Aspects Of Yeskwa Verb Phrase



ADV  –       Adverb

Advp –       Adverbial Phrase

AP    –       Adjectival Phrase

ADJ   –       Adjective

Aux   –       Auxiliary

Agr   –       Agreement

Conj  –       Conjunction

DET  –       Determiner

D-S   –       Deep-Structure

FC     –       Focus Construction

IP     –       Inflectional Phrase

[ ]      –       Represents Phonetic Boundary

[/]      –       Represents High Tone

[\]      –       Represents Low Tone

Ø      –       Null/Zero

Θ      –       Theta

Move a-    Move Alpha

I       –       Co-referentially

t       –       Trace

GB    –       Government and Binding Theory

NP    –       Noun Phrase

N      –       Noun

PP    –       Prepositional Phrase

P      –       Preposition

Pres  –       Present

Pro   –       Pronoun

VP    –       Verb Phrase

V      –       Verb

P      –       Phrase

P-M   –       Phrase Marker

P – S –       Phrase Structure

à     –       Re-write arrow

S-S   –       Surface Structure

SPEC-                Specifier

( )     –       Brackets

TNS  –       Tense

UG    –       Universal Grammar


Map of Yeskwa

Genetic Classification of Yeskwa

Consonant Chart of Yeskwa

Vowel Chart of Yeskwa (Oral Vowels)

Vowel Chart of Yeskwa (Nasal Vowels)

The Structure of the Syllable


List of Abbreviations and Symbols

List of Charts

Table of Contents


1.0    Introduction

1.1    General Background   of the Language

1.2    Historical Background of Yeskwa Speakers

1.3    Sociolinguistic Profile of Yeskwa People

1.4    Socio-Cultural Background of the Speakers

1.5    Objectives and Research Questions

1.6    Justification of the Study

1.7    Genetic Classification

1.8    Scope and Organization of the Study

1.9    Theoretical Framework

1.10  Data Collection

1.11  Data Analysis

1.12  Review of the Chosen Framework


2.0    Introduction

2.1    Basic Phonological Concepts of Yeskwa

2.2    The Yeskwa Tone System

2.3    The Syllable Structure of Yeskwa

2.4    Lexical Categories in Yeskwa

2.5    Conjunctions

2.6    Basic Word-Order in Yeskwa

2.7    Sentence Types in Yeskwa Language

2.8    Functional Classification of Sentences Yeskwa


3.0    Introduction

3.1    Yeskwa Verb Phrase

3.2    Structure of Yeskwa Verbs

3.3    Verbs of Sentential Components

3.4    Serial Verbs in Yeskwa

3.5    Verb Phrase and Head Parameter in Yeskwa

3.6    Aspects in Yeskwa Language


4.0    Transformational Processes

4.1    Question Formation in Yeskwa

4.2    Negation

4.4    Focusing in Yeskwa Language


5.0    Introduction

5.1    Summary

5.2    Observation

5.3    Conclusion

5.4    Recommendations



1.0   Introduction

In this chapter, basic information about the language of study (Yeskwa) shall be given. The chapter centres on background information about the language, the historical background of speakers, sociolinguistic profile of the people as well as, the genetic classification of Yeskwa language. We shall later proceed to scope and organization of study, theoretical framework, data analysis, data collection and later to basic syntactic concepts. We shall finally focus on VERB PHRASE in Yeskwa language and application of transformation rules to Yeskwa language.

1.1   General Background

Yeskwa is a language spoken in Kaduna, Nassarawa and Plateau States. The name Yeskwa was originally called ‘Nyankpa’ meaning ‘to know leaf’, but it was later changed to Yéskwá by the missionaries who could not pronounce the name well.

Yeskwa speakers in Kaduna state can be found in Kagoma District of Jema’a Local Government Area. In Nassarawa state, Yeskwa speakers are found in Panda district of Karu Local Government Area while in Plateau state, they do not have a district of their own neither do they have a Local Government Area of their own because they are mere settlers.

Yeskwa speakers in Panda district of Karu Local Government Area are popularly known as Nyankpa people. Yeskwa speakers form 60% of the populace while the other take up the remaining 40%. This clearly indicates that the speakers of the Yeskwa language in Panda district of Nassarawa state are more than any other people in the district.

Since speakers of the Yeskwa language happen to live in a predominantly Hausa speaking community, it then follows that the Hausa language is usually the second language of every Yeskwa native speaker. Hence, the majority of Yeskwa native speakers also speak Hausa fluently.

