A Phonological Analysis Of The Sound System Of Jaba Language

Project and Seminar Material for English Language

A Phonological Analysis Of The Sound System Of Jaba Language

Chapter One


1.1 Background to the Study

This study focuses on describing the sound system of Jaba. The research comes under the purview of phonology which is a branch of language study. Language is a major cultural phenomenon in the human society and therefore, an important regulator of individual consciousness and social interaction. It is vital in human existence that there is hardly any situation or human function where language is not required. Language as a means of communication is essential in all speech communication. There is power in language (speech). It is in recognition of this fact that Omachonu (2011) cited a philosopher, Daniel Webster who once remarked that, “If all my talents and power were to be taken away from me by some inscrutable providence, and I had my choice of keeping but one, I would unhesitatingly ask to be allowed to keep the power of speaking; for through it, I will quickly recover all the rest”

The above philosophically sums up the efficacy and indispensability of language. Language is the facilitator of human essence. All inventions and achievements ever recorded in human existence have their roots in language as a veritable instrument of thought and an indispensable channel or a tool for communication. Many scholars have given different definitions as to what language is. Prominent among these, is that which was put forward by Edward Sapir as quoted in Omachonu (2011) which states that “language is a purely human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, emotions and desires by means of a system of voluntarily produced symbols”. In other words, language is simply a system of communication.

Omachonu (2011) defines linguistics as “the scientific study of language(s)”. This short but precise definition will lead to the question of what does it mean to do a scientific study of language or study language scientifically? In attempting this question, one will have to consider the role(s) of science in the study of language. By the scientific study of language, it is meant that linguistics as a discipline seeks “to study language through investigations by means of controlled and empirically verifiable observations, and with reference to some general theory of language structure” (Lyons, 1998). Science, after all, is that body of knowledge obtained or acquired through observations and testing of facts. To say that linguistics is scientific, “it means that linguistic study, in a nutshell, is characterized by three major phenomena or principles; these are explicitness, systematicity and objectivity” (Omachonu, 2011)

Objectivity, in the opinion of Okolo and Ezikeojaku (2010), suggests that “the procedures for linguistic investigations as well as the results obtained from such investigations are verifiable and the techniques used are valid.” Omachonu (2011) is of the view that systematicity as a principle or phenomenon is inherently a characteristic of language. Every language operates three basic systems namely: a system of sounds, of structures, and a system of meaning. For instance, with regards to the system of sounds, one could not but notice that only particular sounds are used by speakers of any language, and these sounds can only be combined in particular ways. Also, there is a network of patterned structural relationship constituting the organization of language. Language as a whole therefore, is characterized as a system and preferably a hierarchically ordered arrangement of systems.

The latter, that is systematicity, is important to the study of this work. Since language is composed of systems of structures which could be studied at different levels, the researcher shall be looking at language study from the level of sound (phonetics and phonology) where there shall be a discussion of the syllable and its structures with examples from Jaba. The systematic study of any language can be carried out under three levels of analysis viz a viz the levels of sound (phonetics and phonology), form (morphology and syntax) and meaning (semantics and pragmatics)

From a layman point of view, phonetics and phonology are concerned with the distinctive sounds of a language(s) and how these sounds combine to form words. This study focuses on phonology as an aspect of language study with a central concern on the sound system of Jaba language.

Phonology as a subfield of linguistics is a broad base discipline that focuses on the various aspects of the sound system of a language. It is divided into phonemics, phonotactics and prosody. Phonemics studies the individual sounds of a language; phonotactics examines the permissible and non-permissible rules that govern the combinations of the individual sounds to form words; while prosody studies the supra-segmental aspects of sound such as tone, intonation, stress, syllables, etc. The aim of this study is to examine the soundpatterns of Jaba as a way of studying the sound system of the language. There is lack of sufficient data as regards the study language all because the languages of Southern Kaduna are undoubtedly minority languages and as such, understudied. Minority because they are each estimated to have fewer than one million native speakers. They are also considered to be endangered because of pressure from Hausa which for long has been the lingua franca in the north of the country. However locally, these languages remain in use.

According to Blench (1992), “Jaba belongs to the Platoid group found under the Benue-Congo sub family of the Niger-Congo shown in family/phylum. The language Jaba is seen as a means of communication in the market and also used for worshiping at the church. The Jaba language is spoken in towns like Pari, Kizachi, Makama, Kachia, Kwei, Chawai, Rahama Chawai etc.” (94) The speakers of this language, that is the Jaba people, are known for the preservation of their culture despite much influences and threats from the western world and the Hausa language respectively.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

In analyzing the linguistic features of a language, one could study the phonological, syntactic and semantic aspects of the language. The phonologicalstudy of a language may prove difficult to comprehend especially the sound system of Jaba because of lack of existing written records of the language. This research is an attempt to study the sound system of Jaba; so as to add to the existing written records of the language.

1.3 Scope and Delimitation

One cannot exhaust any area of language study in its entirety. This research will focus on the sound system of Jaba with emphasis on the syllable structure, tonology and some elements of prosody. The major focus will be to describe the sound system of the Kwei dialect of Jaba with the aim of adding to the existing written records of the language.

1.4 Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the study is to describe the sound system of Jaba with a view to describing the phonological features of the language, and adding to the existing written records of the language.

