Negation In Mernyang – Complete project material




This research work is aimed at examining an aspect of syntax in Mernyang language which is negation.  This chapter will make explicit the general background, historical background, geographical location, socio-cultural profile and genetic classification of the language, the scope and organization of study, theoretical framework, data collection, data analysis, the brief review of the chosen frame work and literature review which would serve as a stepping stone to other parts of the research work will be presented to the best of our knowledge. It should also be noted that this language has never been worked upon before now.

Mernyang is a language spoken formerly in Shendam local government area in Plateau state but now in Qua’an pan local government area which is still located within Plateau state. The speakers are officially known as “Pan” but are called among themselves as ‘Mernyang’. This language is also known as Mirriam as revealed by researches on the internet (W.W.W. Ethnologue. Com, accessed November 2010).

According to Butum (a Mernyang speaker), the Mernyang people originated from a group of people known as “Kofyar” who are residing on the top of hills in Qua’an pan local government in Plateau state. Dafyar, from whom the Mernyang own their descent is said to have procreated with his sister, Nade, as they were the only survivors of a cataclysm, they viewed as the collapse of the sky attended by fire and brimestone , revealed by a casual study to be an activation of one of the many chains of volcanoes in the area namely Moelar, Sogom Pak, Kwanoeng etc. This incident made Dafyar and  his sister, Nade, to leave Dala in Kano and sailed on the river to a cave on a promontory called ‘Chor’ in Kopfubum near the present day Kofyar where they hid themselves. Since then, Dafyar and his offsprings have been residing on the Kofyar hill.

The offsprings of Dafyar had fanned out into many other sub-groups and sojourned or inter-married, producing a much wider cultural mix. The offsprings of Dafyar comprise his sons, grandsons, great grand sons and so on. Oral tradition has for long maintained the 14 who have been popular due to the settlements that grew in the wake of their earlier locations.

Among these sons of Dafyar was Darep soekoetko, who founded the “Kwa” settlement which is approximately 3km away from Kofyar. Darep was the first person to settle in the place known as ‘Kwa’ village today in Qua’anpan local government area of Plateau state. Since then, he had been giving birth to children who were and are also producing sons and daughters such that the current estimated total population of the speakers of Mernyang is 5,000.

The Mernyang people are geographically located at the northern part of Nigeria, Plateau state to be precise. These people can be found in Qua’anpan local government area which was created in 1989 with a population of about 180.000 people, the council cover an area of about 2,688 square kilometers and is situated at the southern part of Jos, the Plateau state capital. This Area is divided into 8 districts, of Bwal, Doemak, Dokan kasuwa, Kwa, Kwalla, Kwande, Kwang and Nannt with Ba,al it’s headquarters. They are surrounded by sloping hills that created natural scenic beauty along side the Pandam village park and the Lardang underground encavement are some of the tourist attraction in the area which is blessed with mineral resources such as Gemstones, tin and columbite.

Oral history has it that idol worshipping was the previous religion of the Mernyang people, the advent of foreign missionaries, however, brought Christianity and Islam which sent idol worshipping into extinction among the Mernyang people today.

The early catholic missionaries arrived Shendam in first decade of the 20th century; they alter paid visits to Kofyar area with the aim of Christianizing the people. They later settled in Kwa for evangelical work and in the process established primary school in the Kwa parish which covered the present Pan chiefdom, parts of Mangu, Pankshin, Mikang and Shendam local government area. Despite all the efforts of the catholic missionaries to claim the area, the predominant religion among the Mernyang people at present is Islam, though; there are few Christians and the existence of festival celebrations.


The Mernyang people practice an interesting, simple, systematic and less demanding system of marriage. As usual, after the boy and the girl who are in love with each other have agreed too many eachother, then the first stage comes in.

