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[icon type=”icon-pencil”]: ASPECTS OF UNEME VERB PHRASE
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Table of contents

List of Abbreviation and Symbols



1.0     Introduction

1.1     General Background

1.2     Historical Background

1.3     Sociolinguistic Profile

1.3.1  Marriage System

1.3.2  Festivals

1.3.3  Religion

1.3.4  Occupation

1.4     Genetic Classification of Uneme

1.5     Scope and Organization of the study

1.6     Theoretical framework

1.7     Data Collection

1.8     Data Analysis

1.9     Brief Review of G.B theory

1.9.1  The X-bar theory (X-theory)

1.9.2  The theta theory (Θ – Theory)

1.9.3  The Case theory

1.9.4  The Government theory

1.9.5  The Bounding theory

1.9.6  The Binding theory

1.9.7  The Control theory



2.0     Introduction

2.1     The Sound System of Uneme Language

2.1.1  Vowels

2.1.2  Consonants

2.2     Tonal Inventory of Uneme Language

2.3     Basic Syntactic Concepts

2.3.1  Phrase Structure Rules

2.3.2  Lexical Categories

2.3.3  Phrasal Categories in Uneme

2.3.4 Basic Word Order in Uneme

2.3.5  Sentence Types


VERB PHRASE IN UNEME                                               

3.0     Introduction

3.1     Verb Phrase and Head Parameter

3.1.1  Verb Phrase and Head Parameter in Uneme

3.2     Structure of the Verb Phrase

3.2.1  The Structure of the Uneme Verb Phrase

3.3     Class of Verb

3.3.1  Transitive Verbs in Uneme

3.3.2  Intransitive Verbs in Uneme

3.4     Verbs with Sentential Complements

3.4.1  Verbs with Sentential Complements in Uneme

3.5     Verb Serialization

3.5.1  Serial Verbs in Uneme

3.6     Aspects/Aspectual Markers in Uneme



4.0     Introduction

4.1     Transformational Components

4.2     Focusing or Predicate Cleft in Uneme



5.0     Introduction

5.1     Summary

5.2     Recommendation

5.3     Conclusion



Adv P                   –        Adjectival Phrase

Adv P                   –        Adverbial Phrase

C                 –        Complimentizer

CP              –        Complimentizer Phrase

FP               –        Focus Phrase

INFL           –        Inflection

IP                –        Inflectional Phrase

Move α       –        Move Alpha

NOM          –        Nominal

NP              –        Noun Phrase

PRO            –        Pronominal

PP               –        Prepositional Phrase

Spec            –        Specifier




  • Introduction

This chapter introduces the language of study, the people speaking the language and their geographical location. It also introduces us to the background of the speakers of the language which includes their culture and beliefs. Again in the chapter, a brief explanation of the scope of the study, method of Data collection, Genetic classification and the theoretical framework used in carrying out the research on the language are discussed.

1.1     General Background.

This study focuses on the Unèmè Verb Phrase. Unèmè is a language spoken in three (3) local government areas of Edo State. The three local government areas are: Etsako, Akokò-Edo and Agbasilo respectively (Hakeem 2003). The Unèmè people are about 6,000 in population (Crotzier and Blench, 1992).

 1.2     Historical Background.

According to Hakeem (2003), the history of Unèmè people can be traced to the core area of the Nok cultural zone located in the North-East of the Níger-Benue confluence. This area According to oral tradition represents the ancestral homeland of not only Unèmè people but also of related sub-ethníc groups which have come to be described as the Edoid.

The Unèmè people is said to have arrived in Benin area in the Era of King Ogiso Ere. Their first place of settlement was on the outskirts of Benin City. In the tenth century, the Unèmè people were encouraged to move to Benin City because of their utilitarian metal crafts but were later forced to move out of Benin City because they were taken as slaves. This led to their relocation from Benin City to their present place of settlement (Hakeem 2003).

