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ARGUMENT STRUCTURE OF THE URHOBO VERB: A MINIMALIST APPROACH

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CHAPTER ONE:  INTRODUCTION

  1. I Background of the Study

The minimalist program is an attempt to situate linguistic theory in the broader cognitive science. Minimalism makes a case for an economical and elegant theory of syntax, which eliminates the rigors of convoluted analysis of the process of generating and interpreting linguistic structures. It claims that grammar is minimally complex and that it is a perfect system of optimal design.

Minimalism, according to Asher (1994), seeks to develop an account of linguistic universals that on the one hand, will not be falsified by the actual diversity of languages and, on the other, will be sufficiently rich and explicit to account for the rapidity and uniformity of language learning. Within the theoretical framework of minimalist program, linguistic expressions are generated by optimally efficient derivations that must satisfy the conditions that hold on the interface levels, the only levels of linguistic representation.

Chomsky (2001) posits that the interface levels provide instruction to two types of performance system: – articulatory- perception, and conceptual – intentional. He maintains that all syntactic conditions must express properties of these levels, reflecting the interpretive requirements of languages and keeping to very restricted conceptual resources. The minimalist approach to linguistic theory is formulated and progressively developed on the theory of principles and parameters.

Consequently, it avoids and redefines many terms of the earlier theories. The new terms which drive minimalist syntax includes the following: Economy of derivation principle, checking principle, computational system, spell out principle and copy.

 

1.1.1    Economy of Derivation Principle

Economy of derivation is a principle which states that movements i.e. transformations only occur in order to match interpretable with un-interpretable features. Chomsky (1995) gives an example of an interpretable feature using the plural inflection on regular English nouns e.g. ‘dog’. The word dogs, according to Chomsky (1995), can only be used to refer to several dogs, not a single dog, and this inflection contributes to the meaning, making it interpretable. Economy of derivation, according to Chomsky (1995), is the principle that grammatical structure must exist for a purpose, i.e. the structure of a sentence should not be larger or more complex than required to satisfy constraints on grammaticality. The three economy principles that have been most written about in the literature thus far are SHORTEST MOVE, PROCRASTINATE AND GREED.

Shortest move, in the words of Napoli (1996:394), “implies that a constituent must move to the first position that is the hierarchically close position of the right kind in an upward direction of the right kind from its source position”. Shortest move prevents movement from passing over an intervening node, whether that intervening node is lexically filled or empty. Thus, a verb could not move directly to AGRS, its tense features would not be checked and the derivation would crash in PF (phonetic form). Violations of shortest move can result in ungrammaticality even without comparing alternative derivations. Based on this, shortest move is believed not always to be a global filter.

Procrastinate tells us to prefer derivation that holds off on movement until after the spell out. In other words, a movement that does not affect PF is preferred to movements that do affect PF. The spell out will determine whether the verb and adverb will be inside the VP node. This depends on when head-to-head movement takes place. If in PF the V will not be inside the VP, it will precede all constituents contained in the VP- including any adverb that modifies the verb. If the V moves up the tree after spell out, then PF will not be affected by the movement and the V will be inside the VP in PF. In that case, adverbs that modify the V might precede or follow it, depending on the type of adverb and what its location was at spell out. We find that in French, adverbs that modify       V follow it. e.g.

(1)     Marie se lave souvent les mains

Maire Refl washes often the hands

Marie washes her hands often

(se is a reflexive clitic) so, the V undergoes head movement before spell out.

(2)     *Marie se lave les mains   souvent

Maire Refl often the hand washes

Marie washes her hand often (the deep structure)

The head movement in French dictates that the subject and the adverb that modify the verb move together. But in English, adverbs that modify the verb can precede the V, and in fact, never come between the V and the following constituents that are inside the VP. e.g.

(3)     *Marie often washes her hand

The sentence above is ungrammatical in the English language because the adverb comes between the verb and the noun in the sentence.

The principle of Greed says that a constituent may not move to satisfy the needs of another constituent but only to satisfy its own needs. For example, a constituent can move in order to check off its own feature but not in order to make it possible for another constituent to check off their features.

 

1.1.2    Computational System

Computational system in the minimalist program refers to the capacity of grammar to generate from the lexical repertoire of the language a logical apparatus for communication. In other words, the computational system refers to the stock of lexical items, and the resultant meaning. Napoli (1996) shows the computational system in the following way….

Minimalism sees language as a system consisting the lexicon and a computational system (CS). The (CS) selects items from the lexicon and a determinable syntactic construction. Each formed construction is a structural description (SD) with two representations, namely the logical form LF and phonetic form (PF). Ouhalla (1999) adds that each derivation from the SD must satisfy all relevant co- occurrence restrictions. From figure 1, minimalism discards the terms deep structure and surface structure. Also, Chomsky does not regard deep structures as part of the conceptions which are virtually necessary.

1.1.3    Checking

The minimalist program has modified the assumption of the case assignment. This modification is the form of case checking. Minimalism does away with deep and surface structures entirely and retains only the logical and phonetic form levels. The proposal is that in the derivation process, features of the combining elements need to be checked. The checking is for two principal reasons: to ensure that the derivation is well formed at the phonetic level to be pronounceable, and account for the logical derivation of syntactic structures so that it can be meaningful (Mbah 2012). In other words, every un-interpretable feature is checked and every illogical construction is also prevented. An aspect of checking flows from spec-head relation. SPEC is a dummy node, which acts as a filter against elements being copied into or across it. For instance, it does not allow wh-elements to move into COMP positions already containing wh-heads. In other words, the wh-head adjusts to accommodate the element being copied into it, e.g

[Spec [comp Wh [s You saw whom] s] comp] spec?

