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The Syntactic Structure Of Ewe Causative Constructions English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 4461 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The grammar of causative constructions is probably one of the linguistic enterprises that has received intensive scrutiny over the past three decades or even earlier. It still holds a lot of prominence today, as Cognitive Linguists among themselves on the one hand, and Generative Semanticists on the other, continue to engage in an unending debate as to what causative types and strategies are ‘appropriate’ grammatically in individual languages and cross-linguistically. Notable among the ‘propriety’ arguments that are widely discussed in the literature is what concerns analytical versus lexical causatives. Lemmens (1998:22) confirms this assertion when he asserts, “in various descriptions of causation, the verb kill has received prominent attention especially in view of its often defended, yet equally often refuted, synonymy in relation to cause to die”.

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In spite of this seemingly contentious nature of the phenomenon, the place of causative constructions in modern linguistic analysis cannot be over emphasized. Lakoff and Johnson (1980:69), cited in Gilquin (2008:1), consider causatives as a “basic human concept”, through which individuals “organize their physical and cultural realities” and Baron (1974:340) also notes “the importance of causation to the underlying structure of human language” (ibid).

Comrie (1983) rightly puts this in perspective when he notes that:

Causative constructions are important because their study, even within a single language, but perhaps more clearly cross-linguistically, involves the interaction of various components of the over-all linguistic description, including semantics, syntax, and morphology (158).

Historically, the cognitive approach to grammar originally grew out of a reaction against the generative approach and defined itself against that tradition (Evans and Green 2006:742).

For one thing, no grammatical description can be complete without a discussion of causative constructions, because every human language seems to possess a means of expressing the notion of causation, and this prevalence, in turn, indicates the fundamental nature of this cognitive category. Such a basic category in human conceptualization is an ideal field of investigation for cross-linguistic comparison, leading to the study of language universals and cross-linguistic variations of causative constructions. As notes Shibatani (1975), “grammarians have an intuitive understanding of what causation means, as causative expressions, encountered in one language after another, translate rather easily…”. The complexities of causative constructions both within particular languages and cross-linguistically have engaged the attention of many linguists in recent years.

In spite of the intensive patronage received during the last three decades, a great deal about the grammar of causation still remains a mystery, more especially in languages of Africa including Ewe, the target language for this study. This work provides comprehensive overview of causative constructions in Ewe taking into consideration the various linguistic strategies employed by speakers in modeling the phenomenon of causation.

Dixon (2000:30) describes a causative construction as a construction that “… involves the specification of an additional argument, a causer, onto a basic clause. A causer refers to someone or something (which can be an event or state) that initiates or controls the activity.” Causatives are thus grammatical mechanisms that are used to express causation. According to Bishop (1992:296), “causality presupposes two conditions: the dependency of the effect event on the causing event and the required sharing of certain referential points, such as time, space, and agency.” From this definition, it can be noted that, in addition to the main event, an additional participant, the causer, who/which is not the main agent of the event, but somehow causes it, is equally crucial to the causation situation.

This study makes frantic efforts to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding this novel enterprise especially in relation to Ewe, a Kwa language from the Niger-Congo family. In this paper, I seek to identify and equally bring to the fore a number of fundamental issues already tackled in the area of causation and some that still await further investigation, especially in the language under investigation.

The theoretical framework that underpins this current study is the “Cognitive Linguistics Theory” which concerns itself primarily with investigating the relationship between human language, the mind and socio-physical experience (Evans et al. 2006). It is best described as a ‘movement’ or an ‘enterprise’, because it does not constitute a single closely-articulated theory… due to its cognitive nature [emphasis mine] (ibid).

The causative situation involves two component situations, the cause and its effect (result). I find this illustration of the causative situation, adapted from Comrie (1983:158) below, ideal enough to kick-start the discussions on causatives in general:

‘But the bus fails to turn up; as a result, I am late for the meeting’.

In this simple example, the bus’s failing to turn up functions as cause, and my being late for the meeting functions as effect. These two micro-situations thus combine together to give a single complex macro-situation, the causative situation. The macro-situation can thus be expressed by combining the two clauses together. For example:

‘The bus’s failure to come caused me to be late for the meeting.

