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This study,ASPECTS OF PHONOLOGY OF ATSAM LANGUAGE contains concise information that will serve as a framework or guide for your project work. The project study is well-researched for academic purposes and are usually provided in complete chapters with adequate References.




Table of contents


 1.1  Introduction

  • Historical Background:

1.2.2 Population Structure and Distribution

1.2.3 Urban and Rural Development and Patterns of Human Settlement

1.3    Geographical Background of the study area.

1.4    Socio-Cultural Profile:

1.5    Genetic Classification of the Atsam Language

1.6    Scope and Organisation of the Study

1.7    Aim of the study

1.8    Theoretical framework

1.9     Methodology

1.10    Data collection and Data Analysis

1.10.1 Review Of The Chosen Frame Work

1.10.2      The Structure Of The Generative Phonology  Underlying Representation  Phonological Rules  Surface Representation


2.1        Introduction

2.2      Phonology defined

2.2.1   Phonemes and Allophones

2.3      The Sound Inventory of Atsam

2.3.1   Consonants of Atsam  The description and distribution of the consonants of Atsam

2.3.2      Vowels of Atsam            The description and distribution of Atsam vowels

2.4      Tone inventory of Atsam

2.5      Syllable Inventory of Atsam

2.6      Distinctive features

2.6.1    Justification of the Features Used

2.6.2     Justification of the Features Used


3.1      Introduction

3.2      Phonological processes defined

3.2.1   Assimilation/assimilatory processes Nasalization Labialization Palatalization

3.2.2      Deletion

3.2.3      Insertion


4.1     Introduction

4.2       Defining a tone language

4.2.1  Atsam tone typology

4.2.2  Co-occurrence of tones in Atsam

4.2.3   Function of tones in Atsam

4.2.4   Tonological Processes            Tone Spreading            Tone Stability            Tone Floating

4.3       The Syllable Structure of Atsam

4.3.1   Syllable Typology in Atsam

4.3.2   Syllable Structure in Atsam


5.1  Introduction

5.2   Summary

5.3  Findings/Observations

5.4  Recommendation

5.5  Conclusion



1.1       General Introduction

Language can be defined in so many ways as there are many scholars in the study of language who have looked into it in different ways. It is a known fact that every human on earth knows at least one language, spoken or signed which has given rise to the need to study and understand these languages. Linguistics, therefore, has been defined as the science of language, including the sounds, words, and grammar rules. It should be noted that words in languages are finite because they are primarily what make up sentences, but sentences are not finite. It is this creative aspect of human language (i.e. the ability of man to use words to create sentences) that sets it apart from animal language, which is essentially responses to stimuli (Fromkin & Rodman undated).The rules of a language, also called grammar, are learned as one acquires a language. These rules include phonology, the sound system which is our area of emphasis, morphology, the structure of words, syntax, the combination of words into sentences, semantics, the way in which sounds and meanings are related, and the lexicon, or mental dictionary of words.

There are no less than 5,000 languages (probably a few more thousands) in the world right now and linguists have discovered that these languages are more alike than different from each other. There are universal concepts and properties that are shared by all languages and these principles are contained in the Universal Grammar, which forms the basis of all possible human languages.

Nigeria is the most complex country in Africa, linguistically, and one of the most complex in the world. Crozier & Blench (1992) comment on this confusion as being basically about status and nomenclature which remains rife with inaccessibility of many minority languages is an obstacle to research. There are about 521 languages in Nigeria today which have been estimated and catalogued. This number includes 510 living languages, two (2) second languages without native speakers and nine (9) extinct languages. In some areas of Nigeria, ethnic groups speak more than one language. The major languages spoken in Nigeria represent three major families of African languages – that is the Niger-Congo languages, Afro-Asiatic and the Nilo-Saharan.

There are 57 languages spoken as first languages in Kaduna State. Gbari and Hausa are major languages; most other languages are small and endangered minority languages, due to the influence of Hausa. The language of study Atsam is a language spoken by the Atsam people of southern Kaduna specifically in Kauru LGA, Kaduna State.

