Aspect Of The Phonology Of Yukuben

Project and Seminar Material for Linguistics and Communication

Aspect Of The Phonology Of Yukuben

Table of Contents

  • Title Page
  • Certification
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Table of Contents

Chapter One


  • 1.0 General Background
  • 1.1 Historical Background
  • 1.2 Socio Linguistic
  • 1.2.0 The Yukuben Speakers
  • 1.2.1 Population of the Yukubens
  • 1.2.2 Yukuben Dialects and Nomenclature
  • 1.3 Socio Cultural Profile
  • 1.3.1 Religion
  • 1.3.2 Occupation
  • 1.3.3 Marriage
  • 1.3.4 Governance
  • 1.3.5 Traditional and Festivals
  • 1.4 Genetic Classification of Yukuben
  • 1.5 Scope and Organisation of the study
  • 1.6 Theoretical Framework
  • 1.6.1 The Structure of Generative Phonology
  • 1.7 Data Collection
  • 1.8 Data Analysis

Chapter Two

Phonological Concepts in Yukuben

  • 2.0 Introduction
  • 2.1 Sound Inventory of Yukuben
  • 2.1.1 Consonants Segment in Yukuben
  • 2.1.2 Yukuben Consonant Chart25
  • 2.1.3 Distribution of Consonant in Yukuben Features Used
  • 2.2 Vowels Segment in Yukuben
  • 2.2.1 Distribution of Vowels in Yukuben
  • 2.3 Distinctive Features of Yukuben Sounds
  • 2.4 Justification of the Features used
  • 2.5 Yukuben Tonal Inventory
  • 2.6 Syllable Structure of Yukuben
  • 2.7 Segment Redundancy of Yukuben Sounds

Chapter Three

Phonological Processes in Yukuben

  • 3.0 Observed Introduction
  • 3.1.1 Assimilation
  • 3.1.2 Labialization
  • 3.1.3 Patalization
  • 3.1.4 Vowel Harmony
  • 3.1.5 Deletion
  • 3.1.6 Nasalization

Chapter Four

Syllable and Tonal Processes

  • 4.0 Introduction
  • 4.1 The Syllable Structure of Yukuben
  • 4.1.1 Closed Syllable in Yukuben Language
  • 4.1.2 Open Syllable in Yukuben Language
  • 4.2 The Syllable in Yukuben
  • 4.2.1 Monosyllabic Words
  • 4.2.2 Disyllabic Words
  • 4.2.3 Trisyllabic Words
  • 4.2.4 Quadri-syllabic Words
  • 4.3 Tonal Processes in Yukuben
  • 4.4 Tonal Pattern in Yukuben
  • 4.5 Tonal Processes
  • 4.5.1 Tone Spreading

Chapter Five

Summary, Conclusion and Recommendation

  • 5.1 Summary
  • 5.2 Conclusion
  • 5.4 Recommendations
  • References

List of Abbreviations and Symbols

  • C Consonant
  • V Vowel
  • N Nasal
  • H High
  • M Mid
  • L Low
  • \ Environment
  • [ ] Square bracket
  • { } Brace notation
  • Ø Null element
  • Becomes
  • Place of occurrence
  • / / Slant lines
  • # ― Word initial position
  • # ―# Word medial position
  • ― # Word final position

Chapter One


1.0 General Background

This research focuses on the phonology of Yukuben, a language spoken by about 25,000 speakers in Sabongida Yukuben of Takum Local Government Area in the east of Taraba State in Nigeria, and North West Province, Menchum division, west of Furu-Awa, near Nigeria border in Cameroon. In the absence of a population census, a rough estimate would put their population at over 500,000.

Yukuben is however a generally accepted term (oxonomy) for an area, an ethnic group and a language located mainly at the eastern edge of Nigeria (but also in the neighbouring part of Cameroon). The name Yukuben was derived from Jukun (the language of Takum) which serves as lingua franca in Taraba. The speakers call themselves Yukuben, and the language is locally called Uhumkiji.

Today, the Yukuben is widely spread across such states as Kaduna, Yola etc. in Nigeria and also in North West regions in Cameroon. The speakers are also found in every part of the country, and in many African countries such as Niger, Cameroon, to mention a few.

(Source: Lewis M. Paul (ed) 2009, “Yukuben a language of Nigeria”)

1.1 Historical Background of Yukuben

According to oral tradition, the Yukubens originated from Iden in the north neighbouring Cameroon. A large part moved down to their present location on the plains at the foot of some hills namely Kichieni, Sabo, Iya, Kehensin, Oluko, Kalakir and Ito during the British colonization. Since Cameroon was colonized by the French, there was a boundary that separated both countries and the people.