At the first stage, the groom and his friends will go to the bride’s house in order to reveal his intention of marrying their daughter to them the groom would take along two jars of Brukutu to the bride’s parent. At this occasion, the bride’s parent would ask their daughter if she is interest in the marriage, if she does, they would ask her to collect the jars of Brukutu from the groom, signifying she agrees.

The second stage involves he groom’s parent visiting the bride’s parent where the latter would be asked to supply some items for acceptance that the groom is free to take their daughter. The common items are: goat, chicken, palm oil, salt maggi cubes and benny seed.

These items are the major ones required, only if the bride’s parent wants more or less.

The third stage has to do with the bringing of those items by the groom’s family to the bride’s family, once accepted; the groom is licensed to take his wife home.

The fourth and conduction marriage ceremony either in the church or mosque depending on the religion of the couple.

Among the Mernyang people, there are two major festivals that are being observed, the first one comes up annually which comprises of all the speakers of Mernyang, both home and abroad, for and near, present at the ceremony. This is done once in a year usually in the first quarter of the year. During this occasion, a lot of activities are usually lined-up to inform, educate and entertain the entire Mernyang people as well as their supporters and neighbours. This annual festival traditionally called ‘Pan’ festival is often regarded as an event warranting the happiest or joyous day in a year among the people. More interestingly, during this event, alot of social dance and musical presentations are exhibited, among which are: Gyajhang, Sual, Feer, Cheer, Koem, Sual Beet, Gya jep long, Gya Moefan, Doevung Gaa etc. Other folk activities are: Nadoeng, Doet, Pagal, Jhee, Koes, Fuas kop, See goe fin, Nawak wak war etc.

The second festival is observed by districts, and each district has it’s peculiar way of observing it’s festival ceremony. Also, alot of activities are usually show-cased for the education and entertainment of the audience that grace the occasion


The peculiar mode of dressing of the Mernyang people is similar to that of the Hausas. Typically, they are often attired in their ‘agbada’ with the popular ‘aburo’ cap.

1.4.5        OCCUPATION

The major occupation of the Mernyang people is farming. Hardly can one look around without seeing Millet and Guinea corn plants which are their main plants in the land. With respect to their local government area, the main crops cultivated in commercial quantity are Yam, Cassava, Palm oil, Shear butter and Olive oil.

Later on, the Mernyang people realized how rain-based agriculture rendered most of the months of the year without farm work, in order to eke-out a living, they engage in hunting and trade especially in the dry season. They trade with the Hausas in the North and the Tiv, Alago(Keana), Azara, Awe, Igala, Igbira, Nupe and other tribes in the forest region. These hunting and trade expedition exposed them to systems and institutions of other civilizations much earlier than their neighbours in the ‘Cornbelt’.


The traditional system of ruling among the Mernyang people is monarchical, that is, another chief (king) known as ‘Long’ in Mernyang language, can assume the throne only  if the ruling chief dies. However; the choice of who will be the next chief in the royal family is not done by appointment but by election. There would be two or three sons in the royal family who will compete for the vacant post, the voting by the royal family members would determine the next chief. After this, the king makers have to test the competence of the elected candidate and if found worthy, he then becomes the chief.

The favourite foods of the Mernyang people are millet and guinea corn, little wonder that they tend to be their major plants. Several foods are usually derived form millet and guinea corn for consumption, including their favourite drink generally known as ‘brukutu’. Among this foods are ‘Chugum’, which is made from millet or guinea corn grounded with groundnuts, melon, fish palm oil or even meat cut into pieces. This is made into a thick paste, folded in corn leaves and cooked. It is nourishing, lasting and easy to convey on very long journeys. ‘Nawe’ is made in the form of the chugum but the paste is not so thick and it is fried or baked, it is flat like the Hausa “Masa”. ‘Oeroem Tung’ is fried beans, usually, beans are soaked in salted water (to taste) fried to near dryness. It is used especially on long journeys or hunting that last for many hours or days. After chewing the beans and drinking some “Aas” (corn or millet flour dissolved in water) is drunk to wash it down. The meal is nutritious, refreshing and sustaining as it is lasting.

