Low Level of Language Competence: A Fundamental Factor for Promoting Frequency of Code-Switching Among Adolescent Igbo-English Bilinguals


Njoku Nneka C

Department of English Language and Literature

Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education Owerri nnekachinaenye@yahoo.com +2348037360839


Onuabuobi Oluchi Stephanie ² Department of English Language and Literature

Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education Owerri wstephwills@gmail.com +2348069272330


The study aimed at investigating the factors promoting the frequency of code switching and mixing among Igbo-English bilingual students of Owerri North Local Government Area of Imo State. The study created awareness on how lack of adequate exposure to Igbo language and Vice-Versa leads to the frequency of code-switching among this group. The background information was introduced and related literature was reviewed. Hyme's theory of communicative competence was used as the theoretical framework backing the study. The primary data used was questionnaire directly administered by the researcher to three-hundred secondary school students who were randomly selected from three schools in Owerri North Local Government Area. The researchers further collected samples of code-switched speeches through careful observation of conversations among students. The findings revealed that the key factor promoting the frequency of code-switching among this group was low level of language competence and lack of lexical equivalents in their first language; Igbo language. To minimize the rate of code-switching, the researcher recommends that parents should take adequate measures to ensure that their children develop a good mastery of their indigenous language. The Lexicographers were further encouraged to create more Igbo terminologies and make them available to the general public.


Nigeria is a culturally and linguistically diverse nation. This multilingual nature made it imperative for English to be adopted as an official language uniting the diverse linguistic groups. The Igbo language on the other hand is one of Nigeria's three major indigenous languages. "The Igbo people according to Afigbo (1979:84) are closely knit group that has a very large population and it comprises more than five dialects and several sub-dialects". It is regarded as a child's mother tongue, the first language (L1) a child should acquire before learning other languages. It is also the primary language of communication which has developed to the point of being a school subject mainly in the eastern part of the country.

According to Adetugbo (1984:4), "The earliest contact of the Igbo people with the Western World could be traced to the advent of the Portuguese about the 15th century into the West African Coast and other intrusion by other visitors especially the British". The European Colonization of Africa brought about the imposition of English language by the British as lingua Franca in Nigeria. English therefore became the language of Colonial administration and education. The importance of English language has been over-emphasized to the detriment of our indigenous languages which is evidenced in the speech of adolescent Igbo-English bilinguals. The speech of adolescent Igbo-bilinguals is characterized by the mixture of these two languages which led to what is known today as English-Igbo" (a hybrid of English and Igbo language) otherwise called code-switching among bilinguals of South Eastern part of Nigeria

Code-switching is a wide spread phenomenon among bilinguals. The contact between two languages leads to the infusion of some elements from the target language. The contact between English language and Igbo is not an exception. There is a tendency to switch and Mix Codes amongst bilinguals in the cause of their daily communication with one another in their speech community. However, Ezeikeojiaku and Okolo (1999:226) pointed out that "two culturally different communities may come in contact by reason of marriage, religion or trade and develop common economic and political system". Such a contact may result in quite a number of things which may include; Code-Switching, Code-Mixing, bilingualism, pidginization, create and borrowing.

Code-switching is not a bad speech habit. It is a byproduct of multilingualism. When bilingual speakers are not equally competent in two languages, code-switching takes place. Competence means possessing the knowledge, skills and abilities. Competences vary from one individual to another. Sometimes, it could be low or high depending on certain factors. The communicative competence of an individual to use language is determined to a great extent from the stand point of the socialization of the child. The agents of socialization of a child include: the home, the school, the church. The home, or the immediate environment of the child plays the key role in explaining the individual competence of the child in relation to the influence of other speakers in the community in which the child lives and if the child is not adequately exposed to syntax of the language or does not have communicative competence in the language forms the basis for code-switching and it's frequency. The frequency of code-switching is said to be manifested in different cultures in different degrees. The predominance of this phenomenon in the speech of adolescent Igbo-English bilinguals has given rise to this study.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is essentially to find out the extent to which the proposed factor low level of language competence contributes to the frequency of code-switching among adolescent Igbo-English bilinguals.

Research Questions

1. To what extent does low level of language competence contribute to frequency of code switching?

Hypothesis 1

The low level of competence is a significant factor contributing to the frequency of code-switching among the Igbo-English bilingual students.

2. To what extent is lexical gap a factor associated with the frequency of code-switching?

Hypothesis 2

The lack of lexical equivalents is a significant factor contributing to the frequency of code-switching among Igbo-English bilingual students.

3. To what extent is gender a factor associated with frequency of code-switching?

Hypothesis 3

The proportion of girls who code-switch among Igbo-English bilingual students is greater than the proportion of boys.


The data got from the respondents were analysed using simple percentage because of the "Simple" and true to life nature of the study. The population of the study was made up of three schools in the Owerri North Local Government of Imo State. The researchers carefully selected students whose first language (L1) is Igbo. The assessment instrument was a Yes and No point rating scale constructed by the researchers and face-validated by specialists in the field to assess the appropriateness of the items and their relevance to the objective of the study. The Researcher's questions were answered by using percentage scores.

What is Code-Switching?

Code-switching and Code-mixing are twin phenomena in sociolinguistics that have generated a lot of controversy among researchers.

