Resonating embodiment

Everyday metaphorical abstractions in Safaliba


  • Ari Sherris Texas A&M University-Kingsville
  • Paul Schaefer Ghana Institute of Linguistics, Literacy, and Bible Translation
  • Eden Kosiaku Ghana Education Service



Safaliba, conceptual metaphor, Ghanaian Indigenous language, endangered language


The Safaliba are an Indigenous Ghanaian ethnolinguistic group of 7,000–9,000 people (Sherris, Schaefer and Mango Aworo, 2019). They mostly inhabit their traditional lands in a rural area of Ghana’s Savannah Region. There are seven towns and villages where Safaliba (the name of both their language and themselves as a people) is a dominant communicative language resource, as well as another seven towns where Safaliba as a communicative language resource is subordinate (see Fig. 1) to approximately eleven additional Indigenous Ghanaian languages (e.g., Birifor, Choruba, Dagaare, Deg, Gonja, Jula, Kamara, Lobiri, Siti, Vagla, and Waali). Safaliba is a Gur language with an expanding and vibrant, although small, grassroots literacy activity in five government primary schools, two private primary schools, and one informal adult education program. Safaliba storytellers, poets, and teenagers in the communities are using the language in booklets, newsletters, and in some experimental attempts at Safaliba Hip Hop. The purpose of this paper is to document Safaliba metaphors that have as their source domain the human body and their target domain everyday human interactions. We argue that these target domains, although abstract, transform the limits of embodiment and thereby resonate with similar materiality. For instance, if we look at the verb phrase le o? baya poo, which literally means /fall between someone’s legs/, in conceptual metaphor theory that would be the source domain. Its target domain is its figurative meaning, which for the Safaliba is /to beg someone for help or something/. The target domain resonates with components of the original embodied state of something or someone falling between the legs of another, yet is transformed to mean, metaphorically, an abstraction – to supplicate, beg, plead. Another example would be dibi nye?a, which as a source domain means /press chest/, and its target domain is the figurative /console, comfort/.

Author Biographies

Ari Sherris, Texas A&M University-Kingsville

Ari is an Associate Professor of Bilingual Education at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. During the 2015-16 academic year, he was a J. William Fulbright Scholar at the University of Education, Winneba, Ghana. During June 2019, Ari was a distinguished guest researcher at the University of South Africa. He holds a PhD in Second Language Development, an MA in Applied Linguistics, and a BA in the Humanities Ari's research and language revitalization interests include Mikasuki, Salish Ql'ispe (a.k.a. Salish-Pend d'Oreille, Montana Salish, and Flathead Salish) and Safaliba. His ethnographic work documents situated practice in grassroots policy initiatives and school-based activism among the Safaliba in rural Ghana.  His language documentation includes conceptual metaphors and formulaic language in Salish Ql'ispe and Safaliba. He also explores applications of task-based language teaching in the pedagogy of revitalization. His practitioner papers analyze integrated content and language instruction, academic English instruction for graduate students, and asset-based coaching for and by language teachers (e.g., peer coaching, critical friending in educational contexts). 

Paul Schaefer, Ghana Institute of Linguistics, Literacy, and Bible Translation

Paul Schaefer holds a PhD from the University of Texas at Arlington and has documented Safaliba prosody, morphology, syntax, and pragmatics. He is a linguistics and translation consultant with GILLBT, the Ghana affiliate of SIL International, and has worked with representatives of several different languages of northern Ghana in orthography development and literacy efforts.

Eden Kosiaku, Ghana Education Service

Eden Kosiaku hold a B.Ed. from the University of Education, Winneba and he is a member of the Safaliba ethnic group from Mandari, Ghana. He teaches Primary 5 in Bole, Ghana, and has been a Safaliba activist, as a community organizer supporting the development of children’s books as well as writing Safaliba poetry.


Ayisoba, K. (2018) Safaliba proverbs with their meanings – illustrated. Mandari, Ghana: Safaliba Language Program.

Bodua-Mango, K. (2012) Coordinators in Safaliba. Thesis, University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway.