The bus didn’t come, so I was late for the meeting.

I was late for the meeting because the bus didn’t come’.


The Ewe language is a member of the Kwa group of languages from the Niger-Congo family spoken in West Africa notably, in Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria. The language has different dialects which are used differently in all these areas where it is spoken due partly to certain socio-historical, demographical and geographical factors (emphasis mine). In Togo, Benin and Nigeria, there are four dialect-clusters related to Ewe: GÔ‘n (Mina), Aja, Xwla-Xweᶑa (Ouidah) and Fↄn (Duthie 1996). In Ghana, speakers of Ewe occupy the coastal area between the River Volta and the Togolese border. This includes the whole Volta Region as far north as Hohoe. The four main dialects of Ewe spoken in Ghana are: AÅ‹lↄ, Ʋedome, Agave and Tↄŋu. AÅ‹lↄ, Agave and Tↄŋu are spoken in the southern part of the Volta Region, with AÅ‹lↄ spoken along the Atlantic coast, and Tↄŋu and Agave along and around the basin of the river Volta. The Ʋedome dialect is spoken in the ‘Inland’ area and some parts of northern Volta. All these four dialects have sub-dialects that are mutually intelligible.


Causative constructions have been identified by many scholars as a universal phenomenon that occurs cross-linguistically. The notion of causation has been established to be fundamental to language. Such a basic category in human conceptualization is an ideal field of investigation for cross-linguistic comparison leading to the study of language universals and cross-linguistic variations of causative constructions. In this regard, literature on causative constructions abounds in many Germanic, Romance and Asiatic languages, including a few African languages like Swahili, and Oromo, a Cushitic language (from the Afro-Asiatic family) spoken in Ethiopia and Kenya. However, African languages have not received the same kind of attention in many linguistic exploits, particularly with regards to the area of causatives. In spite of the intensive patronage received over the years, a great deal about the grammar of causation still remains a mystery, more especially with regard to languages of Africa.

It is therefore not unexpected that this linguistic phenomenon has not been extensively investigated in Ewe as comprehensive works in this field of study are either scanty or unavailable. This apparent gap in research in the area of causatives in Ewe serves as the impetus of this maiden paper. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time such a comprehensive work on the Ewe Causative Constructions has been undertaken. This study makes attempts to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding this novel enterprise especially in relation to Ewe. Owing to the problems and lack of a comprehensive documentation of causative constructions in Ewe, it is to be expected that this work would fill the gap and at the same time serve as a springboard for further research into the phenomenon in Ewe and other allied languages. This work takes a critical look into causation as it is expressed in Ewe, taking into consideration syntactic, semantic and morphological parameters. In furtherance of this, I seek to identify and equally bring to the fore a number of fundamental issues already tackled in the area of causation and those that still need further investigation, especially in the language under investigation, drawing from textual data available and the Ewe drama series on Radio Lome.


The principal foci of this study are:

To explore, describe and analyze the possible syntactic architectures of Ewe causative constructions.

To provide a comprehensive and reliable description of the structural outline of causative constructions in Ewe.

To analyze the various linguistic expressions of causation in Ewe and provide a characterization of the causative situation (event) as a whole.


The specific objectives of this research are to:

Identify, investigate and analyze the structure and nature of Ewe causative constructions.

Ascertain the possibility of several causative strategies in Ewe and point out what features distinguish them from other languages.

Illustrate the interaction of syntactic, semantic and morphological parameters in the production and analysis of causative constructions in Ewe.

Provide a comprehensive and reliable description of the outline of causative constructions in Ewe.

It will also draw, as much as it is feasible, a cross-linguistic reference to research findings on the causation phenomenon in other languages.


This research paper employs Cognitive linguistics as a theoretical basis to analyze the syntactic structure of Ewe causative constructions. The data for this study will be drawn from textual data from the Ewe Bible and other complementary readers (prose and drama). In addition to the above, I will record ten series of a weekly Ewe drama programme christened “Aze Kokovivina”, aired on Radio Lome, 81.3 MHz.