Many researchers have seen it as exerting negative influence on the language, while others see code-switching as a natural linguistic behaviour triggered off by certain social, situational, linguistic and psycho-social factors. Trudgil (1992:16) defined Code-switching as the process whereby bilingual or dialectal speakers switch back and forth between one language and another within the same conversation. Code-mixing on the other hand occurs because of the bilingual phenomenon whereby the speakers switch between languages for particular reasons and purposes. He went further to give examples of countries like Nigeria and Hong-Kong where educated elites indulge in Code-mixing using a Mixture of English and any of the local languages as a strategy of projecting two identities at once "e.g sophisticated person and a local Patriot. According to Trudgil (1992:29) "domain is a concept employed in studying code-switching in multilingual contexts and in the study of other situations where different languages, dialects or styles are used in different social contexts". He further described domain as a number of factors which are believed to influence choice of code (languages, dialect or style) by speakers. He listed three influential factors affecting domain in his study.

i. The Topic

ii. The Role Relation

iii. The Locale

The topic referring to issues being discussed. The role relation refers to our listener. According to him, our listener determines what language we use. For instance, within a family domain, we have pairs such as father to mother, father to child, child to child, etc. The locale referring to the place where the conversation takes place; He gave examples of locale like the home, school, church, market, and neighbourhood.

In relation to the present study, the researchers agree with Trudgil that speakers switch between languages for particular reasons. In other words, the reason for code-switching is peculiar to a particular group of people. He further stated that in Nigeria and Hong-Kong, educated elites switch codes to project two identities,

i. an educated person and

ii. a local patriot/

The reason for code-switching among the group under investigation is peculiar to them and may be quite different from the reasons given by Trudgil in his work.

Trudgil (2000:81) also initiated that "men and women do not speak languages, but they speak different varieties of the same language. According to him, the fact is more or less contributed by the social roles they play in the society". He found out that in variations, women use standard forms more than men. In his study of Norwich/English bilinguals, Trudgil found out that the women are expected to carry out different roles and in some cases this may correlate with male and female language. The notion of gender and language variation stated by Trudgil is an indication that gender is studied based on the social roles women and men play in the society. From the summary of Trudgil's work gender has no universal standard of significance.

Different works by different sociolinguists have also suggested that the relationship between gender and code-switching has no global/standard but rather should be examined based on a particular linguistic group. Romaine's (1989:65) "study of Punjabis-English code-switching found out the association between gender and code-switching. He found out that women tend to code-switch more than men". He concluded that the difference was due to gender role differentiation in the community under investigation. According to Romaine, in Birmingham code-switching is used mainly for personal communication within group members in the community while pure Punjabis and pure English are sued for the communication with outsiders. Women as house wives tended to have fewer contacts with the outside world than men, and therefore, would likely use Punjabis and English separately. Women are said to use more proportionally standard or prestigious variants than men speakers from the same social background. Among the Igbo-English bilingual from the cultural perspective, there are more marked differences between the male and female speech of adults. Men engage in proverbial sayings more than women. They often use proverb and wise sayings in expressing their ideas. Proverbs in most cases are said without alternating Codes. For instance: Onye mara asụ, ya sụa n'ikwe, onye amaghị asụ, ya sua n'ala (Onuekwusi 2001:17)

The above Igbo proverb cannot be code switched or code-mixed thus:

Onye mara asụ, ya sụa na Mortar

Onye amaghị asụ, ya sụa na ground

Myres and Scotton (1995:1) described code-switching as the use of two or more languages within the same conversation. They went further to say that one of the uses of code-switching is to help identify alternation of linguistic varieties within the same conversation. Myres and Scotton also pointed out in their statement that some other sociolinguists like Braj Kachru (1983) and other researchers associated with him use the term intra-sentential code-switching to refer to the term code-mixing. According to them, they prefer using the cover label code-switching to represent both phenomena. They further added that both terms could be differentiated by the labels "intra sentential" and "inter-sentential"; intra-sentential representing code-switching while using inter-sentential to represent code-mixing. Thus, he states

I prefer code-switching, as a cover term,

The two types can be differentiated by the

Levels intra-sentential and inter-sentential (1995:2)

The work above demonstrates that in studying these two phenomena code-switching could be adopted as a cover label to represent the two concepts. The researchers, in some cases used code-switching as a cover label and the views of Myres and Scotton indicate that it is not a violation of rule.

Hudson (1996:51) defined code-switching "as the consequence of multilingualism." According to him, the language chosen by the speaker who speaks more than one language depends on the circumstances and what language the hearer understands. He gave example with the Italian/German bilinguals where a speaker uses German within family, sausarian Italian dialect within the village and standard Italian in formal settings as schools, churches and work places. According to him, a change of code equates to a change of situation when the switches between languages in a given discussion coincide with the language changes from one situation (language used within family) to another (speaking with neighbours). Hudson (1996:52) further stated that the changes are controlled by some rules that the members of the same society get from their own experiences which then, become "part of their total linguistic knowledge" (Ibid).

Hudson (1996:56) in differentiating between borrowing and code-switching explained that while "code-switching and code-mixing involve mixing languages in speech, borrowing involves mixing the systems themselves, because an item is borrowed to become part of the host language". The above view confirms the opinion that code-switching is a consequence of the contact between two or more languages. His view also suggests that in studying code-switching, the difference between code-switching and borrowing should be made explicit. This is based on the fact that people who code-switch often think that they are borrowing words from the target language.

Obiamalu and Mbagwu (2007:18) in their work on code-switching tried to make a distinction between code-switching and borrowing. According to them, the difference between the two terms is usually linked on phonological and morphological adaptation. They argued that code-switching is a type of borrowing, and therefore code-switched elements can equally undergo phonological and morphological adaptation into the base language. However, Obiamalu and Mbagwu (2007:18) "classified code-switching into three types; borrowing, quasi-borrowing and true code-switching."

The case of borrowing according to them, manifest when lexical items from one language are inserted into another and the items undergo phonological and morphological assimilation into the host language.

