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«Morphophonemic Analysis of Inflectional Morphemes in English and Ibibio Nouns: Implications for Linguistic Studies Ubong Ekerete Josiah1 & Juliet ...»

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Journal of Education and Learning; Vol. 1, No. 2; 2012

ISSN 1927-5250 E-ISSN 1927-5269

Published by Canadian Center of Science and Education

Morphophonemic Analysis of Inflectional Morphemes in English and

Ibibio Nouns: Implications for Linguistic Studies

Ubong Ekerete Josiah1 & Juliet Charles Udoudom1

University of Uyo, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria

Correspondence: Ubong Ekerete Josiah, University of Uyo, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria. Tel:

234-803-687-0834. E-mail: ubojos@yahoo.com Received: April 12, 2012 Accepted: May 31, 2012 Online Published: August 27, 2012 doi:10.5539/jel.v1n2p72 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.5539/jel.v1n2p72 Abstract Linguists generally acknowledge that there exists an inevitable inter-relationship between different levels of linguistic analysis---phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics. Various linguistic labels are used to describe such a link. In particular, there exists a bridge between the phonology and morphology of particular languages. The term “morphophonemics” is generally used to describe linguistic statements that can be made of the phonemic structure of morphemes and their effect on the grammatical content of languages. This paper basically attempts a morphophonemic analysis of inflectional morphemes of nouns in two structurally and historically distinct languages (English and Ibibio) in order to discover points of differences and similarities using the Contrastive Analysis (CA) model of investigation as its theoretical framework. The results indicate that the two languages are structurally different. For instance, Ibibio is agglutinative, tonal and analytic in nature while English is basically analytic and intonational. The paper, therefore, analyzes the problem that the Ibibio speaker of English is likely to encounter in the study of the English word structure. Again, based on its findings, the paper corroborates Greenberg’s (1964) and Essien’s (2003) classifications of African and Southern Nigerian languages respectively.

Keywords: morphophonemic analysis, inflectional morphemes, English, Ibibio, nouns

1. Introduction One basic problem which L2 learners usually try to grapple with is the inability to “unlearn” the old linguistic norms of the first language or mother-tongue they acquired earlier before learning the target language (TL).

Therefore, it is necessary to identify some problem areas which learners of TL are likely to find difficult. This is the problem this research is attempting to highlight by analyzing the inflectional morphemes in Ibibio and English to indicate those morphological features that may pose learning problems to Ibibio speakers/learners of the English language (cf Lado, 1957).

One general view, which linguists admit of language, is its complex nature. This is why the structural linguist describes language as “a system of systems” or a set of inter-related systems having both the phonological (sound) and the grammatical systems (Dinneen, 1966: 8). Each of these systems has its proper units of permissible combination and order. From these two systems, we can isolate two planes of language analysis which linguists generally acknowledge: phonology and grammar (Gleason, 1969, Tomori, 1977). Phonology deals with phonemes and sequences of phonemes while grammar is concerned with morphemes and their combination into words and larger units (Gleason, 1969). This means that phonemes and morphemes are basic units in linguistics.

At a closer level of analysis, items on the grammatical rankscale: the morpheme, the word, the phrase, the clause, and the sentence, inter-relate. Similarly, items on the phonological rank scale: the phoneme, the syllable, the foot and the tone group equally interlace. Our discussion in this paper indicates that there is an interface between the word and the phonological structures, which ultimately affect the grammar of a language (cf O’Grady, Dobrovolsky and Katamba). One aspect of such a bridge can be illustrated through morphophonemic study.

Using the Contrastive Analysis (CA) method of investigation, this study discusses the morphophonemic structure of inflectional morphemes in both Ibibio and English nouns so as to show points of structural, and possibly, historical differences and similarities between the two languages. Such findings, it is believed, will provide www.ccsenet.org/jel Journal of Education and Learning Vol. 1, No. 2; 2012 reliable insights into the structural content of the two languages, and by so doing, point out the learning problems that Ibibio-English bilinguals may likely encounter in acquiring English as a second language. This will also aid applied linguists in curriculum design for Ibibio learners of English.