Their oral history also has it that the Kuteb once tried to invade the Jukuns, but the Jukuns fought back and were victorious. Then, the Kuteb tried another plot on Yukuben sometime around 1992. Failingly, the Kuteb went back to fight the Jukun again, who eventually put an end to their will of invasion.

Oral tradition also has it that presently there is no king title in Takum since there is no proven superiority nor is there a conclusive agreement between the Jukun and Kuteb. King in Jukun is called Kuru and Okue in Kuteb. Though, history has it that the Jukuns once proposed the king be called ‘chief’ instead of both contradicting names, but the Kuteb claimed the name ‘chief’ was foreign and unacceptable.

However, oral tradition states that the Yukuben, being able to drive the Kuteb away afforded them the opportunity of owning their kingdom and having their king title as the “Udeng Uquen of Uhumkji land”.

1.2 Socio-Linguistic Profile

1.2.0 The Yukuben Speakers

The speakers of Yukuben call themselves Uhumkiji and call their language Yukuben (“spiritual being”). The origin of the name can be traced to a time during the slave trade, when a rebellious slave from Uhumkiji refused to work and was being tortured. Suddenly, bees emerged from nowhere, stung and scared everybody away. Following this scenario, slaves and slave traders gave the name Yukuben (“child of a witch”) to the slave and people from Uhumkiji generally.

Most Yukuben speakers, including the younger generations are multilingual; using Yukuben, Hausa, Kuteb, Jukun and in rear cases English. English language is the medium of instruction in schools, while Yukuben is used as a second language. The older generation are not quite as fluent in English as the younger generation, who through education; hold positions in the administration and the public service, including the police.

1.2.1 Population of the Yukubens

Going by the Joshua Project figure in 2010, the Yukuben speakers are estimated to be about 23,000 in Nigeria and 25,000 in all countries. My respondent on this language however argues that the Yukuben population will by now be more than five hundred thousand (500,000). This can be justified considering the fact that Yukuben speakers are spread across the country and most have settled in different regions.

Yukuben speakers are found in any part of the country where farming exists. This is based on the fact that most of the Yukubens are farmers with thousands of settlements in different parts of the country. For example, a large population of the Yukubens is found occupying a large area in Kaduna state, Adamawa state and many other Northern states in Nigeria. Even in the west; Yukubens are found in large population in states like Ondo, Osun etc. as farmers.

1.2.2 Yukuben Dialects and Nomenclature

There are three distinct dialect of Yukuben, recognized according to the main villages or towns where each dialect is spoken. The dialects are: Lisa, Shibun and Fete. Also, there are other languages spoken within the Sabongida Yukuben which belong to other ethnic groups. These languages are Lufu, Malam-she and Kapia, the three being Jukun languages, then Genuwa, Acha, kpampo and Lisam form Kuteb.

There are alternative names to Yukuben and they are: Ayikiben, Balaabe, Boritsu, Nyikobe, Nyikuben, Oohum, Uhumkiji, Uuhum, Uuhum-Gigi, and Gohum. These names are given to them by different ethnic groups in an attempt to address them. However, the two popular names with which they are always addressed as are Yukuben and Uhumkiji.

1.3 Socio-Cultural Profile

1.3.1 Religion

The Yukubens are Christians with cases of Traditional Religion which according to them is taken as part of the culture of the land. Since Christianity came later, the people believe that their Traditional Religion (Idol worshiping) should not be stopped. They still worship some idols which they believe protects them from witchcraft and burglary. Some of these idols are: Oohgum, Khima (god of thunder), Bahmbie etc.

During the British colonization, Christianity was introduced by missionaries and some of the people abandoned their original clan cults for a reformed form of Christianity (CRCN: Christianity Reform Church of Nigeria), and many other denominations.

It is their belief that all the Yukuben sons and daughter must be Christians of good faith, and should have no reason to change their religion. This is evident in the fact that no single mosque is found in Sabongida Yukuben. It is therefore likely that a Yukuben indigene may not hear or know any Muslim prayer or salutation in his or her lifetime . However, influence based on trade, marriage, education, and some other social factors between the Yukubens and Muslim Hausas, may in no time introduce Islam to the Yukubens.

1.3.2 Occupation

Except for the educated Yukubens, who occupy positions in administration, police and in educational sector, most Yukubens are farmers. This would account for the reason why they are found more in different settlements in all parts of the country.

