Aspects Of Yeskwa Phonology

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[ ]       Bracket

{}      Braces

CV    Consonant Vowel

CVV Consonant Vowel Vowel

N       Nasal

α        Alpha

β        Beta

/         High tone

\         Low tone

–        Mid Tone

٨        eFalling Ton

٧        Raising Tone

+       Binary



Environment of occurrence

#        Morpheme boundary

kj gj    Palatalization

kw gw Labialization

Ø       Null


List of symbol

Table of contents


1.1     Introduction

1.1     General Background

1.2     Historical Background

1.3     Sociocultural Background

1.4     Genetic Classification

1.5     Scope and organization

1.6     Data Collection

1.7     Data Analysis

1.8     Review of Theoretical Framework

1.9     The Structure of Generative Phonology

1.10   Phonological Rules


Basic Phonological Concepts

2.1     Introduction

2.1     Basic Phonological Concepts

2.2     Phonology and Phonetics

2.2.1  Phonemes and Allophones

2.2.2  The Phonemes and its realities

2.3     Sound Inventory

2.3.1  Yeskwa Consonant Sounds

2.4     The Vowel system of Yeskwa Language

2.5     Tone Inventory of Yeskwa Language

2.6     The Distinctive Features


Phonological Processes in Yeskwa Language

3.1     Introduction

3.2     Phonological Processes

3.2.1  Palatalization

3.2.2  Labialization

3.2.3  Nasalization

3.2.4  Insertion

3.2.5  Deletion


Yeskwa Tone and Syllable Structure

4.1     Introduction

4.2     The Definition of Tone

4.2.1  Types of Tone

4.2.2  Tone patterns in Yeskwa

4.2.3  Co-occurrence of Tone in Yeskwa

4.2.4  Functions of Tones

4.2.5  Tonological Processes

4.3     Syllable Structure

4.3.1  Types of Syllable

4.3.2  Syllable Structure Rules in Yeskwa


Summary, Conclusion and Recommendation

5.1     Introduction

5.2     Findings/Observation

5.3     Recommendation

5.4     Conclusion




  • General Background

Language is the string that holds members of the society together and it also serves as an object used by men for specific purposes. This project focuses on a branch of language and it also focuses on an aspect of the language which is phonology of Yeskwa language.

Yeskwa is spoken in Panda and in the surrounding districts in the northwestern of Nassarawa State, Kefi Local Government and Kaduna. It is spoken by over 12,000 people. It is known as Nyankpa and Yasgua by the Speakers and the surrounding communities but the generally acceptable name by the speakers in Yeskwa.

This Chapter introduces the language and its speakers. Also, we discussed the historical and geographical background of the area. The Sociocultural background and the genetic classification of the language are included. Scope and organization of the Study, theoretical framework, data collection and data analysis alongside with the brief review of the chosen framework also formed part of the study in this chapter.

1.2     Historical Background

Yeskwa people were said to have migrated from Maiduguri. According to Oral tradition, they are today settled in Jema’a Local Government Area of Kaduna State and parts of Keffi Local Government in Nassarawa State. They are known as Nyankpa by the Hausa people, the people themselves are known as Angampa while the language is known as Nyakpa. Nyakpa is a conjunction of two native words which are string together to form a name. ‘Ny’ means ‘We branch’ and ‘Anpa’ ‘leaf’ the two formed Nyankpa which means ‘we branch to settle in this bush’. The official name of the language is Yeskwa therefore throughout this work it shall be referred to as Yeskwa.

According to ethnologue record of Nigerian languages, this language had 13,000 speakers in 1973 and 32,000 speakers as at 2008. The dialects of the language according to ethnologue are Buzi, Bede, Panda, Tattara and Nyenkpa., alternative names are Ayankpa and Yasgua. Tattara is said to be the standard version and Bede is the most divergent dialect.

 1.3     Sociocultural Background.

The way of life of the Yeskwa people is not different from that of the neighboring communities. Some of the fascinating aspects of their life are: Occupation, Religion, Festival, Mode of dressing, Naming and Marriage Ceremonies.


The major occupation of Yeskwa people is farming. They are known for planting crops like cassava, yam, okro, millet (Acha) among others. Farming is done by men and women.


The Yeskwa people are mostly Christians. Before the advent of missionaries in Nigeria, the people are known to be traditional worshippers but when missionaries came Islam and Christianity became the religion of the people. Although Christianity is the dominant religion with about 80% but there are still few Muslims and Traditional Worshipper in the Community.


Remembering the dead is one of the elaborate festivals of the Yeskwa people. This is usually done after several years of the death of the person and it is believed that once that remembrance is done it will give the dead a smooth journey to heaven. During the remembrance, they usually have a dancing masquerade which is said to be the spirit of the dead person. After the dancing of the masquerade, all the people that are present will eat, drink and merry. The masquerade must be somebody from the family of the dead person.


The method of marriage in Yeskwa is different from other communities because they usually betroth their children to one another. Two friends when their wives are pregnant would inform each other that if the child of one is a male and the other is female would marry each other in future but if other wise they would be friends. If the children are of opposite sex the dowry of the female child would be paid at birth. The dowry is usually paid with dried locust beans (because Yeskwa people do not eat fresh locust beans) which would be taken to the girls house and it would serve as soup ingredient in which they would use to cook for the mother of the girl for a number of years. From tender age, the girl would be taken to the grooms house till she is ripe for marriage so as to know and learn the ways of life of the groom’s family.  A man can marry up to twelve wives depending on the capability of the husband.


