By Udeh, MK (2022).
Greener Journal of Languages and Literature Research
Vol. 7(1), pp. 31-39, 2022
Copyright ©2022, the copyright of this article is retained by the author(s)
A comparative analysis of English and Igbo noun phrases using x bar
Mercy Kalu Udeh
University of Calabar, Nigeria.
Article No.: 090622081
primary noun phrases in Ígbò have heads that
demand for and select other grammatical elements that help to expand them
from bare noun phrases into lexical items. This paper made use of a
qualitative method of research. The reviews were both theoretical and
conceptual. Sources of data include primary and secondary sources. The
concept of noun phrases in the noun lexical and phrasal categories has been
controversial, i.e. whether the head is initial, medial, or final in Ígbò. The paper made a comparative analysis of
English and Igbo noun phrases using x bar theory to determine the head of a
noun phrase category, its place of occurrence, the specifiers
(complements) required by the heads, the semantic conditions guiding the
selection and assignment of the heads in NPs. It was observed that the [NP]
heads demand for complements to specify their heads. Other findings include the relator (RELT) ‘ǹkè’,
in the nominal category, designates position/genitive/possession and
also relates the subject (head noun) to the complement. Tone plays a role in
the shape of the relator. In the complements of nouns, the IC is
differentiated from the object complement.
Mercy Kalu Udeh
E-mail: mercymichael101@ gmail.com
Humans' ability to communicate and exchange ideas through language is unparalleled. When used to defend one's culture, language is both a potent tool and a potent weapon. Humans are the only species capable of producing both spoken and written languages; without language, culture would be impossible to sustain. Socio-political, economic, and religious ideas are passed down the generations via the medium of language. There are many different linguistic groups and races in the globe, and each language serves as an identifier for its own group. Igbo language proficiency is crucial to the development of a strong sense of Igbo identity. Having a common language and culture has been an important factor in the political stability and power projection of many nations around the world. According to the projections of the National Population Census carried out in 2006, Ígbò is a significant Nigerian language and is spoken by around 27 million people. It belongs to the Igbo language family and is spoken primarily in the South Eastern region of Nigeria. Enwere (2018) places Igbo under the new Benue-Congo family of languages. Also, Blench and Mallam (2004), standing on lexicostatistic information, reclassifies Ígbò as West-Benue Congo language.
2.0 The Dialects of Ìgbò
Many Ìgbò dialects exist, but the number "cannot be more than 20 (Enwere, 2018). She divided the language into six dialect-groups based on its sounds and word order, with each dialect-group having a main dialect (MD) and some groups having their own sub-dialects. Niger-Igbo (NI) is spoken by people in Delta State; Inland West Igbo (IWI) is spoken by people in and around Anambra State; Inland East Igbo (IEI) is spoken by people in Abia and Imo States; and Wawa Igbo (WI) is spoken by people in Enugu and Ebonyi States. The Ar Igbo (AI) is spoken by the Archukwu people, and there is also Riverine Igbo (RI) spoken in various regions of Rivers State. Enwere’s categorization, which ignored the speakers' nationality and political leanings, was based on the speakers' defining characteristics.
2.1 X-Bar Theory
The X-bar theory determines which lexical items must occur in the D-structure. This is a system of grammatical analysis developed in recent generative linguistics as an alternative to traditional accounts of phrase structure and lexical categories. It is argued both that the rules of phrase structure grammar need to be more constrained and that more phrasal categories need to be recognized. In particular, within the Noun Phrase, the need is felt to recognize intermediate categories larger than the noun, but smaller than the phrase e.g. ‘very slow’ or ‘very slow vehicle’, in the phrase ‘a very slow vehicle’. These are intermediate categories that have no value in the former phrase-structure models, but are given formal recognition in X-bar syntax by a system of X-bars, each identifying a level of phrasal expansion (Black 1999:5-7). The X-bar theory places emphasis on expressing general principles of Universal Grammar (U.G), instead of the peculiarities of particular languages or rules (Cook 1997:249). It is the central module for the principle and parameters approach to syntactic theory. Webelhuth (1995:17-41) notes that all other models in a way or the other pull from the basic structures the X-bar convention makes available. Cook (1988) adds that within the Chomskyan tradition, X-bar theory strives for the maximum generality, and makes statements about the phrase structures that are true for all phrases rather than those of a particular type.