1.1.4    Spellout

Radford (2006) claims that spellout is the point in the derivation process when part of the syntactic structure is sent to the phonological form to be mapped to the phonetic form for proper morphophonemic checking and rendering. Sometimes, as in the case of some irregular morphophonemic derivation, some constituents may have null or zero spellout. In other words, when a syntactic form has a null spellout, it is sent, for instance, the morphonemic result of put+ed is put. The ed has a null spellout the form of spellout is shown by Ejiofor (2010) citing

Luraghi and Claudic (2008) as follows:

1.1.5    Copy

Copy is a new term, which minimalism has redefined technically to mean trace. A trace is a ghost copy of a moved lexical item, which is hosted by all the nodes where the moving lexical item iterated. The assumption of minimalism is that lexical items are not extracted by being merely copied and dropped at the new site. Napoli (1996:390) states as follows:

In the new theory, there is no real movement per se. instead; one node is copied into another node. Hence, there are traces in this theory, but rather, a principle that tells us that in PF only the chain receive a phonetic matrix. The node(s) in the chain is phonetically empty.

The determination of argument structure has been shown to be a hard task for several reasons. Little argument exists with respect to (a) how many canonical usages a verb has, (b) which arguments are really required by a verb and (c) in what order they may be realized in sentences, (Gildea 2002). Riemsdijk and Williams (1986) assert that the study of selectional restrictions was an attempt to discover some empirical basis for the distinction between arguments and non- arguments. They further highlight the fact that the verb will have selectional restrictions on its argument and not on anything else. They posit that the theta theory within Government – Binding Theory is another attempt to account for the relation between verbs and their arguments. They note that the term θ role and thematic relation are synonyms. To designate different arguments of the verbs, terms such as agent, patient or (theme), and goal are commonly used. This terminology maintain a system of argument types, in that, for example, it implies that the agent argument of two different verbs have something in common (Riemsdijk and Williams 1986).

Napoli (1996), remarks that the study of predicate argument structure reveals properties relevant to the realization of arguments. Consequently, the study of predicate argument structure of lexical items must be checked for coherence with the final semantic structure of sentence. If they are consistent, the sentence is well formed and are said to converge. If they are not consistent, the sentences are not well formed and are said to crash. In general, these approaches rely on syntactic information and/or subcategorisation dictionaries for identifying the arguments for a verb in a sentence, and/or assume, as known, the structure types in terms of number and order of argument a verb can take. The main goal in these approaches is to identify the lexemes that are most likely to fill a given argument slot.

Some researchers (Grishman and Sterling, 1994; Laporta, 1999; Gomez, 2004) try to go beyond these lexemes and generalize the structures that are learned by analyzing the similarity between the words occurring across similar instances or by using lexical resources such as Levin (1993)’s verb classes and Mbah’s {2012} GB Syntax.

Many scholars have written much on Urhobo syntax but nothing has been written on the argument structure of the Urhobo verb using Minimalist Approach to the best of my knowledge. Some linguists such as Green and Igwe (1963), Ubahakwe (1976) Emenanjo (1975) (1978), Nwachukwu (1983), Uwalaka{1983} discuss transitivity in Igbo; Mbah {1999, 2006, 2012), and Ndiribe (2008) talk about verb compounding and thematic roles in Igbo; Anoka (1983) and Imo (2013) discuss co-occurrence restrictions in Igbo, while Aziza (1997), {2010} discusses verb compounding and tone marking in Urhobo, respectively.

The materials of these authors form the great pool from which we draw in the course of this research, since there is no much literature on Urhobo grammar on minimalism. This dearth of literature on this area necessitates this study.

1.1.6   The Urhobo language and its people

Linguistically, Urhobo is classified as a southwestern Edoid group of language spoken extensively in Delta state of Nigeria (Aziza 1998:21). The term “Urhobo” refers to both the language and the people. The Edoid family of language according to Elugbe (1995) falls within the Southwest Benue Congo group as shown in the daigramme below. It is one of Nigerian’s ten largest languages in terms of the number of native speakers. The majority of the people are found in the present local government area of Ughelli North, and South, Ethiop East, and West, Uvwe, Sapele, Udu, and some parts of Warri South Local Government Area of Delta State.

The immediate neighbors’ of the Urhobo are: Isoko on the South East, Ijaw on the South, and Isekiri on the West. The Bini (Edo) on the North and the Ukwani (Kwale) on the North East.

Urhobo is organized into twenty-three polity, which vary widely in size and population. As with most nationalities in Nigerian, each polity (clan) is identified by a distinct dialect of Urhobo and each has a distinct name, which in most cases is the name of the founder (Otite1982). The twenty-three geo- political divisions of Urhobo are Agbon, Evweni, Ephron Oto, Ogo Oghara, Okere, Okparegbe, Okpe, Olomu, Orogun, Idjere, Udu, Ughelli, Ughievwen, Uvie, Uwheru, and Mosogar; of these, Okpe and Uvwie are linguistically two distinct languages that are not mutually intelligible to the average Urhobo man, though both are still regarded as dialect of Urhobo language for social and political reasons. However, notwithstanding the dialectal variations evident in Urhobo, there is a central dialect which is the Agbarho dialect that is intelligible to all.

Moreover, as is characteristic of most oral history, the origin of Urhobo as a nationality is entangled in controversies. Otite (1984:292), highlights one of such claims by Rev. E. Arawore in his Unpublished “Tradition of history of Urhobo” which claims that, the Urhobo for the first time, came from Egypt, left some people on the Lake Chad, stopped briefly at Ile-Ife and settled permanently in Bini and eventually moved to the swamp of Niger- Delta.

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