O maakigo ule ahu (Mark)

He has marked the examination

O din a tebulu (table)

It is on the table (Obiamaly and Mbagwu, 2007:18).

Quasi-borrowing according to them arises when the host language has an equivalent but the intruding language equivalent is more often used by both monolinguals and bilinguals and it may not be assimilated into the language.

a. Obi zuru car ohuru

Obi bought a new car

b. Obi zuru ugboala ohuru

Obi bought a new car (ibid:4)

c. Akwa ya na-acha red

His cloth is red in colour

d. Akwa ya na-acha obara obara

His cloth is red in colour (Ibid)

The third situation according to them is when the speaker chooses to use English when there are readily available Igbo equivalents.

3a. Fela na ecriticize onye obula

Fela criticizes everybody (Ibid:6)

b. Fela na akocha onye obula

The two types of code-switching proposed by Mbagwu and Obiamalu is quite relevant to this study. The first type illustrates a true situation of borrowing because the borrowed words have been assimilated and universally accepted in the host language Igbo. The second case they referred to as quasi-borrowing is part of the focus of this research work. In the examples given above the English word have competence contribute to frequency of code-switching.

Factors Promoting Code-Switching.

Malik (1994:72) in his study of the communicative functions of code-switching among Hindi/English bilinguals of India discovered ten reasons why these students code-switch.

These include:

1. Lack of facility

2. Lack of register

3. Mood of the speaker

4. To emphasizes a point

5. Habitual experience

6. Semantic significance

7. To show identity with a group

8. To address a different audience

9. Pragmatic reasons

10. To attract attention

According to Malik bilinguals or multi-linguals often explain that they code-switch when they cannot find an appropriate expression or vocabulary item or when the language of conversation does not have the particular word needed to carry on with the conversation smoothly. Secondly, he noted that when speakers are not equally competent in two languages, code-switching takes place. He also stresses the fact that code-switching occur in fixed phrases of greeting, expressions of gratitude, discourse markers, commands and requests. He stresses that code-switching at a particular moment conveys semantically significant information. Lexical choice is seen as conveying meaning during code-switching. He also found out that they engaged in code-switching to show that they shared the same values and experiences. Malik also found out that Hindi/English bilinguals use code-switching when the speakers intend to address people coming from various linguistic backgrounds. He gave an instance of the Indian television announcer who often uses Hindi as it is the national language but also switches to English. Also, often repeats the same in English for south Indian people who do not know Hindi.

Finally, he shows that in advertisements in India, code-switching is used to attract the attention of the reader/listeners.

Holmes (1992-35) describes code-switching "as a move from one code (language, dialect or style) to another during speech for a number of reasons". In her study of code-switching, among English-Maori speakers she discovered three factors that determine the switching of codes;




She found out that a speaker may similarly switch to another language as a signal of group membership and shared ethnicity with an addressee, to hide some information from a third party, to reduce social distance. Hilmes also discovered that bilinguals can switch codes to discuss a particular topic. She further stated that some of the codes have effective functions;

1. Switching is used for amusement and dramatic effect.

2. It is used for joking.

3. A person may code-switch when he is angry

4. To put the addressee at a distance

5. To emphasize disapproval of one's behavior or to reprimand

Holmes (1992-43) differentiates between lexical borrowing and code-switching. According to her, code-switching involves a choice between the words of two languages or varieties, but lexical borrowing involves borrowing single words due to the lexical need. Holmes (1992-45) listed the equivalence constraints and matrix language frame" (MLF) as the two linguistic constraints guiding code-switching. In equivalent language constraint switches occur at points where the grammar of both languages matches each other. While the matrix language frame impose structural constraints on code-switched utterances. In conclusion, Holmes states that the attitude of people towards code-switching is often due to the fact that people are unaware that they code-switch. They may think they are borrowing from the target language.

The theoretical framework used in the study is drawn from one of the leading sociolinguists of the time (Dell Hymes, 1974:60). He propounded a theory called communicative competence. This theory was propounded to account for the sociolinguistics perspective of knowledge that enabled people to use language appropriately in a range of diverse social contexts. According to Hymes, the environment of the child and other external factors to a large extent determines the child's communicative knowledge not just the innate ability of the child to use language.

According to Hymes (1974:60), the "... communicative competence of each individual is determined from the stand point of the socialization of the child." The agents of socialization of a child include: the home, the school, the church. The home or the immediate environment of the child plays the key role in explaining the individual competence of the child in relation to the influence of other speakers in the community in which the child lives and if the child is not adequately exposed to the syntax of the language or does not have communicative competence in the language forms the basis for code-switching. This best explains the situation faced by Igbo-English bilingual students.

The frequency of code-switching among adolescent Igbo-English bilinguals could best be accounted for using Hymes theory of communicative competence with the link of Noam Chomsky's language competence of the knowledge of language an individual possess which if limited leads to resorting to other alternative codes.

1. Hypothesis 1: the low level of competence is a significant factor contributing to the frequency of code-switching among the Igbo-English bilingual students.


Table 1: low level of language competence



Total no of respondents


No of Respondents


Do you speak English more fluently than Igbo language?







Are you more fluent in Igbo language?







Do you speak English without inserting Igbo words or phrases?







Do you speak Igbo without inserting English words or phrases?






The findings show that 62.6 percent of the students like English language more than Igbo, 49% prefer speaking English language, 56.3% have greater skill in English than Igbo language, and 100% speak English without inserting Igbo words and phrases while 2.3% speak Igbo without inserting English words and phrases. This shows that greater percentage of students has low level of competence in Igbo language and it corresponds with the hypothesis.