  • Historical Background

Kaduna State forms a portion of the country’s cultural diversity because representatives of the six major ethnic groups in the country are found in the state. Apart from this fact, there are also present over twenty other ethnic minority groups, each with its language and art or religion different from the other.

The works of art and pottery (e.g. the “Nok Terracotta”) found in the southern parts of Kaduna State suggest that it is a major cultural centre. Among the major ethnic groups are Kamuku, Gwari, Kadara in the west, Hausa and Kurama to the north and Northeast. “Nerzit” is now used to describe the Jaba, Kaje, Koro, Kamanton, Kataf, Morwa and Chawai (study group) instead of the derogatory term “southern Zaria people”. Also, the term “Hausawa” is used to describe the people of Igabi, ikara, Giwa and Makarti LGAs, which include a large proportion of rural dwellers who are strictly “Maguzawas.”

In the north, the Hausa and some immigrants from the southern states practise Islam and majority of the people in the southern LGAs profess Christianity. The major Muslim festivals are the “Salah” celebrations of “ldeIfitri” and “ldeIkabir”, while Christmas, New Year and Easter are observed by the Christians. Two traditional festivals of significance are the “Tukham” and “Afan” in Jaba and Jama’a LGAs respectively. Prominent among the traditional arts, are leather works, pottery and in-dig-pit dyeing with Zaria as the major centre.

1.2.2 Population Structure and Distribution: The 2006 census provisional result puts the population of Kaduna State at 6,066,562. Although majorities live and depend on the rural areas, about a third of the state’s population is located in the two major urban centres of Kaduna and Zaria.

However, except in the northwestern quadrant, the rural population concentration is moderate, reaching a hight of over 500 persons per sq. km. in Kaduna/Zaria and the neighbouring villages 350 in Jaba, Igabi and Giwa and 200 in Ikara LGAs. Despite the provisional nature of the census results, observations of movements of young able bodied male labourers in large numbers, from rural villages to towns during the dry season and back to rural agriculture fields during the wet season, suggest a sizeable seasonal labour force migration in the state.

The seasonal labour migration has no effect on agricultural labour demands in the rural traditional setting. Indeed, some of these seasonal migrants come to town to learn specific trade or acquire special training and eventually go back to establish in the rural areas as skilled workers (e.g. masons, technicians, tractor drivers, carpenters, motor mechanics, etc). Another major feature of the State’s population structure is the near 1:1 male/female ratio, not just for the state as a whole, but even in all the LGAs.

The effects of this may be helpful to the future social and economic development of the rural sector especially in the agro-allied rural industries. The large number of secondary school leavers, polytechnic and university graduates provides a growing skilled labour force for the growing industries in the state.

1.2.3 Urban and Rural Development and Patterns of Human Settlement: The pattern of human settlement throughout the state is tied to the historical, political and socioeconomic forces the area has been subjected to, from the pre-colonial to post colonial period. Prior to the advent of the British occupation, the basic unit of human settlement was the extended family compound.

As compounds grew, the needs for security and defence led to a higher hierarchy of settlements called “Garuruka” (towns). These towns were protected by walls with a titled/administrative head appointed by higher political authority, the “Sarki”. This pattern of settlement dominated the Hausawa cultural groups to the north (i.e. Giwa, Igabi, Zaria, Sabon Gari, Kudan, Makarfi and parts of lkara LGAs).

Higher settlement hierarchy than the rural extended family compounds in other parts of the state was delayed, until the development of social amenities and infrastructure such as motor and rail road, Christian Missionary establishments and recently, produce buyers, markets and administrative reorganizations gave impetus (settlements such as Birnin Gwari, Kuda’a, Kachia, Zango Kataf, KwoiSambam Kagoma and Saminaka are good examples). It is the impact of these historical and cultural developments on settlement pattern and probably because of the nature of the rural economy (agrarian) that created the dominance of the two urban centres (i.e. Zaria and Kaduna) in the state.

