Franz Kröger


Loanwords and Foreign Words in Buli





Loanwords probably appear in every language of the world. Sometimes, however, it is difficult to recognize which words are part of the indigenous language and which have been adopted from foreign languages. Would the non-linguist regard English words like “wall” (Latin vallum)“street” (Latin strata)“table” (Latin tabula), and “wine” (Latin vinum) as words adopted from Latin? What about the thousands of French words that entered into the Anglo-Saxon language after 1066, for example “chair” (< French chaise) or “blue” (< French bleu )?

German linguists distinguish between loanwords which have been integrated in the receiving language in their usage and orthography and foreign words which are perceived as foreign and have maintained their foreign orthography. In Buli the reception in one of the noun-classes has also taken the foreign character from some words, e.g. sukuuri (school), definite form sukuuni, plural sukuuba.

The examination of the Buli language with regard to the adoption of loanwords before the first contacts with the British is still in its infancy. Many of the Hausa and Arabic loanwords were probably in use before the first British contact took place at the beginning of the 20th century.

Sometimes it is even difficult to decide whether words are loanwords at all or whether they belong to the basic vocabulary of Buli. In a comparison with English words, for example, the linguist will find many look-alikes without any certainty about their origin.


                                    Buli                            English

                                    dai                              day 

                                    laata                           laughter [la:ftə]

                                    barege                        to bargain

                                    dueni                           to (put) down

                                    puli                             to pull off

                                    chiib                           chick

                                    chikperi                      cheek

                                    bang                            bangle

                                    baauk                          bog (swamp)

                                    tusidi                           thousand


The origin of the Buli term tusidi (Engl. thousand) is questionable. The nearly complete agreement of the three consonants with several European languages makes an adoption quite possible. However, it is not very probable that it came into common usage only with the arrival of the British colonialists because there was a great demand for a numeral representing high numbers before that time. As long as cowries were being imported from the Maldives, the numbers used for paying for things of everyday life were limited. But when, on British initiative, larger numbers of these snails were procured on East African Coasts and transported to West Africa and the natives here accepted them as legal tender (in spite of small differences!), inflation started. Finally, the way of counting cowries was dome by bags (Buli boosa) and not by pieces. Here a numeral like tusidi might have been very useful, but to my knowledge the word boosa (bag or 200 cowries) has been used more often for counting cowries and is still used by old people for “200 Cedis”, and even illiterate Bulsa prefer the English word “thousand” to tusidi in everyday life.

In some cases, particularly those concerning the basic vocabulary, we may be sure that these words (e.g. dai, laata, chikperi, bang)have never been adopted from English and the similarity is just accidental.

It is striking that some lexemes are not only similar in English and Buli but appear in numerous other languages of the world. The most evident examples are found among words which originate with small babies, e.g. the term for “mother” (cf. Buli ma, Latin mater, Engl. mummy, mama, mom and, in many other languages, a variation of mama). They can be explained by the physical conditions and possibilities of babies, who prefer to use the vowel [a] for their early word coinages. As a small baby has no teeth, it cannot pronounce any dentals but will form the first consonants with its lips (the so-called labial consonants). While the easiest labial consonant [m] is reserved for the baby’s mother, its first caregiver (cf. Buli ma), labial consonants with a plosive character [b] and their slightly more difficult voiceless counterpart [p] are often used to denote the father (papa, baba, etc.). The Buli (and Kasem) word ko (father) is rather a little extraordinary, and little children often replace it by the loanword baba. Colloquial terms used for a more distant relative in the baby’s language are often constructed with (cf. Italian nonna for grandmother; Akan nana for grandfather, cf. also nanny, a child’s nurse). Terms for one’s own person are often constructed with the consonants m or (Buli mi, n; Engl. me [obj.], Latin me [obj.], German mich, mir [obj.], etc.).





2.1 Akan / Twi loans

The influence of Akan/Twi vocabulary on Buli applies particularly to the names of food and kitchen appliances and to weekday names.


