Negation In Atsam (Chawai) Language – Complete project material


This study focuses on negation in Atsam language spoken in Kauru local government Area of Kaduna state.  The language of study Atsam is a language spoken by the Atsam people of southern Kaduna.  The Atsam people call their language Chawai, which is commonly used by them.

As an introductory chapter, we shall focus firstly on the historical background of Atsam, geographical location of Atsam, socio-cultural background of Atsan speakers, Religion, festival, ceremonies and the Genetic classification of Atsam (chawai) language.  We shall later proceed to scope and organization of the study, theoretical Framework, data analysis and later basic syntactic concepts.

We shall finally consider “NEGATON” in Chawai Language and application of transformational rules to Chawai negation.


Atsam speakers were believed to have come from the southern part of Kaduna state with its L.G.A. headquarters in Kauru.

The inhabitants of the Chiefdom i.e. Chawai Cheifdom are mostly Atsam (the Chawai people) even though there are few non – Chawai that reside in the Chiefdom.  The people of Chawai are known to be hospitable, helpful, industrious and peace loving, when one knocks on the door of a Chawai person at any hour of the day, one is assured of a warm – welcome.  This is why they are usually regarded as the most peace loving people in Kaduna State.

The Chief as popularly known as Res-Tsam is the overall ruler in the land.  The promulgation of laws that ensures peaceful co-existence and the maintenance of law and order within the chiefdom rest on his shoulders.  He also performs the function of lobbing government in bringing developmental programmes to the Chiefdom.  The Chief’s palace is located at Dama-Kasuwa Chawai being the headquarters for central administration.

The chiefdom is relatively new in terms of existence.  There are only six districts.  These districts include: Damakasuwa, with its head at Damakasuwa Chawai. This distrct covers villages as Kichiguya, Rafingora, Mangul, Kisari amongst others. The second district is Zambina with its head at Kingwan Makama Chawai.  It covers villages as Badurum, Kurmi-Risga, Ungwan Rana among others.  The third district is Fadan Chawai with its head at Fadan Chawai.  This district covers villages as Kibobi, Talo, Riban and among other villages.  The fouth district is Pari with its head at Kiffin Chawai.  The district covers villages as Kiffin Chawai, Pari, among others.  The fifth district is Kamaru district with its head at Kizakoro. The district has the following villages Kamaru, Kihoba, Kizakoro, Kizachi, Kuyan Bana among others.  The sixth district is Bakin Kogi.

The respective Districts Heads are charged with the duty of ensuring peaceful co-existence and the maintenance of law and order within their domains.  They however report directly to the Res-Tsam (the Chief of Chawai).  The Districts heads are supported by a number of village Heads within their domains.   The village Heads also report to the district Heads.

1.2     Socio-cultural profile/background of Atsam

1.2.1  Occupation

The people of Chawai are predominantly farmers, though there are few who are engaged in other income generating ventures. 80% of the population are farmers and depend on farming as their means of livelihood.

Some of the people in the area engage in crafts making as a source of income.  Popular craft materials include baskets, wooden handle of simple farm tools such as hoes, cutlass, shovels, spades, etc.

A certain groups of people in the area are involved in bee keeping for the production of honey.  This venture helps them to generate more income.

Fishing is another source of income they engage in. This practice does  not only help in generating income to the people but also help in providing a source of proteins for them.

Petty trading is also another way by which people earn money.  Though most of the petty trading is done by women, the men nowadays have joined their female counterparts.

1.2.2  Religion

Religion is a vital aspect in the life of a people and a nation as a whole.  It is in this light that the Chawai people consider religion of great significance in their lives.  There are two major religions in the chiefdom namely: Christianity and Islam.  There is however a third religion which is gradually dying out due to increased awareness on the two main religions. The third religion is the traditional religion popularly known as “Dodo” in the area.

1.2.3  Festivals

In the north of Kaduna State, the Hausas and some immigrants from the southern states practice Islam and majority of the people in the southern LGAs profess Christianity.  The major Muslim festivals are the “Salah” celebration of “”Idelfitri” and “IdElKabir”, while Christmas, New year and Easter are observed by the Christians.  Two traditional festivals of significance are the “TukHam” and “Afan” in the area.