The X-bar theory is evolved out of generative linguistics as an alternative to traditional account of lexical categories (N, V, P, A) and phrasal categories (NP, VP, PP, AP), recognized in the PSG (Horrocks 1987:56). The existence of intermediate nodes larger than the lexical categories and smaller than the phrasal categories were not recognized in PSG; hence, a lexical head can only project once into a maximal phrasal category (cf. Fig.1 (a) :
There is one and only one projection of any lexical head of a phrase, i.e. there is no intermediate category/node between the lexical and maximal projection of each of the heads. The NP dominates the categories at the same time and same level, since there is no intermediate category between them. In the example above, neither the string ‘tall slim girl’ nor ‘slim girl’ can form a constituent.
Radford (1997) admits the availability of intermediate category when he observed that there appears ‘to be some supporting empirical evidence that there exists intermediate categories; and hence, the theory of syntactic categories ought to make provision for them’. The X-bar convention is to make provision for these categories which fall between the lexical categories (minimal categories) and the phrasal categories (maximal categories) (Horrocks 1987). Proponents of the X1-Theory believe there must exist certain intermediate categories between the head and the maximal node NP.
The research design employed for this study is the qualitative research design in which various research works were used as secondary sources of material. In doing this, the researcher made extensive use of the internet to get materials to enhance the development of this research. Quotations from the various works have been reproduced to show a comparative analysis of English and Igbo Noun Phrases. The method of data collection used for this research was textual.
4.1 The Noun Phrase (NP) Structure in Igbo Language
When a noun serves as the head of a phrase, the other words in the phrase, which may come either before or after the noun, are called modifiers, and they serve to narrow or narrow down the noun's scope of reference (Ndimele, 1993:43). A Noun Phrase in Igbo language can either be the noun by itself as the head, or the noun in conjunction with one or more modifiers. When broken down into its component parts, the Igbo noun phrase (NP) is made up of a noun as the head element and one or more adjectives, adverbs, or adverbial nouns as the dependents. There is a wide variety of dependents, and any NP can have as many as they like (Mbah, 2006). Adjectives, demonstratives, quantifiers, numerals, and pronominal modifiers are all recognized in Standard Igbo, as were these same classes in Igbo, along with a few others, such as the number, the relator ‘ǹkè’ and the pronouns themselves, among others. These are only a few examples of elements that are integral to the Igbo NP, especially the noun that serves as its head. These are:-
4.1.1 The Noun/ Noun alone (N0)
To put it simply, the noun is the most important part of the noun phrase. The noun stands alone as the topic of the sentence, without any modifying or qualifying adjectives or adverbs. This can be any noun or head word. A noun’s singular form is:
1. (a) Proper names
Examples: - Àmaka, Àbá, Ợnị̀chà, Amaku, Peter, etc.,
with the following rule: NP→ PROP NOUN
(b) The noun can also be names of things:
Óché ‘Chair’, áká ‘hand’, ḿmírī ‘water’, ímí ‘nose’, etc
In accordance with the rules, a demonstrative (determiner) can be used with a common noun as shown:
NP/N1 → N + (DET)
2.(a) Uzo à ‘this door’
(b) Ugbo ala áhụ ‘that car’
(c) nwókō áhụ ‘that man’
The norminal categories in Ígbò include the nouns, pronouns (in this case, the independent pronouns), numerals, numbers and interrogatives/+WH-words, each of which forms a noun phrase; represented diagrammatically as follows:
The NP can be rewritten as:
NP → Noun (N)/ (n)
The NP can hence, expand thus:
3. (A) NP → Noun (N) as in:
Aba, nwóke, óché, ụkwụ
‘a town’ ‘man’, ‘ chair’, ‘leg’
(B) NP → Numerals (Nm) as in:
ábụ̀ọ̀, àťợ, ìrí, nàrị̀, ợgū/óhū ótù nárị̀
‘Two’, ‘three’, ‘ten’, ‘hundred’, ‘twenty’ ‘one hundred’
4.1.2 The Noun with Dependents/Modifiers (Qualifiers and Specifiers)
Nouns can have constituents known as nominal modifiers in their syntax. Adjectives, demonstratives, quantifiers / plural markers, relators, and pronominal modifiers are examples of NP dependents/modifiers in Igbo language. Emenanjo (2015) coined the term "pronominal modifiers," which is used here to describe a construction that includes a noun as the head and a pronoun as a specifier/qualifier. The adjectival modifiers have also been divided into two types: pre-head adjectival modifiers and post-head adjectival modifiers.