2.2.1 More than one half of the Akan loanwords in the Buli-English Dictionary belong to the sphere of food and food preparation:

abrobe pineapple

aleefu leaf vegetable

amaani small saltwater fish used as an ingredient for various soups

apotayowa, apatayuga ceramic grinding bowl

atia cashew nut (Anarcadium occidentale)

banchibik (Akan obankye), cassava, manioc (Manihot esculenta)

boaderi plantain (Musa paradisiaca)

burferi (Twi burferi), pawpaw (Carica papaya)

dakunung kenkey (food made of fermented maize flour)

jienu or jiene onion

kaaka-duruk ginger (Zingiber officinale)

kooduk banana (Musa sapientum)

mangkainmangkaning cocoyam, taro (Xanthosoma mafaffa and Colocasia esculenta)

paanung bread

patanuga or patayuga grinding bowl (used with a biconical grinder)


2.1.2 Other Akan loans were taken from various other fields of life:

birim darkness, dark

kaniak (lw. Twi kanea), lamp, lantern (e.g. kerosene lamp)

koara-koara adv., entirely, completely, (with a neg. part.:) not at all

koataa adv., anything, at all, altogether

papa towel

pietuk (Twi pieto), (pair of) drawers or pants, underwear


As expected, most of the loanwords are nouns, but some Bulsa like to use the adverb papa/paa (‘indeed’) in the final position of a sentence, thus underlining their South experience.


2.1.3 Weekday names (see table)

Akan weekday names for human persons distinguish between male and female name-bearers. Often these name bearers were born in the South of Ghana, but sometimes people who have spent most of their lives in the Bulsa area demonstrate that they know the South and its culture by naming their children in the Akan way.  


English Hausa Arabic number Akan/Twi names Akan weekdays
  male female   male female  
Sunday Danlaadi Laadi 1= wahid Kwesi





(Dantenni rare)


Atani, Tenni 2= itnen Kojo Adua Dwuwda
Tuesday (Dantalaata rare) Tala(a)ta 3= talata








(Danlariba, Lariba rare)


Lariba 4= arba’a Kweku Ekua Wukuda
Thursday Lamisi

Lamisi, Alamisi




Kwao, Yaw Aba, Yaa Yada
Friday (Danzuma rare) Azuma 6= sitta Kofi Efua Fida
Saturday Assibi




7= sab’a Kwame Ama Miminda



2.2 Hausa / Arabic loans

The number of Hausa loans (appr. 66) in Buli is much higher than those of Akan, and some are integrated completely into the indigenous language. The speakers have forgotten their foreign origin and usually there are no corresponding Buli words (e.g. dam‘to mix’, maasa ‘millet cakes’, goora ‘cola nuts’). Most of them are probably older than the Akan loans, which penetrated into Buli in the 20th century when Bulsaland became part of the British colonial empire. Hausa loanwords may have entered Buli vocabulary through Muslim Maalams (and through trade, particularly the cola-trade flourishing on a large scale since the 18th century.

Quite a few words adopted from Hausa have their origin in the Arabic language (e.g. all weekday names) while some words have English roots (asibti ‘hospital’) and at least one word has its origins in the German language (dali, pl. dala < Hausa dala < German ‘Taler’) Fu?ote , for the Maria-Theresien Taler was and remains legal tender in several parts of Africa.

The loans originate from different spheres of life:


Proper names and weekday names (see table above)

Furthermore, many other names of Arabic origin were adopted by way of Hausa or directly from Islam or known Muslims: Alhassan, Seidu, Ali, Isa, Salifu, Mahama, etc.


Law and the judicial system:

saaria (Arabic via Hausa), judgement, trial

sarika prison, jail

siera evidence (in court), proof

sieroa witness (in court), bail, sb. to give evidence

sugri (Hausa?), pardon, forgiveness, remission


Trade and payment

dali pl. dala (German ‘Taler’ via Hausa dalà, see above), 20-pesewa coin

jaara dash, sth. gratis, sth. extra or in addition (without pay)

kubook, kubuook or kobik n. (Hausa kwabo), orig. meaning: hundred

kurba, kuriba (Hausa), name for several containers used as measures

liiba pl., profit(s)

sampoak (word used throughout Ghana), three pesewas

tusidi (see above), thousand



maalam (Arabic), maalam, Muslim learned an wise man, diviner and magician

nasaarik (< Nazarene), Christian, European

saraka, instruction of a maalam (Muslim diviner) to his client

sitaana pl. (Hausa, rare, used by Christians and Muslims), evil, wickedness, sin

Moreover several more Arabic words taken from the vocabulary of Islam were adopted in Buli, but most of them are used in their English form, e.g. Koran, mosque, Imam


Food, its preparation and food containers

aso(w)aaka or suaaki (Hausa suaaka), leaf vegetable

boroboro or boroboruk, (lw. Hausa: burodi or buro), bread

chinchang grilled meat on sticks, kebab, shashlik

damu or dam (Hausa damè, to be mixed into a paste, to be confused), to mix, to mingle, to blend, to stir, to prepare by stirring

fuuri millet cake (prepared esp. by Muslims), flour ball 

goori (Hausa goro) cola nut (nut of Cola nitida and Cola acuminata / Sterculia acuminata)

koalin(I) (glass) bottle

kooko, koko, viscous millet gruel or porridge (fermented)

maasiri or maasidi, fried millet cake

nikanika (Hausa, onom.) grinding mill powered by a diesel engine

sakori dish made by boiled and pounded cassava or yam, Twi Fufu;

taaseri or taasidi, abbr. taasi (Hausa, taasàa, metal pan or bowl), pl. taasa bowl, dish, basin (metal, enamel)


2.3. English loans

English loanwords have entered the Buli language only in very recent time, and the borrowing process has not yet concluded. Most English terms were adopted together with the material objects or institutions that the Bulsa possessed in a very different form or did not have at all before colonialization.