Yeskwa language is still spoken currently and it is not threatened by Hausa people. However, from a brief visit, there is every evidence that the language continues to flourish and is spoken by the young people in the settlement.

1.2   Historical Background of Yeskwa Speakers

Yeskwa speakers claimed to have originated from Darigo in Kaduna state.  From available corpus of oral evidence, the first Nyankpa man who lived during the pre-historical period originated from a place called ‘DARIGO’. The mystical place which is itself name after the founder of the language, is up to date, faithfully behaved with certainly, up to form part of the areas around the hills situated North, East and West of the present Kwoi, now in Kaduna state across the  Gitata, Bagagji up to Uke areas of the present Nassarawa state.

A permanent foot mark and other archeological evidence of this pre-historic advent of Nyankpa language can still be found at this orally authentic place of origin called (Darigo). Darigo, the first Nyankpa man had a wife called Obiche with whom they had several children. among these children were Ovurgbe, Ontat, Onok (all males) and Oching (female). Each of them had his or her own children who grew into the various clans we have in Nyankpa land both home and in Diaspora today. The offspring from Ovurgbe became the Ovurgbe clan. Those of Ontat form the Ontat clan while those of Onok are believed to be founders of the old Nok of famous archeological monuments and indeed its surrounding towns up to Kafancha, Kagoro and Zunkwa area in the present Kaduna state.

Oching the only female is believed to have married probably to a different language called Zho, then living at the foot of the hills where the present Kwoi town in Kaduna state is situated. She had children with him out of whose lineage the present Mada and Eggun language are believed to have sprung from. The Nyankpa people are thus one of the proud archeological ethnolinguistic clusters of the famous Nok area.

1.3   Sociolinguistic Profile

The people have their own distinct culture and general way of life. The Nyankpa people have been generally known in the literature as Yeskwa, a Hausaised form of their name.

Although there are native speakers of Yeskwa in Kaduna, Nassarawa and Plateau states, they do not form a single speech community across these states because of the phonological and morphological differences. These differences do not interfere with intelligibility. They have a common history and share similar social and cultural ideologies.

Yeskwa is conventionally divided into twenty mutually comprehensible dialects and Titatara is said to be the main dialects.

As par the role of Yeskwa language in education, the research conducted by the researcher revealed the important role play by Yeskwa language in the area of education. It is a language used in elementary and secondary schools. The language used as a language of instruction or taught as a subject within both primary and secondary schools in the language area. However, it has said not to attained a high level of standardization nor has it been studied in the Nigeria Universities.

The role of Yeskwa as a language in the field of  commerce cannot be overemphasized. Its role is as old as the existence of the Anyankpas. Yeskwa language is used by the majority of people to transact business between each other or among one another.

Above all, Christian broadcasts scriptures in Yeskwa language. Hence, the majority of Yeskwa native speakers also speak Hausa fluently.

1.4   Socio-Cultural Background of the Speakers

This section centres on the socio cultural background of Yeskwa speakers in term of their occupation, religion, administration, population, festivals marriage, burial rites, culture.

1.4.1        Occupation

The major occupation of Yeskwa speakers is farming and rearing of animals. They produce both cash and food crops, among which are; cocoa, bananas, cotton, oranges, yam, millet, maize, guinea corn, beni seed, rice and eshun. Eshun is said to be good for stomach upset patients. Some who have the means and resources rear cows.

1.4.2        Religion

The Yeskwa people practice three types of religion Christianity, Islam and Traditional religion. The traditional worshipers worship a main god called NAN and some worship other gods like Ofu, Juju, sticks, stone, tree, earthen pots etc. The priest in charge of the worshipping is Odyong-Utep. In those days, a kind of initiation was done for male adults in the community, for seven days. There is no circumcision. The priest is usually assisted by a selected few elders called “Asacisa”.

Christianity was introduced when the Christian missionaries came to the area in 1912. The indigenes were converted and they have helped in spreading the gospel of Christ.

Islam was introduced during the Jihad of Usman Dan Fodio.

1.4.3        Administration

The system of government in Yeskwa community is monarchical, with the king as the head. The king is known as Odyong Nyankpa.

The first Odyong Nyankpa who ruled the entire Nyankpa chiefdom was probably Ovurgbe and oral tradition put the period as well before 12th century. His kingdom was said to extend as far as present Suleja to the North.