1.2.4  Marriage and Burial Rites

The Chawai people do some incantations before their marriage.  They will select a woman to go round the village to tell them that a marriage is about to commence.  The woman that is about to be married will not be allowed to sleep in the house for two days because they first of all must settle the marriage with the ResTsam (chief) and the village heads.  After settling with them, they will commence the marriage process and dance round. The husband must not sleep with the woman for two days.

Marriage is the relationship between two people who are married.  During the preparation towards wedding ceremony, the groom pays the bride’s price and dowry and brings with him some other materials like a goat, clothing materials, tuber of yams before he can get married to her.

The Atsam people believe that nobody must touch the dead person.  They will cover the dead body with some leaves and tie him with leather called “fertilizer”.  After that, they will make some incantations and carry the person and go round his room three times.  After the burial, the people will dance and sing “gbari” which means “comfort”.

1.2.5  Food

The food eaten by the Atsam is finger millet popularly known as tamba.  It is worth-knowing that this crop is still cultivated in virtually every Chawai farmland. it is the third most expensive cereal after acha and rice.

1.3     Genetic Classification

The essence of a genetic classification of a language is to trace the origin of the language and show its relationship with other languages.  Atsam language belongs to the Benue-Congo group, which is a sub-family of Niger Kordofonian.  This is shown by the family tree below.

African language

Afro-asiatic          Niger-Kordofonian                  Nilo Sahara          Khoisan

Niger – Congo                                            Kordofonian

Kru   Gur   Adamawa   West Atlantic       Benue Congo

Platoid                        Bantoid

Fantsuam    Gorg     Atsam     Koro   Tyap       Jjuu

(Blench 1992:94)

Fig. 1:        Tree diagram, showing the genetic classification of Atsam language.

1.4     Scope and organization of the study

The main objective of this project is to study in detail the types of negation strategies that exist in Chawai language.  Negation in Atsam will be on sentence negation, auxiliary negation, imperative negation and interrogative negation.  We shall also study negation in respect to transformational processes which involve modification of constituents.

This long essay is divided into five chapters:  the first chapter is the introductory chapter which will contain the general introduction of the research work, the historical background of the Atsam people, socio-cultural profile of the speakers, genetic classification, collection and analysis of data and the theoretical framework employed.

Chapter two presents a phonological overview of Atsam language and the basic syntactic concepts like phrase  structure rules, basic word order, lexical categories and sentence types.  Chapter three is on negation in Chawai language, while chapter four introduces us to transformational processes like focus construction, reflexivization and relativization. Chapter 5 summaries and concludes the work.

1.5     Theoretical framework

The theoretical framework to be employed in this research work is Government and Binding (GB) theory. GB theory is a model of grammar propounded and developed by Noam Chomsky.  This is done with the aim of covering universal grammar (UG) that is the system or principles, conditions and rules that are elements or properties of all human languages.

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

1.6     Data Analysis

According to the data of this study collected from the field, there are different types of sentences such as simple sentence, compound sentence and complex sentence. There are four examples of simple sentence, four of compound sentence and three of complex sentence. There are also four examples of declarative sentence, four of  imperative sentence, four of interrogative sentence and three of exclamatory sentence. There are Phrase structure rules which consists of four noun phrases, four verb phrases, three prepositional phrases, three adjectival phrases in the language.

There are also lexical categories which consists of nouns.There are four examples of proper noun, four of common nouns, four of concrete nouns, four of abstract nouns, three of collective nouns, four of countable nouns, four of uncountable nouns in the language. There are verbs which consists of three transitive and three intransitive verbs. We have four adverbs, three adjectives, four prepositions, three conjunctions and three interjections. There are four basic word orders collected in the language as well.

1.7     Review of the chosen framework

The framework adopted in this research work is the Government and Binding (GB) theory.  This is the theory that captures the similarities which exists between different categories of lexical phrases by assigning the same structure to them rather than having different phrase structure rules for vps, Nps etc.