4.1.3 Plural Markers
Plural markers turn singular nouns into plurals. A singular noun becomes countable when pluralized. Crystal (1980:238) compares numbers to the grammatical categories used to examine word classes that display singular/plural/dual contrast. In Igbo, the morphological agreement features for singular and plural are not visibly marked; instead, singular and plural are indicated by means of morphemes that stand on their own, such as the pronouns he/she and they/them: ụ́mụ́/ńdị́, (children/people) ọ́thụ́thụ́ ‘several/many’, express plural or a condition of more than one. Mbamba is another word that denotes multiples. A phrase can be formed with a noun and a plural marker as seen here:
NP → PL marker+N
(a) ụ́mụ́ ákwúkwọ́
Pl + N
(b) ńdị́ mmádụ
‘A race of people /group of people’
(c) Mbamba nri
pl + N
(d) ọ́thụ́thụ́ ulo
4.1.4 The Noun with Quantifiers
Similar to the quantifier, a small number of words make up this closed class in Igbo. Like adjectives and demonstratives, quantifiers change the noun that they follow. They present and alter a compiled set of items. The quantifiers identified in Ígbò include: ‘dùm̀/líῑlé, ǹchá (all), náànị́/sọ́ọ́sọ̀ ‘only/alone’, ụ́fọ́dhụ̀ ‘some/few’ and ọ́thụ́thụ́ ‘many/several’,ághá/óhú (many/ plenteous). The quantifiers derived from numerals include, ààbuọ̀ ‘two’, ààtọ́ ‘three’ àànọ́ four. ììsé, ììsìì, etc. They precede the noun they modify. The list of quantifiers derived from numbers is endless.
Sọ́ọ́sọ̀/Náànị́, ‘alone/ only’, ụ́fọ́dhụ̀ ‘few/some’’, can come before or after the noun or pronouns they modify. ọ́thụ́thụ́ ‘many/several’ and Mbamba/óhú occur only head-first, while ‘dùm̀/ líῑlé, ǹchá (all), occur head-last. Plural pronouns take quantifiers in Ígbò.
5. (a) ḿmádhụ̀ ànợ náànị́/sọ́ọ́sọ̀ (bị̀àrà).
People four only
‘Only four People ‘
(b) náànị́/sọ́ọ́sọ̀ ḿmádhụ̀ ànợ (bị̀àrà).
Q + N +NUM
only people four
Only four people ‘
(c) ọ́thụ́thụ́ ḿmu agbogho ( ábị̀àghị́)
[Q] + [N]
Many/several young girls come neg.
‘Many or several girls did not come’
(d) Mbamba/óhú ḿmádhụ̀ (bị̀àrà)
[Q + N]
‘So many/plenty came’
(e) ụ́fọ́dhụ̀ há (riri)
Q + Pro(3pl) (ate)
‘Some (of them) (ate)
(f) ḿmádhụ̀ aabuo/ ààtọ̀/àànọ́/ììsé/ììsìì, (bị̀àrà).
people‘two’, ‘three’ four,’five’,’six’,etc,came
Two. three, four, five, six people came’
(g) Hĩ /Há (dúm̀) bí l’ Énúgú bị̀àchàrà.