Odyong Nyankpa who is presently Joel Sabo Awinge is the name of the ruler in Yeskwa community. Odyong Nyankpa is the representative of the whole Odyong Nyankpa community. He is a first-class chief. He is said to be the district head. There are also family heads called Doinyankpa, who are in charge of the small villages around.

The youth are always engaged with the community labour. Eighteen years and above pay tax in Odyong Nyankpa community.

1.4.4        Population

Yeskwa speakers form 80% of the population in Kagoma district of Kaduna while they are the leading 40% of the populace in Panda district of Nassarawa state. Though they do not have a local government area or district in Plateau state, they do not exist.

The confirmed total number of speakers was that given in the SIL website ethnologue which puts the total number of speakers at 52,000 (2009, UBS).

1.4.5        Festivals

In addition to popular Christian and Islamic festivals, the native speakers of Odyong Nyankpa have their own traditioned festivals. For instance, the ‘Nyanpa day’ festival which brings speakers together once a year. On this day, different masquerades like Ofuleng, Gbato, Awuya, Odagba, Ochekpai, Furunze, Pasagari, Osaku, Terefu, Kakayawa, Anuwabe join the people to celebrate the festival. Another popular festival among the Odyong Nyankpa people is ‘Ekokop”. It is a festival that held when you have four grandsons. During the Ekokop festival, Odyong Nyankpa speakers go around blowing cow horns, zithers, made from split guinea-corn stalks and trumpets. This “Ekokop” festival is however not as prestigious as the Nyankpa day festival.

1.4.6        Marriage

In Yeskwa community, when wooing a lady, both the lady and her family must give their consent to the proposal. After that, a big he-goat would be taken to the in-laws’ house along with other things culture demands, such as a jar of wine known as Obam, two sheep and this such of introduction may last for a good three  months.

On the era of the wedding known as  Lagyale Ezam, the youth from the groom and some women will go to the wife’s family. People engaged in fight and beatings so as to get the lady away from the house, because her family would be very reluctant in releasing her to the groom’s family. Further still, she can be snatched by the groom’s friend on her way away from the house. If they succeeded, the wife would be taken to the groom’s house. During this send forth, bride price known as “Amfibi Ezam” would be paid together with three bags of salt. A day after the bachelor’s eve, the lady will then be taken to the church for the wedding. Pre-marital and extra-marital sex are forbidden.

1.4.7        Burial Rites

When an elderly person is dead, information is sent to the relations. If the deceased was an active member of the secret cult, the cult takes charge of the burial, they put the corpse inside a room called Okunma for necessary final send forth.

Whatever may be the case, a goat is slaughtered and blood is shed. The grave is dug as a shaft some feet into the ground and a tunnel is made out from the side of it where the corpse is laid. The corpse is buried prostrate. For men, the right hand serves as a pillow and for women it is the opposite.

After the burial, the Ntamu prayer for the dead is held after four days. The widow remains in mourning until the last stage of  mourning feast which is signified by the removal of the skull for observation three months after burial. If there are holes in the skull, the deceased was a witch but if there are none, the deceased was good. The deceased possessions are inheritable.

1.4.8        Mode of Dressing

In the past, Nyankpa people put on Aso Oke known as “agan sake” and abound of leaves to cover their private parts, woven baskets for the bottom while they leave their chest bare. But the present day outfit used in the community is wrapper and shirt. There are also different dresses for different occasions.

1.4.9        Culture

Yeskwa community is very rich in culture. They have different kinds of traditional dances like Zeregbam, Afakpa, Ashakata etc. Drums; Flutes, Wooden Pipe, Cow horns and the like are the instruments used for the dances.

Yeskwa people in those days, used leaves to cover their private parts, woven, basket for the bottom. Red chalk was also used to rub their legs. This was their own dress code. Even to day, during the Nyankpa day festival, the old people insisted that girls should dress in the native way using Agan sake for the festival. Their tribal marks consist of an inverted three, a perpendicular line and an E on either side of the nose.

The Ayankpas eat all kinds of food but their main foods are Shoyu, made from wheat; Tempeh, made from sesame seeds; Quinoa, cooked in the same way as rice; Buckwheat, made from grain and Adzuki beans which also made from beans.

1.5   Objectives and Research Questions

In this study, an attempt shall be made to identify the following:

The pattern and arrangement of words in Yeskwa language i.e. word order

–       Identify the lexical categories of Yeskwa

–       State the transformational processes in Yeskwa language

–       Identify how words are combined to form phrases and sentences language

–       State the rules applied to structure of phrases in the language

–       To know the classification (verb) that exist in Yeskwa

1.6   Justification of the Study

Though the language is codified, there are limited published works in aspects of Yeskwa verb phrase. This project addresses  this aspect with the aim that it will serve as a reliable source to current and further researchers of Yeskwa language including all lovers of linguistics and linguists in general.

