Aspects Of Koenoem Phonology – Complete project material



This chapter takes a look at the general background of the study, historical background of Koenoem language and its speakers, socio-cultural profile of the people, genetic classification of the Language, scope and organization of the study, theoretical framework, data collection method, Data analysis and the review of the chosen frame work.

1.1              GENERAL BACKGROUND

The essence of studying human Languages, as undertaken in linguistics, is to develop them, preserve them mainly for the purpose of preventing them from going into extinction. Along this view, this long essay has made every necessary effort to probe into the aspects of Koenoem phonology. Koenoem is a Language spoken in Shendam Local government, Plateau State, Nigeria. The study of the phonology of any human language basically entails the description of the systems and patterns of  speech sounds in that Language (Yule, 1996). It bothers on studying how speech sounds of a Language can be combined by following a particular order or pattern (known as phonotactics), so as to arrive at a meaningful word.

This has therefore been the thrust of the present study. On this premise, this Long essay has addressed areas of the phonology of Koenoem such as the sound, tonal and syllable inventories of the Language. Koenoem Language sounds distribution, distinctive feature matrix for its sound inventory, tonal and syllable processes (including their distributional patterns) as well as the examination of the attested phonological processes in Koenoem  Language are presented.


According to oral history, the word Koenoem means to refuse i.e. koe means, ‘to’ while noem means ‘refuse’.  The reason why this utterance was pronounced by Koenoem speaking people was that, there was a river seperating them from the neighboring village and the river belongs to them i.e Koenoem, inspite of that their neighboring village were claiming to have  owned the river because they were benefiting from the river through catching fish and it was simply because the Koenoem people were not wise and were minority. Because of this, the Koenoem said they won’t fold their hands and be watching them, therefore they started presenting all their problems to their ancestors to fight for them and that was really what happened in which most of the  neighboring new born babies immediately after given birth will be strike to death by thunder from no where. The neighboring village name was Koenzam (i.e) to dominate. When the villagers got to realize that all those things happening  were as a result of their selfish interest. They quickly called for a dialogue and resolved the issue and immediately handed over the Land to the Koenoem speaking people. That is why in both shendam and mikang Local government area today, they don’t take these Koenoem for granted.

The Koenoem Like any tribe in Nigeria are predominantly farmers and in recent time most of them now have developed interest in going to school and also involved in political activities even the present members of the house of assembly representing their constituencies. Mikang Local government chairman in plateau state is from Koenoem ward, and the shendam   Local government chairman is also from there.

Geographical Location: Koenoem is Located at the northern part of shendam Local  government area and eastern part of mikang Local government area respectively. Koenoem is firstly Located at the Northern part later divided into three (3) regions. Firstly in Northern part , but now it is in western part of mikang with the headquarter in Tinkus or the Koenoem village was formally a ward under shendam province and later relocated mikang Local government area.

Estimated population of Koenoem is 700-750. The village is predominantly full of females.


In Koenoem, the three (3) religions are observed i.e Christianity, Traditional and Islamic religions but Christianity dominates, followed by traditional religion then Islam. Most  of the people practicing the Islamic religion are indigenous members of the Land, but in recent time we still have some few people coming from other parts of the country to settle there which most of them are Muslims. The general Language use in a place of worshiping is Hausa unless the traditional worshippers who use the Local dialect to make incantation.



The Koenoem normally have their culture, norms and values. When it comes to marriage, the person who wants to marry pay a specific amount of money and some traditional items for the kinsman before seeing the father of the girl for bride price. The price is not always much, that is why you find them Marry 1-10 wives because of farming.

The first step of Marriage in Koenoem is that if a boy likes a girl, the boy’s family will go to the girl and talk to her after she has agreed, the boy friends will go with bottles of burukutu to show that they want to marry from that family, after, the girl’s father will call her and ask whether she loves the boy or not. If yes, he is to pay certain amount of money and some items, or material things such as wrappers, shiggida, Millet with local brut beer to the elders of that family.

SECOND STEP- Introduction of bride by going into the groom farm land unknowingly to the family i.e is to determine if the lady loves the man. In the process, the girl will know if she is interested or not. If she is not, she will now stop them from that process called (maiwet) meaning thief- farming.