The major crop is guinea-corn, which they call “Ihin”. They also grow crops such as peanuts, maize, rice, cassava, soya beans, palm, cocoa, cola nut and different varieties of vegetables. They also engage in hunting, carpentry, basketry, gourd carving etc.

1.3.3 Marriage

There is a formal family introduction of the male and female families. Then, the male or groom’s family present palm oil (in a calabash) and a fowl (cock) to the in-laws. Other gifts, usually bush meats like grass cutter may be presented.

After the approval by the bride’s family, a wedding date is chosen. On the wedding day, the groom’s family provides locally bade beer (‘Besen, also called ‘Burukutu’) mixed with honey. Then, the attendants drink, dance and celebrate.

1.3.4 Governance

The Yukubens have a king title. The king is called the ‘Udeng Uquen’ of Uhumkji land. At the level of the family, the husband is the head of each home. Each extended family also has a chief who is the head of compound.

1.3.5 Tradition and Festivals

Yukuben culture is highly enriched with traditional practices, which are often reflected in their various festivals at different times and seasons. The most common and celebrated festival among the Yukubens is the annual “Kukyib Festival” which is festival for appeasing the gods. This masquerade festival is considered the biggest celebration in the land.

Another big celebration is the circumcision. The festival is called “Kukyib Kamang” among them. This circumcision is only observed for the men as sign or a celebration that ushers the boys (between the age 10-15) into adulthood. Other celebrations include death, marriage, chieftaincy, coronation etc.

Yukubens’s mode of dressing is similar to that of Jukun. In the olden days, women use leaf to cover their private parts while men use bark of the tree, called ‘Isang’ among them. A Yukuben female child or woman kneels down to greet, the same way the Yoruba’s do, while a Yukuben male child or man will only squat while greeting.

Yukubens also have a number of cultural food like Tuwo (bunna). The major drink in the land is called Besen (Burukutu).

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This research has attempted to show a comprehensive description of how speech sound patterns or structures systematically combine to form words and utterances in Yukuben language. Informant method and the Ibadan 400 wordlist of lexical items were used in eliciting the data used in this study.

The research which comprises five chapters in all, has chapter one as the general introduction. It looked into the history of the Yukuben people, their socio-linguistic profile and the theoretical framework used in the research. In this chapter, it was discovered that most of the Yukubens are Christians with trace to Hausa as a speech community. It was also discovered that more than 50% of the entire population of Yukuben speakers live in diasporas. This is evident in the fact that most Yukuben indigenes are either farmers or missionaries.

The second chapter examined the phonological concepts in Yukuben. Yukuben has 30 consonants and 20 vowels. The vowels are divided into oral vowels, nasal vowel, long and short vowels. It was also observe in this chapter that Yukuben language is an SVO language, which operates both opened and closed syllables. The language also allows cluster.

The various phonological processes that are attested in Yukuben are the focus of the chapter three of this work. Yukuben operates the following phonological processes: Labialization, Nasalization, Hormoganic Assimilation, Palatalisation, Deletion and Vowel Harmony.

Yukuben language attests both level tones and contour tones as revealed in chapter four of this work. It has: the low tone, represented by an accent (ˋ), the high tone marked by an acute accent (ˊ) and a mid tone, which is either unmarked or marked with a macron (-). There are two contour tones in Yukuben language, they are rising tone, which is marked by the combination of low-high tones (ˇ), and a falling tone, marked by a combination of high-low tones (ˆ). The tones are placed on vowels or syllabic nasals to indicate syllabic peak in the language.

Finally, the scope of this study is limited based on the fact that the language is not yet codified. However, missionaries and linguists have made various attempts. This research will also serve as a good reference point for further work on the language.


This research cannot be said to be exhaustive on the phonology of Yukuben language, but it is assumed that it will serve as one of the reference points for further research on Yukuben Language.


Nigeria is a multilingual society with over 500 languages, which cut across the entire ethnic groups. During this research, it is observed that the northern part of Nigeria alone has over 50% of the number of languages spoken in Nigerian. However, 40% of those languages are regarded as minority languages that are either dead or almost replaced by Hausa language.

It is therefore important to state that most of the languages spoken in the north are been dominated by Hausa language. If this should continue, we would therefore envisage the northern part of Nigeria with Hausa only as the only surviving language.

Finally, it is recommended that more attention should be given to all the minority languages so as to ensure their continuous existence and to save them from being dominated by Hausa language.

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