Aspects Of Question Formation In Bura Language – Complete project material



1.1     General Background

The main focus of this research work is a discussion on the aspects of ‘Bura’ question formation. This chapter therefore, aims at introducing the work by discussing some historical facts about the Bura people and the language itself.

The research method used the language helpers. Justifications for the study, as well as the scope of the work are also examined in this chapter. The chapter will also give information on the genetic classification of Bura language and then attempt a brief review of our chosen frame-work, the Government and Binding theory.

1.2     Historical Background

The Pabir and the Bura are ethnically different, but they both speak the Bura language. They are the major tribes in Biu and Shani local government areas. The population of the Bura is over 250,000. Apart from Bura, they also speak Housa, Chibok and Marghi. A few speak Fulfulde.

The Bura lived northern Biu before being attacked by Yamta-ra-wala around the 16th century. The few people Yamta brought with him inter-married with the Bura and built up the Biu dynasty into a kingdom. Those descended from Yamta’s group were called Pabir (Babur). This is why the Pabir and Bura differ considerably in culture and appearance.

Until today, the Pabir are the ruling class among Bura, and all the Bura Villages pay tribute to the Emir of Biu. The Bura still resent the Pabir.

The geographical location of Bura land is located on the Biu Plateau, which are highlands in northeastern Nigeria, covering an area of approximately 2,000 square miles (5,200 square km) with an average elevation of 2,300 feet (700m).The plateau’s highest point is Wiga Hill (2,693) feet (821m) and its most prominent relief features are the many well defined, extinct volcanic cones.

Modern-day Bura live throughout Nigeria, their ancestral home can be found in the shaded areas on the Nigeria map.

1.3 Socio-linguistic profile of the Bura tribe

Every community has its distinct way of life. The way people eat, what they wear, their mode of marriage etc, differ in various societies. The Bura people, just like every community, have their distinct culture and tradition.

Bura is a language spoken as a mother tongue in Biu local government of Plateau State. It has neighbouring tribes like Yobe, Adamawa, Gombe, Bauchi and a host of other tribes.

The main occupation of Bura people is farming. They practice both subsistence and commercial form of farming but they are major on cultivation of land, growing of crops for the sustainability of their household. The Bura people crops are mainly maize, guinea corn, groundnut and rice.

The Bura had their traditional religion which was idol worship, before Islam came around in 1920 and Christianity later in the 1920’s. Today, these three religions can all be found among the Bura.

The Supreme Being (idol) is called ‘Hyel or Hyel-taku’. They approach Hyel through ‘Haptu’. The Bura believes that Hyel created everything. But Haptu is a personal God who takes care of the individual.

The Haptu have shrines where people worship and offer sacrifices. The gods are represented by various objects such as water (a lake of river), stones, mountains or forests. Usually there is a priest through whom consultation is made of the Haptu.

Most sacrifices to Gods are made on Saturday, so it is a special day. Some gods are for particular clans, and there is no unified form of traditional religion for the whole tribe. One of the Haptu is ‘Dlaninps kampeka’ a large being living in space. His chief priest is called ‘Mthakur haptu’. There is a mthakur haptu in each village.

The most common of the gods is represented by a covered pot kept by a family head. At the beginning and end of the dry season, or in times of stress, the family head offers a chicken to the pot for the health of his house hold. The cult passes from father to son.

The practice of traditional religion has now largely declined to the advent of Islam and Christianity. Despite the presence of many towns and villages, Islam is still the predominant religion among the Bura. The proportion of Christians is small compared to the entire population.

The rough estimate of the religious percentages is as follows; Muslim 78%, Christians 20 and Traditional 2%. There is a certain amount of understanding between the Muslims and Christians which prevents too much religious tension in the tribe.

The factors determining the building of houses in Bura land are war and farming factors. The Bura people used to live in huts. The major building structure is the hay, and the mud buildings. Those using mud for their building are the civilized among them. Not withstanding in the recent time, they are still using mud in building their houses.

Before the present day of westernization and civilization, the Bura people clothed themselves with animal’s skin. They made themselves with various styles from these skin materials. For instance, they made shirts, trousers, skirts and so on; they even went to an extent of carrying their young ones with the skin materials and mostly use such materials to tie their babies to their backs.

But today, some Bura put on cotton clothes while others till date put on skin materials.

Presently, there are two kinds of marriage practice in Bura land which are Religion marriage (both Islam and Christian wedding) and Traditional marriage. The Bura people practice both the monogamous and the polygamous forms of marriage.

In Bura land, when a female child is born, a suitor may propose by throwing a leafy branch of a certain tree into the female mother’s hut. If he is accepted, he gives gifts as the girl grows up. He works on her father’s farm and makes zana matting for them. When she reaches marriageable age, he organizes his friends to capture her and bring her to his house. Then, the remaining part of the bride price is settled and arrangements for the marriage ceremony are concluded.

The bride is usually expected to produce a white cloth stained with the proof of her virginity and it may be displayed with pride. Her parents will be ashamed if she is not a virgin.