Bodua-Mango, R. K. (2015) The phonology of a Safaliba three year old child. Thesis, University of Ghana, Legon.

Gal, S., and Irvine, J. T. (2019) Signs of difference: Language ideology in social life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Doi: DOI:

Kosiaku, E. K. (2012) Ethnoastronomy of the Safaliba People. Paper presented at Languages, Culture and National Development: A University of Ghana, GILLBT Conference, Legon, Ghana.

Lakoff, G., and Johnson, M. (1980) Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Schaefer, P. (2008a) Safaliba syntax in Principles and Parameters Theory. (Academic Seminar Week: Proceedings of the 2005 and 2006 Seminars). GILLBT Working Papers 2: 27–41.

Schaefer, P. (2008b) ‘Focus’ markers: Theory and application to Safaliba. (Academic Seminar Week: Proceedings of the 2005 and 2006 Seminars). GILLBT Working Papers 2: 45–55.

Schaefer, P. (2008c) Safaliba pronoun forms and participant reference. (Academic Seminar Week: Proceedings of the 2005 and 2006 Seminars). GILLBT Working Papers 2: 76–79.

Schaefer, P. (2009) Narrative storyline marking in Safaliba: Determining the meaning and discourse function of a typologically-suspect pronoun set. Dissertation, University of Texas at Arlington, United States. Retrieved from:

Schaefer, P. (2015) Hot eyes, white stomachs: Emotions and character qualities in Safaliba metaphor. In E. Piirainen and A. Sherris (eds) Language endangerment: Disappearing metaphors and shifting conceptualizations 91–110. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins. Doi: DOI:

Schaefer, P. and Schaefer, J. (2003) Collected field reports on the phonology of Safaliba. Collected Language Notes 25. Legon: University of Ghana.

Schaefer, P. and Schaefer, J. (2004) Verbal and Nominal Structures in Safaliba. In M. Dakubu and E. Osam (eds) Studies in the languages of the Volta Basin II 183–201. Legon: Ghana: Department of Linguistics, University of Ghana.

Shankar, S. and Cavanaugh, J. R. (2017) Toward a theory of language materiality: An introduction. In J. R. Cavanaugh and S. Shankar (eds) Language and materiality: Ethnographic and theoretical explorations 1–28. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Doi: DOI:

Sherris, A. (2019) Early childhood Safaliba literacy in Ghana. In A. Sherris and J. Kreeft Peyton (eds) Teaching writing to children in Indigenous languages: Instructional practices from global contexts 69–88. New York: Routledge. Doi: DOI:

Sherris, A. (2020) Safaliba Community language awareness: ‘Safaleba – a dageya ka o bebee!’ [‘Safaliba – it is important for it to exist!’]. Journal of Language Awareness 29(3–4): 304–319. Doi: DOI:

Sherris, A. (in press) Ethnography and heuristics of the heart. In D. Kenan and K. Reynolds (eds) Research methods in language teaching and learning. West Sussex, UK: Wiley Blackwell.

Sherris, A., Schaefer, P., and Mango Aworo, S. (2019) The paradox of translanguaging in Safaliba: A rural Indigenous Ghanaian language. In A. Sherris and E. Adami (eds) Making signs, translanguaging ethnographies: Exploring urban, rural, and educational spaces 152–169. Bristol: Multilingual Matters. Doi: DOI:

Sherris, A., and Yakubu, K. E. (in press) Drumming, storytelling, and writing: Indigenous Safaliba sign making in rural Ghana. In R. Horowitz (ed.) The Routledge handbook of international research on writing. New York: Routledge.

Wilks, I. (2000) The Juula and the expansion of Islam into the forest. In N. Levtzion and R. L. Pouwels (eds) The history of Islam in Africa 93–115. Athens: Ohio University Press.

Wilks, I., Levtzion, N. and Haight, B. M. (1986) Chronicles from Gonja: A tradition of West African Muslim historiography.



How to Cite

Sherris, A., Schaefer, P., & Kosiaku, E. (2021). Resonating embodiment: Everyday metaphorical abstractions in Safaliba. Sociolinguistic Studies, 15(1), 135–156.