Table 2: Lack of Lexical gap.



Total no of respondents


No of Respondents


Are there words in English that does not have Igbo equivalents ?







Are there words and phrases in Igbo that does not have equivalents in English?







Do you code-switch because of lack of Igbo equivalents?






Table 2 shows that out of the 300 students used for the study, 100% agreed that there are words and phrases that does not have readily Igbo equivalents, 100% agreed that there are English words and expressions that does not have readily Igbo equivalents, 97.3% agreed that frequency of code-switching is an indication of lack of lexical equivalents in Igbo language. The researchers dispute this a non- fundamental factor contributing to the frequency. Based on their interaction earlier on with the students where they could not produce readily available equivalents of some English words like assignment, phone, noise, criticize, etc. This shows that lack of lexical gap is not a fundamental factor.

Table 3: To what extent is gender a factor associated with code-switching?



Total no of respondents


No of Respondents


Do girls code-switch more than boys?







Do girls use flowery languages than boys?






The responses above show that there could be little or no difference between the speech of boys and girls. It equally shows that gender is not a significant factor to be associated with the frequency of code-switching among this group. The examples below are series of code-switched utterances jotted down by the researchers during the observation exercise. The observation was carried out without the knowledge of the students. The gloss in English is written below each utterance.

1. This is how somebody si abanye na trouble

"This is how somebody yets into touble"

2. Chiọma na ecriticize principal ọ bụla

Chioma criticizes every principal

3. Emeka preparera maka exam a very well

Emeka kwadoro maka ule a nke ọma

4. Ị ga-abia school tomorrow?

Ị ga-abịa ụlọakwụkwọ echi?

Will you come to school tomorrow?

5. A sị anyị ejikwala phone anyị abịa school

A sị anyị ejikwala ekwentị anyị abịa school

"They told us not to come to school with our handsets".

6. Enyere anyị assignment na English

Enyere anyị ihe omume na Bekee

They gave us assignment in English

7. Aga m agba W.A.E.C na miracle centre

"I will register for WAEC at the miracle centre"

8. Nye m that your book

"Give me that your book"

9. Achọrọ m I copy note

"I want to copy note

10. A pụọla break

"It's break time"

11. Kedu side ebe I na-ala

"Which side are you going"

12. Abịara m school late

"I came to school late"

13. Sir nyere anyị punishment

"The male teacher gave us punishment"

14. Principal si the whole class kneeluo down

"Principal told that the entire class to kneel down"

15. Anti ahụ gbara wicked

"That Aunty is wicked"

16. Echi wụ moral instruction

"Tomorrow is moral instruction"

17. Kedu onye na-eme noise abe ahụ?

"Who is making noise there?"

18. We have meeting at three O'clock, bịa ka anyị ga ahịa ugbu a

"We have meeting at three O'clock, let us go to the market now"


From the close investigation of all the code-switched utterances from the large corpus of data collected by the researchers and from the questionnaire, it is quite imperative to say that members of this group readily switch codes because they lack the knowledge of the Igbo equivalents. The researcher therefore concluded that code-switching is not bad in itself but the frequency should be guided amongst this group.


On the basis of the findings, the following recommendations are made:

1. There should be effort to re-orientate the parents and the general public to promote their culture by ensuring that their children acquire and develop competence in their native language because language is culture.

2. The researcher also recommends that Igbo lexicographer should work assiduously to develop more terminologies and the broadcasting media houses should have access to these standardized terms. By so doing, the developed terminologies will become household term.

3. Teachers should also be trained to help students by teaching them some of these Igbo equivalents or expressions.

4. The researcher further recommends that a credit pass in Igbo and other indigenous languages like Hausa and Yoruba should be made one of the pre-requisites for every prospective student before being admitted into any of the Universities in the country Federal, State, Private Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of education.


Adetugbo, (1979) "Appropriateness and Nigerian English in varieties and functions of English in Nigeria" In Ubahakwe, Ebo(ed). Ibadan: Spectrum

Afigbo, A.F (1979) Towards cultural revival among the Igbo speaking people. Anu Magazine, Owerri cultural Division.

Adetugbo, (1984). "The English Language in the Nigerian Experience" University of Lagos Press.

Ahukanna (1990) "Bilingualism and Code-Mixing in language use: The Case of English, Igbo, bilingual" in multilingualism minority language.

Chaer, A. and Leong, A. (1995) Socialinguistics: Pengenalan Awal Jarkata P.T. Rineka Cipita

Ezikeojiaku, P.A. (2000). "The language factor in resource mobilization for rural development" in JONLAC,2.

Braj Kachru (1983) "Studies in Hindu Linquistics. New Delhi: American Paperback edition by Pergamon Press, Oxford.

Ezeikeojiaku and Okolo (1999) 'Introduction to Language and Linguistics. Mindex Publishing Company, Benin City, Nigeria.

Holmes, J. (1990) An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. USA: Adiso Wesley Longman Inc.

Hudson, R. A. (1996) Foundation of Sociolinguistics: An ethnography approach. Philadephia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Myers-Scotten, C. (1993) "Common and uncommon ground" Social and Structural factors in Code-Switching Language in Society.

Obiamalu, G.O. & Mbagwu, D.U. (2007) Code-Switching: Insight from Code-Switched English/Igbo expression. Akwa Journal of Linguistics and Languages, Vol.3

Romaine, S. (1994) Language in Society: An introduction to Sociolinguistics. New York: Oxford University Press.

Trudgil, P. (2000). An introduction to Sociolinguistics. England Pearson Education Limited.

Trudgil (1992) "Introducing Language and society" London Penguin English

Malik, L. (1994) Sociolinguistics: A study of Code-Switching: New Delhi: Anmol.