1.3       Geographical Background of the study area.

The study area is Kauru Local Government Area of Kaduna State of Nigeria. The state is the successor to the old Northern Region of Nigeria, which had its capital at Kaduna. In 1967 this was split up into six states, one of which was the North-Central State, whose name was changed to Kaduna State in 1976. This was further divided in 1987, losing the area now part of Katsina State. Under the governance of Kaduna State is the ancient city of Zaria. Kaduna State is located between longitude 10031’23’’North and 7026’25’’ east. And the capital is Kaduna city. Figure 1 shows the location of Kaduna State on the map of Nigeria.

Fig 1 Map of Nigeria showing Kaduna State. (Source: File:Nigeria location map.svg)

There are two marked seasons in the State, the Dry windy season and the Rainy (wet) Seasons. The wet season is usually from April through October with great variations as you move northwards.  On the average, the state enjoys a rainy season of about five (5) months.  There is heavy rainfall in the southern parts of the state like Kafanchan and northern parts like in Zaria with an average rainfall of about 1016mm. Kaduna State extends from the tropical grassland known as Guinea Savannah to the Sudan Savannah in the North.  The grassland is a vast region covering the southern part of the state to about Latitude 1100’’ North of the equator.  The prevailing vegetation of tall grass and big trees are of economic importance during both the wet and dry seasons.

The state is divided into 23 Local Government Areas. Kauru is one of the 23 Local Government Areas of Kaduna State with its headquarters in Kauru. Kauru Local government has an area of 2,810 km² and a population of 170,008 (2006 census). See Fig 2. (Map of Kaduna state showing senatorial districts)

Fig 2 Map of Kaduna State showing senatorial districts and local Government Areas (Source: www.kadunastate.org.ng)

Latitude, Longitude, and Elevation
Kauru local government of Kaduna State is located at 9°52’11″N latitude and  7°57’35″E longitude and an average elevation of 706 meters.

The time zone for Kachia is Africa/Lagos.

1.4      Socio-Cultural Profile:

The following could be observed among the Atsams. The language Atsam is seen as a means of communication in the market and also used for worshiping at the church. The atsam language is spoken in towns like Pari, Kizachi, Makama, Chawai, Rahama Chawai etc. the speakers of this language that is the atsam/chawai are known for the preservation of their culture despite much influence and threat from the western world. For instance, among these people, a child is not allowed to greet an elderly person in the western manner or way.

The Atsam people are known to be hospitable, helpful, industrious and peace loving. When one knocks on the door of and Atsam/Chawai person at any hour of the day, one is assured of a warm welcome. This is why they are usually regarded as the most peace loving people of Kaduna State. Another aspect of their culture is their ability to be able to dance. This has been passed down from generation to generation. They are very good dancers and in fact they are the best in the whole of Kaduna State.

The Atsam people are predominantly farmers i.e. about 80% of the population though there are few who engage in other income generating ventures. Among the crops of cultural importance is the finger Millet popularly known as ‘tamba’, ‘acha’ or just millet. Just few of them engage in trading, fishing, craft making and bee keeping which also are income generating ventures for the community. Religion is a vital part of  life of the people and to this end; there are two major religions in the chiefdom namely Christianity and Islam. However, some atsam people are adherents of traditional religion popularly called ‘dodo’.

Among the people of Atsam, the marriage institution is contracted in stages such as: step I is when the dowry is paid and then followed by the second step which is the marriage ceremony proper. On the wedding day, the groom presents gift items like palm oil, groundnut oil, ram etc to the bride’s family after which he is permitted to take his bride home. Names are given to children on the very day they are born but celebrations are postponed to the convenience of the parents.

1.5      Genetic Classification of the Atsam Language:

The people of Southern Kaduna are also referred to as Nerzit. While they speak many different languages and see themselves as separate peoples, their unity as a group is also quite apparent to them. Hausa, an Afro-Asiatic, Chadic language, is the lingua franca of Northern Nigeria, and this holds true all over Kaduna State where over 57 languages are spoken. Benue-Congo languages, particularly those of the Plateau variety, are the mother tongues spoken by the indigenes. Of these, some of the languages are as mentioned below: Fantsuam (Kafanchan), Gong (Kagoma), Gworok (Kagoro), Hyam (Jaba), Jju (Kaje), Koro, Tsam (Chawai) the study language and Tyap (Kataf).