These include:

bool (Engl. ‘ball’): Bulsa children played a type of hockey with a wooden roller or they inflated the bladder of a slaughtered animal.

faaroa (Engl. ‘father’, used especially for Catholic priests): The Bulsa had diviners, sacrificers, magicians, etc.

geebul (Engl. ‘gable’): Bulsa houses had flat or conical straw-covered roofs.

karichi (Engl. ‘teacher’): Bulsa children were educated by their parents.

logri (Engl. ‘lorry’, also used for car): In the past the Bulsa transported goods on their heads or on carts drawn by donkeys. People might ride on donkeys or (if they were rich) on horses.

sigiri (Engl. ‘sugar’): Bulsa used honey to sweeten food items.

simiit (Engl. ‘cement’): Bulsa used clay for building or plastering houses.

suli (Engl. ‘shilling’, used for ten pesewas): Bulsa used cowries, bangles, cattle, etc. for paying.

sieti (Engl. ‘shirt’): Bulsa wore smocks made from woven strips.


Some words, adopted from colonial army slang, entered Buli because many Bulsa joined the Gold Coast Regiment.

komaani (Engl. ‘commander’): commander, leader

saji (Engl. ‘soldier’ or ‘sergeant’): soldier

wada (Engl. ‘Order!’): a word used in the army to restore discipline

fooli (Engl. ‘Fall in!’): to stand in a line, to line up


Compared to Akan, only a few names for food and stimulants entered Buli by way of English, and most of them have their origin in another language:

chin-gong (Engl. ‘chewing gum’): cf. also paragraph on folk etymology

kamantos (Engl. ‘tomatoes’): tomatoes

liemu (Engl. ‘lemon’ or ‘lime’): in Buli used for an orange or tangerine

manggook (Engl. ‘mango’): mango fruit or tree

sigiri (Engl. ‘sugar’): sugar

tabi (Engl. tobacco): tobacco

wiiti (Engl. ‘wheat’): denotes wheat and some other foreign types of food, e.g. beans, peas.

The biggest group of loan and foreign words that have not fully been integrated into Buli in their orthography, pronunciation, suffixes, etc. is composed of names of modern material objects, especially those taken from technology. Early borrowings of the 20th century were probably (among many others):


foto (Engl. ‘photo’) photo, pa photo ‘to take a photo’

gotuk (Engl. ‘gutter’) gutter, drainage ditch

hangkachief (Engl. ‘handkerchief’), handkerchief

logriloori (Engl. ‘lorry’), lorry, truck, passenger car

piila (Engl. ‘pillar’), buttress (at a building)

pompiik (Engl. ‘pump’), pump

See also 3.1 (folk etymology) and 3.2 (loan blends)


As concerns modern digital technology, computer science, mobile phones, radios, TV, etc., nearly all new terms were adopted by way of English.

In BMY (Bulubisa Meina Yeri, ‘Group of all Bulsa’), a Bulsa Facebook group, time and time again there are discussions about how terms from the fields of modern technology can be translated into Buli. Although more or less suitable suggestions are made, I do not think that they have a chance of replacing the English terms in the near future.





1. Folk Etymology / False Etymology / Pseudo-Etymology

Folk etymology has been defined as “the transformation of words so as to give them an apparent relationship to other better known words” (Hingston 2011) or as being “based on misperceptions of foreign words as native words”.

Bulsa are particularly fond of folk etymologies. When in the 1980s a brandy called “Mousquetaire” (Engl. ‘musketeer’) was imported to Northern Ghana from Burkina Faso, some Bulsa called it “Mossi tieng” (Mossi beard). Here and in other cases, the applied etymological explanation was not an erroneous interpretation of a foreign word, but was just regarded as a joke.

Other etymological explanations are difficult to recognize as such because the new Buli form and pronunciation of the borrowed word makes a lot of sense and might be interpreted as a neologism.