Onuekwusi, J.A. (2001) Fundamentals of African Oral Literature. Alphabet Nigeria Publishers.

Myres and Scotton (1995) "Social Motivations for Code-Switching: Evidence from Africa" Clarendon Press.

Hymes Dell, (1974). "Foundations of Sociolinguistics: An Ethnographic Approach. Philadephia" Penncsylvania


Eze Maudlyn Adaora¹

Department of Linguistics and Literary Studies

Ebonyi State University


Ahamefula, N. O.²

Department of Linguistics, Igbo & Other Nigerian Languages, University of Nigeria, Nsukka

EbubeChineke, Ifeyinwa³

Centre for Igbo Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka


Ezemoka Augustina3 Igbo Department, Federal capital Territory College of Education, Zuba, Abuja

Corresponding author email: ndubuisi.ahamefula@unn.edu.ng


This paper looks at the influence of formalism on language teaching. It discusses the tenets of formalism and its implication to language teaching. It evaluates the various grammatical theories that have adopted formalism approach. For example; the traditional grammar and the Transformational Generative Grammar (TGG), their various characteristics as well as their view on language teaching were equally looked at. The impact of formalism on language teaching is discussed. The paper adopts a descriptive approach of research. Formalist approach to language teaching relies much on structures rather than contextual use of forms in real communicative situations.


There have been concerns over earlier scholars' stand on language learning, especially for children and beginners.

According to Nkaamigbo and Eme (2009:1),

The proponents of the approaches and methods of language teaching do not have pre-primary school children in mind. Basically, the term 'beginners' and 'learners' presuppose children in primary schools and adults respectively. The reason could be that earlier, children would not go to school until the age of six. So, there were no pre-primary schools. This is not the case today as children start school between the ages of two months. These children are kept in a creche where they are taken care of and also exposed to pick up salient sounds as they grow up.

Nkamigbo and Eme (2009:2) note that "the formalist approach presupposes teaching the rules/conventions of language use as well as the rules of the formal linguistic system. The formalist approach to language teaching in most cases end up nurturing children that are disjointed to a greater extent from the social use of language. Agbedo(2015:244) asserts:

Furthermore, a realist linguist would avoid the fallaciously motivated disjunctions and dualisms of form and meaning, and of ('external') communication and ('internal') language on which Chomskyan theory is premised. By contrast, the object of its investigation would bre the very social act of communicative interaction by means of meaningful utterances. An utterance is a unity of form ... and meaning... rather than a combination of the two independently existing 'essences' of form and meaning.

The functionalist approach focuses on the actual use of language in real life contexts based on the communicative needs of the learners. The formalist and functionalist approaches bring to the fore the differences between linguistic competence of Chomskyan orientation and communicative competence of the sociolinguistic orientation. The term 'linguistic competence' according to Agbedo (2007) was established in Chomskyan linguistics while the term 'communicative competence' was established by Hymes (1971).

According to Anasiudu (2001:34), "When language teaching is seen as a system of forms (a code) then the focus is on grammar and language teaching consists in the teaching of grammar". The knowledge of grammar by implication confers on the learner the mastery of language i.e. the effective use of the target language. The emphasis of this approach is on form, it is called formalist approach. Iloene (2007) discusses the two prominent approaches to language teaching, the formalist approach is a product of the interplay of structuralist linguistic principles and behavourist psychological tradition whereby language is considered a system of structures that could be learned through a mechanical process of habit formation. One's view about language depends on his orientation and that orientation is referred to as approach.

Formalist Approach

Chomsky leads the troupe of scholars that favour the formalist approach. This is akin to his asocial orientation which sees language as being invariable, static, monolithic and homogenous. (Agbedo, 2015). Agbedo (2015: 352) further notes, "Chomsky's asocial approach to language is implicit in his statement: "if we hope to understand human language and the psychological capacities on which it rests, we must first ask what it is, not how or for what purpose it is used" (Chomsky, 1968:62).

The view of the formalist approach is that the language teacher teaches the forms while the learner learns and uses the language by applying the forms learned. Again, Agbedo (2007:341) notes,

The asocial approach to linguistic theorizations and descriptions perhaps explains the heavy reliance of language teachers on the grammarian to provide the description of language from which the content of language teaching courses can be drawn. The implication is that such descriptions have not yielded the kind of communicative content required until the recent theoretical shift of emphasis in language pedagogy that favours a type of syllabus which makes ample provision for learning of communicative competence

The formalist approach to language teaching makes room language teachers to design methods apply them in teaching lessons. The teacher serves as a guide and not the sole teacher of the target language.

Anasiudu (2001:35) says that "The formalist approach has the view of language as a static; closed system- a code consisting of elements and their relationships with another." The aim of this approach is the knowledge of the grammar of the Target Language (TL), hence, traditional grammar, structural grammar and transformational generative grammar.

Traditional Grammar

Traditional grammar is the oldest form of grammar. During the nineteenth century, the traditionalist answered the question "what is language?" by comparing it to a living creature, in terms of their evolution from primitive ancestors into the living organisms. Language was seen as living or dead, sophisticated or primitive, weak or strong, Anasiudu (2001) notes the characteristics of traditional grammar as follows;

  • Language is static and any change is a corruption of the language and so unacceptable. Therefore, the older form is better and classical works are cited as the authority in matters of grammar.
  • Grammar is universal; hence all languages are expected to have the same parts of speech- noun, pronoun, adjectives, verbs, adverb, preposition, conjunction and interjection- just as they must have the same cases- normative, accusative, genitive, vocative, dative and ablative. No wonder English grammar is modelled on Latin grammar, and Latin grammar on Greek.
  • Grammar is seen as a set of normative/prescriptive rules, based on the standard dialect.