Government and Binding theory deals with transformation. According to Radford (1988:419), transformation is the rule that deals with the act of changing the structure of one sentence to another structure through the concept of movement known as move alpha (move – α).  This theory (GB) was developed to correct the lapses in Transformational Generative Grammar.

Cook (1988:86) states that, the theory of government and Binding is an interlocking arrang         ement of principles and sub-theories which interact in many different ways.


X-BAR THEORY                                      PROJECTION PRINCIPLE

D-STRUCTURE                                                  LEXICON

MOVE – α                                                  θ – THEORY

BOUNDING                                               (θ CRITERION)


(Case Filter)


PHONETIC FORM                                                     LOGICAL FORM

Sells (1985:25) and Cook (1988:33)

In the diagram above, no part can be considered in isolation from the rest.  Government and Binding theory posit seven sub-theories of the theory of grammar. The structures generated at various levels are constrained by a set of theories, which define the kind of relationships possible within a grammar.

1.7.1  X-Bar Theory

Lamidi (2000:150) states that x-Bar theory is based on the theory of phrase structure.  It defines the nature of the type of syntactic categories available to any language.  The central notion of x-bar theory is that each of the major lexical categories (Noun, verb, preposition adverb) is the head of a structure dominated by a phrasal node of the same category (Noun: Np, verb: vp preposition: pp, and Adjective : Ap).  In essence it defines possible phrase structure configuration in language. For instance, the phrase “The big boy” consists of a head ‘boy’ ‘hits a boy’ consists of a head ‘hits’.

X-bar theory is a component of linguistic theory which attempts to identify syntactic features presumably common to all those human languages that fit in presupposed (1965) framework.  The X-bar theory projects from the ‘core projection level to the ‘maximal projection level’.  This is called projection principle.

1.7.2  Projection principle

Chomsky (1981:29) states that ‘representation at each syntactic level is projected from the lexicon, in that they observe the sub-categorization properties of lexical items: projection principles require lexical properties to be projected to all levels of syntactic representation i.e. a lexical item projects from its zero bar level to one (single) bar level, which is optional, then to double bar level.  The zero bar level is referred to as the core projection level, the single bar level is referred to as the intermediate projection level and the double bar level is referred to as the maximal projection level.

Horrocks (1987:99) states that x-bar theory tells us that a lexical head (x) and its complements form a constituent (X‘) and that any specifier with a high level forms a constituents (X”).


Spec                                                            X1

X0                         comp.

The lexical entry projects onto the structure of the sentence, and its influence ceases at the double bar level. Another feature that makes generalization rule possible in X-bar theory is the concept of head.  The notion of head of a phrase is called the principle of head parameter.

1.7.3  The principle of Head parameter

The principle of head parameter specified the order of elements in a language.  The basic assumption of head parameter is that sentences may be broken into constituent phrase and structural grouping of words.  Stowell (1981:70) says that the parametric variation  between languages according to whether the positions of the head is first or last with respect to its complement is called head parameter.  In other words, all phrases have heads of related and possible complements along with some others like its specifies.

Lamidi (2000:105) says that the head is the keyword in a phrase and the word can be pre or post modified.  In essence, the head of a phrase is very important in X-bar theory and the parameter that distinguishes languages that incorporate the head of the phrase to the right or left of the hand is known as head parameter.  That is, head first.

X à X0  complement


X0                         comp

X1 à complement X0


comp                    X0

To accommodate specifiers, it requires a second level of structure, putting the levels of specifier and complement together, the order of the head and specifier could be set separately from the order of the head and complement.  Thus:

X11    à      spec X1

X1      à      X0 comp.


Spec                        X1


X0                         comp

All we have been discussing on X-bar theory (phrase structures) are lexical phrases, and the type of head in lexical phrases is related to word classes.  Lexical phrases invariably have heads that are lexical categories linked to lexical entries.