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 (1992:94), Atsam belongs to the Platoid group found under the Benue-Congo sub family of the Niger-Congo shown in family/phylum. This is the tree structure (fig 3) below.

1.6       Scope and Organisation of the Study

The whole of the Atsam language as in how the words are used in the construction of sentences is in review. However, till date, no linguistic research has been undertaken on Atsam language in general and the influence of Hausa language on the study language in particular. As Atsam might be facing gradual death, linguistic research on Atsam becomes inevitable.

This thesis is divided into four chapters. The first chapter gives the general background to the study. This chapter also provides information on the socio-cultural profile of the Atsam speakers, genetic classification of the language under study and the methodology adopted for the study.

Chapter two discusses the basic phonological concepts of Atsam. We also examine the consonant and vowel inventories of the language. An adept study of the syllable structure of Atsam is presented.

In chapter three, we look at the interaction of sounds both within and across words or phrases. Phonological and syllable structure processes like assimilation, deletion and insertion are discussed with data from Atsam.

The last chapter deals with discussion as it gives an overview of the language. It also takes into consideration the ecological models of Haugen (1972) and Edwards (1992) to understand the status of this minority language. It also gives further findings, summary and conclusion of the study.

  • Aim of the study

The aim of this study is to discover the sounds that are attested in Atsam language. It is also our view to examine the status of these sounds with respect to their use in the language. Also, the interaction of these segments and how they are used to arrive at meaningful utterances also. All these will be done so as to make a significant linguistic generalization on the language.

A second aspect we shall be considering is the set of rules which specify exactly how each sound of the words are pronounced and how these sounds affect and are affected by the sounds around them. This aspect is important for learning the language.

1.8       Theoretical framework:

Noam Chomsky and Morris Halle propoounded the Generative School of Phonology in the late 1950’s. Its basic premises are that phonological structure reflects the linguistic competence of the individual native speaker to compute a phonetic representation for the potentially infinite number of sentences generated by the syntactic component of grammar and that this competence can  be investigated in a serious scientific fashion. The generative point of view has become dominant in the field of linguistics and has had varying degrees of influence on other cognitive sciences (Kenstowicz undated).

In several ways, the development of generative phonology (and generative grammar more generally) was born of a disciplinary rupture, and brought with it rifts in the field. Proponents of generative grammar (ironically, in light of the similar views of the earlier generation of linguists noted above) believed that generative grammar was the first truly scientific account of language, the first to develop something that could be called a theory (Goldsmith & Laks undated).

1.9     Methodology

This section discusses the methods that will be used for this study. Atsam, does not have a script. So the only source of data was primary data collected by intensive field work. For the descriptive part, a questionnaire based on the 400 word list was used. The speakers were from Lagos and Ibadan so that the representative and comparison sample of the study language could be achieved. Also recording is by involving the informants (speaker) emotionally so that they stopped being conscious. The data will then be analysed, in view of the theoretical perspectives on minority language and the various socio-linguistic ecological parameters stated in the section above.

The following methods were used to acquire data for the study:

  • Key-informant Interview
  • Structured interviews.

Key-informant Interview: the informants are usually people who have a good knowledge of the language in question and wishes to talk. One of the easiest ways to find an informant is to engage in general discussion with the members of the community and or the speakers of the language of study so as to determine if the person(s) has a good enough knowledge. Another way is to use one key informant to locate another one. In the case of this study, adult native speakers of atsam were engaged.

Structured Interviews:

This entails administration of well formed questions which have the same meaning to the interviewer and respondent. The main aim for this was to acquire as much information on the language and peopleas possible.

1.10      Data collection and Data Analysis:

Since words of the study language were primarily used in this work, then we shall explain the premises under which data were collected.

The first premise is that Linguistics is a descriptive rather than a prescriptive discipline and as such, the objective is to describe the systematic nature of the language as used by the members of the particular speech communities rather than to pass (prescriptive) judgments about how well they speak or how they should or should not be using their language.

A second related premise is that every naturally used language variety is systematic, with regular rules and restrictions at the lexical, phonological and grammatical level (Rickford 2002).