The map of Unèmè communities is shown below. 

1.3     Sociolinguistic Profile.

The following could be observed among the Unèmès:

The language (Unèmè) is seen as a means of communication in the market, relaxation centres and among the elders. It is rare to see the adult and the children speak the language proficiently. The children who are old enough to start going to school do not speak Unèmè as proficiently as their parents do, which shows that the language is gradually fading out.

The Unèmè people like many other tribes have their own unique ways of life that are discussed below.

1.3.1. Marriage System.

According to an oral tradition, the Unèmè people have a unique marriage system which is a process carried out by the parents of a boy. They would pay agreed money on the girl they have chosen for their son to marry. This is done during their childhood state. When the children are grown up, an appropriate date for the marriage ceremony will be set but now civilization has changed everything.

1.3.2. Festivals.

Unèmè people are blessed with festivals. Some of the festivals are connected with their religious beliefs while others are connected with their socio-economic belief. Among such festivals connected with religious beliefs is Ogun festival. This festival is associated with the veneration and propitiation of the god of Iron (Ogun) and it is usually organized by allocating spots in the community to the propitiation of Ogun by the iron smelting societies. The Unèmè festival connected with socio-economic activities is the Old and New yam Festivals.

The Old yam festival is organized between May and June of every year. Unlike the Old yam festival, the New yam festival is being organized to mark the beginning of the harvest of New Yam in every Unèmè community.

1.3.3  Religion

In Unèmè, like any other place in Nigeria, the three (3) major religions are practiced, that is, Christianity, Islam and Traditional religions. In these communities, Christians attend churches, Muslims attend mosques and the traditionalists worship in shrines. The traditionalists have their belief in Osanobula or Oghene which is the Supreme Being (Hakeem 2003).

1.3.4 Occupation.

The major occupation of the Unèmè people is iron smelting. According to my informant, the blacksmiths smelt the iron-ore mostly at night because of the high temperature generated in the process of smelting. Some of their products are: chains, hoes, cutlasses, iron weapons, etc.

Another aspect of Unèmè occupation is farming. The people engage mostly in the commercial system of farming. Some of their farm produce are: yam, cocoa, rice, cassava, etc. The farming and blacksmithing occupations have brought a great development to Unèmè people and their communities.

1.4     Genetic Classification of Unèmè.

Ruhlen (1987:1) states that “the idea that groups of languages that share certain systematic resemblances have inherited these similarities from a common origin is the bases for genetic classifications”.

Genetic classification could be inform of a tree diagram showing he origin of a language and how it is genetically related to other languages. Unèmè language belongs to the group of Edoid under the Benue-Congo group of Niger-Congo language family. This is represented below:

Adapted from Newmann, 1978)



West Atlantic








Adamawa Eastern






















North-Central Edoid























1.5     Scope and Organization of the Study.

This long essay describes the Unèmè Verb Phrase. It examines the structure of verb phrase in Unèmè language and the transformational processes involving the structure of verb phrase. This processes and exemplifications are presented and analyzed using the model known as the Government and Binding theory. This research is divided into five chapters.

Chapter one presents the general background of the people, their historical background and where they can be found. Also, in chapter one, the socio-cultural profile of the people and the genetic classification of the language are examined. The chapter also gives a brief discussion of the theoretical framework adopted in the work and explains the mode of data collection and analysis.

Chapter two discusses in brief the sounds, tone and syllable inventory of the Unèmè language. In this chapter, the basic syntactic concepts that are germane to this area of study are also discussed.

In chapter three, attention is focused on the Unèmè verb phrase which is the target of this research. Chapter four addresses the transformational processes involving verb phrases in Unèmè language.

Chapter five summarizes the work, gives some recommendations and concludes the study.