Buli loanwords with their folk etymological explanations can be found in the following table:


Buli loanword


folk etymology foreign sources English meaning

apanaara or



pa or pai: to take; naara: early millet   hornbill (Lophocerus sp.)

ayiilakomi or



yiila: troubles; ko: to kill; mi: me

‘troubles kill me’

Hausa rakumi camel (Camelus dromedarius))



choa: to shake; diak: male lw. Twi boxing

doanum or



duok, pl. daata: wood; num: to


  biconical pestle for grinding in a ceramic bowl



goa: to sleep; duok: wood Hausa gado bed (European type)



go! go! (hurry up) Engl. to go clock, watch, time




Naa(wen) gori tom. God has

made a bow.

Twi: nyankopon-ton rainbow

nkoya or ankoya



an: not; ko: kill; i.e. has not killed  

(bird:) long-tailed nightjar

(Scotornius climacurus)


ta(bi): tobacco; cheng: small

ceramic vessel


Brong: tasin (tobacco-) pipe

ta: to have; garuk: gown, dress


  pied crow (Corvus albus)


Some entries of the table need an additional comment:

apanaara or painaara (hornbill). While it can easily be interpreted as “takes early millet” (pa: ‘take’, naara: ‘early millet’), the crux of this explanation is that hornbills do not eat millet grains.

tagaaruk (pied crow). The black bird has (ta) a band of white feathers around its neck that looks like the white collar of a black dress (garuk).

Two loans are etymologically explained as complete sentences.

ayiilakomi or laakomi camel, dromedary (Camelus dromedarius). The Bulsa do not keep camels and many have never seen such an animal in their lives. Very rarely traders from Mali come to Sandema market with their camels, which are regarded as a kind of marvel. The explanation of the Hausa word rakuni (camel) as “kills me” and adding the Buli word yiila (troubles) may jokingly hint at the difficulties of riding a camel.

gogo, clock, watch, time. A very doubtful explanation was given to me for this loanwordderived from English “Go! Go!” With this expression the British allegedly tried to drive the natives to do something quicker in order to save time.


2. Loan Blends or Partial Substitution

In this group of compound words, native forms were combined with borrowed elements from another language.

nina-glaase (Buli nina, ‘eyes’; glaase < English ‘glasses’), spectacles, glasses

poosika-jigi (poosika < Engl. ‘post’; Buli jigi, ‘place’), post-office

manchesik (man[ch] < Engl. ‘match’; chesik, iron for striking fire), match, box of matches

In manchesik the ch [ʧ] may be seen as part of the English component (match) and of the Buli word chesik.

baan-sieroa (baan< Buli baano or baana, diviner; sieroa, Hausa sieroa, witness) a person who goes to a diviner, also on behalf of another person

abe-jenta (abe < Twi abe, ‘palm nut’; Buli jenta, ‘soup’), palm nut-soup

kari(n)ziim (kari< Twi kanea; Buli ziim, ‘blood’), kerosine

see table “folk etymology”

zing-nyiam, molten bronze or brass. If zing and nyam are regarded as Buli words, the compound word means “gravel water”. Buli zing is the lateritic gravel which is also used as iron ore. The word has replaced here the Hausa word zinari meaning “gold”. Nyiam, meaning “water” is Buli and denotes here the liquid state of the metal.


Also elements from two foreign languages may be combined to make up a new word used by Bulsa:

tulin-kaa (tulin: loanword of unknown origin), kaa< Engl. ‘car’) passenger car, passenger coach


3. Loan Translations

In a loan translation, elements of a foreign word are translated into the native language. For example, the English phrase ‘world view’ is a translation of the German term ‘Weltanschauung’. In Buli I could find only one loan of this category:

pa foototo take a photo (Buli pa, ‘to take’ is a translation of English ‘take’).


4Loan Creations

In Wikipedia (‘Loanword’), this type of loanword is defined as a “coinage independent of the foreign word, but created out of the desire to replace a foreign word”.

In this category there are only a few Buli examples which never entered into common usage. In Bulsa Facebook groups, some members ask the group to find a suitable Buli word for a common English expression. For the English compound ‘television set’, for example, the Buli term yesung dok (‘shadow room’) was proposed. This expression, like all the others discussed here, has no chance of becoming a commonly used word.

Attempts to replace the English (<Latin) month names by newly created Buli names took place before Facebook groups came into existence. The following list was given to me by Mr. Leander Amoak from Wiaga (cf. Kröger 1986: 673).


English Name Buli Coinage (L.A.) Further Proposals (Facebook)
January Ngoota Chiik (cold month)

Benpaalik Chiik (month of New Year) – Vaala Chiik

(see March)



Gunggona Chiik (month of the armpit drums,

i.e. of funerals)


Dogta Chiik (month of the doctor, month of diseases?)