Before now, the mode of dressing of the people was covering the body with leaves, later they used animal skin to cover their body. Presently the Yeskwa are known for a modernized and civilized dressing because their dressing is not different from that of others in the society.


The Yeskwa people bury their corpse immediately such death is confirmed. However, relevant members of the family will be contacted before final burial takes place.

The burial takes processes; first it starts from bathing the dead body with a white cloth before burning the deceased. Yeskwa people believe that the body of the dead must not come in close contact with sand. So, after digging the grave they will cover the ground with some leaves and sticks before the body is buried.

Naming Ceremony

Yeskwa people usually use chicken and millet (Acha) for their naming ceremony. When a child is born, after seven days name will be given to the child after which everybody will eat and drink. The naming ceremony in Yeskwa is always a lively one filled with merriment.

1.4     Genetic Classification

According to Greenberg (1966:8), African languages belong to various families and there are four main groups namely Niger Kordofanian, Nilo-Sahara, Afro-Asiantic and Khoisan. Genetic classification of a language can come in form of tree diagram showing the origin of the language and how it is genetically related to other languages.

The essence of genetic classification is to make us know that African languages are related. The diagram below shows the genetic classification of Yeskwa language.


The scope of this research is mainly phonology. It aims at studying aspect of Yeskwa phonology. It covers the general introduction to the study, the sound inventory of the language, the phonological processes, tones 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 historical, sociocultural background, genetic classification, scope and organization of the study. The chapter also gives a brief discussion of the theoretical framework and it explains the mode of data collection and data analysis.

Chapter two deals with literature review which is based on phonology, the literature review which is based on the sound inventory, syllable structure and phonemes.

The third chapter focuses on the phonological processes attested in the language. Chapter four addresses the tonal processes attested in the language. Chapter five accounts for the summary and conclusion of the research work and it also make some recommendation based on our findings.

1.6     Data Collection

This research is made possible through the multilingual language helper. However, the Ibadan four hundred (400) word list is also used to extract necessary information from the language helper.  This method is called the informant method. The collection of data was done through translation. The multilingual method is used because the informant speaks more than three languages which include: Hausa, Nupe, Yoruba and a bit of English.

The language helper is a native speaker of Yeskwa language and the information collected about the language was done through oral interview. Below is the information about the language helper used in this research


Name: Mr. Abdullah Aminu

Age: 63yrs

Religion: Islam

Marital status: Married

Years spent in Nassarawa: 25 yrs

Occupation: Farming

1.7 Data Analysis

The analysis of data is done by transcribing all the linguistics data collected in order to discover the sounds that are attested in the language and to know the distribution of the sounds that are attested in the language. The data is described using the generative phonology theory (GP)

 1.8 Review of theoretical framework

The theoretical framework used for this research is Generative Phonology propounded by Chomsky and Halle (1968). Generative Phonology came about as a result of the lapses found in the discovery procedures of the Taxonomic phonemics. Taxonomic phonemics is one of the theories of phonology. Generative phonology therefore can be traced to the 1960’s following the work of Noam Chomsky and Morris Halle in 1968 on the sound pattern of English. In the book they adopted a generative approach for analyzing the phonology of English language. Their effort became what is now known as Generative Phonology.

Hyman (1975:19) describes generative phonology as the description of how phonological rule can be converted into phonological representation and how to capture the distinctive sounds in contrast in a language.

The basic goal of Generative phonology is to express the link between sounds and meaning (Chomsky 1965) GP explains how the mind perceives sound and how the sounds are produced with the interpretation of utterances. GP is interested in exploring the linguistic knowledge of a speaker which is referred to as competence.


1.9 The Structure of Generative phonology

The framework of generative phonology recognizes two levels of representation which are: underlying representation (abstract representation) and phonetic representation (surface representation). The two levels are then linked by phonological rules (PR), it is illustrated below

Underlying Representation (UR)

Phoenetic Representation (PR)

According to Oyebade (1998:13), underlying representation is non-predictable, non-rule derived part of words. It is the basis of all utterances.

The surface representation is called systematic level while underlying representation is the phonemic level. Rules are a set of conditions that define aspect of pronunciation of those phonemes. Phonological rules are directives which map underlying forms onto surface form (Oyebade 1998).

1.10 Phonological Rules

According to Oyebade (1998:15), phonological rules are directives which map underlying forms on the surface form. The rules show derivational sequence or path of an item in its journey from the underlying level to the phonetic level. Examples of phonological rules are rules that change stops to voiced fricatives when it occurs intervocalically i.e. between two vowels. This rule is as follows

b                  β/ V – V

d                 O/ V – V

g                 ỹ/ V – V


b                           β

d                           O

g                           ỹ


Another example is the one that assimilate a nasal segment to the place of articulation of the following segment

Examples of this is

n                 m / – b : [ +nas ]         + ant      + ant

– cor      – cor

n                 n / – t : [+ans ]                     + ant      + ant

+ cor      + cor


n                 ŋ/ – g : [+nas ]                     + ant        + ant

– cor        – cor

All these rules can be captured by using a single rule which is

+ nas                    + ant      + ant

α  cor      β cor

The symbol [α and β] can mean + (plus) or – (minus)

Phonological rules are often postulated via notational devices. Notational devices are “… convections which make it possible to combine distinct but related phonological rules in a single statement… rules may be collapsed in this way only if they involve the same process (Somerstein in Oyebade, 1998:36).



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