10,000 3,000

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  • Background to the study

Language is by all means the most enduring and about the most dynamic artifact of human history. Language is an enduring artifact because apart from being human specific, it is an integral part of human culture, and therefore, as old as human existence. Language is said to be dynamic in the sense that it changes as the society in which man lives and speaks language changes. It is this dynamism which reflects the nature and character of language that has given scholars/researchers sufficient cause to search and attain self knowledge about the nature and manner of change that takes place in language.

According to Agbedo (2009:7), historical linguistics (also called diachronic linguistics) accounts for the development and changes that take place in languages. Essentially, historical linguistics focuses on five basic areas which are; describing and accounting for observed changes in languages, reconstructing the prehistory of languages and determining their relatedness, developing general theories about how and why language changes, describing the speech communities and studying the history of words. Since the quest for knowledge through scholarly research heightened, human knowledge has continued to grow deeper, thus leading to further breakdown of disciplines into more focused areas of study. This development gave rise to the emergence of comparative linguistics (originally called comparative philology) regarded as a branch of historical linguistics. It is principally concerned with comparing languages in order to establish their historical relatedness.

Agbedo (2007:7) posits that languages may be related by convergence through borrowing or genetic descent. Genetic descent implies a common origin or proto-language, and comparative linguistics aims to construct language families, to reconstruct proto-languages and specify the changes that have resulted in documented languages.

From the early development of historical and comparative linguistics, this subfield of linguistics mainly focused on the classification of the Indo-European languages, many of which have had written histories. However, the situation is not the same with the Niger–Congo language family where the comparative method has been sparingly used, leaving the bulk of languages under it unclassified; even where it is applied, lack of sustained efforts has failed to tie the language family together, therefore, such result often failed to receive wide acceptability. Olson (2004) decried this situation thus:

While the comparative method has occasionally been applied to small language families within Niger-Congo, particularly Bantu, its use has so far been neglected in tying the language family together as a whole. A comprehensive reconstruction of Niger-Congo, including the establishment of sound laws, remains the major future task in Niger-Congo classification


Therefore, there is need for a paradigm shift to studying the highly endangered languages of the sub-Saharan Africa, especially the Tivoid sub-language group of Bantu extraction. The Tivoid languages phylum is not well studied. Therefore, majority of languages in this group cannot be used for wider communication , especially as they have no written orthorgraphy and are not even known beyond there enclave. This has the propensity of affecting the enthnolinguistic vitality perception of their speakers thereby making them susceptible to endangerment.

Historians, anthropologists and archeologists have in various ways attempted to study the anthropology of human evolution and development, all in the bid to upgrade human knowledge and advance human civilisation. However, in doing so, they often resort to the use of linguistic data in establishing and firmly buttressing their claims. This underscores the inter-dependency and multifaceted resources of language in offering the most reliable explanation about human evolution and development than any other field of study. Indeed, language is about the most assured means of tracing the connection of peoples, civilisations and nations. This is most probably the reason for the use of such linguistic similarities like phonological, lexical, syntactic and semantic features shared by languages to prove affiliation, borrowing, convergence and, even common origin (Chinagorom 2010).

When a people are identified together as having a common origin, history, language and bound by a common destiny, their bond of unity becomes stronger. Therefore, studying convergence or divergence of languages or dialect is one sure way that can provide sufficient knowledge to foster harmonious coexistence. Nwaozuzu (2008:1) attests the viability of dialect studies in providing solution to this kind of needs, thus:

The rapid development of all branches of language has led to a widespread and growing interest in activities of linguists, who at each stage have sought to provide solutions to new problems. Even though certain areas of language studies have become so familiar that they have almost been taken for granted, there are others that have not yet been given adequate attention in some languages especially those that are still very new in the history of linguistic analyses. One of such areas of language studies is dialect, as it affects so many languages.


Basically, these underscore the need for a more holistic approach in studying any aspect of language. By this, every aspect of language must be considered as integral in the study of another.

Generally, the main preoccupation of historical linguistics is to account for the development and changes that take place in languages (Agbedo 2009:7). It is against this backdrop that the relationship among the Tivoid languages phylum is of essence.  The Tivoid sub-group of Bantu languages has not attracted much research attention. For this reason, its position on the Bantu languages classification chart has been very unstable depending on the scholar. Tiv, the language through which the group derives its name is the largest and is spoken largely in the North-Central region of Nigeria and a few of its population is in the Camerouns – South West Province, Manyu Division, North East of Akwaya on the Camerounian border, precisely at Njobo (Njawbaw) community.

The Tivoid belongs to the sub-family of Benue-Congo group of languages collectively referred to as the Bantu languages family. In the classification of African languages, Greenberg (1966) classified Tivoid as belonging to the Southern Bantoid subgroup of languages. Williamson and Blench (2000) further identified this group as comprising Bantu, Jarawan, Tivoid, Beboid and the wide Grass-fields families. The bulk of these languages still beg for recognition and scholarly attention. Below is Greenberg’s (1974) classification of Tivoid on Niger Congo family tree.

Subsequent research especially by the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL, (1991)) Ethnologue, lists 17 Tivoid languages as follows:

  • Abon [abo] (Nigeria) 1,000 (1973 SIL)
  • Esimbi [ags] (Cameroon)
  • Ambo [amb] (Nigeria) less than 1,000
  • Ipulo [ass] (Cameroon)
  • Iceve-Maci [bec] (Cameroon) those in Nigeria 5,000 (1990)
  • Balo [bqo] (Cameroon)
  • Bitare [brt] (Nigeria) 46,300
  • Batu [btu] (Nigeria) 25,000
  • Evant [bzz] (Nigeria) -10,000 speakers Hedinger (1996)
  • Caka [ckx] (Cameroon)
  • Eman [emn] (Cameroon)
  • Mesaka [iyo] (Cameroon)
  • Manta [myg] (Cameroon)
  • Osatu [ost] (Cameroon)
  • Tiv [tiv] (Nigeria) 2,212,000 (SIL 1991)
  • Iyive [uiv] (Cameroon) those in Nigeria 2,000
  • Otank [uta] (Nigeria) 3,000 (1973 SIL)

It is important to note that the majority of these linguistic groups are endangered. It is from this list that the four languages namely; Tiv, Utank, Oliti (Iceve-Maci) and Ugare (Mesaka) are selected for this study.