Anasiudu (2001:36) further explains that traditional grammar has various ways of analyzing the sentence. He said that the simple sentence is usually broken down into subjects and predicate and further analysed by means of parsing which identifies the constituents of the sentence and describes their relationship with one another. For example: He is man. The sentence above under traditional grammar will be analysed thus:

He- third person pronoun, singular number, masculine gender, normative case, subject of the verb "is"

Is - intransitive verb, indicative, present tense, third person, singular, agrees with its subject "He".

the - definite article, in the class of definitive adjectives, qualifies "man".

Man - common noun, singular, third person, masculine gender, subject complement of the verb "is" (Anasiudu, 2001:36).

Anasiudu further explained that complex sentence is subjected to clause analysis, which breaks the sentence down to its identified constituent clauses and states their functions in the sentence.

Traditional Grammar view on Language Learning

This approach has been observed not to be adequate for foreign language learning. This is because of their view on language learning which:

  • Laid more emphasis on morphology (word-building mechanism) rather than sentence building mechanism,
  • Emphasized the learning of rules and talking about language but not performing in it,
  • Made their descriptions of categories (noun, verb), ambiguous and sometimes end in confusion.

The traditionalists had normative attitude towards language. This attitude could be expected to conform to the rules of English looking at EFL or ES (situation) as laid down: pronunciations were not to deviate in the slightest from some idealized 'BBC English' or 'Queen's English or 'Oxford English', for teachers it was an unattainable goal, because they would be expected to be normative in deciding whether an utterance produced by the learner is to be encouraged in that form or modified in some other way it means then that a learner needed a model, whether that model is to be based on the conventions of one of the great "L1" communities: American or British or some legally emerging standard; Educated West African, General Indian English and so on.

From the works of the traditional grammarians, no world language which does not have as the constituents of the sentence, subject and predicate neither is there any world language with words that do not belong to any of the traditional part of speech or case. By this, English language is modelled on Latin grammar, and Latin grammar modelled on Greek. These have influenced other world languages and yet influencing African languages too.

Structural Grammar

Structural linguistics was established in the 1930s as a result of two needs felt by the academic community in the USA. Firstly, was the dissatisfaction of 'traditional' grammar and secondly, linguistics in America were faced by a severe practical problem which is the description and preservation of the native Indian languages before they literally die out. Field workers found out that the structures of the Amerindian languages were quite different from those of Europe (Bell, 1981).

Nkamigbo and Eme (2009) note that structural grammar (SG) is based on behaviorism. The behaviorist theory posits that human beings possess the capacity for language acquisition and acquire or learn language the way they learn other habits. Behaviourists do not believe that there is any complex internal endowment, in man that makes it possible for him to learn and use language.

Ezeudu (2007) discussing on structuralism sees language as a system of structurally related elements for the coding of meaning. Ezeudu continues that this approach to language places emphasis on the mastery of phonological, syntactical and semantical elements in the target language, hence, the emphasis of teaching the language is placed on the structure of the language which Ezeudu referred to as the joining/linking and transforming of elements.

According to Anasiudu (2001:37) structural grammar is characterized by the following tenets:

  • Language is speech, hence the emphasis in the spoken median. It accepts only empirical data in the form of recorded utterances, which are analyzed to discover the nature of language. Writing takes a second place and is considered later
  • Language is a system of firms: It talks about the relatedness of items that are combined to form sentences. To the structuralist, the main role of the linguistics is to build up a description of this system without recourse of meaning. That is constructions are.
  • The language system is arbitrary: Words and their meanings are conventional. A word is what it is, because the native speakers of the language accepted it to be so. In this, the structuralist agreed with the traditional e.g. "ego" (Igbo). Otherwise, why is "ego" not "alo".
  • Language is for communication: One acquires or learns a language in order to interact with other people in one's community.

Having observed the above assumption, one would understand that structural grammar is empirical. It accepts empirical data (recorded utterances) which are analysed to discover the nature of language. Its emphasis is on the spoken language because it is the primary medium of communication. It employs the slot filler technique. Slot filler technique is a way of determining the relationship that exists between elements in the structure. Let us consider the slot below:

A |child| lives in a house

The items in the vertical row are said to be in a paradigmatic relationship while those on the horizontal row are in the syntagmatic relationship. In the above sentence, the subject words (noun) can interchange. That is, you can slot each of the words in place of the other.

Similarly, in structural grammar, the sentences that are semantically similar are often regarded as different because of their difference in structure while the sentences that are semantically different are seen

1a. The boy killed the fowl

1b. The fowl was killed by the boy

The above sentences are regarded as different in this model of grammar because of the difference in their structures 1(a) is the active voice whereas (1b) is the passive voice.

2a. He is easy to please

2b. He is eager to please

Sentences 2a and 2b are seen as being the same in structural because of their structural similarity, though they are different in their underlying forms.

Language teaching in this model is mechanical because intensive practice is required for the development of the needed habits.

Structuralist View on Language Learning

  • The behaviourist school provided the model of learning accepted by the structuralist; hence it was believed that learning language was achieved by building up habits on the basis of stimulus-response chain.
  • The habits were built up so as to provide unremitting practice: the sentence pattern was repeated and drilled until they became as habitual and automatic as those of the mother tongue. Errors are not allowed in the material for drilling because if the errors are repeated, the learner will master them, this means that the learners are not allowed to select their language. Bowers and Brumfit (1991) note that in the structuralist approach to language learning that the teacher becomes their model and they practice what the teacher provides for them.
  • The structuralist sees language learning as mechanistic where the dichotomy between mind and body was denied and the activities of the dichotomy between mind and body was denied and the activities of the mind were seen as no more than complex extensions of the activities of the body, learning needed a psychological and physiological explanation.