1.6.    Theoretical Framework.

Many theories have been propounded for analyzing language data in order to present a systematic account of the linguistic knowledge or competence a native speaker of a language has. Such theories are used as theoretical framework for analyzing language data. They include: Traditional or classical grammar, structural or taxonomic grammar, systemic grammar, transformational generative grammar, government and binding theory and minimalist programme. The framework adopted for analyzing Unèmè language data is government and binding theory.

The “Government and Binding” framework has been chosen because it shows the similarities among the different phrases. It tries to capture these similarities by assigning to them the same structure rather than the case of transformational generative grammar. The government and binding theory model is examined in detail in section 1.9.

1.7     Data Collection.

The data for the research work was collected through the help of a language helper (informant method) with the use of the “Ibadan list of 400 basic items” (400 word list). It also used the frame technique. Frame technique is a template that shows different structural positions which a word can occur in. This goes beyond looking at words in isolation. It was used to get the relevant information that can not be obtained by means of lexical items only.

The informant that kindly participated in the development of this research is “Miss Asekhame Blessing”. Miss Blessing, a fashion designer, is a native of Uzanu in Edo state of Nigeria but resides at ‘Niger River Basin’, Ilorin, Kwara state of Nigeria.

 1.8.    Data Analysis.

Data analysis is based on the forms produced by the native speaker and it is implemented in order to discover what obtains in the language under study.

Therefore, the data in this work will be analyzed using the “Government and Binding” model, i.e. the different types of verb phrases and their transformations would be exemplified using different sub-theories of GB.

1.9.    Brief Review of the Government and Binding Theory.

This theory explains the universal grammar as introduced by Chomsky (1981). According to Cook (1988:30), government and binding theory elaborates syntactic levels through the concept of movement.

Radford (1988:401) describes government and binding theory as a modular deductive theory of grammar that posits multiple levels of representation related by a transformation rule called “move alpha (α)”. The modules of grammar, otherwise known as sub-theories, operate in a modular form, i.e. they are interconnected. The sub-theories of government and binding framework are: X-bar theory, Theta theory, Case theory, Government theory, Binding theory, Bounding theory and Control theory.

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





MOVEMENT (Bounding)












θ – Theory

(θ – Criterion)



Case theory

(Case filter)



Adapted from Sells (1985) and Cook (1988)

1.9.1  The X-Bar Theory (X-theory)

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. The heart of the system is the recognition that the lexical categories Noun, Verb, Adjective, Preposition are the heads and project to their phrasal nodes NP, VP, AP and PP respectively.














As proposed in Chomsky (1986) x-bar convention states that every maximal projection has a specifier of XP positions 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.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         In transformational generative grammar (TG), the phrase structure rule is:


But under Government and Binding theory, the phrase structure rule goes thus:

X       →      theory

CP     →      spec

CI      →      CI IP

IP      →      spec Ii

II        →      I VP

I        →      Tns Agr

VP     →      spec VI

VI          →      V (NP) (PP).

In the above schemata, XII which is equal to XP is the maximal projection representing noun, verb, adjective or preposition each of which functions as the head of its own phrase. The lexical head can project to the intermediate category (XI) through the addition of a complement. The X (x-single bar) together with the specifier projects further to XII (x-double bar) as in:



































“The owner of the house”.

In the tree diagram above, the N (owner) heads the phrase and PI is its complement which defines the head.

1.9.2  The Theta Theory (Θ – Theory)

This theory is one of the modules adopted by the government and binding framework which is concerned with the functional relationship between a predicate and its arguments. A predicate is said to assign a theta role to each of its arguments. Horrocks (1987:102) in his analysis says that thematic roles are also known as semantic roles, such as agent, patient (or theme), benefactive, etc.

Argument in this context refers to the noun phrase which is of two types, that is the subject and object noun phrases. The object is further divided into two parts, which are the direct and indirect object e.g.