Another form of courtship in Bura land is for a boy to look over the girls while they are collecting firewoods or fetching water. When he sees one he likes, he asks her to marry him, and if she agrees, he get 8 or 10 strong fellows to capture her and bring her to his house. Then, the marriage ceremony is arranged.

The Bura like most African societies, have quite a number of accompanying ceremonies and initiations. One of which is the child’s naming ceremony which comes up on the seventh day after birth.

The Bura usually don’t circumcise their boys until the practice was introduced around the 1920’s the boys in Bura land are circumcised around the age of Seven (7).

Another ceremony that takes place in Bura land is the burial rites. When an old person dies, he or she is buried on the second day’s evening when everyone has gathered. The grave is a wide circular shaft at the top, about knee deep, and then a smaller round shaft is dug from the bottom of this into a flask-shape cavity below. The corpse of a chief is buried sealed, while other people are laid flat on the floor of the cavity.

There is always a traditional dancing for seven (7) days after the burial and if the deceased was an important person, it lasts fourteen (14) days. During these days, dancers perform. On one of the mourning days, the Fuinchambwi dance is done. The male dancers jump from the ground to the roof of the hut of the deceased and back again until the roof is destroyed.

After this, the date is fixed for the last mourning or Sadaka, which is held about six (6) months later, but usually during the dry season.

Before the advents of the Western Education, the Bura people have a way of teaching moralities, respects and skills within their communities. The Education of their children is of utmost importance because they believe an uneducated mind will definitely die an ignorant and will be problematic to him or herself and the community in general.

Therefore, they teach and impact moral knowledge to their children right from birth, and as they grow, they set their children on skills training.

The Western Education was embraced by the Bura people and they emphasized that both male and female should be give equal right to Education. As such, they built schools within the communities.

Originally, the Bura had no central government, but now, the Emir of Biu appoints the district heads (Ajia) who then approve the appointments of the village heads (Lawans). Today, both these titles belong to certain families. The village heads appoint the ward heads (Bulamas) over the small villages and larger ones. Anyone who has leadership ability can be chosen as a BULAMA’.

  • Genetic classification of Bura language

Genetic classification of languages is based on the assumption that languages originated from a common ancestor.

The essence of the genetic classification of Bura language is therefore to trace the origin of the language and show its relationship to other languages especially Africa languages.


EGYPTIAN           SEMITIC            CUSHITIC        OMICTIC      BERBER           CHADIC

WEST-CHADIC              BIU-MANDARA                   EAST-CHADIC                      MASA


GROUP    GROUP     GROUP   GROUP    GROUP         GROUP           GROUP

CHIBOK              KIBA            BURA (PABIR)            LABA           MANGI            PUTAI

Source ‘Courie,  B.(ed) (1987)’

  • Scope and Organization of study

This research is an attempt to describe aspects of the syntax of Bura language and it is limited to the question formation aspect of the language.

Chapter one of the work gives the general background to the study, discusses the historical background and socio–linguistic profile of Bura speakers, as well as the genetic classification of Bura language. The chapter also discusses on the scope and organization of the work, the theoretical frame work adopted for the study, method of data collection and data analysis, and brief review of the chosen frame work for the analysis of our data.

Chapter two of the research presents a phonological over-view of Bura language and the basic syntactic concepts like; phrase structure rules, lexical categories, basic word order in Bura, as well as Bura sentence types.

Chapter three focuses on the question formation in Bura language, while chapter four addresses transformational processes like; focus construction, reflexivizationm, relativization etc.

Chapter five is based on the summary and conclusion of the work.

The syntactic theory adopted for this study is the Government and Binding theory (GB syntactic theory). This theory was initially developed by Chomsky (1981). This theory is in a sense, the immediate descendent of transformational grammar. Infact, one feature of Government and Binding theory that distinguishes it from other theories is that, it makes use of transformational operation i.e many of the ideas of Government and Binding theory either alter or in some cases turn around completely their apparent counter parts in earlier theories like transformational grammar. Sell (1985:19).

Government and Binding theory, which is other wise known as the principles and parameters theory is a modular deductive theory of grammar which posits multiple levels representation related by the transformational rule called ‘MOVE-ALPHA’ Chomsky (1987). The application of move alpha is constrained by the interactions of various principles and parameters or modules. These modules are other wise known as sub-theories of GB syntax.

Government and Binding theory is an interlocking arrangement of sub-theories which interact in many different ways in the analysis of human languages. Proponents of GB (Government and Binding) theory often maintains that there is no such thing as rules of languages but only the principles and parameters whose values may vary from one language to the other, do exist with specified limits.

Lamidi (2000:59) is of the opinion that Government and Binding theory is a more advanced theory of universal grammar, and is other wise known as principles and parameters theory. The theory is named after Chomsky’s book, ‘lectures on Government and Binding’ (1981).

As explained by Sanusi (1996:21), GB syntax is a modular deductive theory of universal grammar, which posits multiple levels of representation related by transformational rules; move-alpha is constrained by the interaction of various principles which act as condition on possible representation.