In my analysis, I will outline the occurrence of causative constructions in Ewe and analyze their syntactic, semantic and morphological structure, as found in the sources mentioned above. I will also bring out the various causative strategies employed by speakers of Ewe fashioning out these constructions.


Causatives have played an important role in the recent history of linguistic analysis. Causative constructions are a widespread phenomenon that have been expansively researched in the literature of Cognitive Linguistics, Psycholinguistics, Psychology, Philosophy and many other cognitive-related disciplines. Its study therefore is undoubtedly of critical importance to any linguistic research such as this one. Given the scanty nature of literature on causative constructions in many African languages in general, and those of Ghanaian origin in particular, linguists and researchers alike may find results in this research paper very useful as it provides a schematic purview of the syntactic structure of Ewe causative constructions. The findings will certainly enrich the language and serve as a major source of literature as well as a springboard for future research on the syntax of Ewe causatives and related languages since it constitutes an important source of information to the current research interest in causative constructions.


By using the theoretical assumptions of cognitive linguistics as a basis, this study attempts to find answers to the following questions:

Are there any constraints in the formation and function of causative constructions in Ewe?

What syntactic behaviour/condition distinguishes the various types of causative constructions in Ewe?

Is there any major syntactic difference between periphrastic and lexical causative constructions in Ewe?

How do magical powers affect indirect causative constructions in the language in question?

How is the action/dynamic chain represented as far as Ewe causative constructions are concerned?

How can the use of a periphrastic causative construction, rather than a lexical verb in the imperative, be viewed as a politeness strategy?

Covert and overt causative constructions: how is this pair contrastively expressed in Ewe?

How are causal chains linguistically described by single-clause and multi-clause expressions in Ewe like in other languages?

What strategies are adopted in the formation of inchoative causative constructions in Ewe?

My objective in this research paper is to suggest some answers to these complex and far-reaching questions by identifying and providing a linguistic analysis of Ewe causative constructions as I find them in the textual data and other sources mentioned above.


The theoretical framework adopted in this study is the Cognitive Linguistics Theory. Cognitive linguistics emerged around the 1970s. The model was initially elaborated as a reaction against generative grammar, which states that “the human brain contains a specific and autonomous organ that is exclusively devoted to language use and understanding” (Gilquin 2010:12). Cognitive linguists however posit that, “language is an integral part of human cognition” (ibid). This cognitively-based view of language posits that “the knowledge underlying grammar is not qualitatively different from other aspects of human understanding and reasoning” (Kemmer and Verhagen 1994:115). Robinson and Ellis (2008:3) further note that it is an approach to the study of language, informed by both linguistics and psychology. It describes how language interfaces with cognition, and how it adapts in the course of language usage.

Cognitive Linguistics is thus defined as:

a linguistic theory which analyzes language in its relation to other cognitive domains and faculties such as bodily and mental experiences, image-schemas, perception, attention, memory, viewing frames, categorization, abstract thought, emotion, reasoning, inferencing, etc (Dirven 2005:17).

Cognitive Linguistics can be characterized as a theoretical perspective on language, “which assumes a functional perspective on language, and which aims to discover the cognitive principles and systems behind language use, both regarding language structure and regarding semantic/conceptual structure”, van der Auwera and Nuyts (2012:10) explain.

The cognitive linguistics enterprise has provided an approach for studying the imagination, and has demonstrated succinctly that language reveals systematic processes at work in human imagination which cognitive linguists argue are central to the way we think (Evans et al. 2006:50). As equally explained aptly by Croft and Cruse (2004:2), in cognitive linguistics:

the organization and retrieval of linguistic knowledge is not significantly different from the organization and retrieval of other knowledge of the mind, and the cognitive abilities that we apply to speaking and understanding language are not significantly different from those applied to other cognitive tasks, such as visual perception, reasoning or motor activity.

This study seeks to draw on the assumptions of this broad framework of cognitive linguistics in order to identify and analyze causation and the various strategies of expressing causation in Ewe.



