Phonemic table of Burkina Kassem


Bilabials Labiodentals Alveolar Palatal Velar Labio-Velar Glottal
Occlusive voiceless p t c k
voiced b d j g
Fricatives voiceless f s h
voiced v z
Nasal voiceless m n ny ŋ
Lateral spirant voiced l
Vibrant rolled voiced r y  w


Front Central Back
not rounded rounded
high close

high open

i  ii

ɩ ɩɩ

u  uu

ʋ ʋʋ

mid close  

e ee


o  oo

mid open ɛ   ɛɛ ɔ   ɔɔ
low a aa
  1. Phonological summary

We recall here some essential data useful to the understanding of the grammatical facts. For writing, Kasɩm employs an alphabet of 21 consonants and 10 vowels:

1.1 the consonants

b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, ny, ŋ, p, r, s, t, v, w, y, z

Most of these consonants are pronounced in a way that resembles that of French or English. But there are sounds that are represented differently that in French and others which have no equivalent in French or English:

1.1.1 consonants represented differently than in French

ny this double letter represents a single sound that is transcribed in french by ‹ny› as in french words: ' agnwater, gagner, soigner, montagne ‘etc.

Examples: nyaanɩ ‘sewing’, nyoŋo 'lion'

w pronounced as ‹ou› at the beginning of the French words oui, ‘yes’ ouest ‘west’ etc.

Examples: waarʋ 'cold', wiiru ‘Hyena’

All consonants may be followed by semi-consonant or semi-vowel ‹w›.

Examples: bw'questions', nwam ‘meat’

cwəŋə 'path, way', zwɛ 'ear'

1.1.2 consonants with no equivalent in French:

c is pronounced as a ‹k› followed by a ‹y›, but expressed simultaneously; it is comparable to ‘tch’ in the word 'Tchad '.

Examples: ceeri 'shave', coro ‘hen’

Note well! ‹c› in kasɩm is not pronounced as ‹c› of the French. The equivalent to the French ‹c› in kasɩm is ‹k› or ‹s›.

j is pronounced as ‹g› and ‹y›, but expressed at the same time; It is comparable to the English ‹j› ‹John› ‘Jean’, ‹jump› 'jumping'.

Examples: jɩŋa 'hand', jɩnjɔŋɔ ‘bat’

Please note: the j sound in kasɩm is not pronounced as ‹j› of the French. There is no equivalent to the < j > French in kasɩm.

ŋ representing the two sounds < n > and < g > made at the same time as in the words English/French ‹parking›, ‹camping›.

Examples: ŋwaŋa ‘mercy’,  ŋʋna ‘rope’

There are words that can end with the nasal <-m >, which is a variant of the endpoint <-nɩ > or <-ni > :

Examples: mim / mini 'fire'

m / bʋ ‘goats’

sam / sa 'houses'

sum / suni ‘Guinee fowl’

1.2 the vowels

The kasɩm has ten different vowels:

a ə e ɛ i o ɔ u ʋ ɩ

1.2.1 vowels represented differently than in french:

u is pronounced as in the French words ‹ou› in words like ‹trou, sous› etc.

Examples: kaku'dog', kuu ‘redunca antelope’

New signs that correspond to the National Alphabet were chosen for some vowels.

Ə is pronounced in a manner similar to the pronunciation of ‹e› in French words ‹agréablement, demain› etc. (but more tensly pronounced).

Examples: ləŋə 'song', ga-təgə 'warthog'

Ɛ  is pronounced as ‹e› or ‹ê› in French words like ‹père flèche, fenêtre› etc.

Examples: kwɛ ‘squirrel’, sɩrkwɛn 'hedgehog'

Ɔ  is pronounced as ‹o› in French words like ‹corps, porte, robe, roche› etc.

Examples: tɔrɔ ‘shrew’, nyɔŋɔ ‘viper (bitis)’

1.2.2 Vowels with no equivalent in French:

ʋ is pronounced between ‹ou› and ‹o› (but less tensly pronounced)

Examples: lʋ 'give birth', dυnʋ 'Hornbill'

Ɩ    is pronounced between ‹e› and ‹i› (but pronounced less tensly).