1.1 Conceptual Framework We are here concerned with an analysis which affects both the morphemic and phonemic structure of the two languages used for our study. The terminology “morphophonemic”, therefore, implies linguistic statements that describe the phonemic structure of morphemes (Gimson and Cruttenden, 1994). For instance, the source cited here indicates that the morphophonemics of the English plural morpheme involve the alternations of the /s/ allomorph in cats, the /z/ in dogs and the /Iz/ in losses. Chomsky and Halle (1968) prefer the expression “phonological representation”. But in the present study, we will use the term “morphophonemics” to refer to the sense in which Gimson and Cruttenden (1994) use it above.





The other terminologies we have employed for this study are “inflectional morphemes”. Basically, morphology is concerned with the study of morphemes and how they are combined to form words. Two broad divisions of morphological study include lexical and inflectional morphology. Lexical morphology deals with word formation processes such as affixation, back formation, blends, suppletion, compounding, and so on. While inflectional morphology on the other hand marks grammatical categories like number, person, gender, case, tense, mood, voice and aspect (Essien, 1990). Inflectional morphemes, therefore, are those affixes which primarily mark paradigmatic relations among grammatical elements in a language-a paradigm being the system of morphemic variations which is correlated with parallel system of variations in environment (Francis, 1967). This points to what Dinneen (1966) refers to as “covariation” – a functional relation between two things when a change in one is parallelled by a change in the other. More specifically, inflectional morphemes result in changes in the form of a word to indicate strictly grammatical relationships (cf Matthews, 1974). In both English and Ibibio, inflectional morphemes behave much the same way, except for their positions in the word structure, which we shall soon discover in the course of this study.

The other consideration is the concept of Contrastive Analysis (CA). The preoccupation of contrastive linguistics is to compare or contrast from one or more points of view, two or more different languages so as to highlight points of structural and /or historical differences and similarities between them (Crystal, 1994). One basic aspect, which facilitates the goal of comparative linguistics is Contrastive Analysis (CA). This is the branch of linguistic study which employs empirical and synchronic methods in contrasting two or more language structures so as to show points of differences and similarities that can aid language acquisition, especially in a second language learning situation (Bardjowidjojo, 1972, Udondata, 1993). CA is anchored in the doctrine of behaviourism (see Gass and Selinker, 2001). It has strong pedagogical interest, and from all indications as observed by a recent study in Kubota (2010: 271), its goal is to provide useful information for helping L2 learners establish new habits which they cultivated during L1 acquisition. This justifies our resort to this approach since we are comparing the morphophonemics of English and Ibibio inflectional morphemes. The objective is to explore areas which an Ibibio learner/speaker may encounter difficulty in acquiring English as a second language and point them out for pedagogical purposes.

The two languages we are considering for the study are historically and structurally different. For instance, Ibibio (a majority language spoken in Akwa Ibom and part of Cross River States in the Southern part of Nigeria) belongs to the Benue-Congo family of languages (Essien, 1990) while English is historically a member of the Indo-European family of languages (Baugh, 1972). Beyond this Ibibio is structurally agglutinative, tonal and analytic in nature (Essien, 1990) while English is mostly analytic and intonational. Our attempt in this study is to investigate into the nature of morphophonemic alternations that occur with inflectional morphemes in the two languages we are examining here.