Causative constructions as a pervasive cognitive phenomenon has engaged the attention of many scholars over the years. Comrie (1983) and Shibatani (1975) have expansively described the typology of causative constructions. Ameka and Essegbey (2007) discuss ‘cut’ and ‘break’ verbs in Ewe and the causative alternation construction and their morpho-syntactic classes as well as their ranking, based on agentivity, and indicate that cut and break (C&B) verbs in Ewe are grouped into four categories, namely: highly agentive, agentive, non-agentive, and highly non-agentive. Gilquin (2010) takes a comprehensive look at periphrastic causative constructions, also referred to as analytic causative constructions, using the hybrid framework, “Corpus-Cognition Integrated model” and identifies that:

using a solid empirical foundation made up of corpus data supplemented by elicitation data, it was possible to show that, contrary to what is regularly assumed in the literature, the constructions are seldom interchangeable, but actually present significant differences, which justify the existence of several constructions (ibid:277).

Despite the significant gains made by such an integrated theoretical approach, this work relies mainly on textual data from Ewe literature to elicit causative structures.

Bishop (1992) gives an overview of the typology of causative constructions and notes that, in addition to the syntactic and semantic factors governing causative constructions, explicit pragmatic explanations are needed to give an adequate account of their behaviour. She suggests that pragmatic parameters can be considered within the framework of causative typology in order to make that typology truly integrated. She however recommends further cross-linguistic research as a sure way of validating her claims.

In the domain of cognitive linguistics, Evans and Green (2006) have dilated extensively on its various assumptions and sub-disciplines and note that “cognitive linguistics has achieved theoretical sophistication in a range of areas and significant influence in neighbouring disciplines. It now represents one of the most exciting and rapidly expanding theoretical enterprises in linguistics and cognitive science”.

As the literature on causative constructions and cognitive linguistics indicates (Geeraert 2006; Jackendoff 1990; Langacker 1987; Lakoff 1987; Talmy 1986 and many more), both fields of linguistics have received and continue to receive considerable attention over the years.


As a starting point for a more adequate description of causative constructions in Ewe, the major chunk of data for this work will be elicited mainly through textual data. The core of the data for this research shall be collected from written Ewe texts including, but not limited to the following:

Ʋegbe Biblia – The Ewe Bible

Nunyamↄ – An Ewe reader for primary schools

Ku le Xↄme – An Ewe prose written by Seth Y. Akafia

Tↄgbui Kpeglo II – An Ewe drama written by H.K BeÉ-i Setsoafia

Amegbetↄa (Agbezuge Æ’e ÅŠutinya) – An Ewe prose by Sam J. Obianim

Amedzro Etↄlia – An Ewe prose written by Nyaku F. Kofi

EÊ‹e Kↄnuwo – A collation of Ewe cultural practices and norms by Sam J. Obianin

My preference for textual data is motivated mainly by the fact that the textual sources I have identified present authentic naturally occurring Ewe data from which could be drawn the various causative structures for this study. These sources contain reliable data on the language in general and causative constructions in particular. To complement the textual sources mentioned above, I will record many series of a weekly Ewe drama series christened “Aze Kokovivina” aired on Radio Lome, (81.3 MHz) with the aid of a voice recorder, since it also likely to contain naturally-occurring data on Ewe. My intuition as a native speaker will as well be brought to bear on analyzing and explaining the causative types and patterns found in the data elicited.


Kofitse na Sena de abi eÉ-okui Å‹u

Kofitse give Sena mark wound herself body

‘Kofitse made Sena hurt herself’

It can be observed from the example above that the causee, Sena, is the same entity that is hurting herself. Kofitse serves only as the ‘instigator’ of ‘the hurting act’. Also, the causee and affectee arguments both occur as direct objects. Are Sena and eÉ-okui from the example above objects?

Akpene wↄ-e Ama fa avi bloblo.

Akpene make-PRO Ama weep cry helplessly

‘Akpene caused Ama to weep helplessly’

The two verbs, ‘wↄ’ and ‘fa’ both express causation and share the same time frame. Also, Akpene has directly caused the affectee, Ama, to weep.