1.7   Genetic Classification

The essence of a genetic classification is to trace the origin of the language and show its relationship with other languages. Yeskwa language belongs to the Benue-Congo group, which is a sub-family of Niger-Kordofanian (Williams, 1982: 102). A detail classification of Yeskwa based on the model proposed by the above source is given below:


Afro-Asiatic                        Khoisan                     Niger-Kordofanian         Nilo-Sahara

Niger Congo                                                                                       Kordofanian

Mande       Gur                   Kwa          West-Atlantic      Benue-Congo     Adamawa Eastern

Kainji                         Igboid                       Platoid                       Nupoid                Oko

Plateau Platoid Group                  Western Plateau Group                       Benue-Congo Platoid Group

Northern Western Group                                                                                     Western Group

Proto Koro

Tinor                         Ashe                         Yeskwa (Nyankpa)  Idu           Gwara

Fig 1.7.1: Genetic Classification of Yeskwa

(Williamson, 1982: 102)

1.8   Scope and Organization of the Study

The main objective of this project is to, study in detail the verb classification that exists in Yeskwa language. This research project is divided into five chapters. The first chapter is purely an introductory. It begins with a general background of the language of study. It also looks at the historical background of the speakers, their sociolinguistic profile and the genetic classification of the language. Also present in chapter one is the theoretical framework adopted in writing this project, method of data collection, data analysis, and a brief review of the chosen framework.

Chapter two presents a phonological overview of Yeskwa language and the basic syntactic concepts like phrase structure rules, basic word order, lexical categories and sentence types. Chapter three is on the verb phrase in Yeskwa language.

Chapter four introduces us to transformational processes like focus construction, question formation and relativization. Finally, chapter five, which is  the concluding chapter, is centrally a recap of all that have been said about verb phrase of Yeskwa from the previous chapters as well as major findings about the language including recommendation(s) and conclusion.

1.9   Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework to be employed in this work is Government and Binding (GB)  Theory Government and Binding 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 in  principles, conditions and rules that are elements or properties of all human language.

1.10 Data Collection

The method of data collection used in this project is contact/informant method. We collected linguistic data for this study by making use of language informants/helpers who are native speakers of Yeskwa language. The data were collected through the use of frame technique and the Ibadan Wordlist of 400 Basic items. The researcher also consulted secondary sources such as the internet, relevant texts, etc. retrieve useful information about the language.

For the primary source  data, the researcher contacted two language helpers; Ayeme Efuna, a 34 year old state security officer and Zakaria Muhammed, 30. The latter works with NNPC. The language helpers hail from Kondoro in Karu Local Government Area of Nassarawa state. Both speak English, Hausa, Gbagi and Eggon apart from Yeskwa. They have spent averagely 25 years in their home town.

1.11 Data Analysis

To ensure an efficient data analysis in this research, the researcher listens to the recorded tape and then transcribes the words phonetically. The morphemes that made up the phrases and sentences are also carefully glossed. The data collected are worked upon according to how the native speakers use it without imposing any extraneous rules or norm of correctness.

1.12 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 NPs, VPs etc.

Government and Binding theory deal 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-a). This theory (GB) was developed to correct the lapses in transformational generative grammar.



Government and Binding Theory posit seven sub-theories of theory of grammar. The sub-theories of government and binding theory are:


1.12.1      X-Bar Theory

Lamidi (2000: 150) states that X-Bar theory is base 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 and Adverb) are 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’ while ‘hit a boy consists of a head ‘hits’. Other examples in Yeskwa language are given below:

  1. lĩtòí    óvet       tÉ

extinguish fire      the

‘put out the fire’

‘lĩtòí’ is the head in the phrase above


V                                              NP

N                                              Det

lĩtòí                    óvet                                          tÉ

extinguish           fire                                          the

  1. late aŋa

big    house

‘the big house’

‘látè is the head


A                                              NP


látè                                           aŋa

big                                            house

1.12.2      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. The illustration is shown below;

X”     Maximal projection level



X’      Intermediate projection level



X0     Core projection level

Horrocks (1987: 99) states that X-bar theory tells us that at a lexical head (X) and its  complements form a constituent (X’) and that any specifier of this form with a high level constituent (X”). Thus:



(Specifier)                          X’


X’                              (Complement)

(Radford 2002: 229).

