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1.1       Background to the study

The interest of linguists from the days of yore has been to examine language scientifically, as a unique feature in human communication. Thus, linguistic investigation deals with the structural, phonetic and grammatical configuration of any given language. Stemming from this course are phonetics, phonology, syntax and semantics as the basic aspects of linguistic investigations. While the interests of phonetics and phonology are on the speech sounds, syntax dwells on the structure, then semantics- on meaning. The main concern of the phoneticians and phonologists is to scrutinize the speech sounds that occur in spoken language. Although differences occur in the duo, phonetics is interested in the study of all speech sounds, whether distinctive or not. Phonology is interested in the distinctive (contrastive) speech sounds and their combination patterns in a given language. That shows the function and structure of speech sounds in a language. So, inasmuch as phonetics and phonology as areas of linguistic investigation have a common focus- speech sounds their mode of operation and analysis differ (Okorji 2013). Phonemes are defined as “the smallest segments of sounds that can be distinguished by their contrast within words” (Ladefoged 1975:23). Every language is composed of vowels and consonants, which can be considered to be the segments of which speech is made up of. These segments together form syllables, which in turn make up utterances. In the spoken language, sounds occur both within and beyond the (concrete) segments, and yet contribute to the sound quality. Such distinctive features or sound qualities which exist beyond the segments are referred to as suprasegmentals. Furthermore, in the formation of certain utterances, there exist some alterations and modifications in the original ways by which speech sounds are produced. The modification- addition or alteration of the basic way that a segment (vowel or consonant) is articulated is referred to as sound/segment modification. With specific investigations into certain languages or dialects of a language, distinction is made in the way the speakers manipulate the language both on the segmental levels and beyond. In our contemporary times, the linguistic realities continually tug the Igbo language and tend to point unwaveringly to the hollowness of research into the linguistic components operating beyond the segments. A great attention is paid on the prosodic features and uses of the phonemic resources of the language. In this paper, such features are keenly encapsulated as “Suprasegmentals” and “Segment Modifications” in the Igbo language. Suprasegmentals and segment modifications found their way to linguistics as commodified tools of phonetics. Although they do not compose the phonetic segments, they are imposed on the segments and also manipulate or modify the segments to enhance the functionality of a simple segment, thereby serving as economic tool of linguistic creativity. This would maximize the window of opportunity by valorizing the segments for optimum utilization, as commodified tool of communication. This enquiry is on the suprasegmentals and segment modifications in the Ihitenansa speech community of Igbo, in a bid to discern and outline such features precisely.

Generally, suprasegmental has to do with the sound effect which is realized above the segments, whereas the segments are manifested as vowels and consonants. The superimposed features (known as suprasegmentals) exist in the forms of variations in stress (accent) and pitch (tone and intonation). Ifode (1995:69) avers that certain phenomena of speech often spread over more than one segment of speech. Suprasegmental features, also referred to as prosodic features, can be seen as attributes to the quality or qualities of the sound segment, and are characterized by the fact that they can only be described with reference or in relation to other items in the same utterance. To cap it all, it is the relative rather than the absolute values of the pitch, length or degree of stress of an item that are significantly referred to as the suprasegmental features.

Apart from the superimposed sound features on the segments, there are other intentional manipulations in the basic ways of articulation/production, leading to slight adjustment on the sound, so that the target speech sound is realized. This slight adjustment in production of the segments is referred to as segment modification. Modifications which are done through small adjustments to the size and shape of the vocal tract cause the vocal tract to perform more flexibly in creating optimal resonance and balance of the sound or a target speech quality. This could be referred to as secondary articulation.

Western interest in the study of languages began as early as the study of languages began in the East, but the grammarians in the classical languages did not use the same methods or reach the same conclusions as their contemporaries in India. Early interest in language in the West was a part of philosophy, not of grammatical description. The first insights into semantic theory were made by Plato in his Cratylus dialogue, where he argues that words denote concepts that are eternal and exist in the world of ideas. This work is the first to use the word etymology to describe the history of word’s meaning. Around 280BC, one of Alexander the Great’s successors founded a university in Alexandria, where a school of philologists studied the ancient texts in and taught Greek to speakers of other languages. While this school was the first to use the word “grammar” in its modern sense, Plato had used the word in its original meaning as “tche grammatik” meaning the “art of writing” which is also the title of one of the most important works of the Alexandrine school by Dionysius Thrax (Seuren 1998). Throughout the middle Ages, the study of language was subsumed under the topic of philology, the study of ancient languages and texts, practiced by such educators as Roger Ascham, Wolfgang Ratke and John Amos Comenius (Bloomfield 1914:308).