THE THIRD STEP- Is the paying of the “maiwet” i.e if the girl accepts them, but the amount is very minute, then followed by real “mailong” which means chief farming. Immediately after the chief farming is the proper marriage and introduction of the two couple’s family to each other. In the Koenoem Land, divorce doesn’t waste time because they believe that immediately a woman leaves a man, the more the man brings in another one to replace her. Some of the divorce is also made in the court of law through chief judge’s pronouncement and others in a traditional way where the two families come together and settle it amicably by paying back what they collected from the husband’s family. Sometimes, when there is pressure from the husband, the parents will ask to wait until she get married to another man.


They celebrate their festival once in a year which is called Koenoem day normally scheduled on every 12 December during the dry season. The Koenoem unions are the one that normally plan the festival for the purpose of coming together, for unity, progress, among themselves.

During these festival there are masquerades called kum. They will come out dancing with different cultural groups in that community. They celebrate the festival with local brut beer (burukutu) inside a local pot (pie). They will be reciting incantation for their ancestors for them to answer their prayers.


If a young person dies in Koenoem, the parents of that dead person will inform their relatives that are of the same blood such as uncle, Nephew, cousin. They will bring out beer, kunu for condolence to celebrate the dead person for five days, they can even inform the villagers, Oba’s to celebrate with them before carrying the person (corpse) to the grave.

Also if an old person dies, for instance, if that person is a man, the relatives of the man will comes to the wife’s relatives and the man’s family will pay/give cow, goat, to the wife families one after the other out of what the man have, to show that they abide by the traditions of Koenoem. But if the dead person doesn’t have goat, cow, the relatives will contribute money or bring out, out of their own individual cows, goats, and give to the wife families. Also apply to Oba/chief but the only difference is that their own items that will be given to the in-law will be two/three surpassing ordinary person because of his title.


If it is a Muslim naming ceremony, it is the same as the normal naming ceremony of Yoruba. But if it is a tradition naming, after three days, the parent will carry the baby to the traditional rulers and give him/her any name that is relevant with the traditional name depending on the day the baby was born or any traditional name that the traditional ruler likes. Also, if it is in a Christian way, they give the baby name after the narvels has dropped from the mother. They will carry the baby to church and give him/her name.


They use mud to build their house cover with grass with normal door and window in the olden days, but due to civilization they build their houses with cement, zinc and by roofing.


In the olden days, unmarried woman will open front part of her buttocks while the back be covered with leaf (komtin / bante) while man will cover both the front and back with leaves. But now due to civilization the Koenoem dress like the Hausas. They wear buba with wrapper, while man put on cap on their head.


They eat tuwo, millet, pounded yam, also fruits like mango, orange, cashew except pineapple. Koenoem favorite food is “Tuwo” with gbegiri soup.


The Koenoem is rounded by hills, it is a thick forest a place of green vegetation such as Okra, vegetable, bitter leaf e.t.c


Going by oral tradition, Koenoem people’s administration is more or less a traditional system of administration. The people of Koenoem normally take order from their chiefs. The chief is the administrative and ceremonial head in the village. The chief who is called Long Koenoem dictate some certain things for them and any information which is to be passed to the people/community must be passed through the chief before disseminating it to the masses. Long Koenoem is the head, the final sayer, he has power in any form of bad habits in the community. After the chief is the “manangwa” meaning hamlet who are the second in command and sometimes they take directives from the chief to the people.


The level of education in Koenoem village is very low, because most of them believe that farming is the best way of making money because of lack of awareness. Education has defined by one philosopher popularly Plato who said that “education is a production of a sound mind to a sound body”.  In this definition we are now made to understand that Koenoem were not aware of the positive impact of education, but now they are able to allow their children to go to school because of their improvement in politics.


The long essay aims at studying aspects of Koenoem phonology. Therefore, it has been arranged systematically into five chapters with relevant phonological and other information about the language.