The third premise of linguistics which we think is important is that in trying to understand and describe the system of a language as the case is in the study of the Atsam language, primary attention should be given to speech rather than writing. The main reason for emphasizing this is that the written language omits valuable information about the pronunciation or sound system of a language.

The fourth and final premise is that although languages are always systematic variation among their speakers is absolutely normal.

1.10.1 Review of the chosen frame work

As stated earlier, the appropriate theoretical framework chosen for this long essay is generative phonology propounded by Noam Chomsky and Morris Halle in their book, “The sound pattern of English” published in 1968. Generative phonology constitutes part of the linguistic theory which is called “Transformational generative grammar (T.G)” formulated by Chomsky (1957) in order to address the inadequacies in the discovery procedure of the classical taxonomic phonemics. Goldsmith (1995:25) states that, the theory of generative phonology proposed by Chomsky and Halle in “The Sound Pattern of English” (1968, henceforth SPE) made a radical departure from classical phonemics.

Hyman (1975) describes generative phonology as the description of how phonological rules can convert the phonological representation into phonetic representation and to capture the distinctive sounds in contrast in a language. In essence, the main idea behind the theory of generative phonology is in the discovery of phonological rules that will map phonological representation on phonetic or surface representation (Oyebade, 1998). This explains why generative phonology is often considered as a phonological theory that is ruled-based.

1.10.2      The Structure of Generative Phonology

Generative phonology has a structure and this was postulated by the major proponents of the theory (Chomsky and Halle). Hyman (1975:80) submits that Chomsky and Halle propose that highly abstract systematic phonetic representations be postulated; from which rules derive the various surface realizations. Likewise, Oyebade (2008:12) observes that generative phonology assumes three very crucial components: the underlying representation, the phonetic representation and the rules which link the two together. In his own scholarly submission, Goldsmith (1995:26) says that classical generative phonology is deeply entrenched in the metaphor of grammar in which as a production system that gives rise to a conception of grammar in which modules as well as principle are typically stated as a rule, that is, a procedure that takes a level of representation as well: a module with its set of principles takes a level of representation as the output. Between these two levels of representation defined by the grammar is an intermediate stage in the derivation of output from the input.

Thus, the input level of phonological representation is the abstract phonemic representation, which is the basis for any derivation, the output level of phonological representation is the surface phonetic level. The intermediate level, therefore, is the phonological rule that derives the output level of representation (i.e the surface phonetic level) from the input level of representation (i.e the phonetic level). This can be illustrated formally below:

Phonetic representation (surface form)

Ü  Phonological rule (intermediate level)  Þ   Phonemic representation (underlying form)  Underlying Representation

Underlying representation is an abstract representation existing in the linguistic competence of the native speaker. At this level, items with invariant meaning have identical realization (Oyebade, 2008:12). Also, Schane (1973) opines that underlying representation is a level in which alternants  are represented identically. In their own view, Gusssenhoven and Jacobs (1998:48) claim that the underlying form expresses the phonological unity of the morpheme’s variants. Thus, the underlying is a non-predictable form which serves as the base from which the surface level (i.e. variants) is derived with the aid of phonological rules.  Phonological Rules

Oyebade (2008:15) claims that, “phonological rules are directives which map underlying forms on surface forms”. He stresses further that these rules show the derivational sequence or path of an item in its journey from the underlying level to the phonetic level. In a similar vein, Botha (1971:60-61) describes phonological rules as rules of the phonological component of a grammar which constitute the formalized representations of the phonological processes of a language. These rules apply to phonological surface structures, deriving from them those aspects of phonetic representations of a language. In essence, phonological rules apply to underlying representations and convert them to other representations (Schane, 1973:93).  Surface Representation

Kenstowicz cited in Oyebade (2008:20), says that the phonetic representation, otherwise called surface representation, indicates “how the lexical item is to be realized in speech”. Schane (1973) states that, it is the derived representations which directly tell us the different phonetic manifestations of a morpheme. The surface phonetic representation is predictable as a result of the fact that the pronunciation of segments varies with the phonological contexts in which they occur. On this premise, it is obvious that the phonetic representation is similar to what is realized in actual speech; and it is the level of representation derived from the underlying level by the application of phonological rules.


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