Examples: lɩ 'remove',  carɩ   ‘mole’


1.3 vowel harmony

The vowel harmony is a phenomenon of vowel assimilation. The choice of a vowel in a given position is not free, but it is determined by the presence of another given vowel.

Kasɩm has ten different vowels. These vowels are divided into two groups:

There is the group of five vowels pronounced with the root of the advanced tongue. They are advanced or +ATR (Advanced Tongue Root) vowels.

These are vowels: i e ə o u

There is the Group of five vowels pronounced with the removed language root back. They are called ‘released’ or –ATR vowels (also called withdrawn, not advanced vowels).

These are vowels: ɩ ɛ a ɔ υ

Each simple word in kasɩm tends to have only vowels of a group or the other. In other words, we won’t find +ATR and –ATR vowels in the same simple Kassem word (with the exception of compound words and borrowed words). Thus the Vocalic system is divided into two groups, the so-called 'Vocalic harmony'.


tense vowels: i e ə o u          released vowels: ɩ ɛ a ɔ υ

digə            'case'                   tɩga             'land'

weeru         'garbage'            pɛɛrɩ            'gift'

cwəŋə '       path'                     waarʋ         'cold'

Coro           'hen'                     tɔnɔ            ‘book’

kunkwəri    'snail'                   kapɩʋ          'master'


1.4 Nasalized vowels

Vowels can be nasalized (when pronounced, the breath does not escape only by mouth but both the mouth and nose). Nasalization is indicated by a 'n› at the end of a syllable, as is the case in French, for example in the words ‘maison, bon etc.


zanzan   'much, many',           fɩnfɩɩn         'little',

diin        'yesterday'                 vwan          ‘lie’,

n          'wash',                       fin           ‘blow your nose’

swan      'fruits of Shea'   

1.5 Repetition of letters

Long vowel can be found in monosyllabic words and di-syllabic words. They are written with two identical vowels.


sɔɔ 'noise', leeni ‘sing’, tuu 'elephant'

Two identical consonants can follow in forms of the plural of some nouns and adjectives.


fulu           «fan»          fullu          «fans»

kamunu     «big»            kamunnu   «big pl.»

cʋrʋ          «cousin»           cʋrrʋ         «cousins»

1.6 Vowel combinations

Apart from the repetition of the vowels, there are several vowel combinations that agree entirely with the vowel harmony.


              siə     ‘Earth pea’,            biə          ‘children’

ɩa               pɩa     'yams',                  wɩa         'sun'

iu               piu     'mountain',           tiu          ‘baobab’

ɩʋ               pɩʋ     'rifle',                    vɩʋ         'leaf Sorrel'

             kuə    'os',                      sisuə       ‘Guinea fowl’

ʋa              bʋa    ‘Nile monitor’         tʋa          ‘bee’

The written form of the verbs, one may find other combinations as well (see 'Guide to spelling Kasɩm' p. 47):

Examples:                                                  Pronounced quickly:

       O wʋra o saɩ.       ‘He danced.’             [sɛ]

əi         O bəi o yɩrɩ.         ‘He calls his name.’  [be]

ɛa        O maa kɛa.          ‘It passes.’                [kɩa]

       O coə.                  ‘It leads.’               [coə]

oe        O soe.                   ‘He loves.’             [swe]

ɔa        O tigi o dɔa.        ‘He sleeps.’               [dwa]

ɔɛ        O wɔɛ.                 ‘He is sick.’               [wɛ]

ui       O yəni o tui.        ‘He comes often.’       [twi]

1.7 tones

The kasɩm has a three-tone system: low tone, mid tone, high tone. These tones can succeed each other and give rise to different combinations. Normally it does not mark the tones in spelling kasɩm (see 'Guide to spelling kasɩm') with the exception of a few grammatical words that carry a high tone (see comment in this web Site under «Entries»).


a  'I'              wʋ 'negation: accomplished’

a  'you pl.'       wʋ́ ' future: affirmative’

In the document ‘The kasɩm grammar élémentaire’, in part 5 (the Grammaireverb, pages 71 ff.), we have indicated the grammatical tonal changes of the verbs in brackets (e.g. [bà] low tone, [bā] mid tone, [bá] high tone, [bǎ] rising tone). For more details on tones see ‘Kasɩm – French - English dictionary’ where we indicated the tones of the words in square brackets.