[N] + [Q]
3Pers-Pl-all live in Enugu
(They) all live in Enugu.
Quantifiers also follow the head. Some of them like dùm̀/líῑlé, ǹchá, (all) ààbọ̀ ‘two’, ààtọ́’three’ àànọ́, four’, ììsé, five, ììsìì ‘six’, etc; cannot form the head of a syntactic unit in Ígbò. Quantifiers can keep their original tone when used with nouns, but when they come after other words—especially demonstratives—they often lose that tone i.e. ‘à’ and ‘áhụ̀’, or a relative clause, two of them may change their tones according to the tone rules (Emenanjọ 2015:72):
6. (a) Hĩ líīlé bi l’ Àbá
them all live in Aba
They all live in Aba’
(b) Hĩ dùm bí l’Àbá.
they all live in Aba
‘All of them live in Aba’
(c) Hĩ ààbọ̀ bí l’ótù úlὸ.
The two live in one house
‘All of the two live in the same house’
4.1.5 The Noun with the Numeral
The numeral is among the nominal elements in Ígbò. Examples, ótù, ábụ̀ọ̀ ‘two’, àtọ́ ‘three’, ìrí na ise ‘fifteen’, ìrí áto ‘thirty’, iri isii ‘sixty’, iri ano ‘fourty,’ etc. Numerals are words that represent quantities and figures of numbers. In addition to being used in counting, they also function as modification for specific nouns.
Commenting on their syntactic and tonal behaviors, Emenanjo (2015.40), says:
Numerals following nouns behave like nouns in second position in the associative construction. However, when a numeral with low initial syllable follows a noun with a low final syllable, both the noun and the numeral keep their natural tones.
Numerals appear in cardinal and ordinal forms. In contrast to position, a cardinal number displays amount. On the other hand, both the noun and the numeral adjust their tones in accordance with the tone rules when ordinal meaning is required. Ordinal numbers do not represent amount but rather a location. Here, tone plays a key role in conceptually separating the ordinal and cardinal numbers.
Examples 9(a)-(b) demonstrate cardinal to ordinal:-
7. (a) úlò + àtọ́ (cardinal/quantity) (b) úlō ātọ́ (ordinal/position)
house three house three
three houses ‘third house’
(a) úlò + ànọ́ (b) úlō ānọ́ (ordinal)
house four house four
‘four houses’ ‘fourth house’
The tone of the cardinal and ordinal differ from one another but in terms of structure, the cardinal’s numerals are the modifiers, whereas the ordinal’s word modifies the numeral. When ordinal meaning is being stated, associative constructions alter the tone pattern, while maintaining them when cardinal meaning is being used, below is the analysis:
8. (a) ḿmádụ̀ aábụ̀ọ̀/átọ́ ḿmádụ̄ ābụ̀ọ̀/ātọ́
person two/three person two/three
Two/three person second/third person
(b) ákwenti ìrí ákwenti īrí
Phone ten Phone ten
‘Ten phones’ ‘ten phones
Generally, numerals come after the noun in Ígbò phrase structure.
Meanwhile, there are some exceptions where the numeral comes before the noun. ‘Ótù ‘one’ for example comes prior the noun. Similarly, ‘óhū’ ‘twenty’, nàrị̀ (hundred) or ótū nàrị̀, púkú ‘one thousand’ ‘one hundred’ púkú ‘one thousand’, ǹdè ‘one milliòn’, occur, pre-head or before the noun and at that instance they become heads of the syntactic units where they are found.
4.1.6 The Noun with the Relator
In Ígbò, an independent lexical item ‘ǹkè’ (Ndimele (2016 in an oral discussion), terms it “particulariser”, which designates position/genitive, appears in relation with the noun it modifies. The relator is the term used to refer to it in this study. One can see the relator inside the NP. The relator connects the noun phrase and the possessor through the location being possessed.
