Phonology Of Mernyang Language – Complete project material




This chapter introduces the language of study, the people speaking the language and where they can be found. It also introduces us to the background of the speakers of the language which includes their way of life (culture) and their beliefs, it also gives a brief explanation of the scope of study. Methods of data collection, genetic classification and the theoretical framework used in carrying out the research on the language are included.


Mernyang language is a language spoken in Qua’an-pan local government of Plateau state. The speakers majorly reside in Kwa while others reside in other districts like, Kwang, Dokankaswa, Doemak, Namu, Kwalla and Pwall in this same local government. The estimated population of the Mernyang speakers is about 5,000 according to 2007 census.

Mernyang speakers are referred to as the Pan people, while among themselves they are known as Mernyang speakers. These people are said to have migrated from the North East in Dala, Kano State.


Going by oral history and written record, the Mernyang people are said to have originated from a group of people known as Kofyar who are residing on the top of hills in Plateau state in Qua’an-Pan local government. Dafyar, from whom the Mernyang own their descent is said to have procreated with his sister Nada, as they were the only survivors of a cataclysm. This fatal incident made Dafyar and his sister Nade leave Dala in Kano and sailed on the river to a place where they hid themselves in a cave called Chor in Kopfubum near the present day Kofyar. 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 intermarried thereby producing a much wider cultural mix. The offspring of Dafyar comprised his sons and grandsons or even great grand sons and so on.

Oral tradition has for long maintained the fourteen (14) who have been popular due to the settlements that grew in the wake of their earlier location. Among these sons of Dafyar was Darep, Soekoetko who founded the ‘Kwa’ settlement which is approximately three kilometers (3km) away from Kofyar. Darep was the first person to settle in the place known as ‘Kwa’ village today in Qua’an-Pan 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 movement of the Mernyang people form Kofyar to ‘Kwa’ was mainly for agricultural purpose. The major occupation of the Mernyang people is farming, so they found a suitable farming land in ‘Kwa’. This made majority of the people in Kofyar descend and later settle down there. Today, majority of the Mernyang speakers are found in Kwa.


The Mernyang people like many other tribes have their own unique cultural lifestyle. The Mernyang people have some unique lifestyle which are discussed below:

1.3.1        Marriage System

The system of getting married among Mernyang people is interesting, simple and perhaps less demanding, though systematic. As usual after the man and the woman who are in love with each other have agreed to marry each other, the first stage comes in. This 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 jaws of local wine which the people call ‘Doeskoelo’ to the bride’s parents.

At this occasion, the bride’s parents would ask their daughter if she is interested in the marriage. If she does they would ask her to collect the Jars of ‘Doeskoeloe’ from the groom, signifying she agrees. The second stage involves the groom’s parents visiting the bride’s parents where the latter would be asked to supply some items for acceptance that the groom is free to take their daughter. The items include; goat, chicken, salt, rice, palm oil and  benny seed. These items are the major ones required only if the brides parents want 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 can take his wife home. The fourth and final stage entails the groom and the bride conducting marriage ceremony either in the church or mosque depending on the religion of the couple.

1.3.2        Mode of Kinship

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 ruling chief dies. However, the choice of who will be the next chief in the royal family is not the one by appointment but by election. There would be two or three sons in the royal family who will compete for the vacant seat. 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, then becomes the chief.

1.3.3        Religion

According to oral history, it is believed that the traditional religion of the Mernyang people was idol worshipping. The advent of foreign missionaries however brought Christianity and Islam, such that today, idol worshipping has been eradicated among the people. At present, the predominant religion among the Mernyang people is Islam. Though there are few Christians and the existence of festival celebrations.

1.3.4        Occupation

In Kwa, the geographical location of the Mernyang speakers, the major occupation is farming. Hardly can one look around without seeing millet and guinea corn plants which are their main plants in the land. Besides this, others still engage in fishing and hunting in order to make ends meet. Among food derived from millet or guinea corn is ‘nigum’ grounded with groundnuts, meloni fish and palm oil or even pieces of meat. This is made into a thick folded corn leaves.

1.3.5 Food

The favourite food items of the Mernyang people are millet and guinea corn, little wonder that they are mainly millet and guinea corn for consumption, including their favourites drink generally known as ‘burukutu’. The traditional food of the Mernyang people is beans called ‘bálá’. The food is served to important people.

1.3.6 Housing

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

1.3.7          Dressing

The mode of dressing of the Mernyang people is similar to that of the Hausas. Typically, they are often seen dressed in their native ‘agbada’ with the popular ‘aburo’ cap. While their women are dressed in ‘buba’ and two wrappers tied round their waist.

1.3.8  Geographical Location

Speakers of Mernyang language are geographically located at the northern part of Nigeria, Plateau state. Additionally, the people are found concentrated at the southern region of Plateau state where they are surrounded by hills and beautiful vegetations. The local government area where the people can be found is Qua’an-Pan, the nearest large towns to them are Jos in Plateau state and Lafia in Nasarawa state.

1.3.9        Festivals

Among the Mernyang people, there are two major festivals that are being observed. The first one comes up annually and it involves all the speakers of Mernyang at home and abroad, far and near. 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 is traditionally called ‘Pan’. It is often regarded as an event mark the happiest or most joyous day in a year among the people. More interestingly during this event, a lot of social dances and musical presentations are exhibited, among which are; giyajhang feer, cheer, koem, snal be’et, gyajeplang, gyamoefan, Doerung, gaagala etc Other folk activities are; Nadoeng, Doet, Pagal, Shee, Koes, Fnaskop, Seegoefin, Nawak, war etc.