Írùכbe dì okò kì émikè

Írùכbe buy car for émikè

Írùכbe bought a car for émikè

Írùכbe          dì       okò    kì       Émikè

↓                ↓                 ↓

Subject                         Direct object    Indirect object

Thematic roles are the roles assigned to arguments. The common theta roles are: Agent, Patient, Goal, Locative, Source, Experiencer, Instrument and Benefactive.

  • Agent: this is the investigator of an action e.g.

Oshónè ri owiha

Oshónè eat yam

Oshónè ate yam

‘Oshónè’ is the investigator of the action.

  • Patient: An entity undergoing the effect of an action e.g.

Írùכbe vie

Írùכbe weep

írùכbe wept

‘Írùכbe’ is the one undergoing the effect.

  • Instrument: this is the means by which something comes about.

Osókè ri úkpàrì règbí bóólù

Oshókè with leg hit ball

Oshókè hit the ball with her leg

‘her leg’ in this case serves as a means by which ‘Oshókè’ hit the ball.

  • Locative: the place where something has occurred or takes place e.g.

Eðra me agbàkányán o wénánohúwà

Father my work in higher school

My father works in the university.

‘in the university’ is the location.

  • Goal: the entity towards which something moves e.g.

émikè hí émínírékèkémì kì írùכbe

Émikè give pen to írùכbe

Émikè gave the pen to írùכbe

‘to írùכbe’ is the Goal in this case.

  • Source: an entity from which something moves e.g.

óní oba kì yèzé ní London

The king has return from London

The king has returned from London

‘from London’ is the source.

  • Experiencer: an entity benefiting from a state or the witness of an action e.g.

Osókè orahie

Oshókè elect

Oshókè was elected

‘Oshókè’ is the experiencer.

  • Benefactive: entity benefiting from an action e.g.

Osónè agbàkányán ní ónómòtsé

Oshónè work for man

Oshónè works for the man

‘the man’ is the benefactive.

 1.9.3  The Case Theory.

Case theory deals with the assignment of particular ‘cases’ to noun phrases in the sentence according to their position in the D-structure or S-structure (Cook, 1988:33).

According to Yusuf (1986) “case theory has to do primarily with the forms that NPs take in different syntactic environment”.

In Government and Binding theory, cases are said to be assigned under “Government”. The common case types are:

Nominative – assigned by tensed Infl

Accusative – assigned by verbs

Oblique – assigned by prepositions.

Adjacency is also one of the requirements of case assignment. This to say that case assignees and assigners must be contiguous with no barrier blocking the discharge of the (abstract) case. An example from Hausa and Yoruba languages with suffice illustrate the prose description. Example in Hausa:

  • Táhírù taa ziyarai Lukman a gídá

Táhírù AGR visit Lukman at house

Táhírù visited Lukman at home

‘Táhírù’ being the subject gets NOM case from INFL, which is [+ tense] ziyarci assign ACC case to Lukman and “a” (a preposition) assigns OBL case to gida.

In Yoruba.                                                                                                         (b) Adé n je isu ní ilé

Adé ASP eat yam at house

“Adé is eating yam at house”

Where Adé being the subject gets NOM case from INFL, V (je) assigns ACC case to isu” and P (ní) assigns OBL case to ‘ile’.

1.9.4. The Government Theory.

According to Malmjaer (1991:495), Government theory deals with the relationship between a head and its complement and defines relationship in other sub theories. It is a long known fact of grammar that a verb governs its object (where the object could be NP, PP).

Thus verb like see, kill, draw, explain, etc. govern their NP objects. Also where a preposition is found often, an NP, follows, giving rise to the statement that a preposition it’s NP object. Only lexical categories can be governors (Chomsky 1986: 162).










The configuration for government is given below:

In the above schemata, a c- commands B and other nodes dominated by XP. In the same vein, a C-commands B. Band a can assign case to each other.

However, a can assign case to only B and not X and Y, with this description it is obvious that crucial to the concept of “government” is the issue of c-commands is the relationship between an element and those other elements is “superior” to” but does not dominate.

