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In this project, I shall be examining one of the levels of linguistics that deals with the arrangement of words to form sentence, that is SYNTAX, and my focus shall be on ‘Verb Phrase’ an aspect, which can be referred to as the apex of syntax, with examples from Mernyang language to buttress and establish my facts.

By definition, Yusuf O. (1997:1) says:

Syntax is the aspect of grammar, which deals with how words are put together to form sentences and how such sentences are interpreted in natural languages.

In the same vein, Horrocks (1987) defines syntax as the study of how sentences are formed and understood.

From the above definitions, it can be gathered and submitted that syntax as a level of linguistics is concerned with the study of how words are strung together in an agreeable way to form acceptable and grammatical sentence in a language.

Like I have earlier said, I shall be looking at the Verb Phrase with examples, from Mernyang language as a language of study in this research.


Oral history have it that the Mernyang people are descendant of Kofyar people who lived on top of the hills in Qua’anpan Local Government Area of Plateau States.

Mernyang people were said to leave the top the hill and come down to the ground because of their desire to cultivate and toil the land, which is certainly not possible on the hill. As a result of the height of the hill from the ground and the hardship faced by the people when climbing the hills, some decided to stayed back and make an abode for themselves on the plane ground, while those that have the strength to climb the hills still took the top of the hill as their residence. Despite this, the Kofyar and the Mernyang people still see themselves as one and their bond of unity wax stronger everyday.

Presently, of all the villages and communities under Qua’anpan Local Government Area, Mernyang standout to be the dominant group, and they are known as ‘Kwa chiefdom’ by the neighbouring villages, while they officially call themselves Pan people.

2005 National census states that the community has 10,000 people living within it, and they have about 95,000 speakers of the language scattered round the nooks and crannies of Plateau (Jos) State.


This has to do with the relationship between the society and culture. It is also concern with the people’s ways of life like; Marriage, Occupation, Religion, Belief, Kingship, Festivals, Dressings.

1.2.1        Occupation

The major and predominant occupation of the Mernyang people (speakers) is agriculture. That is farming and animal rearing while the women only lend hand during harvesting period. They plant crops like; millet, guinea corn, maize, tubers etc and rear animals such as; cow, sheep and fowls.

The people also engaged in hunting and trading especially during the dry season aside farming and animal rearing which are well and properly practiced during the raining season.

1.2.2        Belief

Just like the Yorubas, the Kwa people (Mernyang speakers) also belief in the reincarnation. They belief the ghost of their ancestor did not depart from them after death, but still very much around them.

In honouring and acknowledging this fact, a dance festival called SualBeets is usually organized at the middle of each year to celebrate the presence of their dead ancestor with them. This dance (SualBeet) is usually in the company of masquerades who are not regarded as human beings, but spirit of their living dead.

1.2.3        Religion

Before the coming of the white missionaries, the Mernyang people are Idol worshippers and they have different shrines where they worship their numerous deities. However, the arrival of the catholic missionaries in the first decade of the 20th century altered a paid visit to the people with the aim of Christianizing them. Also, the people’s encounter with the Hausas and Tivs during hunting expedition and trading licensed Islamic religion in the community.

Today Kwa chiefdom and its people are known to be a community of both Muslims and Christians, with the Muslims taking the lead.

1.2.4        Kingship and Leadership

The process of ruling in Kwa Chiefdom could be described as Monarchial in that new king is appointed after the death of another one, and democratic in that the enthronement of a new king after the death of another is not based on mere appointment but on election and voting by the members of the community.

After the death of one king, interested and rightful people from the next royal family (i.e. family which is the next to produce the successor to the throne) are made to come out publicly and declare their interest to the entire community, while the people of the community will thereafter vote for the one they think is responsible and capable for the task.

After this, the kingmaker will interview and assess the person presented to them by the members of the community in order to be sure and ascertain of his competence to deal, control and lead the community. If in the course of their (i.e. the kingmaker) assessment, they discovered any shortcomings in the person presented to them, they returned him back to the people and ask them (member of the community) to vote and present another person for the post (i.e. throne). However, if no shortcoming is found in him, the kingmaker will consult their oracle, carryout all the necessary rites on him and thereafter announce him as the king of the community.

