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Topic Description

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1.1   Background to the Study

Communication is the exchange of thoughts, ideas and information by the use of speech, signals, writing etc. Humans communicate by using codes which are vehicles by which meanings are transmitted. Language is one of the most important codes used in transmitting meaning.

The art of communication is as old as the existence of man himself: for man is a social being who, from time to time, develops means and the need to communicate with both living and non-living creatures around him. The early man, gave his successors an inkling into the kind of life he lived through cave paintings, drawings etc. The Nsibidi dating back  400 to 1400ce, indigenous to Cross riverians, Igbo, Efik, Ekoi, made use of pictures, drawings to communicate ideas; these symbols were public, while those for sacred duties were kept secret.

In the ancient world, according to Bushby (2013), dating back to 4,000 years, communication was characterized by the use of oral language, audial symbols such as grunts and guttural sounds. The transition from guttural sounds to oral language was as a result of expansion in man’s activities from just hunting to agricultural activities. Over the years, due to population boom, expansion and migration, codes of communication have transcended the realm of guttural sounds to language which is more complex. The above notion is best captured in the words of Anshen (1957:341) that “the mind of man can proceed from the common speech of daily life to the language of metaphysics, religion, art, science, physics, mathematics, law or logic.” The vast array of activities in which the present day man is involved in has given rise to this multiplicity of codes.

A code is a system for using signs. This system is based on rules and conventions shared by those who use the code. They come in different forms such as dress code, musical notes, language, colour, body language, signs etc. They are classified into verbal codes (oral or written); non-verbal codes (body language, sign language etc); and para-linguistics (pitch, stress, rhythm, tone, etc).

Codes cut across all aspects of  human life such as the ASCII code used in data communication, genetic code centred around  the DNA which organisms are made of; Gödel code whose central idea is to map mathematical notation, colour code, military codes, Braille for blind people, sign language for the deaf etc.

In ethnographic studies, codes of communication are, to a large extent, determined and influenced by culture, and governed by rules. Hudson (1980) gives a diagrammatic representation of the relationship between codes and culture.

The interpretation of the above is that: the relationship between language to culture is that of a part to a whole; some parts are contained in culture, while some parts are not contained.

These codes can be formal or informal, of high or low prestige; and the rules for using them vary, depending on the context. The choice of a code can be based on the communicative ability it is able to perform or in the words of Agbedo (2007a:51), as “soft, better able to express emotions and feelings…more capable of expressing concepts and ideas.” For example, the pidgin, defined by Bynon (1990) as “codes assumed to have originated in typically multilingual contexts, such as may exist among seamen of mixed origin on board ship or in the course of contact between crews and local populations along the great sea routes.” Another typical example is the whistling language created for the purpose of shepherding activities in mountainous regions, and used because it covers a longer distance than the use of spoken language in such areas. Examples of regions where whistling is used include: United States, Brazil, Vietnam, France, Nigeria, Greece, Cameroon, Spain etc. When people choose to communicate in one way instead of another, and use a form of communication pattern, they convey important social meanings, intentions, values and attitudes.

Over time, due to dynamism, the patterns of these linguistic codes change and become difficult to decipher, and dialects evolve into languages. A typical example is the English language, known as Anglo-Saxon when it started as a Germanic dialect, which has now evolved into a different language from German. Even the present day English is characterized by so many dialects such that one wonders if the Jamaican English is a variety of English or a language on its own. In Nigeria, with reference to the Igbo language in Nkamigbo (2010), Igbo is grouped into five clusters of which the Riverine Igbo and the Niger Igbo belong to the cluster. The speakers of these clusters are from Ika, Agbor, Asaba, Ibusa, Ikwerre, Diobu, Cross-River, and Itu-Mbaizo. These clusters have undergone so much change that some of the speakers are of the belief that they do not speak the Igbo language and that their so called dialects should be recognized as separate languages.

For codes to change or develop, three things are needed, according to Delaney (2013): (1) a group of people living in close proximity to each other (2) this group living in isolation (either geographically or socially) from other groups (3) the passage of time.

Looking at this from the perspective of this study, Ázụ́ọ́fū used by natives of Nomeh community, has evolved over the years as a result of the need to perform the communicative function of secrecy. Ázụ́ọ́fū exists alongside the Enugu satellite dialect of Waawa / Northern Igbo dialect cluster spoken in the community. Its use is subject to context, rules, and norms of Nomeh speech community.