The study of linguistics as a discipline could be traced to the long years ago in a bid to evaluate the complexity of the unique system of human communication. By so doing, the subjects relevant to the study were introduced to the curriculum with several aspects of endeavour. This success is articulated in the definition of linguistics as a scientific study of language as a unique nature of human communication. By this, all languages come to be appreciated as a course worthy of study in linguistic disciplines. Linguistics started as a philosophical enquiry into the nature of language as an inherent capability of man to communicate distinctively and as distinguished from other animals. The birth of linguistic study as a quasi-autonomous discipline has a fascinating beginning. Two reasons account for this type of beginning. Just as many other independent fields of study today, it emanated from Philosophy. The study is traced to the Greek scholars who were first to make philosophical enquiry into linguistics. The evidence to this is the popular notion of Greek civilization and education with Mediterranean Sea as the cradle. In a bid to save their lives from war catastrophe, the refugees, made up of intellectuals gathered as a class of thinkers who tried to know the science of the world (Robins 1967 & Aja 1990). The philosophical enquiry developed to a lot of appreciable disciplines to include Philology (scientific study of the development of language or a particular language), and then Linguistics. Linguistics as a discipline centres on the critical or scientific study of language. Language itself is a unique character in human interaction.

In the words of Anagbogu, Mbah & Eme (2010:1), “language is a means which human beings have devised for communicating ideas, feelings, emotions, desires, etc. through complex vocal or written symbols”. The distinct features of human language over the years have paved way to linguistic diversity.  This situation however, serves as a scale for measuring the vocabulary and linguistic resources of a language, which provides efficient use of the language by the particular speakers for the purpose of communication. “One of the features of language is that language has meaning. It also serves as a tool for human interaction. Language grows. It is a medium for teaching. Language accepts other languages” Ofomata (2003). The fascinating importance of language to humanity is the base on which Emenanjo, Ekwe, Okolie, Kanu, & Njobigbo (2008c) ask among other questions, “How would the world be if there is no language? This, in essence, points to the indispensability of language in this all-important process of activating human genius and creativity as well as human skills and motivation as the springs of development action.”

Everything in this universe is in perpetual state of change.  Language then, like everything else, joins this general flux. Through the investigation of the suprasegmentals and segment modifications, notion on speech sounds other than those of the segments is created. The cause of such knowledge and variety in language has traditionally been attributed to divine intervention as in the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel:

…and the Lord said, Behold, the people are one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and now, nothing will be retained from them which they have imagined to do.  Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.  So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth; and they left off to build the city.

Genesis 11: 6-8.

The critical examination of the above excerpt from the Bible gives historical evidence or ancillary support to the linguistic variations.  In our contemporary times, the study of different languages and dialects with their linguistic innovations or modifications has become traditional in the discourse on global expansion of linguistic studies.  In our country Nigeria, there exist many tribes which have their languages used to identify each of them (Ofomata 2003). The Igbo language is one of the three major Nigerian languages that are given prominence and official recognition by the government (FRN, 1999; NPE, 2004). Igbo is the principal native language of the Ndiigbo, an ethnic group of southeastern Nigeria. There are approximately 24 million speakers, who live mostly in Nigeria and are primarily of Igbo descent. Igbo is written in the Latin script, which was introduced by British colonialists. Igbo is a Kwa language of the Benue-Congo subfamily of the Volta-Congo and Atlantic-Congo branches of the Niger-Congo language family. (

The major division is between the Onicha group in the north and the Owere group in the south. Since the 19th century there has been several attempts to develop a written standard language, starting with Isuama Igbo (1857-1905) and continuing with Union Igbo (1905-1941), Central Igbo (1941-1973), and Standard Igbo (1973 to present).

  • Isuama Igbo was spoken by freed Igbo slaves in Sierra Leone, as a sort of lingua franca between different Igbo communities, but was quite removed from any Igbo dialect of the Igbo homeland.
  • Union Igbo was an answer to the growing number of Christian Igbo within Nigeria but being rather artificial it was employed only as a liturgical and literary language.
  • Central Igbo, based on the Owerri and Umuahia dialects, was the vehicle of many translations from European Literature.
  • Standard Igbo, implemented after the independence of Nigeria, is also based on the Owerri and Umuahia dialects but it expanded Central Igbo vocabulary by incorporating words from other dialects as well as loanwords. Concomitantly,  a written standard was developed.

