Aspects Of Koenoem Verb Phrase – Complete project material




This study focuses verb phrase in the Koenoem language and its speaker spoken in Shendam local government area of Plateau state.

As an introductory chapter, attempts shall be made to trace the origin, socio-cultural profile, administrative system, religion, geographical location, topography, (life zone) economy, marriage rites, map, genetic classification and the burial rites of the Koenoem people. In this same chapterr, we shall present the organization of the study, theoretical framework together with a review of the chosen theory, data collection and data analysis.


There are contradictory versions about the origins of the Koenoem. Some primary and secondary oral sources assumed monolithic origin for the Koenoem people. However, all these contradictory versions reflect migrations and interrelations.

A popular legend of the Koenoem claimed that they were evidently influenced by the attempt to link their origin to the universal perspective and centres of old civilization. This legend claimed that they migrated from France to their present location for economic reasons. According to the present village head, the Koenoem speakers travelled from far Sudan and settled on in their present abode because of the unlimited economic potentials possessed by the area.

Linguistic consideration strongly points to the fact that all couldn’t have one origin nor came together into central Nigeria, as they do not speak same language. In fact, the different in dialect from one Koenoem group to another further points to the fact that they have distinct origin.

Literally, the word “Koe” means “to” while “noem” means “refuse”. This name emanated from a dispute that ensued between them and their neighbours over a river dividing them. The Koenoem people were the rightful owners of the river but their neighbours were claiming ownership. This is because the river has immense economic benefits.

The Koenoem couldn’t stand akimbo and see themselves being deprived of their inalienable rights, they beseeched terrestrial powers from their ancestors with which most of the neighbouring competitors were struck to death.

The neighbouring town later compromise their stand and left the land for its rightful owner. Till today, the Koenoem people are respected for their traditional prowess.


The Koenoem people are known for unshakeable peace and unflinching tolerance even with other distinct neighbours. They believed these elements (peace and tolerance) are indispensable for survival and productivity. The puzzle of Koeneom social psychology attracts scholarly interest to examine the binding forces. Other groups are most comfortable with them for their humour, human relations, accessibility, peace and docility. They are identical through joking relations, common facial marks, sharing of foods, traditional and cult consultations, moving together in the market or social occasion and sometimes forging common origin.

1.2.1        Religion

The Koenoem people are dominantly traditional worshippers with every families having its own ancestral shrine, town shrines and clan shrines. The intrusion of the colonial masters had propagated Christian religion to the point that, it has more preference today than traditional religion. However, Islamic religion is practiced by only those who are also sons of the soil. The language of worship is Hausa. For the traditional worshippers more allegiance is paid to their kins and cultural cum religious heads.

1.2.2        Festivals

Festivals are organized to unite their kins from far and near. The chief priest is regarded as the ruler of the tribe only, but without defined territory, ceremonies are some of the arenas for hosting neighbouring groups. Some of the ceremonies are burials, marriages and annual festivals. There is a particular festival celebrated to commemorate the death of their heroes who had fought tirelessly to emancipate them from the shackles of invaders and other forms of oppressions. Others are celebrated after the drop of the first rain. There is also an annual festival celebrated on the 12th December. For this festival, an antelope must be casted to appease the gods.

1.2.3 Economy/Occupation

Agriculture is the mainstay of Koenoem’s economy. The people here are gainfully employed in farming. Commercial and subsistence farming are dominant. Yam, maize, and guinea corn are the major articles of trade. The land has varying proportion of silica, salt, nitrogen and phosphorus. It is alluvial and sticky in the paddy areas and sandy on the uplands. They ensure proper growth of crops. In other words, the boom in agriculture is related to the fertility of the soils. It is pertinent to note here that, farming in this region is of great antiquity. Agricultural produce are sold to buyers from the urban centres.

However, agriculture here doesn’t possess the rich potentialities that belong to it in the other regions. Crops are sold at a give-away prices.

1.2.4 Marriage Divorce/Rites

Marriage is one of the basic necessity in every human society. It is the only formal universal approach to procreation. The Koenoem people like any other tribe have an approach to marriage system. After a marriage proposal has been consented by a girl and her family, the man is expected to pay a bride price. The price is usually bearable because of the stagnant economy of the area. The money is combined with material things like; rapper, traditionally called “shinggida” millet, and local beer for the elders of bride’s family.

The second step is that the groom’s farmland is visited to ascertain his financial status. This is executed without his (Groom) knowledge. Having certified that the groom is financially capable, the next step is introduction of both family and subsequently marriage ceremony.

After the marriage ceremony, the bride is also exposed to different physical fitness exercise to keep her warm for the routine duties ahead of her.

1.2.5 Administrative System

The unit of authority starts from the household under its house-head. The household heads are answerable to the clan head or ward head. They are also answerable to the village head while all the village heads are answerable to the chief who might even be the village head. Titleholders have overlapping roles in the palace, but the most significant ones are the secretary, and the chief security officer. The committed leadership attracted the admiration of Arab and European writers and remarked that:

“they were world famous in governance, better than European, Asian or American systems”. (Filaba, e’tal (2007) Koeneom and Gbagyi sub-groups. Bwari: technoscape publications).

