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1.0    General Background

This chapter will examine the general background of the study and the speakers of the language with respects to their history and socio-cultural profile. Also, it introduces to us the genetic classification of Mernyang, scope and organization of the study, including the theoretical framework. Method of data collection and analysis, as well as the review of the chosen framework are also examined. This study focuses on the aspects of Mernyang Noun Phrase. Mernyang is a language spoken in Qua’anpan local government of Plateau state.

Therefore, the areas covered in this study are the sound, tonal and syllable inventories of the language, as well as some syntactic concepts such as phrase structure rules, basic word order, lexical categories and sentence types. Also, transformational processes, which are focusing, question formation and relativization are discussed.

1.1       Historical Background

Going by oral tradition, the Mernyang people originated from a man known as ‘Dafyar’. Dafyar and his sister, Nade, left Dala in Kano and settled in ‘Kopfubum’ near the present day Kofyar. Since then, Dafyar and his offspring, which were fourteen (14) in number have scattered all over Plateau State. One of the sons of Dafyar known as ‘Darep Soekoeto’ founded the ‘Kwa’ settlement where the speakers of Mernyang language are concentrated today. Since then, Darep had been giving birth to children who are also producing sons and daughters. The current total population of the speakers of Mernyang is 10,000 (Nigeria census, 2005).

The speakers are officially known as the pan people, including their language, but locally referred to as Mernyang.

The diagram below shows the geographical location of the Mernyang people on the map of Qua’anpan local government.

1.2       Socio-cultural profile

Going by oral tradition, the speakers of Mernyang language have their own unique way of life that are discussed below:

1.2.1  Marriage System

Following oral tradition, the marriage system of the people is stage by stage. At first, the boy will take two jars of ‘Brukutu’ to the girl’s parents in order to seek their hands in marriage. After this, the parents of the boy would be asked to supply the following items: goat, chicken, palm oil, salt, magi and benny seed. Once these items are accepted the boy is free to take his wife home.

The last stage involves conducting the marriage ceremony either in the church or mosque depending on the religions of the couple.

1.2.2  Festivals

Going by oral history, there are two major festivals observed among the speakers. The first one is known as the ‘pan’ day, which is done once in a year. During this event, a lot of social dances and musical presentations are done, among which are sual, koem, feer etc.

The second festival is observed by the districts. Each district has its peculiar way of celebrating its own. Also, a lot of social activities are put in place in order to entertain the audience.

1.2.3  Religion

Following oral tradition, idol worshipping was the only religion of the people in the past. But, today, Christianity and Islam are practised. There are few Christians and the existence of festival celebrations.

1.2.4  Occupation

Following oral tradition, the major occupation of Mernyang people is farming. They plant millet and guinea corn which are the main sources of their foods. However, others still engage in fishing and hunting as their occupations.

1.2.5  Mode of dressing

The speakers of Mernyang language are typically dressed in their native ‘agbada’ with the popular ‘aburo’ cap. Their women are mostly dressed in their ‘iro’ and ‘buba’ with ‘gele’

1.2.6  Food

Going by oral tradition, the favourite foods of the people are millet and guinea corn. Their common food is known as ‘chugum’ made from millet and guinea corn and grounded with other items. Their favourite drink is ‘brukutu’

1.2.7  Mode of kingship

The traditional system of rulership among the Mernyang is by monarchy. The choice of who becomes the next king is usually determined by election from the royal family. The king makers have to test the competence of the elected candidate and make him the next king who then becomes the paramount ruler of the land.

1.3       Genetic classification

Greenberg (1966:8) maintains that African languages belong to various families, and there are four main groups namely, Niger-Kordofanian, Nilo-sahara, Afro-Asiatic and khoisan.

The Mernyang language is classified under the Benue Congo, belonging to the group of plateau. This is represented below:


West Atlantic            Mande            Benue-Congo          Gur       Kwa     Adamawa


Jukunoid           Plateau                    Cross-river                   Bantoid


Plateau 1  Plateau 2   Plateau 3   Plateau 4   Plateau 5  Plateau 6  Plateau 7


Koro                Jaba               Kadara           Nandu                        central

Sub-group     sub-group      sub-group      sub-group      sub-group


Kadara                                Doka                           MERNYANG

Figure 1: Genetic classification of Mernyang


Fivaz, D and Scott, P.E. (1977). African languages: A genetic and decimalised classification for bibliographic and general reference.