The second festival is celebrated district by district.  Each district has its peculiar way of observing this festival. Also, a lot of activities are usually show-cased for the education and entertainment of the audience that grace the occasion.


This long essay aims at studying aspects of Mernyang phonology. It will cover the general introduction to the study, the sound inventory of the language, the phonological process and tonal features attested in the language.

This research work is divided into five chapters. Chapter one is the general background of the people, the status of the language and the historical background of the people. Also, in chapter one, the socio-cultural profile of the people and the genetic classification of the language are examined. The chapter also gives a brief discussion of the theoretical framework to be used in the work and explains the mode of data collection and analysis.

Chapter two discusses the sound system of the language as well as the tonal syllable structures.

In chapter three, attention is focused on the phonological process attested in the language. Chapter four addresses the tonal processes with their distributional patterns. Chapter five summarizes the work, gives some recommendations and concludes the study.


The data for the research work was collected through the help of a language helper with the use of the Ibadan 400 basic items (word list). Also, with the use of frame techniques. This is a template that shows different structural positions which a word can occur. This goes beyond looking at words in isolation. It was used to get the relevant information that cannot be got by means of lexical items only.

The information concerning the informants in this research is given below:

NAME:                       MICHAEL DAMAN NA’ANKAM







Greenberg (1974: 8) explains that African languages belong to various families, and there are four main groups namely: Niger-Kordofanian, Nilo-Sahara, Afro-Asiatic and Khoisan. Based on this fact, Mernyang language is classified under Afro-Asiatic family of African languages, specifically under the Chadic sub-phylum which extends downward to Mernyang.

Afro Asiatic

Ancient Egyptian             Semitic                  Berber                   Chadic                   Cushitic

North Chadic                   East Chadic           West Chadic          South Chadic

Angas                                       Angas (Angas Gerka)

Angas Proper

(1)Cakfem-Mushara Jorto Kofyar Muship Mwogharul Wgas  (2)Goemu Koenoem Montol Pyapun Tal

Cakfem-Mushere             Jorto            Kofyar          Miship          Mwaghavul            Ngas

Bwal            Docmak       Goram         Jepal  Kofyar          Kwalla         Mernyang

Source: (Accessed November, 2010).


To ensure an accurate data analysis, about 125 words were collected, 30 nouns, 15 verbs, 7 verb-noun combinations. But the last consonant of the verb is deleted in fast speech. The other items collected were used to identify and determine the phonological processes in the language.


The theoretical framework to be used for this research is generative phonology as in Chomsky and Halle (1968).

Generative phonology constitutes part of the linguistic theory which is called “Transformational Generative Grammar (T.G.G) formulated by Chomsky (1957) to cater for the inadequacy observed in classical (Taxonomic) theory of phonological description. It gives the role of how the mind perceives sound and how the sounds are produced with the interpretation of utterances. The goal of generative phonology is to express the link between sound and meaning. Generative phonology accounts for some language phenomenon like: Linguistic intuition, foreign accent, speech error etc.


“The phonological structure is an abstract phonemic representation, which postulates the rules that are derived from various surface forms”. It postulates the underlying form at the systematic phonemic level from which surface alternates have systematic relationship termed linguistically significant generalization. Hyman (1975: 80).

The structure has three basic levels which are, underlying representation (UR), phonological rules and phonetic representation (PR) that is;




According to Oyebade (1998: 13) underlying representation is the non-predictable, 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. For instance, the different forms of negation prefix in English like im-(possible), il-(legal), ir-(regular) having the same meaning are phonologically accountable.

1.9.1        Phonological Representation

Generative phonology assumes 3 very crucial components. The underlying representation, the phonetic representation and the rules which link the two together, called the phonological rules.

These components are reviewed below;

underlying representation: Oyebade (2008: 12) assumes underlying representation to be an abstract representation existing in the competence of the native speaker. The underlying representation is the most basic form of a word before any phonological rules have been applied to it. The abstract representation is also known as the phonological representation and this competence can be scientifically investigated.

1.9.2        Phonetic Representation

It is the form of a word that is spoken and heard. It is also known as the surface level. Phonological structure reflects the linguistic competence of the native speaker to compute a phonetic representation for the potentially infinite number of sentences generated by the syntactic component of the grammar.

Generative phonology seems to consider this level as being trivial and not worth too much attention except perhaps as a source for the verification and justification of the proposed underlying representation.

1.9.3        Phonological Rules

It maps underlying representation into phonological representations. They delete, insert or change segments. They are said to show the derivational sequence in its journey from the underlying level to the phonetic level. They must be able to capture the phonological phenomenon in the simplest form. There are two types of rules in phonological rules; features changing rules and fill in rules.

Features changing rules change the features of the input to that of the output. The other rule as name implies are rules which fill in empty slots.

Phonological rules have to be precise in a scientific account of linguistic phenomena. For instance, a rule can say insert a high front vowel between  cluster of consonants, and another rule says insert a high front vowel after a word-final consonant. The rules can be formalized thus:

(a)    Ø      à     i/c – c

(b)    Ø      à     i/c – #

We observed that the two rules are identical in both input and output. These two rules can be collapsed to become one rule which can be represented thus;

(c)    Ø      à     i/c – – –      c


i.e. a high front vowel is inserted either between two consonants or after a consonant at word final position. We also make use of notational devices in phonological rules, which are

angled bracket notation       (< >)

alpha notation                    (a)

brace notation                    ({ })

multiple variable notation     (a, b, v etc).


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