The first chapter, being the introductory segment, covers the general background of the whole study, the historical background of the speakers of Koenoem, socio-cultural profile of the people, genetic classification of the language, scope and organization of the study theoretical framework, data collection method, data analysis, as well as the review of the chosen frame work.

Chapter two of the work addresses some basic phonological concepts such as sound, tonal and syllable inventories in Koenoem, sound distribution and distinctive features matrix.

The third chapter investigates the possible phonological processes attested in the language.

Chapter four examines the tonal and syllable processes with their distributional patterns in the language.

The fifth chapter, being the last, comprises the summary of the whole research findings, the conclusion of the work as well as the recommendations based on such findings.


Among the several competing theories of phonology such as taxonomic phonemics, lexical phonology, auto-segmental phonology, generative phonology e.t.c, the relevant phonological  theory that has been considered as deem fit for the phonological analysis of Koenoem in this research work s generative phonology.

Principally, the method of data collection adopted in this long essay was the informant method.

That is, all the copious information cited in this study were collected through the help of a native speaker of Koenoem language with the use of Ibadan word list of 400 basic items.

Also, as a result of the fact that some phonological information can not be got by the use of the word list which deals with words in isolation, the frame technique was also used. Thus, some morphemes were combined so as to determine the operation of some phonological processes in the language.

Additionally, the data were collected with the proceedings recorded in an audio cassette through a tape recorder. The information concerning the informant used in this research is given below:

Name:  Mr Gwaitil titus

Home town: Koenoem

Residential address: sobi barrack(block6 room6)

Native language: Koenoem

Other language spoken: English, piapun, Hausa, tal

Religion: Christian

Age: 28 years

Years lived in his home town: 20 years

Occupation: soldier

In this research work, the analysis of the data collected from the informant was based on the Ibadan word list of 400 basic items as well as the frame technique. Therefore, the data where analyzed by a total reliance on the intuitive knowledge of the native speaker of Koenoem which was reflected in the information he supplied without any imposition of extraneous rules by the researcher on the language. Thus, a descriptive approach was adopted in the analysis of the ample data obtained.

Greenberg (1963) submits that African languages are categorized into four major families which are Niger-Kordofanian, Afro-asiatic, Nilo-Saharan, and khoisan. Therefore, Koenoem language is classified under the family of Niger-kordofanian. It belongs to the group of Plateau found under the Benue Congo of Niger-Congo language family.

FIGURE 1: Genetic classification of Koenoem


The theoretical framework to be used for this research work is generative phonology that was propounded by Chomsky and Halle (1968) in their book “SPE “.

Hyman (1975:19) describes generative phonology as the description of how phonological rules can be converted into phonological representation and to capture the distinctive sounds in contrast in a language. Generative phonology focuses on grammar as consisting of a set of finite, vocabulary capable of generating infinite set of sentences.

Also, Goldsmith (1995) says that the theory of generative phonology made a radical departure from classical phonemics. He stresses further that, classical generative phonology appeals to tree structure representations with labels such as N and NP. This is perhaps a strong evidence for maintaining the fact that generative phonology constitutes part of the linguistic theory which is called “Transformational generative Grammar (TGG)” proposed by Chomsky in 1957.

Chomsky and  Halle (1968) formulated the theory of generative phonology in order to address the inherent short comings in the classical taxonomic phonemics which is also a theory of phonological description.

Mainly, phonology in classical (taxonomic) phonemics meant purely phonological allophonic patterns. In other words, it made a distinction between phonemic and allophonic. However, generative phonology had erased the lines that demarcated these distinctions by postulating two levels of phonological representation which are: Abstract underlying (phonemic) level and the derived surface (phonetic) level. These two level are intermediated by phonological rules. The goal of generative phonology is to express the link between sound and meaning. Generative phonology also accounts for some language phenomenon like: linguistic intuition, foreign account, speech error e.t.c


Goldsmith (1995) states that, classical generative phonology is deeply entrenched in the metaphor of grammar in which modules as well as principles are sequential. In the conception, a principle is typically stated as a rule, that is, a procedure that takes an input and yields an output.