1.2   Statement of the Problem

Over time, speech communities develop dialects or language that is different due to communication isolation. Some of these dialects or language become standard languages, while some are endangered as a result of factors amongst which are: ‘few speakers’, ‘language loyalty’, and “one that has not been, or is poorly described”, as cited in Agbedo (2007a).They may also be described as ‘dying language’ which, according to  Agbedo (2007a:55),  is: “the type not used in any serious function and its relevance lies only in the fact that there are some people who have knowledge of the language and who are using it and less since there are fewer interlocutors to use it.”

In reference to this study, the above stated factors such as: lack of language loyalty, endangerment, poor description, few speakers etc, affect most codes of communication, which are in the nature of Ázụ́ọ́fū. A typical example is the Ᾱba language used by Awka men, which has been described by Chinwuba (2013) as ‘terminally endangered’.

1.3   Statement of Objective

Research studies carried out in languages such as English, French, Spanish,   Arabic, etc show that a lot of work has been done on the existence of codes which have the nature of Ázụ́ọ́fū,(see Chinwuba(2013), Blench (2006)) and their works show that words from these codes are finding their way to the mainstream language. Examples such as the word ‘bloke’ used in mainstream English, is said to have originated from Shelta, spoken by Irish travellers in Ireland (which is used to exclude outsiders from conversations done by travellers).

So, this study aims at bringing to fore knowledge, the existence of a code which exists alongside the medium of communication used in Nomeh community, whose form and nature can also be compared to that found in Ireland, Awka etc. In addition, this study seeks to:

  • Look at the nature of Ázụ́ọ́fū and the communicative purpose that led to its creation.
  • Study the change that this code has undergone over the years.
  • Know if the communicative purpose of the code has been affected by the change it has undergone.
  • Ascertain the positive /negative attitude of the community members towards it.

1.4   Research Questions

The following will serve as the lead questions for this research:

  • What is the nature of Ázụ́ọ́fū and what communicative function does it perform that gives it the prestige it enjoys as a code of communication?
  • What change(s) has this code undergone over the years?
  • Does this change (if any) affect its communicative functions?
  • What is the attitude of the community members towards its use in the community.

1.5   Significance of the Study

The general idea about code is centred on the military, secret service, diplomatic circle etc. However this study gives one a better and broad understanding about codes of communication that can come in any form or be used by people in any aspect of life.

This research gives an insight into the possible existence of codes of communication similar to Ázụ́ọ́fū in other speech communities in Nigeria. Hence it prompts more research work in this kind of ethnographic study by Nigerian linguists, and gives a guide into what should be looked at such as the communicative roles such codes perform that justify their  existence or creation. It also serves as a guide to ‘out-group’ members to help them decode this communication pattern should they find themselves in the midst of a speech event where Ázụ́ọ́fū is being used. The sound pattern of Ázụ́ọ́fū can be exploited by entertainers to create a comic. Also, this research will aid dialectologists and comparative linguists in classification of this code and reconstruction of its ancestry, since it has a written record.



1.6   Scope of Study             

A lot of codes exist in different fields such as military, secret service, biological sciences, and information technology. But this research is centred on linguistic codes, with Ázụ́ọ́fū as its main focus, whose form and nature will be studied linguistically. The scope of this study covers the period from the 1980s to 2013.

1.7   Area of Study

This research has both linguistic and geographical area of study. The linguistic area of study is sociolinguistics, narrowed to ethnography of communication studies.

The geographical area of study is Nomeh Unataeze, in Nkanu-East Local Government Area of Enugu State. The town is bordered on the north by Ugbawka, on the north-east by Mburubru, Oduma on the south-east and Nenwe on the south-west. It also has ancestral links with Nara. The dialect of the Igbo language spoken in this community is grouped by the Enugu satellite dialect of Waawa/Northern Igbo dialect. It is known for its agricultural produce of cassava, rice, palm oil, plantain, vegetables etc. The town is also accessible by road and by rail.

1.8   Limitations of Study

In the course of the research work, collating data for the third form of Ázụ́ọ́fū of the present day Ázụ́ọ́fū was a bit difficult, because speakers of this code find it difficult to learn this third form. However, this in no way affected the work, as after a persistent search, the needed data was collated.