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About Avatime
  1. Language
  2. Geography
  3. People and Culture
  4. Publications
  5. Photos


Avatime, called Siyase or Sideme by its speakers, is a Kwa language, part of the Niger-Congo language family. It is spoken in the Volta Region of Ghana. It belongs to a group of languages called Ghana-Togo Mountain (GTM) languages. Whether this group is a genetic unity or not is still disputed, but the languages have some typological characteristics in common which set them apart from most other Kwa languages, the most notably their noun-class systems.

Avatime is a tone language with three distinctive level tones, which are mainly used to make lexical contrasts, but also function in the grammatical domain. It has seven vowels with an advanced tongue root-based vowel harmony system. It has seven noun classes, six of which consist of singular and plural subclasses. The various noun classes are marked by prefixes on the noun. There are various forms of concord marking on verbs and modifiers of nouns. Mood and aspect are marked by prefixes on the verb; there is no grammatical tense marking. Canonical word order is SVO and there are specific topic and focus positions to the left of the canonical subject position to mark information structure distinctions.



Avatime is spoken in eight villages in the Volta Region of Ghana. Estimates of the number of speakers vary from 7,500 to 24,000. From my time in the area I would put the number of speakers at around 10,000. The area where Avatime is spoken is tropical, but because of the hills it has a relatively cool climate. Three of the Avatime villages (Old Dzokpe, New Dzokpe and Fume) are located at the foot of the mountain range and the other five (Gbadzeme, Biakpa, Dzogbefeme, Vane and Amedzofe) are at altitudes varying from 400 to 800 meters above sea level. Avatime is bordered to the west by Nyangbo and Tafi, two languages closely related to it. North of Avatime is Logba, a more distantly related GTM language and to the south and east are Ewe speaking groups.


People and Culture

The hills and rocks make the Avatime area a difficult area to farm, but nevertheless farming is the main occupation. The crops farmed include cassava, yam, cocoyam, plantain, cocoa, maize and rice. The Ghana-Togo mountain groups are noted for rice cultivation, and there are several festivities and traditions attached to this crop. These days, however, most Avatime people have given up rice cultivation in favour of other crops which are easier to grow. In fact, rice is now only farmed by the Vane villagers. Ewe is the language of the wider area and it is used in the Avatime area as the language of instruction in the first years of primary school and in church services. Therefore, most Avatimes speak Ewe as their second language. Many people also speak some English, which is the national language of Ghana and medium of instruction in the later years of primary school and in secondary school.



  • Adjei, Francisca (2007). Adjectives in Siyase (Avatime). In M.E. Kropp Dakubu, G. Ahanlig-Pare, E. K Osam & K. K. Saah (Eds.) Studies in the Languages of the Volta Basin 4. Proceedings of the annual colloquium of the Legon Trondheim Linguistics Project 18-20 January, 2005. Legon: Linguistics Department, University of Ghana.
  • Brydon, Lynne (2008). Constructing Avatime: questions of history and identity in a West African polity, c. 1690s to the twentieth century. Journal of African History 49. 23-42. more >
  • Defina, Rebecca (2009). Aspect and Modality in Avatime. Unpublished Research Master's thesis. Leiden University.
  • Ford, K.C. (1971a). Aspects of Avatime syntax. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis. Legon: University of Ghana.
  • Ford, K.C. (1971b). Noun classes, concord and markedness in Avatime, Togo remnant group. Annales de L'Université d'Abidjan, Ser. H. 141-149.
  • Funke, E. (1909). Versuch einer Grammatik der Avatimesprache. Mitteilungen des Seminars für orientalische Sprachen, 12(3): 287-336.
  • Funke, E. (1910). Deutsch-Avatime Worterverzeichnis. Mitteilungen des Seminars für orientalische Sprachen, 13(3): 1-38.
  • Maddieson, I. (1998a). Collapsing vowel-harmony and doubly-articulated fricatives: two myths about the Avatime phonological system. In: Language history and linguistic description in Africa. I. Maddieson & T.J. Hinnebusch (eds) 155-166. Trends in African Linguistics, 2. Trenton, NJ/Asmara: Africa World Press.
  • Van Putten, Saskia (2009). Talking About Motion in Avatime. Unpublished Research Master's thesis. Leiden University.
  • Schuh, Russell G. (1995a). Aspects of Avatime phonology. Studies in African Linguistics, 24(1): 31-67. more >
  • Schuh, Russell G. (1995b). Avatime noun classes and concord. Studies in African Linguistics, 24(2): 123-149. more >



For more photos, please visit the Avatime page of Saskia van Putten (Syntax, Typology and Information Structure)

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Last checked 2017-12-16 by Mark Dingemanse
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Rebecca Defina

Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
PO Box 310
6500 AH Nijmegen
The Netherlands