Move-alpha, the concept of movement theory within the frame work of GB theory is considered as the major replacement for all the existing transformations under the old transformational generative grammar (TGG). GB theory is other wise known as principles and parameters theory (PPT), which was developed in 1981 by the father of transformational grammar ‘Noam Chomsky’ through his popular book titled ‘Lectures on Government and Binding Theory’.

In this theory, transformations like; focus constructions, raising, question formation, extra position, negation, passivization, affix hopping, deletion, adjunction, etc are considered as cases of movement transformation  which is technically referred to as ‘move-alpha’, therefore unlike TG, GB is considered as a modular deductive theory of grammar. The theory in its inter-locking modular form consists of seven modules of grammar;

They include

  1. X – bar theory
  2. Case theory
  3.     Theta theory
  4. Government theory
  5. Binding theory
  6. Bounding theory
  7.    Control theory

All these sub-theories of GB are closely interconnected in their operations as a theoretical framework. Each of these transformations operates on the deep structure and maps the deep structure unto the surface structure. This can be illustrated diagrammatically thus;

Deep structure


Lexical rules

Categorical rules

Strict sub-categorization

Selectional restriction

Phrase structure rules

Transformation (move-alpha)

Surface     structure

Phonological form                      Logical form

(PF)                                       (LF)

Adopted from Yusuf (1997:68)

Fig. ii,

The above diagram represents the sub-component of grammar. It should be noted that within the movement theory, the so called movement involves three major concepts;

  1. Extraction site.
  2. Landing site.

iii.      Intervening gap.

Under these assumptions, movement is defined as ‘movement of any constituent from any where to land somewhere’.

Horrocks (1982:29) stated that the core grammar of a given language is derived automatically from the intervention of sub-theories of universal grammar. These sub-theories are inter-related in that each of them can account for grammaticality or ungrammaticality of any sentence.

The analysis of any sentence or rule inherently involves the X-bar theory. A system of generative linguistic analysis developed as an alternative to traditional accounts of phrase structure and lexical categories.

As earlier said, the X-bar theory is the applicable theory to be used in this research work. The X-bar theory is assisted and designed to formalize the traditional notion called ‘head of a construction and to construct the range of possible phrase structure rule’.

Haegeman (1994:104) stated that ‘the part of the grammar regulating the structure of phrase has come to be known as an X-bar theory (X1)’.

The X-bar theory brings out what is common in the structure of phrases. The heart of the system (X-bar) is the recognition that syntactic categories (lexical categories) are projected from lexical items which are their lexical heads i.e. noun phrase, verb phrase, adjectival phrase and prepositional phrase. According to X-bar theory, all phrases are headed by one head.

The head of the projection is a zero projection (X0). A verb projects to a single bar (V1) and this is inturn projects to a verb phrase (Vp) or (V11), but in X-bar principles, we have other categories not just a verb, so the head ‘X0’ project to an ‘X’ and these projects to an ‘X11’. It is the lexical entry that tells us what an item is.

Once the head is initially inserted in the phrase, the rest of the lexical information will project further into the structure through the X-bar principle. This principle builds up a phrase from the button. X-bar principles determine the general structure.

As proposed in Chomsky (1986), every maximal projection (Xp) has specifies of Xp position, the intermediate X1 projection serving as Xp’s core. The core consists of the head (X1) and the complement which can be a maximal projection on its own.

Theta theory is concerned with the assignment of what Chomsky calls ‘Thematic’ roles to sentential constituents. By thematic roles, Chomsky means what have been called semantic roles in the preceding sections, roles such as agent, patient (or theme), beneficiary, etc. it is assumed that these are assigned to the complements of lexical items as a lexical property.

Thus in the entry for ‘put’ for example, the Np complement is assigned the role of patient (or theme) and the Pp complement the role of location. It is further assumed that the majority of verb ‘Ө-mark’ the subject position of sentences containing them. Thus, the subject Np of a sentence containing ‘put’ is assigned the agent role. Any constituent assigned a Ө-role by definition denotes a predicate argument.

The main principle of Ө-theory is the Ө-criterion’, which requires each thematic role to be uniquely assigned, i.e. each constituent denoting an argument is assigned just one Ө-role and each Ө-role is assigned to just one argument denoting constituent.

The projection principle guarantees that the Ө-criterion applies at all levels of syntactic representation, though it properly applies to ‘LF’, the level at which all the syntactic and lexical information relevant to semantic interpretation, including Ө-role assignment, is brought together.

Case theory deals with the principles of case assignment to constituent. Case is an overt properly only of pronominal NPs of English, YorJbD   and many Kwa languages. The NPs of English are

  1. I/me
  2. She/her

iii.      He/him/his

  1. We/us
  2. They/them/their

Chomsky assumes that all NPs with lexical content are assigned (abstract) case. Abstract case is usually distinguished from case as an overt inflectional category by the use of an initial capital, and this convention will henceforth be followed here. The basic idea is that case is assigne


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