Furthermore, grammar is emphasized therefore, the learner is not allowed to initiate any language, rather, he imitate his model - the teacher. It is believed that in this way, the rule is efficiently imparted in the learner.

Anasiudu (2001) noted that structural grammar sees language learner as habit formation. That a response reinforced and repeated is learnt and this has greatly influenced methodology. He noted that drilling is a very important technique in structuralist language teaching. By intensive drilling in the chosen structure, the learners are expected to build up the habit of using them automatically.

Criticism on Structural View of Language Learning

  • There is no provision for an adequate basis for the input data the learner needs because of the partial nature and at times misleading analysis given by the structuralist in their description of language.
  • Habit and stimulus-response learning is an inadequate model for language learning. This is because of the generalization of rules; just as first language acquisition.
  • Language teachers accepted pretty uncritically, the assumption made by the linguist that he was competent to advise the teacher on pedagogical matters. This led to feeling that language was the only variable involved in language learning, when in fact, much more comes into play; the age, educational level, motivation of the students, individual, social and political attitude to the target and so forth (Bell (1981)). Though the linguist, can advise on what can be taught; the content of the course but, as a linguist, has no special qualification to advice on how the teaching should be done.
  • Anasiudu (2001) states that the structuralist approach, that meaning is not taught and explanations are considered unnecessary. That the expected meaning is inherent in an appropriate response. So, there is no need for any conscious teaching of meaning.

Transformational Generative Grammar

Transformational generative grammar popularly known as (TGG) is influenced by mentalism and is the next grammar that services formalism. Mentalism believes that there is something in man that makes it possible for him to acquire a language. This is the innate mechanism/natural endowment and is called Language Acquisition Device (LAD). Transformational generative grammar came as a result of the dissatisfaction in the 1950's structuralists.

Anasiudu (2001:38) posits that transformational grammar is characterized by the following assumptions:

  • Language is a mental phenomenon, not a set of habits. It is innate and so "an intrinsic inheritance of human beings" and language acquisition/learning is facilitated by the language acquisition device (LAD). Hence, each normal child easily acquires language. This is opposed to structural grammar's position that language is a set of habits
  • Language is universal, not only in the sense of that all normal children acquires language but also in the sense that all languages share certain easily identifiable characteristics.
  • Language is a system that relates meaning to things. Therefore, meaning is the sole object of language.
  • Transformational Generative Grammar (TGG) is concerned with the native speaker knowledge of his language. The proponents of transformational generative grammar believe that a native speaker has a perfect knowledge of his language, which regards as authority. Hence, he embarks on describing that knowledge.

Chomsky (1957) in Anasiudu (2001) identifies two sets of processes involving (i) Phrase Structure (PS) rules and (ii) transformational rules. The Phrase Structure Rules (PS) also called the base rules which successive strings of symbols are built up until a terminal string is reached.

The phrase structure rules are listed as follows:

  • Sentence NP + VP
  • VP Verb + NP
  • NP NP sing
  • NP sing T + N + Q
  • NP P T + N + S
  • T the
  • N man, ball
  • Verb Aux + V
  • V hit, take etc
  • Aux C(m) (have+en) (be+ing)
  • M will, can, may, shall, must
  • C (S in the context NP sing)

(Q in the context NP pl)

The terminal strings look thus: T + N + Q + Pat + V + T + N + Q

The man + Qed + hit + the + ball + Q

By means of morphophonemic rules:

Man + Q = man

-ed + Q = hit

Ball + Q = ball

(Adapted from Anasiudu, 2001: 38-39).

2. The transformational rules by means of which the elements of the terminal strings are manipulated- moved, added to, deleted until they express, normally in a phonemic transcription a grammatical sentence.

Transformational views on language learning

Unlike the structuralist who believes that linguistics could and should help language teachers, the transformationalist has been very cautious in applying theory to actual classroom foreign language teaching. The most effective teaching materials will be those which are based on scientific description of language to be learned, carefully compared with a parallel description of the language of the learner. Learning therefore is a creative process of problem solving rather than a simple matter of habit formation. With this background, the teach is not simply to teach the TL but rather to serve as a guide to the learners involved in the problem-solving process. Here, the teacher does not frown at the errors of the learner at each stage of his language learning. Language teachers and applied linguists have drawn out of transformational generative grammar number of assumptions which have influenced language teaching.

Demerits of transformationalist in language teaching

Anasiudu (2001) notes that not much use has been made of transformational generative grammar in language teaching when compared with traditional and structural grammar. Transformational generative grammar is abstract and the usage is limited.

However, many teachers were not able to use transformational generative because they do not understand the symbolic logic that informed its formation and some of the terms used are often misinterpreted.

Furthermore, transformational generative applied in language teaching as far as back as 1962 did not yield positive result. This is because; the relationship between the surface structure and deep structure was vague.

The impact of formalism on language teaching

Language teachers focus on the structure of the target languages(s) for effective language teaching. The knowledge of grammar would lead to an effective use of language and therefore the issue of language teaching has been on the forms of grammar owing to the formalist approach. Notwithstanding that the models presented in this paper is said to be inadequate for analysis, they all provide pool of theorizations from which the contents of language teaching are drawn.

Linguists formulate language structure models and then mete out these on languages learners by intensive drilling and concrete repetition; this has been seen to follow good response.

