinction and not morphologically distinction, are equally distributed across languages.

Future Tense

Comrie (1985) makes argument about the nature of future tense in languages and argues that there is a notion of future tense but not all languages have a grammaticalised distinction for future and non-future time. English actually uses modality to mark future, but he argues that ‘It will rain tomorrow” and “It may rain tomorrow” are not the same and the first construction passes as a future tense than the second construction. Downing & Locke (2006) also make claims that we cannot refer to future events as facts, as we can to past and present situations, since future events are not open to observation or memory. They argue that we can predict with more or less confidence what will happen, we can plan for events to take place, express our intentions and promises with regard to future events. Thus, to them, these are modalised rather than factual statements. Dahl and Velupillai (2013) say that in English, the sentence “It is cold tomorrow”, with the present tense of the copula “is”, sounds strange. They argue that it is more natural to say, “It will be cold tomorrow, or It is going to be cold tomorrow”, using a future tense form. In Finnish, they claim, one may replace the adverb tänään ‘today’ in the first sentence with huomenna ‘tomorrow’, without any further changes in the sentence, so as to realise future meaning. They exemplified their claims as seen below

Tänään on kylmää.

‘It is cold today.

Huomenna on kylmää.

‘It will be cold tomorrow.


Comrie (1976) defines aspect as the different way of viewing the internal temporary constituency of a situation. He divides aspect into two categories: perfective and imperfective. Tallerman (1998) defines aspects as a marker of an action's properties, as to whether it is ongoing or completed. She identifies two types of aspect, the perfective (referring to a completed action) and the progressive aspect, mostly marked in English by the ‘ing” inflection.

Dahl and Velupillai (2013) claim that the distinction between imperfective and perfective plays an important role in many verb systems and is commonly signalled by morphological means (rather than being expressed periphrastically).

They claim that all languages have an imperfective/perfective distinction. They also argue that this pattern is obscured by interaction with other tense/aspect grams, but the basic opposition between one form (or set of forms) which is used exclusively or almost exclusively for single completed events in the past and another form (or set of forms) which is used for everything else is characteristic of the distinction. Thus, languages distinguish between tense and aspect. English uses morphological processes to realise aspect, just as in many other languages.

Progressive Aspect

Downing & Locke (2006) identify the progressive aspect as an indicator of dynamic action in the process of happening. Ballard (2013) lists two types of progressive aspect, the present progressive - exemplified as follows

She is helping her sister.

I am eating fufu.

John is washing his clothes. and the past progressive, an example being Sara was helping her sister.

John was washing his clothes

The underlined structures are the markers of progressive aspect. Thus, in English, aspect is crucial in describing a work that is or was in progress.

Perfective Aspect

Comrie (1976) argues against the idea of perfective being used to represent an action that has been completed and the idea of perfective marking events of short duration. His work is a general linguistic work and tries to define perfective aspect generally. However, Downing & Locke (2006) says that the perfect construction in English relates a state or event to a relevance time. She identifies two types of perfective aspect: present perfect and past perfect

Present perfect is exemplified as:

They have left for New York.

Kwame has played football before.

He has lived in Ireland until 1904.

And the past perfect being exemplified as:

She had lived in the north since she changed her job

John had left for New York.


Excerpt out of 42 pages


Temporal Markers in Ghanaian Pidgin English
University of Cape Coast
Catalog Number
ISBN (Book)
temporal, markers, ghanaian, pidgin, english
Quote paper
Harry Hayford (Author), 2021, Temporal Markers in Ghanaian Pidgin English, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1163910


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