1.5 Significance of the Study

The significance of this study is based on the fact that Jaba is a little known indigenous minority language on the verge of extinction. This study draws attention to the language by bringing it to the fore of linguistic analysis or description. The Jaba speakers may find this research useful as it describes the structures of its phonology and this is useful for posterity.

Furthermore, studies in the Jaba language are limited. This research may be a stepping stone for those who will wish to delve into the study and the description of the language in terms of its phonological components. Essentially, any effort(s), no matter how little, contributed towards studying and developing any of the minority languages in Nigeria is in itself very significant, hence the need for this study.

1.6 Definition of Terms

Certain words or technical terms have been used which may not be self-explanatory to the readers who are outside the domains of this field of study.

These are as follows:

1. Syllabification:

It refers to the division of a word into syllables.

2. Family Tree:

This is used to refer to a diagrammatic representation of language on a tree which shows the source from which they have descended or evolved.

3. Syllabic Consonants:

This refers to the ability of clusters of consonants to stand alone and form a syllable without the help of a vowel.

4. Onset:

This refers to the initial consonant of a syllable.

5. Peak:

This is also called nucleus. It refers to the part of a syllable which carries the vowel sound.

6. Coda:

This refers to the final segment in a syllable which is equally a consonant. It is also called closure.

7. Constraints:

These refer to the non-permissible rules that govern the combination of sound in a language.

8. Prosody:

This refers to that branch of phonology which studies transcend beyond the study of individual sound. It deals with features such as stress, intonation, rhythm, syllable, tone etc.

9. Diacritics:

These refer to marks or symbols used for detailed information on pronunciation, thus showing that there is variation in the sound.

1.7 Methodology

This study is a descriptive analysis of the sound system of Jaba. The data was elicited from live utterances of interviewed Kwei Jaba speakers living within the researcher’s environment, coupled with introspective evidences from the researcher as a native speaker. To elicit the data, a questionnaire of English words was given to the Jaba speakers and they were required to translate it to Jaba. This elicited data for the analysis of the tone, consonant and vowel, and other elements of prosody.

1.7.1 Area of Study

Finding native speakers of Jaba in Abuja is never an arduous task as the FCT shares boundary with the Southern Kaduna people. The study areas are situated within Kwali and Gwagwalada Area Councils respectively. Jaba speakers living within these communities constituted the study population for this study.

1.7.2 Research Design and Technique

This study adopts the data elicitation method of data gathering because it provides the researcher with the opportunity to sample a wide audience using a research instrumentation that meets the limited time frame within which the study is conducted. Also, this method enabled the researcher to interact with Jaba speakers and also apply introspection to elicit the required information from data gathered.

1.7.3 Instrumentation and Sources of Data

This study adopts Primary data from Jaba speakers residing in the FCT within Kwali and Gwagwala Area Councils. The instruments for data collection are the questionnaire, tape recorder, interview and introspective evidence.

1.7.4 Methods of Data Collection

The method used for gathering data is the giving out of questionnaires to Jaba informants which elicited relevant information for the study. A total of 50 questionnaires was share out and retrieved after the informants filled them up instantly. The informants were also interviewed to elicit relevant information from using introspective evidence. The interviews are tape recorded for further use during the analysis of data.

1.7.5 Methods of Data Analysis

The questionnaires retrieved and the recorded interviews were transcribed out and the phonological evidences from these sources were analyzed using introspective linguistic knowledge and evidences in their analysis as they relate to the syllabic structure of Jaba.

Chapter Four

Summary and Conclusion

4.0 Summary

Findings from this study have been able to present a study of the syllable as an aspect of supra-segmental phonology which was defined as the basic unit of speech. The research also was able to discuss phonetics and phonology as two sides to a coin at the level of language study (the level of sound). It equally traced the syllable structure in languages where the syllable structure was defined as the combination sequence of syllabic segments which a language permits. The study exposed the reader to the background of Jaba as a people and as a language. It equally noted that the different varieties that exist in Jabamakes it complex to completely describe its phonological behaviour as these varieties lack mutual intelligibility. The research successfully studied the syllable structures of the Kwei dialect of Jaba where it was stated thatJaba has a ‘(consonant) – vowel (consonant) + Tone’ type of syllable structure. The study then gave a summary description of the syllable structure of Jaba which among other things constitutes the findings of the research.

4.1 Conclusion

The researcher has been able to describe the phonology of Jaba especially the syllable structures of the language; thus, the research aim has been achieved.The researcher recommends that other researches should be carried out on other aspects of the phonology of Jaba language so as to compare the language with other indigenous languages, so as to see the level of their relationships and / or differences. Also other areas of Jaba like grammar, syntax and morphology should equally be explored so as to provide written literatures for the language.

4.2 Recommendations

A minority language like Jaba with over 100,000 speakers deserves the attention of linguists to preserve it in the face of posterity. This is pertinent especially in the face of Hausa language which threatens other languages in the north like in Kaduna. A study of the phonology of Jaba is one way to preserve the language as it now has a written document describing its phonology.

However, a lot still needs to be done to savage the language from extinction if researchers will explore other aspects of the language like the grammar where the rules guiding its constituent constructions can be studied and documented, if this is not yet done. Also, this researcher recommends that other aspects of the Jaba phonology which are not discussed here be considered by future researchers so as to give the language a comprehensive phonological study. Finally, an inclusion of some of the minority languages like Jaba in the school curriculum of the Kaduna State government may not be altogether a dangerous idea.

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