1.4       Scope and organization of study

This research work centers on Mernyang Noun Phrase. The work is divided into five chapters.

The first chapter introduces the general background of the study as well as the history and socio-cultural profile of the people. Also, genetic classification of Mernyang, scope and organization of study, including the brief review of the chosen framework were discussed. The chapter also focuses on the method of data collection and analysis.

The second chapter examines some phonological concepts such as sound, tonal and syllable inventories of Mernyang. Also, it treats some syntactic concepts, which are phrase structure rules, basic word order, lexical categories and sentence types in Mernyang.

Chapter three of the work centres on the main aspect of the study, which is the Noun Phrase of Mernyang.

Chapter four addresses the transformational processes in Mernyang which are focusing, question formation and relativization.

The fifth chapter summarizes the work, gives some recommendations and concludes the study.

1.5       Theoretical framework

The “Government and Binding” framework has been chosen in this research work to analyse the noun phrase of Mernyang language. This is because it tries to capture similarities among different phrases by assigning to them the same structure. The Government and Binding theory model is examined in detail in section 1.9

1.6       Data collection

The data for this research work was collected using the informant method, with the use of Ibadan word list of 400 basic items as well as the frame technique. The frame technique consists of phrasal and sentential constructions in English, which were directly translated to Mernyang language.

Below are brief information about the informants used:

Informant 1

Name:                                     Mr. Amos Datugun

Home town and residence:  Kwa

Native language:                            Mernyang

Other languages:                  English and Hausa

Age:                                        40 years

Informant 2

Name:                                     Mr. Daman Naankam

Home town and residence:  Kwa

Native language:                            Mernyang

Other languages:                            English and Hausa

Age:                                        48 years

1.7       Data analysis

The analysis of the data obtained was based on the Ibadan word list of 400 basic items and the frame technique.

Therefore, the data will be analysed using the “Government and Binding” model i.e. the different structures of Noun Phrase and their transformations would be exemplified using the different sub-theories of GB.

1.8       Brief review of the Government and Binding Theory

Haegeman (1991:13) regarded Government and Binding theory as a theory of universal grammar, which is the system of all the principles that are common to all the languages. GB theory is otherwise known as principles and parameters theory. In GB theory, the grammar is a continuous interaction between components and sub-theories embodying different principles and parameters (Cook, 1988:31).

According to Cook (1988:30), “Government and Binding theory elaborates syntactic levels through the concept of movement”. Radford (1988) describes Government and Binding theory as a modular deductive theory of grammar that posits multiple levels pf representation related by a transformational rule called “move alpha(  )”.

Also, Sanusi (1996) says that, GB theory greatly eliminates proliferation of transformational rules, like: passive, affix-hopping, verb-number agreement, question formation, equi-NP deletion, raising, permutation, insertion etc.

Government and Binding theory operates through the seven modules of grammar, which include X-bar theory, theta theory, case theory, government theory, binding theory, bounding theory and control theory. These sub-theories, according to Horrocks (1987:29), “are interrelated that each of them can account for grammaticality and ungrammaticality of any sentence”.

The diagram below shows the interrelationship among the sub-theories of Government and Binding theory.








Move – α





Case theory

(case filter)                               S-STRUCTURE




PHONETIC FORM                         LOGICAL FORM

Figure 2: Modules of Grammar

(Adapted from Sells (1985) and Cook (1988)).

1.8.1  X-bar theory

According to Welbelbum (1995:18), “the X-bar theory is the central module of the principles and parameters approach in syntax”. The X-bar theory is designed to formalize the traditional notion called ‘head’ of a construction and to constrain the range of possible phrase structure rules. It is the part of grammar regulating the structure of a phrase (Haegeman, 1994).

The central core of X-bar theory is the recognition of the fact that (most) phrasal constituents have ‘heads’ upon which the other elements of the constituents in question are dependent (Horrocks, 1987:63).

As proposed by Chomsky (1970), the X-bar theory convention states that every maximal projection has a specifier of XP position with the intermediate bar projection serving as the XP’s core. The core consists of the head (X0) and the complement, which can be maximal projection in itself.



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