9. (a) ónyé ǹkē ikpe-azu
Person place/position last
‘Person in the last position/last person’
(b) nwá ǹkē āťọ́ hĩ
[NOUN] + [RELT] + [NM] + [Pro.M]
Child place/position three their
‘their third child’
(c) ákwenti ǹkē Ōbí
NOUN+ RELT +NOUN
Phone that Obi
In 9 (a)-(c), ǹkè relates āťọ́, há/hĩ and Ōbí, which are complements, to the heads ónyé, nwá, and ákwenti, respectively. ‘Ǹkè’ in 9 (a) and (b) designates the ordinal number.
‘Ǹkè also behaves as a noun in some environments, such as, when it combines with demonstratives as in:
10. (a) ǹkè à
(b) ǹkè áhụ̀
(c) ǹkè ọzọ
‘The other one’
(d) ǹkè m̀
Thing + me
The nominal in Ígbò are as follows:
NI → Noun (N)
4.2 Maximal Expansion of the Ígbò NP /Complex Noun Phrase
Noun phrases in Ígbò can be classified as simple and complex. A complex noun phrase according to Emenanjo (2015:80) is one which comprises of one noun/nominal, accompanied by a relative clause. In Ígbò, an NP can be expanded as many times as possible through embedding of relative clause/clauses and other adjunctions. The NP can accommodate several relative clauses as modifiers in this situation.
Example; a NP in Ígbò can be expanded thus:
11. (a) Nwá ahu bụ̀ Ebere.
Child this be Ebere
‘This child is Ebere’
(b) Nwáàdhà ọ́má à wụ̀ Kaineto.
Child girl beauty is be Kaineto
‘This pretty girl is Kaineto.
(c) Nwa màrà ḿmā.
Child is be beautiful
‘This child is beautiful’.
(d) Okoro na-eri nri n’ákhụ́khụ́ ụ́zọ̀.
Okoro is eating food [FACT] by side of road
‘Okoro is eating food by the road side’.
(e) Í kélèrè nwáyi áhῖ mgbè Ị báťàrà.
you greet girl child when you enter
‘You greeted the girl when you entered’
(g) Nwáyi ọ́má à ǹkè biaru wụ̀ Àdhá Kalu.
Girl beauty this that came be Ada Kalu
‘The pretty girl that came is Ada Kalu’.
(h) Ọ́ bụ̀ Àdhá Ebere.
She be Ada Ebere
‘She is Ada Ebere
4.3. Head of the Ígbò Noun Phrasal Category (X1)
To this end, Mbah (1999:41) notes that "different language types show the predicate structure of heads differently." The noun phrase is a significant component of the lexical classes being discussed. Named after the syntactic category's head word, the noun, noun phrases consist of one or more nouns. The modifying element, which may be imparting information about the head's usage or form, sets the head apart from other lexical items that are comparable to it. To build grammatical structures, the head in Igbo NP chooses from a pool of complements that are not inherent to the NP. The NP head in Igbo is typically located at the beginning of the word, similar to Igbo's SVO structure (with a few outliers, as seen in the following illustrations):
(a) ụ́mụ̀ ákwụ́kwọ́ ńgálàbá Igbo
SPEC +Noun +PP
children book branch Igbo
‘Students of the department of Igbo’,
(b) Nw ọ́chá ifu
Man white fat
‘A fat fair man
(c) Nwáàdhá à
Noun + Dem
girl child this
(d) nwáàdhá ợmá à.
girl child this pretty
‘this girl pretty/ beautiful’
Nouns are clearly defined as ‘ụ́mụ̀ ákwụ́kwọ́’ (students), ‘Nw‘Nwáàdhá’ (girl), with other elements following them as modifiers/complements. However, due to the appearance of specific lexical elements like ájǭ, ńnúkwú and òtú, there are exceptions to the head initial and complement-final positions of Igbo language, it appears to contradict the initial position of the head. They are referred to as ‘adjectives’ due to their characteristics and modifying roles.