There are over 20 Igbo dialects. There is apparently a degree of dialect leveling occurring. A standard literary language was developed in 1972 based on the Owerri (Isuama) and Umuahia (such as Ohuhu) dialects, though it omits the nasalization and aspiration of those varieties. There are related Igboid languages as well that are sometimes considered dialects of Igbo, the most divergent being Ekpeye. Some of these, such as Ika, have separate standard forms. Igbo is also a recognized minority language of Equatorial Guinea (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).

Igbo language belongs to the Kwa-group of language. Many Kwa languages are characterized with a two-level tonal system in which high tones are down-stepped after low tones. ( Igbo is a tonal language and has vowel harmony as well as consonants with double articulations. Nouns are invariable but verbs take prefixes and suffixes to mark aspect and tense. Word order is, like in most Benue-Congo languages, subject-verb-object. Distributionally, Igbo is spoken in southeastern Nigeria, primarily in the following Southern Delta region states: Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo. It is also spoken in the North-East of the Delta state and in the southeast of Rivers State.

Ihitenansa is one of the Igbo speech communities, widely known and distinguished by its linguistic and cultural heritage. The name ‘Ihitenansa’ was originally coined from ‘Ihite’, the name of the community’s forefather. Ihitenansa is also referred to as ‘Ogbuodudu’ (the forefather’s nickname). Ihitenansa (Ogbuodudu) is known for its historical nature because the forefather- Ihite as well as his other brothers- Amaruru and Assah migrated from the original settlement of their father at Nnewi-Ezinaifite side and entered through Oraasi River. Amaruru being the first son chose and settled at the current location of the people of Amaruru. Ihite moved further to locate himself where Ihitenansa people currently live, and the same was done by Assah, the youngest brother. Ihite is known for cutting down trees and certain vegetative elements of the boundary as a way of securing land and drawing the line of border within his habitation, hence he is called ‘Ogbuodudu’.

Genealogically, Ihite begot two sons- Imenyi and Diaba (Diabudu currently known as Amadiaba). Imenyi was the first son and he begot eight sons to include: Akama, Dim (Ụmụdim), Nansa, Ọkpara (Amaọkpara), Diaba (Ụmụdiaba), and Ezike (Ụmụezike). On the side of the second son, of Ihite called Diabudu, he begot seven sons: Cheke (Chekenaagụ), Abiam (Ụmụabiam), Agụ (Ụmụagu), Ọgụ (Ụmụọgu), Ezeenyi (Ụmụezeenyi), Ezechukwu (Ụmụezechukwu) and Eleme (Ụmụeleme).

On his own account, Dim (2006:5) claims that “Ogbuodudu was the father of Ozuome and Ihite. One of the Ogbuodudu’s wives was a native of Ụbaha Ọsụ and was the mother of an only son called Ihite. Ihite had two sons- Imenyi and Amadiaba (Diaba). Imenyi was the first son and begot Akama, Ụmụdim, Nansa, Amaọkpara, Ụmụdiaba, Ogum and Assah Ubrielem. Amadiaba begot Cheke, Ụmụabiam, Ụmụọgu, Ụmụezenyi, Ụmụezechukwu and Ụmụeleme.” But for Ezeriakụ Ụmụezechukwu, “Ozuome – Amaruru, Ihitenaasi- Ihiteogbuodudu and Assah Ubrielem are brothers from the same mother, who was one of the wives of father.”

In terms of geographical location, Ihitenansa is situated at the North-west Orlu, or is at Orsu North on latitude 05’53”000 and on longitude 06’58”380 (Dim 2006:1). Ihitenansa is a town in Orsu Local Government Area under Orlu (senatorial) zone of Imo State, Nigeria.

Linguistically, Ihitenansa is one of the Igbo communities with its socio-cultural and linguistic features related to and distinguished from others with their dialect of Igbo structured by certain features, prosodic features and segment modifications.

In the political groupings of communities, before 2002, Ihitenansa was a big town under one king. It was in 2002/2003 that the community was split into four autonomous communities- Imenyi, Amanaogu, Amadiaba and Akamananansa.


1.2       Statement of the problem

The study of phonetics as an aspect of linguistics is not complete if certain sound features are neglected. In that regard, such sound features superimposed on the segments of speech are worth investigating as well as the modifications that occur on the segments that result to extra sound features on the segments. Lack of research on suprasegmentals and segment modifications in the Ihitenansa Igbo is the emphasis here. To state precisely, the research problem is mainly on the speech sounds or sound qualities attached to utterances which are not primarily articulated, but superimposed on the segments of the speech. The problem is hereby defined in terms of segment modifications and suprasegmentals with specific focus on the Ihitenansa Igbo.


