Hot eyes, white stomach

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With a population of only about 7000, the Safaliba are one of the least numerous ethnic groups in Ghana that still use a distinct language as their primary means of communication with one another as well as with many outsiders. Many Safaliba metaphors are similar to those of other Ghanaian languages: to tell lies in Safaliba, you “cut” (ŋma) them, while to make a good effort, you “wrestle” (mɔbe̱); metaphors like this are linguistically and geographically wide-spread and have even made their way into registers of Ghanaian English. However, there are also types of metaphorical usage where there is a fair amount of cross-language variation. Emotions and character-qualities are sometimes lexicalized but are also regularly conveyed by compound words or phrases with a strong metaphorical component. In these cases an image used to convey a particular quality in one language may convey a different quality in another language: for example, in Safaliba the expression po-pɛɛlo̱ŋ “white stomach” is used to refer to the quality of kindness, while in the related language Farefare the equivalent expression is used to refer to the emotion of happiness. Working within the general framework of Lakoff and Johnson (1980 and later developments), this paper gives an overview of selected Safaliba metaphors relating to emotions and character-qualities. It also compares these to similar constructions in four other northern Ghanaian languages, Waali, Farefare, Vagla, and Chumburung.


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