A typical Mernyang house is made with mud (or clay); with grass-roofing on top, this type of house is dominant everywhere in the land. However, civilization has forced some educated ones among them to build modern sophisticated houses, yet, lying wasted to be inhabited.


Greenberg (1966:8) explains that African languages belong to various families, and there are four main groups namely: Niger-Kordofanian, Nilo-sahara, Afro-Asiatic, Khoisan. Base on this fact, Mernyang language also known as Mirriam as revealed by researches on the internet is classified under Afro-Asiatic family of African languages, specifically under the Chadic sub-phylum which extends downward to Mernyang.

Source: W.W.W. Ethnologue. Com (Accessed November 2010).



This work centers on negation in Mernyang language which is divided into five chapters,. Chapters One deals with the introductory part of the work which includes the general background, historical background, socio cultural profile of the Mernyang people, their genetic classification, scope and organization of study, theoretical framework, data collection, data analysis, the brief review of the chosen framework that is the Government and binding theory of syntax also known as GB syntax, it’s relevance to this work and literature review.

Chapter Two deals with the basic syntactic concepts namely phrase structure rules, lexical categories, basic word order and sentence type but also give an insight into a basic phonological concept called sound inventory which houses tonal inventory and syllable inventory.

Chapter three focuses on negation as a syntactic process in Mernyang language which encompasses other things such as what negation is as whole, as well as the various positions in which negation makers can occur in the language.

Chapter Four deals with the transformational processes in Mernyang language in relation to negation while chapter five summarizes and concludes the work.

This aspect of this research project is based on Government and Binding theory which has the theory of the structure of phrases known as x-bar theory as one of it’s seven sub-theories which is aimed at expressing general phrase structure of all human languages rather than features that are peculiar to a single language or part of it. The proposition of this theory is that, there are certain modules working together to tell the native speaker of a language that grammar is correct. This indicates that there are certain segments in a language known as modules which collaborates together to let a speakers know that his or her grammar is correct, such theories are referred to as modular grammar, which includes lexicon, projection principle, X-bar theory, Ө or theta theory and control theory. Government and Binding theory incorporates all these modules to show the universality of language and the relationship between words in languages.

The diagram below shows the relationship between the principles and sub-theories of Government and Binding theory





The method employed for data collection in the research work is the frame technique adopting the 3 line format example and also translating directly from English Language to the Language of study based on the Ibadan 400 word list of lexical items. This was made possible through a structured and unstructured interview with a language helper which was recorded on an audio cassette. The Language helper’s data are as follow:

Name: Micheal Na’ankan

Occupation: Civil servant

Age: 50 years old

Religion: Christianity

Language spoken apart from Mernyang: English and Hausa

Number of years spent in home town: 40 years

For efficient data analysis in this research, the data collected were put down according to how the native speaker used them without the imposition of extraneous rules or norms.

While the morphemes that make up phrases and sentences were also glossed carefully, in order to give room for the making of important linguistically significant generalization about the structure of the language under study.


Government and Binding theory also known as principles and parameter theory is the frame work adopted for this research work because it captures the similarities that exist between different categories of lexical phrases through  the assignment of the same structure to them rather than assigning different phrase structure rules for NPS, VPS etc.

Cook (1988:86) opines that Government and Binding theory is an interlocking arrangement of principles and sub-theories which interact in many different ways. This theory (GB) was developed to correct the lapse of Transformational General Grammar (T.G).

Government and Binding theory postulates seven sub-theories of the theory of grammar in which the structure generated at the various levels are constrained by a set of theories, which defines the kind of relationship possible within a grammar. According to Cook (1988:97), the sub theories are listed below:

  1. X – Bar Theory
  2. Theta Theory
  1. Binding Theory
  2. Bounding Theory
  3. Government Theory

X – Bar Theory is a central module of the principles and parameters approach to syntactic theory, all other modules in one way or the other draw on the basic structure it provides together with the lexicon and the projection principle in defining their own concepts.