1.2 Review of Relevant Literature Lado (1957) marks the inception of Contrastive Analysis (CA) as an aspect of contrastive linguistics. The work establishes a culture of comparing and contrasting two or more different languages. Since the publication of this

work, several other linguists have attempted to examine this concept from different perspectives. Valdman (1966:

287), for instance, highlights the basic role of CA to include: “The comparison of equivalent portions of two languages for the purpose of isolating the probable problems that speakers of one language will have in acquiring the other”. Halliday, Mcintosh and Stravens (1964: 121) also note that CA makes possible comparison of “features of different languages with a reasonable degree of accuracy and objectivity” Quite a number of researchers have experimented on this theoretical tool for contrastive investigations using different languages (cf Nickel, 1969; Corder, 1969; Bardjowidjojo, 1972; Wilkins, 1972; Sanders, 1976; Odlin, www.ccsenet.org/jel Journal of Education and Learning Vol. 1, No. 2; 2012 1989; Udondata, 1993; Eka, 1995; Udoudom, 1997; Josiah, 2001; Banjo, 2004; Udosen and Afangide, 2011).

The results of such investigations have been described in Major and Kim’s (1991) two separate hypotheses:

Similarity Differential Rate Hypothesis (SDRH) and Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis (CAH). These hypotheses have drawn the conclusions that, similar phenomena are acquired at faster rates than dissimilar ones; and that, differences between L1 and L2 usually give rise to difficulties respectively (see Major and Kim, 1991: 151-152;

Leather, 1991: 26). We intend to examine Ibibio and English inflectional morphemes in the light of these research results before drawing our conclusion.

1.3 Research Problem Most second language learners encounter various problems while trying to acquire the second or target language, particularly, in nonnative environment. The major influence is usually that of the mother-tongue interference and the sociolinguistic/sociocultural environment where the speaker/learner lives. This problem is surmountable if points of difficulties in the target language are identified. This is the problem this research is attempting to proffer solution to, at least, in a modest way. In particular, the work is interested in isolating points of differences that pose difficulties and those similarities that can facilitate learning of inflectional, grammatical forms that characterize the nominal morphemes in Ibibio and English languages.

2. Method of Investigation Multiple choice tests were used as the major tool for data collection for the purpose of this research. The test was administered to 70 informants, all of them secondary school students from Junior Secondary 3 (JS 3) to Senior Secondary 3 (SS 3). In all, four classes were involved in the exercise. Twenty test items comprising inflectional forms of nouns were used for the Ibibio data while, for the English data, ten test items were used. The test items for the two languages were designed with the recognition that there is no one-to-one correspondence between English and Ibibio inflectional forms. Again, we adopted the stratified random sampling technique in selecting the informants for the tests in the different classes used. All the tests were recognition tests. They were administered in a classroom situation supervised by the researchers. The tests were designed to evaluate informants’ ability to identify patterns of inflection in Ibibio nouns. The weighted score for each of the items was one hundred percent (100%) and simple percentages were used in analyzing the data. All the informants tested were educated Ibibio speakers of English and the same informants were used for both English and Ibibio data.

The data below summarily presents informants’ performances from the recognition tests conducted.

3. Data Presentation/Analysis The data for the study are presented on Tables 1 and 2. Table 1 presents informants’ performances on the items tested. Three items were examined on Table 1: plurality (which tested number), concord and prefixation in Ibibio.

Table 2 assessed informants’ performances on plurality, suffixation and case. Each item tested corresponded with the peculiar features of the language studied. The two tables are presented next.

–  –  –

3.1 General Remarks on Informants’ Performances from the Data Presented The data presented on Tables 1 and 2 were aimed at testing informants on the recognition of inflectional morphemes in both English and Ibibio nouns so as to discover areas of differences and similarities between the morphological forms of the two languages to be compared. A cursory survey of informants’ performance based on the data presented indicates the following. First, f the Ibibio data presented in Table 1 reveals that informants had less difficulty identifying the prefixation process in Ibibio than the rest of the items tested. The general results show that noun inflectional patterns in the Ibibio language did not pose difficulties to informants who participated in the exercise. Again, plural formation was not difficult for informants to recognize. Observably, too, majority of the informants did not find concord marking difficult to identify. For these three items, the percentages of recognition were recorded as 95.7%, 94.3% and 78.6% respectively.

For the English data, we noticed that while informants had less difficulty identifying plural nouns and the suffixation process in English, they had difficulty identifying case marking as the results on the table indicates.



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