The concept of adjacency is also one of the requirements for government. Adjacency simply means contiguity. This implies that there must be no blocking between a governor and its governee.

Government theory is extended through the principle of proper government which non-lexical categories do not.

1.9.5. The Bounding Theory.

Bounding theory is concerned with the limitations to be placed on the displacement of constituents by the movement transformational rule schema move a (move- alpha). According to Horrocks (1987), ‘it is a way of constraining the movement rule (move alpha).’

Movement rule within the GB theory is assumed to involve the following:

  1. An extraction site
  2. A landing site.
  • An intervening gap


Landing site


Intervening gap


Extraction site

Bounding theory is also the relationship of movement between S-structure and D-structure then restricted word that can be moved, where it can be moved from, where it can be move to and how far it can be moved, that is to say it limits the distance where an item may be moved. The basic idea, according to cook (1996:258) to be captured by bounding theory is that no movement can move an element too far. For example, in the sentence below:

D­ – structure :      ‘I have six pencils’

S – structure:        (i) How many pencils have you?

(ii) How many have you pencil?

As can be observed in the above example, the NP ‘pencil’ has crossed more than one boundary node, that is to say ‘have’ and ‘you’ which makes the second sentence in S- structure to be ungrammatical.

1.9.6. The Binding Theory.

Malmjaer (1991:46) describes the binding theory as a theory that is concerned with the syntactic domains in which NPs can or cannot be construed as “co- referential”.

Binding theory is concerned with connections among noun phrase that have to do with such semantic properties as dependence of reference, including the connection between a pronoun and its antecedent (Chomsky, 1988:52). NPs that are arguments are assumed to fall in to one of the following categories.

  • (ii) Pronominals.  (iii) Referential expressions.

(i)      Anaphors: – this may be defined as NPs whose reference is necessarily determined sentence-internally and which cannot have independent reference. Reciprocal and reflexive pronouns fall into this class. E.g.

Bola shot herself

‘herself’ must be taken as referring back to the individual denoted by “Bola”.

(ii)     Pronominal: – these are NPs that lack specific lexical content and have only the features person, number, gender and case, unlike anaphors, they may either refer to individuals independently or co-refer to individuals already named in a given sentence e.g.

Kola says he is a genius

The pronominal ‘he’ may refer to the individual denoted by the name kola or to some other individual not mentioned in the sentence.

(iii)    Referential Expressions: – R-expression (the customary abbreviation for referential expression), as the name implies are noun phrases with lexical heads which potentially refer to something. Co-reference is excluded here. Thus, in the example below Taiwo and Kehinde must denote two different persons.

Taiwo says kehinde should be sent out.

Even where the same name is used twice, the most natural interpretation is one where two different people are involved. E.g.

‘kanyinsola says kanyinsola should be punished.’

It is crucial to note that, in special circumstances like this, the second R-expression has to be taken as a kind of pronominal.

1.9.7. The Control Theory.

Horrocks (1987:31) in his description of the control theory says that it is one in which verbs take infinitival complements that have null subjects understood as being co-referential with an NP in the main clauses. The subject of these infinitival clauses which is not overtly represented has been presented by PRO. The curious properties of PRO can be explained by saying it must only occur when it is not governed. Chomsky (1986:183) describes this notion simply as “PRO is ungoverned”.

Consequently, PRO can never receive case (since it has no governor). Let us consider the following examples to shed more light on the theory.

“Mary promised her mother that she would drop the luggage”.

Mary promised her mother [PRO to drop the luggage].

The PRO here is controlled by ‘Mary’ which is the subject of the main clause.

I want to see Idrees.

I want [PRO to see Idrees].

Here, the PRO is controlled by the subject of the main clause “I”. Wale persuaded his wife that she should drop the divorce suit.

Wale persuaded his wife [PRO to drop the dìvorce suit].

The PRO in this context is controlled by the object of the main clause i.e. “the dìvorce suit”.


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