Carnie (2007:155) explains that the name “X – Bar theory’’ was coined from the original mechanism for indicating intermediate categories. N’ was written as N with a bar over it, the over bar is the origin of the “bar” in the name of the theory. “X’’ is a variable that stands for any category (noun, verb, adjective, preposition etc). X – bar theory project form the core projection level to the maximal projection level, which is illustrated below:




Chomsky in “Remarks on Nominalization” (1970) as written in Horrocks(1993:62) postulated a hierarchy of syntactic expressions of category “X”, the lowest category is “X°”, the category of the lexical item. “X’ ” (x – double bar) is the maximal projection while “X’ ‘’ (x –bar) is an intermediate phrasal category. He made distinctions of sets of selectional restrictions in terms of the level in which a targeted category can combine with the head of phrase. The sister constituents of an “X°” (e.g the V° “destroy’’, the No “destruction”, the Ao “proud”) that form an “ X’ ‘’ with the head (e.g the V’ “ destroy the city”, the N’ “destruction of the city”,  or the A’ ‘’proud of many”) are referred to a  “complements” of he head.

Expressions that combine with such an “ X’ ‘’ to form the maximal projection “ X” ‘’ (e.g the N” “the destruction of the city” the A“ ‘’very proud Mary”) are  termed “specifiers”  of the head.

The diagram below shows the X – bar theory schema:


The possibility of X – Bar theory was as a result of the separation of the lexicon from the phrase structure rules and the introduction of syntactic features in Aspects.

According to Horrocks (1993:63), the central core of X – bar theory is the recognition of the fact that (most) phrasal constituents have ‘heads’ upon which the other elements of the constituents in question are dependent.


This center on assigning ‘thematic’ roles to sentential constituents. The Greek letter theta (Θ) is a form of shorthand for thematic. According to Chomsky, thematic roles mean what have been referred to as semantic roles in the preceding sections, roles such as agent’s i.e the doer of an action, patient (or theme) i.e the receiver of an action, beneficiary etc. These are assumed to be assigned to the complements of lexical items as a lexical properly.

Horrocks (1993:102) used the entry for put as an example and explains that the NP complement is assigned the role of patient (or theme) and the PP complement, the role of location. It is also assumed that the majority of verbs, ‘Θ mark’ the subject position of sentences containing them. Thus, the subject NP of a sentence containing put is assigned the agent role. A predicate argument is denoted by any constituent assigned a Θ role by definition.

The main principle of theta theory is the  ‘Θ-criterion’ which it’s requirement is the unique assignment of each thematic role, this indicates that each constituent denoting an argument is assigned just one Θ- role and each Θ-s role is assigned to just one argument-denoting  constituent.

This deals with the principle of case assignment to constituents.

Kirsten (1991-496) explains that case theory regulates the distribution of phonetically realized NP’s by assigning abstract case to them. According to Horrocks (1993:103), the basic idea is that case is assigned under government; the choice of case is determined by the governor in any given example. Government is a traditional notion which involves the delimitation of the sphere of influence of a particular category with respect to adjacent categories.

A lexical head “X” may be said to govern its sisters in X-bar, and certain lexical head also have the power to case-mark certain of their complements. Thus, inflection assigns nomative case to subject NP; verb assigns accusative case to object NP 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 an NP with lexical content but no case is ungrammatical.

Kirsten (1991:407) formally represented case filter as follows:

One of the most important constructs in the system is the binding theory; it is primarily concerned with the condition under which NPs are interpreted as co-referential with other NPs in the same sentence. Under binding theory, argument NPs falls into one of the following three categories namely:

  1. Anaphors
  2. Pronominals
  1. Anaphors are NPs whose reference is necessarily determined sentence-internally and cannot have independent reference e.g English reflexive and reciprocal pronouns.


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