Vaala Chiik (month of empty and dry millet stalks; they and other rubbish are removed in the so-called vaala-naka activity in preparation for sowing the fields)


Wuulim Chiik (month of sweat)

Vaala Chiik (see left explanation)


Sambula Chiik (month of the red dawa-dawa blossoms)


Borik Chiik (month of sowing) – Poupo Chiik (?)
May Borik Chiik (month of sowing)

Puurik Chiik (month of first weeding) – Naapuurik Chiik (naapierik: shepherd?)



Kpari Chiik (month of weeding)


Wutulik Chiik (month of second weeding)
July Naara Chiik (month of early millet)

Naara Chiik (month of early millet) – Nyiam Chiik (month of water or rain)



Za Paala Bogluta Chiik (month of the sacrifices of early millet)


Naara Chiik (month of early millet)

Chaung Chiik (month of chaung weeding)


Choang (chaung) Chiik
October Sunkpaata Chiik (month of groundnuts) Kparik Chiik (month of weeding) – (Sinkpaam Chiik: see left column)

Za Cheka Chiik (month of the harvest of millet)


Sinkpaam Chiik (month of groundnuts)

Fanoai Chiik (month of the harvest sacrifices) or Burinya Chiik(month of Christmas)


Burunya Chiik (month of Christmas)


Among Facebook group members who did not know Mr. Leander’s list, other names were proposed (see right column of the table). Most of the loan creations are based on agricultural and ritual activities. The crux of this method is that several of these activities may take place over a period of time longer than one month, e.g. vaala naka may be done in the last months of the dry season.





Conversations centred on computer technology have become more and more of a mix of Buli and English. Not only are English nouns used but English verbs (e.g. copy, paste, delete, cancel, upload, download, etc.) have been incorporated as well. Even talks on non-technical subjects are sometimes a mish-mash of Buli and English. As many Bulsa and Anglos regard such a mix of languages as ugly, it raises the question about whether a reform of the colloquial language is necessary. Any reforms should start from a central institution equipped with the power to enforce it. Right now, however, there are no signs of such an attempt.
One should not view a language reform too pessimistically or dismiss it as an illusion. In France, a state-ordered reform (1994) restricted the use of English for a number of official actions. The share of French songs in the radio was mandated to be at least 40%. A similar law was passed in Poland in 1999. The reform has been quite effective in France where 90% of all French citizens support the language reform and special committees have proposed numerous neologisms which were successfully carried out.

In Germany there have never been any attempts at such a language reform, but recent language development shows another possibility for eliminating foreign words. From the 18th to the 20th century, German terms and even whole sentences, exclamations and multi-word phrases were often replaced by French expressions (Quel malheur! C’est dommage! Avec plaisir! par force, peu à peu…). In his childhood, the author himself knew only the French words for some objects like Portemonnaie(Engl. ‘purse’), Trottoir (Engl. ‘pavement’), Chaiselongue (Engl. couch, sofa), Necessaire (sponge bag), Pompadour (small bag for a handkerchief) and, slightly before the author’s youth, only Perron was used to denote a railway platform. In the late 20th century, these and other terms were gradually and without official intervention replaced by Geldbörse (purse), Bürgersteig(pavement), SofaKulturbeutel and Bahnsteig (platform). The word Pompadour disappeared with its corresponding material object. Many other French words are becoming more and more obsolete and are partly being replaced by English words, e.g. Gendarme (policeman), poussieren (flirten), d’accord (o.k.), Rendezvous (dating), etc.
Such a development could also happen in Buli if all Bulsa speakers limited their use of English to only words that are absolutely necessary rather than showcasing their knowledge of a European language by constantly using Anglicisms.





Hartmann, R.R.K. and F.C. Stork

1972: Dictionary of Language and Linguistics. London: Applied Science Publishers Ltd.


Hingston, Stan

2011: The English Cowpath. Etymology & Folk Etymology.


Kröger, Franz

1986: ‘Der Ritualkalender der Bulsa (Nordghana)’. Anthropos 81 (4/6), 671-681.


Kröger, Franz

1992: Buli-English Dictionary. With an Introduction into Buli Grammar and an Index English-Buli. Münster and Hamburg: Lit Verlag.


Kröger, Franz

2001: Materielle Kultur und traditionelles Handwerk bei den Bulsa (Nordghana). Forschungen zu Sprachen und Kulturen Afrikas (Ed. R. Schott), 2 vol., Münster and Hamburg: Lit Verlag





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