1.3       Purpose of the study

The research is a linguistic enquiry into sound patterns that are beyond the segments of utterances. Here, we examine the suprasegmentals and segment modifications that occur in Ihitenansa Igbo. The work stems from the general linguistic aim of studying sound systems that manifest in human languages. The objective is therefore synonymous with the general linguistic objective, being:

  • To study and explain the underlying properties of language as a tool of human communication, among which aspects are “segment modifications” and “suprasegmentals”.
  • To study the speech of the Ihitenansa Igbo speech community and scrutinize the prosodic features and segment modifications.
  • To examine how the suprasegmentals, and segment modifications occur in Ihitenansa speech community.
  • To explain the implication of such sound features (suprasegmentals and segment modifications) on the linguistic communication of the Ihitenansa Igbo speakers.


1.4       Research questions

The questions that stimulate the course of this research include:

  • How do suprasegmentals occur in Ihitenansa dialect?
  • How do segment modifications occur in Ihitenansa Igbo dialect?
  • What are the implications of such suprasegmental features and segment modifications in the Ihitenansa Igbo?


1.5       Significance of the study

Our study on suprasegmentals and segment modifications is very significant in the face of linguistic communication. On the sublime, the essence/significance of this study cannot be overemphasized because:

  • With specific examination of Ihitenansa Igbo, the study exposes such features of suprasegmentals and segment modifications inherent in the Igbo language (in general) and the dialect of Ihitenansa Igbo (in particular).
  • It sharpens our linguistic efficiency in the use of the dialect.
  • The study would draw the interest of other linguists or people into the language and dialect under study.
  • As a scientific enquiry, this study is an innovation into the resources of linguistics in general and Igbo study specifically. As such, it will benefit Ihitenansa by unraveling its potentials in the face of linguistic resources.


1.6       Scope of the study

The scope of this study is on phonetic features which occur on the segments. These sound features, as termed ‘suprasegmentals’ and ‘segment modifications’ is hereby the subject of research in the Ihitenansa Igbo. In doing this, our study centres on the concepts, processes and data as extracted from relevant literatures, and the selected respondents from Ihitenansa speech community.

The Igbo language in general is a compendium of many dialects. In the light of this complexity, it could be so cumbersome studying the entire dialects of the Igbo language. This is the major reason why a research of this type should be narrowed down to a specific dialect for easy investigative exercise to be carried out. Moreso, the researcher has specific interest in the Ihitenansa speech community by virtue of his linguistic experience and origin from the community. So a more critical exercise would be required in this specialty. That is why we focus on Ihitenansa Igbo speech community for the research.


1.7       Limitations of the study

During the course of this research, there were some difficulties which tended to hamper the success of the project work, but they were properly handled.  Such problems are the financial stress posed by the purchase and gathering of the literary texts for study. Igbo literatures were hardly fetched from the markets and bookshops. In the libraries as well, the availability of such documents is limited. The Igbo authors rarely release their literatures for library use. It is also, difficult to read a number of literatures with the intention of amassing prosodic features of the given language for data. Control and organization of the data according to their processes of innovation or articulation took the pains of the researcher’s diligence as they are keenly prescribed even when they are apparently inaccurate as experienced by the researcher during the course of this research. Framing the adequate procedure for obtaining valid data imposed various demands on the researcher, the selection of suitable or adequate documents that can fetch the required data also appeared problematic, although the respondents were granted free-ended questions. The need to place the respondents with the required variables and establishing an appropriate rapport with them and defining social communication and the linguistic parameters have somehow made this study cumbersome, though it was overcome.

The problem of how to obtain the geographical map and obtain adequate historical information of the speech community also enlarged the stress of our study. These posed problems during this research, but the problematic issues have been tackled by the use of the available documentations or literary studies, collation of oral and written data from the respondents and use of adequate analytical techniques. The data obtained are often very sharply limited in their capacity to provide a wide range of the Igbo language suprasegmentals and segment modifications and styles.  But notwithstanding, the rigours of this research project being surmounted, as necessitated by the researcher’s diligence, which gives room for a considerable account of the outcome of the research exercise and makes the thesis less cumbersome and therefore perspicacious and resourceful for any reader.

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