1.2  Statement of the problem

The Tivoid languages phylum has not received appreciable research attention despite the fascinating linguistic scenario that the Nigeria-Cameroun border area exhibits: a situation whereby several of the languages spoken show varying degrees of similarities or relatedness. This apparent poor scholarly attention given to languages of this area is so alarming to the extent that most of them do not even have orthography and are not listed among world languages. Furthermore, the information that is in circulation in a bid to explain the clustering of the Tivoid in and around the Nigeria-Cameroun border area is too speculative and highly dependent on myths and legends.

Again, it is not clear whether the Tivoid languages known to be genetically related are becoming more similar or more dissimilar. It is also not clear whether there is mutual intelligibility among these related languages in view of the lexical similarities or non similarities. These and other related issues have spurred the researcher to undertake a historicolinguistic study of the Tivoid languages, using lexicostatistical theory to establish the extent of convergence or divergence, as well as ascertain the level of mutual intelligibility among them.  This integrated approach enables the utilisation of historical and linguistic resources in achieving the research objectives.


  •     Objectives of the study

The basic objective examined by this study is the connection between the selected Tivoid languages in Nigeria (Tiv and Utank) and their counterparts in the Camerouns (Oliti and Ugare).

The specific objectives of this study are to find out the:

  1. level of convergence among the selected Tivoid languages (Tiv, Utank, Ugare and Oliti) using lexical cognates.
  2. level of mutual intelligibility among the selected Tivoid languages
  • extent of divergence among the selected Tivoid languages (Tiv, Utank, Ugare and Oliti).
  1. factors responsible for convergence and divergence of the selected Tivoid languages.
    • Research questions

This study focuses on the following basic questions, in order to provide answers to the above objectives.

  1. How convergent or similar are the selected Tivoid languages?
  2. How mutually intelligible or unintelligible are the selected Tivoid languages?
  • How divergent or dissimilar are the selected Tivoid languages?
  1. What are the possible factors responsible for convergence and divergence among the selected Tivoid languages?


  • Significance of the study

The study is significant because of its enormous contributions as enumerated below.

The findings of this study are a veritable resource material for studies on Tivoid languages; specifically, on the issue of convergence and divergence. The data provided in this work will be beneficial in solving the problems that are of concern to the society, which extend far beyond linguistics to history, archaeology and anthropology, to other researchers who are interested in the Tivoid.

This research represents a more current effort towards establishing a link to common ancestry and language between the Tivoid in Nigeria and their counterparts in the Camerouns. This is capable of encouraging and promoting peaceful coexistence and understanding among these peoples at the Nigerian-Cameroun borderland.

The study is significant mainly because of its contribution to the development of knowledge, especially, in the area of historical and comparative linguistics and other sub-areas of linguistics and linguistic theory relating to lexicostatistics as well as language convergence and divergence.

Another significance of the study relates to the use of linguistic data to explicate the historical and genetic relationship between the selected Tivoid languages, which is pivotal in creating a sense of oneness among them, in spite of the geographical and administrative boundaries that separate the Tivoid in Nigeria and those in Cameroun.


  • Scope of the study

In scope, this study examined the lexical similarity between the selected Tivoid languages at this point in time rather than account for the historical developments of the languages beyond the present. It also focused on ascertaining whether or not there is convergence or divergence among the selected Tivoid languages. This invariably involved ascertaining the level of mutual intelligibility among the selected languages as well as examining the factors that have been responsible for either convergence or divergence of the Tivoid cluster within and around Nigeria-Cameroun border areas.

Only four out of the eight Tivoid languages are selected, namely: Tiv, Utank, Oliti and Ugare. To be specific, two of the selected Tivoid languages are spoken in Nigeria (Tiv and Utank) and two in Cameroon (Ugare and Oliti).

In terms of area coverage, this research is restricted to only villages: two for each language group making a total of four each in Nigeria and Cameroun. The spread of the languages and villages was evenly shared between Nigeria and Cameroun in order to achieve proportionate representation of views, information and data gathering.

The scope of this research also involved examining the widely believed historical link between the Tiv in Nigeria and other Tivoid groups in the Camerouns traceable to Swem ancestral homeland. The selection of the villages/sites was purposively done based on their historical importance, given that some of them served as the routes of the Tiv people during their migration into the Benue valley and the Cross River region in Nigeria.


  • Limitations of the study

The vast area coverage of this study involving national and international territorial boundaries itself portends a challenge for effective handling. Issues of insecurity at the Nigerian-Cameroun border and immigration procedures had, in one way or the other, affected free movement of the researcher and his team within and across the border area. Another challenge was the lack of standard orthography to capture the wordlist in the languages under investigation.

However, measures were adopted to effectively handle the limitations, including   undergoing the required clearance and documentation processes from the Nigerian and Camerounian Immigration Services, obtaining the services of Camerounian Mobile Police (also known as Jandan in the local parlance) to escort the research team in and around the villages and locations under the Camerounian territory, obtaining the services of indigenous research assistants/interpreters who were native speakers with proficiency in each of the selected languages in addition to having sufficient knowledge of the research area(s) to guide the research team.

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