The village head is called ‘LON GWA’ which means the king of lawa chiefdom

1.2.5        Marriage:

Marriage in Kwa community is very simple and straightforward. As usual the man and the woman met, the man proposed and when they had both reach an agreement, they went for the marriage ceremonies and celebration.

Before the woman is given to the man, the following steps are taken:

Firstly, the man who wants to marry will go in the company of his friends to his in-laws house to present his interest in their daughter and also to seek their approval. When going, the man will take along with him a jar of their local gin ‘brukutu’ (properly called ‘i’skolo’ among the people in the community). In response to the man’s proposal, parent of the bride will ask their daughter if she would take the man as her husband. If the girl admits, they ask her to collect the jar of ‘brukutu’ brought by the man as a confirmation of her interest to marry him, and if she doesn’t, the jar of the brukutu will be rejected and the man will be sent away.

After this, the next step will be, asking the man to bring his parent so that the two families will both dialogue and choose the day for their traditional wedding.

On the day of the traditional wedding, items such as: A keg of palm oil, a bag of salt, 3 cartons of magi cube, 5 goats and 2 rams, 10 fowls and a basket of Benny seed (their local seed meal) will be brought by the groom’s family for the bride price

After the payment of the bride price and every other requirement, the groom’s family will take their wife home. They may thereafter go for religious wedding if they so wish and if they don’t, they may not go. What is important is that, traditional wedding has given them the right to be husband and wife.

The above listed items are the common items demanded by the bride’s parent for the bride price in the community. However, some families may want more or less of those items.

1.2.6        Food:

As I have earlier said, the Mernyang speakers (Kwa people) are predominantly farmers and they grow plant such as millet, maize, Benny seed, tuber etc, which are all used in making their meals.

Some of their favourite meals include:

CHUGUM: It is made form millet or guinea corn, grounded with groundnuts, melon, fish and mixed with palm oil and meat cut into pieces. It is made into a thick paste, folded in corn leaves and cooked. The meal to them is nourishing, lasting and easy to convey on a very long journey.

Other menu (food) items of the people are: Bala, ishang, gung-gugut, muos, maar, hwan, jituon, chagar etc.

1.2.7        Festivals

Among many festivals that the community observed, the most important and most celebrated are the ‘Shikaam’ and the ‘Sual-beet’

Shikaam Mernyang as it is called by the people is a festival that is staged by both the Muslims and the Christians in the community in thanksgiving to God for his mercies and blessing over them. The festival brings the sons and daughters of the community from all walks of life together and thus, provide an avenue for them to rob mind together on what could be done to ensure peace, unity, growth and development in their community. The festival holds on every December of each year.

Sual-beet on the other hand is staged and embraced by the traditional worshippers. The festival is used to celebrate and pay homage to their dead father (heroes) who according to them do not leave them but still looking after them and prospering their ways after death. The festival holds in the middle of the year (June/July) at the market square of the community. The festival is done in the company of masquerades who are regarded as the living dead.

1.2.8        Dressing

The peculiar mode of dressing of Kwa people (Mernyang speakers) is similar to that of the Hausas. The men dressed in ‘babarija’ or ‘dansiki’ with a cap, while the woman dressed in ‘iro’ and ‘buba’, tying the ‘iro’ around their waist in such a manner that it will leave the calf of their leg uncovered.


According to Greenberg (1996:129), African languages are classified into four (4): Afro-Asiatic, Niger-Kordofanian, Nilo Sahara and Khoisan, while each has sub-families. Niger Kordofanian is the largest with two sub-families namely Niger Congo and Niger Kordofanian

The diagram below shows the sub-family where Mernyang language belongs.



Ancient Egytian          Semitic            Chadic Berber             Cushitic


North Chadic              West Chadic               East Chadic                 South Chadic


A2                                            A3 (Angas-Gerka)

Angas proper

1                                                          2


Cakfem-mushere         Jorto                Kofyar             Miship             Mwagharul      Ngas


Bwal         Doemak           Goram        Jepal                Kofyar       Kwalla       MERNYANG

Figure 1: Genetic classification of Mernyang

(Adapted from Code-kwl


Mernyang is located at Kwa district of Qua’anpan local government area of Plateau state. They line in the southern part of plateau state, north of Nazarawa State and southeast of Kaduna State.