Ibn Batuta, a renowned historian also observed that;

“The negroes posses some admirable qualities. They are seldomly unjust and have a greater abhorrence of injustice than any other people. Their kings shows no mercy to anyone who is guilty of the least act. There is complete security in their country. Neither travelers nor inhabitant in it have anything to fear from robbers or men of violence. They do not confiscate the property of any man…” (Okoye, 1964: 72).

The traditional institution was not corrupt; it protected the weak, dealt with criminals particularly armed robbers and could stop any violent clash. In attempt to account for the semi-autonomous nature of the village groups, some informants simply submitted that they were kingdoms, independent of external control. The traditional name of the king is Long Koeneom.

1.2.6        Geographical Location

Shendam local government is located in Shendam, which is almost 254 kilometres to the South East, uniquely recognized as the lowland because of its geographical low attitude. It’s humid weather can be compared to that of the Federal Capital Territory. The council has a total area of 2,437 square kilometers. The local government area is divided into four administrative districts of Shendam, Dorok, Doka and Piapun. The major occupation of the people is farming, trading, craftwork like pottery and fishing. The area can boast of a reasonable presence of several tourism sites such as Npoll Lake, Jalbang Rocks.

1.2.7        Topography

People here derive their livelihood from the environment in similar ways from the environmental wealth and thus have a strong traditional affinities. The most obvious physical features of the area are the topography and drainage with ranges of hills of base granite outcroppings with kurape hill.

The hills protrude through Jos but cut off with plains making it becoming dotted down to the confluence of Kogi state. These hills serve as water heads for river Gurara Uke in Kaduna and Nassarawa states respectively. There are also many patches of densely thick forest of several square kilometers, some of them running along the banks of rivers. The natural environment and the weather opportunities have greatly influenced human habitation in the southern Plateau. The plains are between 500-600 metres above sea level with some hills as high as 900 metres above the sea-level made of older granite and black rocks (Gojeh, Jatau and Mamman, 1998: 24-26).

1.2.8        Educational Background

The Koenoems are fairly educated. Though, the belief that farming is profitable has imprisoned their psyche to nothing but agriculture but, we can say to a considerable degree that a few number of the people are educationally motivated. A survey of some of the primary school around the area reveals that, more children are enrolling in school than ever before. This is a pointer to an educationally potential community.


Genetic classification is an offshot of genesis while genesis is derived from the word gene (cell). Languages could be genetically related. Language of the world can be divided into certain compartments based on striking similarities. They are genetically classified based on the similarities in their linguistic items. However, language might be similar because they belong to the universal sets, this doesn’t mean that such resemblance can be traced to common origin.

Genetic classification is a sub-grouping of all related languages into genetic nodes (groups of languages in each of which one language is more closely related to the other in that group, than to any language outside the group).

Mumil Rublen (1987: 1) states that “the idea that groups of languages that share certain systematic resemblances have inherited those similarities from a common origin is the basis of genetic classification”.

Genetic classification thus makes two statements. First, it affirms that certain languages are in fact related to each other (i.e. maintains similar ancestral relations). Second, it typifies how the languages are interrelated in the form of a branching diagram.

Koenoem language falls under the category of Niger-Congo family.


The ultimate goal of this project is to study the aspect of verb phrase in Koenoem language. Extensive investigation shall be made on verb phrase, the minimum verb phrase, its maximum projection, and functions of verb phrase in Koenoem language and verb phrase in respect to transformational process, which involve modification of constituents.

This long essay is conveniently divided into five chapters. The first is an introductory chapter which will encompass the general introduction of this research work, the historical background, socio-cultural profile of the speakers, administrative system, economy, geographical location, topography, educational system, marriage rites and burial system. Chapter one also has in its fold; scope and organization of the study, data collection and analysis, theoretical framework and finally a review of the chosen framework.

Chapter two presents a phonological overview of Koeneom language and basic syntactic concepts like phrase structure rules/components, basic word order, lexical categories and sentence types. Chapter three which is the core or central of this project shall mark out what ‘Verb phrase’ is about in Koenoem language. Chapter three will also delineate the relevant notion of verb phrase and its major sub-categories. Chapter five summaries and make linguistically significant generalizations about Koenoem language.


Theories are bundles of abstract representation existing in the linguistic repertoire of a linguist. The relevance of these theories lies in its practical sense. All the levels of language analysis has one or more theories that are capable of exposing the rudiments or fundamentals of such level. “The varieties of approaches to syntax and the grammars on which they depend make this particular level of language probably the most complex and the most contentious in terms of linguistic criticism”… (Geoffrey, Finch 2000: 82). Allied to the above, theories are propounded in order to present a systematic account (or descriptive) of the linguistic knowledge or competence a native speaker possess. Theories in syntax include traditional, classical, structural or taxonomic, systemic and transformational generative grammar.

