S?l?? is a Kwa language spoken by about 12,000 inhabitants of three towns: Benua, Bume and Gbodome of Santrokofi in the newly created Oti Region of Ghana. It is one of the fourteen Ghana-Togo-Mountains (GTM) languages which are currently being extensively described and documented. Research on GTM languages has revealed that these languages that form a genealogical group behave in similar ways with regard to their noun morphology but behave differently with regard to their verb morphology.
Kwa languages have been described as generally tenseless, that is as morphologically unmarked for tense, but with rather prominent aspect and mood/modality. Ameka and Dakubu (2008:1) made a categorical statement in their introduction to the volume on ‘Aspect and Modality in Kwa Language’: “This volume explores the thesis that in the group of West African Languages known as “Kwa”, Aspect and Modality are far more central to the grammar of the verb and the clause than Tense”. They went further to affirm that:
“[…] the languages discussed elaborate their verb morphology to different degrees, but overall it is fair to say that the primary grammatical contrasts are aspectual (my emphasis), especially perfective versus imperfective, and that tense distinctions are secondary if indeed they are made grammatically at all.”
S?l?? clearly presents an exception to the discussion on Tense in Kwa as it exhibits two remoteness distinctions in the past: hodiernal (today past) and prehodiernal (yesterday past). Most languages within the GTM group make two way distinction in tense: future and non-future tense. So far, S?l?? is the only language (to the best of our knowledge) that shows remoteness distinction in the past. There is cumulative exponence of person, tense and negation, That is, portmanteau morphemes express person and tense or person, tense and negation. Each tense category has its own negation strategy or strategies and also syncretism is observed among the 1st person singular forms of the negative hodiernal past, the negative habitual and the negative perfect.