Mernyang is along Lafia/Jos road. From Jos, it is 200km and 120km from Lafia (Nazarawa State).


This project work aimed at examining the Verb Phrase of Mernyang language.

Other aspects that are probed into in this work includes; the phonological concept of the language. For easy, proper and convenient assessment, the work is divided into five chapters with each chapter having its own peculiarity.

Chapter one introduced the language of study with respect to its historical background, socio-cultural profile and genetic classification. It also covers the research methodology as well as the review of literatures.

Chapter two deals with the phonological concept of the language and the basic syntactic concept peculiar to the language.

Chapter three introduced and analysed the research work, which is the Verb Phrase of the language.

Chapter four examines the major transformational process that has to do Verb Phrase, which is predicate cleft.

The summary of all the chapters, conclusion, recommendation and list of references make-up chapter five.

1.6              DATA COLLECTION

The method employed in collecting important linguistics information about the language of study is the use of the Ibadan 400 word-list of basic items and frame techniques method (i.e. construction of simple phrases and sentences in English language)

The word list helps to obtain both phonetic and phonemic consonants and vowel system of the language, while the frame technique helps to get the basic syntactic concepts, which the word list cannot provide in the language. All these are made possible through the help of bilingual informant who are also native speaker of Mernyang language.

Below are the profiles of my language helpers.


NAME:                       Mr. Amos Datugun

AGE:                           40 years

SEX:                           Male

OCCUPATION:         Nurse

LANGUAGE:                        Mernyang

HOME-TOWN:          Kwa



NAME:                       Mr. Michael Loetan

AGE:                           50 years

SEX:                           Male

OCCUPATION:         Civil servant

LANGUAGE:                        Mernyang

HOME-TOWN:          Kwa


1.7              DATA ANALYSIS

In order to achieve the goal set before this project work, X-bar theory, which is a module/sub-category of government and binding theory is employed in the analysis of the data collected through frame technique method from my informant.

The reason for using frame techniques is because this research work is based on syntax.

At this juncture, it is important to point out that all the information on the historical background and socio-cultural profile of the language and its speakers as contained in this project are provided (narrated) by one of the village elders in the community in person of Alh. Mahama Dapele.


Like I have earlier mentioned, the theoretical framework adopted in the analysis of data in this research work is Government and Binding theory.

This theory which operates through the modules of grammar, x-bar, case, control, binding, bounding, government and movement theories was propounded by Chomsky in (1981).

Haegeman (1994:3) defined Government and Binding theory as a theory of universal grammar, which is the system of all principles that are common to all human languages. GB theory is a radical revision of Chomsky’s earlier theory in (1981) and was later revised in the minimalist programme of (1993).

Government and binding theory is a theory of syntax in the tradition of transformational grammar, and it is a more advanced theory of universal grammar. GB theory greatly eliminates proliferation of transformational rules like, affix hopping, passivization, question formation, equi-NP deletion, verb number, insertion, agreement etc.

In the current Government and Binding framework, distinction is made between the two types of categories we have;

i.                    Lexical category

ii.                  Functional category

Lexical category in any human language includes, noun, verb, adjective and preposition, while functional categories includes elements like; complementizer, tense, inflectional, determiner focus, agreement etc.

Syntactically, while the lexical categories projects up to a single bar level and terminate there, thus making endless reason possible with the aid of elements like complements and modifiers, the functional categories project up to the specifier of XP level thus sealing off the projection. A specifier is an element that closes off a category projection.

Lexical categories are represented with the aid of tree diagrams below:

NP       =          N” (XP)           VP   =   V”                 AP       =          A”

Spec                N             Spec        V’                        Spec            A’

Det                  N0                                    V0                                  Det           A0

The                  boy                              dance                           very          well

PP  =    P”

Spec P’



Functional categories are also represented with the aid of diagram below:


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Disclaimer: This PDF Material Content is Developed by the copyright owner to Serve as a RESEARCH GUIDE for Students to Conduct Academic Research.

You are allowed to use the original PDF Research Material Guide you will receive in the following ways:

1. As a source for additional understanding of the project topic.

2. As a source for ideas for you own academic research work (if properly referenced).

3. For PROPER paraphrasing ( see your school definition of plagiarism and acceptable paraphrase).

4. Direct citing ( if referenced properly).

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