1.7.4  Theta (θ) Theory

Kristen (1991:493) states that θ-theory deals with functional relationship between a predicate and its arguments: a predicate is said to assign theta role to each of its arguments.  It is concerned with the assignment of what Chomsky calls “thematic roles” such as agent, patient (or theme), beneficiary etc it is assumed that theta-roles are assigned to the complements of lexical items as a lexical property.  The Np complements (direct object) is assigned the role of patient, the PP complement is assigned the role of locative while the subject Np or the sentence is assigned the agent role.

The main principle of θ-theory is the ‘θ-CRITERION’ which requires each thematic role to be uniquely assigned i.e. each constituent denoting constituent.

1.7.5  Case theory

Kristen (1991:496) states that ‘case theory regulates the distribution of phonetically realized NPs by assigning abstract case to them.  It deals with the principle of case assignment to constituents.  Chomsky assumes that all NPs with lexical contents are assigned (abstract) case.  Case is assigned by a set of case assigners to the governed.  Horrocks (1987) says the basic idea is that case is assigned under government i.e. the choice of case is determined by the governor in any sentence.  For instance lexical head x may be said to govern its sisters in x-bar and certain lexical heads also have the power to case-mark certain of their complements.  Thus, Np subject is assigned nominative by INFL, verb assigns accusative case to object of the verb while preposition assigns oblique case to its object.

One of the most important principles of case theory is CASE FILTER, which states that any S-structure that contains on Np with lexical context but no case is ungrammatical.

1.7.6  Binding Theory

It is concerned with the relationship of Np participants in the sentence.  Horrocks (1987:109) states that it is concerned primarily with the conditions under which Nps are interpreted as co-referential with other Nps in the same sentence.  As preliminary, there are three types of Nps which are relevant to the Binding theory.  They are:

  • Anaphors
  • Pronominal
  • Re-expressions (Referential Expressions)

The anaphors are Nps that cannot have independent reference such as reflexive and reciprocal pronouns, pronominals are Nps that either refer to individuals independently or co-refer to individual already named in a given sentence and R-expressions are Nps with lexical head which potentially refer to something.

The locations of antecedents that count for Binding theory are defined in three Binding principles, viz:

  • Anaphors must be bound in their local domain
  • Pronominal must be free in their domain
  • Re-expressions must be free

The term, bound based on principle A simply refers to the conjunction of C-command and co-indexing.  Thus:

Α binds β: if and only if

  1. α C – commands B
  2. α and β are co-referential

In principle B ,the term free simply means not bound. Principle C refers to elements such as names and other referential noun phrases.

1.7.7  Bounding Theory

Bounding theory according to Kristen (1991:497), is concerned with the way movement rule (move – α) can be constrained.  In essence, it is concerned with the limitation to be placed on the displacement of constituents by the transformation rule schema move – α… Generally speaking, movement rule within GB theory is assumed to involve three things viz:

  • An extraction site
  • A landing site
  • An intervening gap

Landing site                             intervening gap              extraction site

Here, move – α is defined as move any constituent from anywhere to land somewhere.  The original position of alpha (α) before movement is called an in –situ-position. Thus:

X                                    α                                    Y



In – situ position

The above diagram says move any element, which is represented with (α), from its in-situ position regardless of variable X and Y to the left, right, beginning or end of a phrase or sentence.

1.7.8  Control theory

It is concerned with the way in which subjectless infinite structures are construed.  It focuses on an element called PRO, sometimes called “big Pro” to contrast it with PRO.  PRO is restricted to the subject position in non-finite clauses.  For example,

I wanted to go.

In the example, above there are reasons to believe that there is really a subject to the clause ‘to go’ but the subject is invisible.  PRO can only appear in the subject position of non-finite clauses; it is banned from all object position and from the subject position of finite clauses as there is no governor for its position.

1.7.9  Government theory

This theory deals with the relationships between a head and its complement; a syntactic relationship between a governor and the element that is governs.  Thus:

α governs β if and only if:

  • α and β mutually C-command each other
  • α is a governor (e.g. Noun, verb, preposition, Adj)


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