The principle of head parameter

The principle of head parameter specifies 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.

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


X0                     Comp


X’      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:

X” è Spec X’

X’ è X0 Comp


Spec                                 X’

X0                             Comp

All we have been discussing on X-bar theory (phrase structure) 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.

Another type of phrase is the functional phrase. Functional phrases are the phrases that are build ground functional heads.

Cook (1996: 150) says that inflection phrases are built around functional heads, which may contain lexical materials such as morphological endings but are not required to contain lexical material. The top levels of the sentence have been unified with the rest of X-bar theory. The maximal level of a sentence is called inflection phrase (IP) in X-bar theory. IP consists of specifier and I’, I’ in turn consists of I and a complement thus;

IP     à     Spec I’

I       à     I Comp


Spec                                 I’

I                               Comp

Other functional phrases include complementizer phrase (CP):

CP    à     Spec C’

C’      à     C IP


Spec                                 C’

C                                IP

Determinant Phrase (DP)

DP    à     Spec D’

D’     à     D NP


Spec                                 D’

D                              NP

 1.12.3      Theta (θ) Theory

Theta (θ) theory deals with the functional relationship between a predicate and its arguments; a predicate is said to assign theta-role to each of its arguments (Kristen 1991: 493). It is concerned with the assignment of what Chomsky calls ‘thematic roles’ such as agent, patient (or theme), beneficiary etc.

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 an argument is assigned just one θ-role and each θ-role is assigned to just one argument denoting constituent. For example;

  1. Ahmed dзòdзé légÉs        mé    εvom

Ahmed travel     Lagos by   car

‘Ahmed travel to Lagos by car’


Spec                         I’

I               VP

Tns   Agr   Spec         V

[+ past]

N’                                     V              PP

N0                             V0          NP Spec               P’

N’               P0             NP



Ahmed                      dзòdзé   légÉs   mé        εvom

Ahmed                      travel     Lagos      by          car

In the above example; Ahmed is assigned the role of the agent, while ‘Evom’ is assigned the role of the instrument and leg’s is assigned the role of locative.

  1. Evom ulátòá tásu onèt

car    hit     blind man

‘a car hit the blind man’

The above illustration indicate that, ‘Evom’ is the agent, onèt’ is the patient who received the action of the agent.

  1. Sarah pere εdól

Sarah kill sheep

‘Sarah killed the sheep’

The above example shows that, ‘Sarah is the agent, ‘while Edói is the patient that received the action of the agent in the sentence.

In the illustration above, verb phrase assign agent role of the object NP. Verbs assign patient role to the object of the verb, preposition assign locative role to its NP, while adjective assigns patient role to its NP.

1.12.4      Case Theory

Case theory regulates the distribution of phonetically realized NPs by assigning abstract case to them (Kirsten 1991: 496). It deals with the principle of case assignment  to constitutes. Horrock (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, a lexical head X may be said to govern its sisters in X-bar and certain lexical heads also have the power to casemark certain of their complements. Thus, NP subjects is assigned nominative by INFL, verb assigns accusative case to object of the verb while preposition assigns oblique case to its object let’s use the Yeskwa sentence below as an example;

Azeezat      àgbóí        Èvóm nÉ    gbé   mama

Azeezat      buy           car    a      for    mama

‘Azeezat bought a car for mama’


Spec                         I’

I               VP

Tns   Agr   Spec         V’

[+ past]

NP                                    V              PP

V0          NP Spec               P’

N’     Det P0             NP

N                              N’


Azeezat                      àgbóí Èvóm nÉ    gbé           mama

Azeezat                      buy   car    a      for            mama

1.12.5      Binding Theory

It is concerned with the relationship of NP participants in the sentence. As preliminary, there are three types of NPs which are relevant to the Binding Theory. Thus;

  1. Anaphors
  2. Pronominal
  3. Expressions (Referential Expressions)

The locations of antecedents that count for Binding theory are defined in three Binding principle. Viz;

  1. Anaphors must be bound in their local domain
  2. Pronominals must be free in their domain
  3. Referential expressions must be free

The term, bound based on principle A, simply refers to the conjunction of C-command and co-dexing thus; a bind b, if and only if;

  1. a C-commands b
  2. a and b are co-referential

In principle b, the terms ‘free’ simply means not bound-principle C refers to elements such as names and other referential noun phrases.

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