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1.1. Background of the Study

Hiatus, a phonological term referring to two different vowels in separate syllables without a consonant has been a subject of considerable theoretical and empirical discussion and has generally been observed that it is a disprefered configuration in many languages of the world. The Tiv language has a situation whereby certain words or expressions contain syllables that are adjacent to each other and which have vowels that are not separated by a consonant. This constitutes the violation of a structural requirement which needs to be resolved using a variety of strategies. From an extensive study of hiatus as shall be reviewed in the next chapter, it is a disprefered configuration in many languages. While some languages do prevent its occurrence, others seek a resolution of it where it occurs using different strategies which may include assimilation, elision, diphthong formation, epenthesis and vowel glide. Having discovered this phonological configuration which is disprefered by a number of languages in the world, which is technically referred to as hiatus, the researcher delves into the study of how it can be resolved using phonologically accepted strategies. As a native speaker of the Tiv language, the researcher takes up this virgin research area with a view to pinning down and explaining the relevant strategies for resolving hiatus in the language.

Also important to note is the fact that the phonological theory on which to couch this work is Optimality Theory. This is because the topic under research requires a theory that is universal in nature owing to the fact that constraints are universal (Clark, Yallop & Fletcher 2007:423). OT which is considered as part of Universal Grammar is found most fit to provide a platform on which this study would be anchored.


1.2. Statement of the Problem

According to Kager (1999:9), “constraint is a structural requirement that may either be satisfied or violated by an output form”. This means that a form may satisfy a constraint if it fully meets the requirements of that structure whereas if a form does not meet this requirement, it is said to have violated it. Hiatus is therefore created at the violation of a structural requirement that there must be an intervening consonant between two adjacent vowels. Since this constraint is violated therefore, a hiatus is created, hence, the need for the identification of relevant strategies for the resolution of hiatus in the language. In many languages where hiatus is identified and resolution attempts are made, the strategies so employed are based on the different natures of those languages due to linguistic variations. Consequent upon this, this study seeks to provide an Optimality account of the relevant and peculiar strategies that can be used in resolving hiatus in Tiv language.

1.3. Research Objectives

The broad objective of this work is to do an in-depth study of the hiatus resolution strategies in the Tiv language within the framework of the Optimality Theory from a native speaker’s point of view. To achieve this end, the following are the specific objectives of this study:

  1. To establish the occurence of hiatus in the Tiv language.
  2. To ascertain how far vowel assimilation can be used to repair hiatus in the Tiv language.
  3. To establish the use of elision as a repair strategy for resolving hiatus in the Tiv langugae.
  4. To showcase diphthongization as a hiatus resolution strategy in the Tiv language.


1.4. Research Questions

Against the background of the above purpose of study, the following research questions are drawn for investigation.

  1. To what extent can we determine the existence of hiatus in the Tiv language?
  1. How can we use vowel assimilation to resolve hiatus in the Tiv language?
  1. Can vowel elision be used in resolving hiatus in the Tiv language?
  2. How can diphthongization be used to resolve hiatus in the Tiv language?

1.5. Significance of the Study

What makes phonological investigation a fascinating and challenging area is its employment of Optimality Theory which is a relatively new model of phonological investigation. Prince and Smolensky (2007:7) argue that any serious theory of phonology must rely heavily on well-formedness constraints, which means that it must be committed to Universal Grammar. This work considers it of great significance the use of this theory in determining how certain repair strategies are used in resolving hiatus in the Tiv language. The naturalness in the application of Optimality Theory in accounting for the use of those repair strategies in resolving hiatus in the Tiv language will make the work appear more real and with minimized level of abstraction than using other theories.

Also, having searched through the available literature, it is obvious that many works have been done on hiatus resolution. As far as the researcher is aware, no work has been done on this subject in the Tiv language. The virginity of this work gives it the necessary impetus to feature prominently as a work done in the area of phonology of the Tiv language. The result of this work will therefore help in filling this gap in scholarship. Besides, the outcome of this work will help in the better teaching and learning of the phonology of the Tiv language.

Furthermore, this kind of research would ginger up more thorough and deeper research attempts in the language on the same subject, thereby, providing an anchor for further research works as well as serve as a reference material to numerous other scholars, students and researchers who may subsequently be interested in this area of study. Also significant is the fact that insights from the investigation of this study will boost the process of globalization. Globalization in the words of Omachonu (2007:8) is “a new trend whereby experiences are standardized around the world as it encourages uniformity, conformity and common standard practices among geo-political regions.” The use of a theory or model that ensures universality will encourage people to embrace the ideals of globalization. It should be noted that in OT, it is well-formedness constraints which emphasize universal application that are prominently used and not language specific rules or procedures.

1.6. The Scope and Limitations of the Study

This work sets out to specifically study hiatus resolution strategies in the Tiv language. Issues to be treated in this regard include those related to

  1. An explication of the general hiatus resolution strategies
  2. An OT account of assimilation, elision and diphthong formation as the identified hiatus resolution strategies in the Tiv language.
  3. Constraint ranking and candidate selection

Though the work may appear to be a comprehensive account of hiatus resolution strategies in the Tiv language using the OT model, it is far from being conclusive due to the following methodological challenges.

The OT which is used as a theoretical framework for this study is relatively a new model of phonological investigation. Consequently, the researcher suffers uneasy access to materials on empirical studies. Also, the study of hiatus itself is a maiden area especially as it concerns the Tiv language. As a result, the researcher can only rely on few similar studies in different languages not spoken by the researcher. The relative unavailability of enough resource materials is another constraint the researcher suffered in the course of the work.

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