Lↄri-a lↄ ŋutsuvi-a wo ku enumake

Car-DET hit boy-DET PRO die immediately

‘The car hit the boy and caused him to die immediately’

The example above indicates that the causer, ‘lↄri’, is non-human and causes the death of the affected, ‘Å‹utsuvi-a’, under the control of an unidentified and abbreviated human causer who directly manipulates the car.

Tsɔtsɔke wɔnɛ be dumevi-wo nɔ-a anyi le ŋutifafa me.

Forgiveness makes-HAB that citizen-PLU live ground COP peace inside

‘Forgiveness enables citizens live in peace’

From this example, an abstract entity (event), ‘tsÉ”tsÉ”ke’ acts as the causer. This is a case of a direct inducive causation where ‘tsÉ”tsÉ”ke’, engenders harmonious living.

Kpeglo sa gbe de e-ƒe futↄ wo dze anyi enumake.

Priest-DET tie voice fix PRO-POSS enemy 3SG land ground instantly

‘The fetish priest cast a spell on his enemy and he fell to the ground instantly’

In the above sentence, the causer, Kpeglo, has caused his enemy, indirectly to fall down through an abstract or magical, intermediary. The causer is not directly involved in the event.


The work consists of five chapters. Chapter one which is basically the introductory part will take care of the general introduction and background of the study, the ethnographic background of the Ewe language and its speakers, statement of problems, aims and objectives, research questions, significance of study and organization of work. Chapter two will consist of literature review, the theoretical framework that underlie the overall argument of the paper, and the methodology that inspires this work, as well as the definition of key terms and concepts that appear in the body of the work. In chapter three, we shall take a detailed exploratory look at the general syntactic structure and types of Ewe causative constructions i.e. Lexical (change of state) verbs, pairs of causative verbs (suppletives) i.e. causative versus non-causative verbs, syntactic (lexical) and periphrastic causative constructions and grammaticalization.

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Chapter four presents the syntax and semantics interface of Ewe causative constructions. The focus of this chapter will be mainly to unearth the interaction between syntactic and semantic parameters with regards to the production of Ewe causative constructions. The chapter also consists of a morpho-syntactic analysis (alternatives) of these causatives. This includes syntactic causatives, the form and clause structure of Ewe causative constructions, the grammatical relations that exist in the various types of Ewe causatives. The last chapter, which is chapter five, will contain a brief cross-linguistic comparison/analysis of causative constructions, the summary, findings, recommendations and conclusion.



General introduction and background of the study

1.1Ethnographic background of the Ewe language and its speakers

1.2 Statement of the problem

1.3 Aims of the study

1.4 Objectives of the study

1.5 The scope of the study

1.6 Significance of the study

1.7 Research questions


2.0 Review of Relevant Literature

2.1 Theoretical framework

2.2 Methodology and Sources of data

2.3 Definition of Key Terms and Concepts employed in the study.


3.0 The Grammar of Causatives – Possible types and structure of Causatives in Ewe.

3.1 The general syntactic structure and types of Ewe causative constructions i.e. 3.2 Lexical (change of state) verbs

3.3 Pairs of causative verbs (suppletives) i.e. causative versus non-causative verbs, direct versus indirect causation, voluntary versus involuntary causation, distant versus contactive, necessary versus probable causation etc.

3.4 Syntactic (lexical) and periphrastic causative constructions

3.5 Grammaticalization

CHAPTER 4: The Syntax, Morphology and Semantics of Ewe Causative Constructions.


5.0 Summary

5.1 Findings

5.2 A Cross-linguistic Analysis of Causative Typology

5.3 Recommendations

5.4 Conclusion

Action Plan

Presentation of Proposal (26th/28th)

Chapter One Completed (End of October )

Chapter Two Completed (End of November)

Collecting Data Completed ( End of January) )

Analyzing Data Completed (End of February)

Submission of First Complete Draft to Supervisors ( End of April )

Presentation of Progress Report (

Revisions Completed ( Mid June)

Final Submission Deadline (End of June)

Thesis Defense and Present


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