Short (very simplified) Lesson on Questions

This is a very quick lesson on asking questions in Kpelle. Most beginning lessons will begin with a fairly complicated description of tones, pronunciation, and the alphabet (and sounds) of Kpelle (something I am honestly still learning or really just struggling with).  Despite this I do provide a brief explanation of tones, stress, and intonation, as it will help a bit with actually pronouncing these words and can be done in a fairly simplified version. The ultimate goal is just to provide some vocabulary and understanding of a few rules associated with asking questions and forming simple sentences.

Tones and Intonation (very simplified):

There are three pitch or tonal levels in Kpelle. These are described simply as low, mid, and high.

There are also five patterns within a word. These can be:

  1. Low throughout
  2. Mid throughout
  3. High throughout
  4. High to low
  5. And mid to high-low

To ask a question, the last non-low tone will be higher. If the sentence has only low tones, than all low tones will be higher and more tense.

How Much/Many?

To ask how much or how many of something, you use the word “yeelu,” which is a word for requesting quantity. Examples of this are:

  • How much does it cost?—- yeelu be?
  • How many are there?—– yeelu kaa naa?

What, When, Where, Who

  • What—le
  • When—yele
  • Where—mi/koo
  • Who—gbee


  • What is it? — Le be ni?
  • What is that?– Le be ti?
  • Where is ___? ____ la koo?
  • Where is the bench?—kpee la koo?

Understanding “be” (as in example above):

“Be” is not similar to “is” in English. “Be” is instead used in two ways: 1) as part of a question (what is that?- with be being a mid-tone); and 2) to emphasize (which is complicated and I won’t get into here).

Pronouns (simplified)

First person singular (I)—na

Second person singular (you)—ya

Third person singular (he, she, it)—a

First Person plural (we)—kwa

Second Person plural (you all)—ka

Third person plural (they)—da/di

Other Useful Vocabulary

To understand or hear—meni

To do– gei

Sun/day- folo









So based on very simplified explanations and presentation of vocabulary, lets try to put some very basic sentences together (note we are not using possessives as this will change sentence structure and the spelling/make-up of words. This lesson is simply an attempt to understand at its most simplistic structure).

Try translating these Kpelle sentences into English and then English into Kpelle. (Note correct answers only register with correct spelling and punctuation).




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