The same input-output relation holds for levels of reorientation as well: a module with its set of principles takes a level of representation as the input, and yields another level of representation as the output. He submits further that, between these two levels of representation defined by the grammar is an intermediate stage in the derivation of the output from the input. Thus, the input level of phonological representation  is the abstract phonemic representation, which is the basis for any derivation, the output level of phonological representation is the surface phonetic representation derived from the deep phonemic level. The intermediate level is the phonological rule that derives the output level (i.e the surface phonetic level) from the input level of representation (i.e the deep phonemic level).

Therefore, the formal structure of generative phonology as explained above can be diagrammatically represented below:

Figure 2: Structure of generative phonology

Generally, generative phonology structurally postulates that Linguistic description ought to aim to construct a grammar that would ‘generate’ linguistic forms. The phonological component of such a grammar would be a set of phonological rules applying to the underlying forms of the language and yielding surface phonetic representations.

In essence, generative phonology is part of a model of language which proposes that underlying representation are converted into surface representations by the application of rules (Clark, 2007:409).


Oyebade (2008:13) sees underlying representation as the non-predicable, non rule derived part of words. It is a form with abstract  representation existing in the linguistic competence of a native speaker. It is the basis of all utterance and it exist in the mental dictionary representation.

In a similar vein, Gussenhoven and Jacobs (1998:48) state that the underlying form expresses the phonological unity of the morpheme’s variants. Likewise, Schane (1973) opines that the underlying  representation is the representation in which alternant are represented identically.

Thus, the underlying form is a non-predictable form which serves as the base  from which the surface level (i.e the variants) is derived by the application of phonological rules.


Hyman (1975) explains that, phonetic representation represents possible pronunciation of forms in the realization of speech and at the surface level. Also, from the above perspective, Oyebade (1998:21) citing Kenstowiczs (1994:8) states that, phonetic level indicates “…. how the lexical items are to be realized in speech”. It is the derived representations which directly tell us the different phonetic manifestations of a morpheme (Schane, 1973).

The surface phonetic representation is predictable as a result of the fact that the pronunciation of segments varies with the phonological context in which they occur. On this premise it is obvious that the phonetic representation is similar to what is realized in actual speech. In essence, phonetic level is derived from the underlying by applying phonological rules to it.


Botha (1973) submits that, phonological rules are rules of the phonological component of a grammar which constitute the formalized representations of the phonological processes of a language. These rules apply to phonological surface structures, deriving from them to those aspects of phonetic representations of a language. Along the same thought, Schane (1973:62) says that, if we can state the exact conditions under which a phonological process takes place, we have in effect given a rules. It is the rules converting underlying representations to derived ones which explicitly characterize the process of a language. Schane (1973:93) therefore concludes that phonological rules apply to underlying representations and convert them to other representations.

Likewise, Oyebade (2008:15) maintains that phonological rules are directives which map underlying form on surface forms. They show the derivational sequence of an item in its journey from the underlying level to the phonetic level. This summarily means that phonological rules explains the phonological relationship between the phonemic and the surface levels of phonological representation.


According to Halle and Clements (1983:6), distinctive features are a ”… set of (articulatory and acoustic) features sufficient to define and distinguish one from the other, the majority of speech sounds used in the languages of the world”.

Distinctive features are the smallest constituents of phonological structure that are used to describe the phonetic properties inherent in the sound inventory of a language. It is also concerned with discovery and explanation of generalization about the phonological behavior of phonological segments, both in isolation, sequence or as a member of a system.

Oyebade (2008) therefore states that there are two major criteria that potential features must meet to be admitted as distinctive feature they are:

1       Phonetic specifiability

2       Morphophonemic relevance.

Also, Gussenhoven  and Jacobes (1998:59) proposes three requirements to be imposed on a distinctive feature system, which are:

1       They should be capable of characterizing natural segment      classes.

2       They should be capable of describing all segmental contrasts in      the world’s languages.

3       They should be definable in phonetics terms.

Summarily, in the theory of phonological distinctive features, the concept ‘binarity’ is made use of a binary feature either has the value ‘+’ or the value ‘-’ indicating the presence or absence of a feature respectively. The feature value ‘+’ means that the feature is present, while the feature value


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