The theoretical framework to be employed in this research is “government and binding theory”: a sub-theory of transformational generative grammar. Government and binding theory is a model of grammar propounded and developed by Noam Chomsky. This theory has been chosen because it makes universal claims about natural languages i.e. it explains the systems, principles, conditions and rules that are elements or properties of all human languages. Government and binding theory captures the similarities in natural languages by assigning to them the same structure rather than the case of transformational generative grammar.

In essence, verb phrase as an aspect of syntax will be analysed under the GB theoretical framework.


Samarin (1967: 43) says “the kind of corpus a field researcher obtains is determined by the purpose and the techniques he adopts in his data collection”. The focus of this research is largely for language description and primarily for showing antonymity or, oppositeness of some utterances with a view to explaining the semantic implication of such in Koenoem-language.

The data is collected through contact or informant method. We obtain linguistic data for this study by making use of a proficient informants from the native community. The Koenoem four hundred wordlist together with a framework techniques are the basic instruments of data-collection. The framework techniques” forms a crucial part of this research work since it is the domain of syntax. It helps an informant to adequately account for both underlying and surface syntactic processes that can’t be captured using the Koenoem four hundred basic lexical items. Three informants tirelessly supply this research work with sophisticated or rich data. Below are pieces of information about them.

  1. Name: Muhammad Kabir

Sex:  Male

Age:  56 years

Occupation:   Farmer

No of years spent in Koeneom:  56 years

Other languages spoken: English, Hausa, Nupe and Igala.

Aspect of the data supplied: Historical background of the Koeneoms

  1. Name: Musa Taofeek

Sex:  Male

Age:  68

Occupation:  Traditional ruler

No of years spent in Koeneom: 48

Other languages spoken: Hausa, English, Gwarri and Nupe

Aspect of the data supplied: Part of the wordlist and some sentences.


To ensure clarity and brevity of this research, all data supplied by the informants are accurately transcribed. The component words or constituent of the sentences of the language (Koeneom-language) are carefully glossed and subsequently translated. The data collected are strictly worked upon according to native speakers rendition without any permutation, mutilation, modification or imposition of correctness.


Cook (1988: 86) views GB theory “as an interlocking arrangement of principles and sub-theories which interact in many different ways. Horrocks, G (1987, 95) shared a similar opinion”. GB theory is best described as a set of interacting “components”. GB theory carries over certain aspects of the deep structure into the surface structure through the process of transformations or movement technically termed as move-alpha (move – a) according to Andrew Radford, (1988: 419) transformation is the rule that deals with the act of changing the structure of one sentence to another. Transformations are supplementary rules to the phrase structure rules. The output of the phrase structure rules in the input of transformational rules. This theory was developed to correct the lapses of transformational generative grammar.

GB theory captures the similarities which exist between different categories of lexical phrases by assigning the same structure to them rather than having different phrase structure rules for VOS, Adjps, NPs as postulated by transformational generative grammar. Unlike in TGG, GB theory is a modular deductive theory of grammar. The modules of grammar otherwise known as sub-theories, operate in a modular form, i.e. they are interconnected. Below is the modular theory of grammar that confirms the interlocking nature of the GB theory.



Modules of Grammar

(Adapted from Sells (1985) and Cook (1988).

The above diagram shows that, no part of the GB theory can be considered in isolation from the rest. It posits seven sub-theories viz;

  1. X – BAR theory
  2. Theta Ө theory
  1. Binding theory
  2. Bounding theory
  3. Government theory

1.8.1        X – Bar Theory

According to Horrocks, G. (1987: 101), X’ theory provides principles for the projection of phrasal categories from lexical categories and imposes conditions of the hierarchical organization of categories in the form of general schemata. Crucially, it makes explicit the notion “head” of a phrase. Similarly, the x-bar (x’) theory is based on the theory of phrase structure.

In X’ theory, word order (i.e. the syntagmatic arrangement of words) and constituent structure (the relatedness of structures) are paramount. The theory takes into consideration the strict-sub-categorization frame that occurs between verbs and nouns, and generalizes this over other phrasal categories including sentences. The internal structure of each phrasal category e.g. an NP, is similar to others such that the same set of rules can apply to each of them. Thus, we say that the X’ theory uses cross-categorical generalizations. Lamidi, M.T. (2008: 153).

What makes the above possible (according to Lamidi) is the fact that, the phrases have certain features in common. One of these is the concept of head. In PSG, the head is the keyword in a phrase and the word can be pre-or post modified. This concept has been taken over by the X’ theory. The primacy of the head started from the deep structure each head is projected from the D-structure in what is called the projection principle. The principle states that each head must be represented at all levels. There are three categorical levels of X-bar theory viz: lexical, intermediate and phrasal category. The schema below explains better.

In this schema, we take to be a variable representing Noun, Verb Adjective or Preposition, each of which functions as the head of its own phrase. The head is the primary and therefore is X: As an X’, it is a lexical category and it can be pre-modified by a specifier (Spec). It can also be post-modified by a complement or an adjunct. The X-bar theory projects from the core projection level to the maximal projection level. This is called  projection principle.


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