Possible combination of the head noun with modifiers/ qualifiers include
NI → N + N as in:
NI → N+Pro as in:
N + Pro
NI → N+Q as in:
ḿmádhụ̀ ànợ náànị́/sọ́ọ́sọ̀
people/person four only
‘four people only’/ only four people’
(c) ọ́thụ́thụ́ úlò
Q + N
‘some of them’
4.Noun + Dem
NI → N + Dem as in:
N→ N+PL (Noun + plural markers)
NI →N+ ADJ or (ADJ+N)
‘a fair complexioned man’
ADJ + N
NI → N + Nm or (Nm+N)
N + Nm
N + Nm
ákwụ́kwọ́ ísé/ írí ísé
book five/ ten
‘ten/ fifty books’
NI →N+RELT as in:
nwátà ńké ọzọ
child the other
‘the other child’
NI →RELT+N as in:
NI →RELT+Pro as in:
When the rules of X1 are applied, the head and its complements form a relationship in which the head has dominance over the complement (s). Since this is the case, switching the head and its complement(s) around will result in a new connection, which could lead to a nuanced interpretation or the elimination of any constraints on co-occurrence. The change of order of the following data 14 (a) and (b), accounts for the change in meaning between the two phrases; while (a) is describing an architectural pattern of a building; (b) is describing the height of the building.
12. (a) úlò élū
(b) élù úlò
‘height of a building’
The possible combinations of the NP with modifiers/qualifiers:
NP N (N) (Det)
DP→ D1+ N1
1. The major element of each noun phrase is the head and the head demands for the other constituents and the selection complies with the combinatorial possibilities existing in the language. Thus, all the noun phrasal categories have their heads which derive their names from the chief element of the phrase. The nominal category is known to subcategorize complements compulsorily to specify them, otherwise, the nominal would be vague, but the complements are not inherent. The head noun is normally head-initial, but there are cases where the modifying elements have flexible places of occurrence, making it look like the head appears at times initially, medially or finally.
2. But contrary to Nwachukwu’s (1987) assertion, there is no move-alpha operation affecting either the IC or an internally licensed NP in constructions where IC licenses an internal NP, hence, it is argued that there is no motivation for such a movement operation. Thus, the internal NP is already in a C–commanding relationship with its governor, the IC. Hence, a movement proposal for the internal NP will be ill-motivated.
3. Noun heads in Igbo demand for complements to the right. Those that do not demand for complements are those that lack independent reference like the reflexives and reciprocals and some with words that are at the complement position by some movement transformations. While simple noun heads require complements to limit their reference, derived nouns take complements that would receive their inherent theta roles. All derived head nouns in Igbo have inherent theta roles to assign. Therefore, they demand for complements, which will receive these theta roles.
From available data; it is certain that semantic properties and an order of modification within a noun phrasal structure are crucial to complementation. These have been successfully captured in the X1-Theory, which analyses the order of modifications, and the Ɵ-theory which provides semantic information about lexical items.
It can also be observed that the rules of subcategorization that occur in sentences occur in phrases like NPs and in phrasal structures, where they may receive case assignment. Case assigners demand for noun complements to receive case features for them. As nouns occur to the right of a case assigner in structures, in the same manner, do noun complements occur to the right of a case assigner in phrasal structures.
1. Further research work should be done on the Noun/Noun Phrase (NP)-complement relations in Ígbò.
2. In the same vein, more research should be carried out on the DP Phrase using the linear correspondence axiom and the asymmetry of syntax to prove some head movements in the language as a way of handling the flexibilities in the occurrence of head-complements (the qualifying and modifying elements of the nominal head in Ígbò.
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Cite this Article: Udeh, MK (2022). A comparative analysis of English and Igbo noun phrases using x bar theory. Greener Journal of Language and Literature Research, 7(1): 31-39.