The formalist approach (formalist) sees language learning as habit formation in which language learning is seen as response to stimuli which is internal or external, physical or verbal. A response reinforced and repeated is learnt and this has great influence on learning a language effectively from the influence of the approach.

The learners are at the initial stage not allowed to construct sentences of their own but the teacher provides structure while the learners imitate the teachers.

The idea of competence and performance helps teachers to know when students have learned a language. Language teachers assess students using formative and summative assessment from an appropriate responses and feedbacks received in the process which helps to determine if the students have become grammatical competence in the target language. Formalism, therefore, has become a theory in applied linguistics that refers to this view of language and learning. (Anasiudu: 2001).


The paper has been able to look at the three-influential theories, the traditional grammar; the structural grammar and the transformational generative grammar. According to Anasiudu (2001), though, traditional grammar is now dismissed as a non scientific grammar by linguistics; its influence in language teaching has been and is still very strong, whereas structural grammar focuses on the physical manifestation of the language system, transformational generative grammar is concerned with the native speaker's knowledge of the system which enables him to create such physical manifestations.

However, Anasiudu (2001) opines that these three grammars discussed share the orientation that language learning should focus on form as means of mastering the code that is language. This emphasis on form hinges on their belief that the knowledge of the form infers on the leaner the ability to use the language effectively in real life situations. All the three models of language description share this view of language despite their other differences. It is their collective emphasis on form that informed the choice of the title. The goal of the formalist is structural competence. (Anasiudu, 2001).


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Anasiudu, B.N. (2001). "From formalism to functionalism: New goals, new approach". Nsukka Journal of African Language and Linguistics, 2(1), 34-44.

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Bowers, R. & Brumfit, C. (1991). Applied linguistics and English language teaching. London: Macmillian publishers.

Chomsky, N. (1957). Syntactic structures. The Hague: Mouton.

Chomsky, N. (1968). Language and mind. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World.

Ezeudu, J.I. (2007). Innovational approaches and methods in language teaching: is Nigeria abreast of the times? In B.N. Anasiudu, G.I. Nwozuzu, & C.N. Okebalama (eds.) Language and literature in developing country. Essays in honour of professor Benson O.A. Oluikpe. Onitsha: Africana First Publishers Ltd., 202-213.

Hymes, D. H. (1971). Competence and performance in linguistic theory. In R. Huxleyland and E. Ingram (eds.) Language acquisition models and methods. London: Academic Press.

1loene, M.I. (2007). Towards a communicative teaching of Igbo as an alternative language (AL). in B.N. Anasiudu, et al (eds.) Language and literature in a developing country. Essays in honour of Professor B.O.A. Oluikpe. Onitsha: African First Publisers Limited., 252-259.

Nkamigbo, L.C. & Eme, C.A. (2009). Phonology: A. crucial input to language teaching. NKOA, 2, 1-13

Oath-Taking and Covenant making in Igbo Traditional Religious Society: Central Sub cultural Zone of Igbo land

Charles Okeke, Ph.D.

Department of Christian Religious Studies

Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe


Onukwube Alex Alfred Anedo, Ph.D.

Department of African & Asian Studies

NnamdiAzikiwe University, Awka


Oath-taking (Ịṅụiyi) and covenant (Ịgba ndụ) are parts of the important customs in Igbo traditional religion. These customs are in practice long before the advent of Christianity in Igbo land. With the coming of Christianity to Igbo land, the period of enlightenment came and there came a remarkable shift by many from traditional practice to Christianity. Many people became converted to Christianity; although one can say that the people were not holistically converted to Christianity as some still indulge in traditional practices like oath-taking and covenant making. This study explored the meaning of oath taking and covenant making and how the traditional Igbo administered them. The study also examined the types of covenant obtained in Igbo society and reasons for entering into covenant and taking oath. To avoid falling victim to error of overgeneralization, the study adopted subculture area approach. This approach is necessary because what obtains in one culture may not be the same in another culture. With this in mind, the study focused on central subcultural zone of Igbo land, which includes: Igbo-ukwu, Aguluezechukwu, Agulu, Nnokwa, Nnobi, Adazi-enu, Adazi-ani, Adazi-nnukwu, Alor, Eziowelle, Abacha, Umudioka, Ukpo, Ifitedunu, Abatete, Ogidi, Obosi, Abagana, Ozubulu, Ukpor, Oraifite, among other towns that fall within this axis. The findings revealed that the Igbo of the central sub cultural zone use the administration of oaths to find out the truth when one is accused of something, also settlement of land disputes when there is no other means of establishing the truth. People resorted to oath-taking administered with the ancestral staff and other objects such as kolanut. The administration is usually by a ritual leader or a priest before a shrine.

Key Words: Ịnụiyi (Oath-Taking), Ịgba ndụ (Covenant), Ọfọ, Ezemmụọ, Akpụ, Ọjị (Kola)


It is clear that the light of the Gospel is blossoming now among the Igbo, which includes the area understudy. Christianity has drawn the people out of darkness, per se. In the primitive era, ignorance played alarming role and dominated the people's culture. The killing of twins as well as traditional oath-taking and covenant making, for instance, were not done out of prejudice but out of ignorance. However, one cannot doubt the fact that in one way or the other, the traditional Igbo man and woman have been in touch with the religion which the white missionaries and their trade counterparts looked upon and described as primitive religion. This though is true, yet we do not try to condemn our past, as no one speaks from the vacuum.

There seems to be a link between the religion of our forebears and Christianity. For instance, as African tradition holds the ancestors in high esteem, Christianity on the other hand, esteem and revere the saints and Christianity seems to have superficially conquered the traditional religion. It is obvious that the traditional Igbo have in their era developed some norms that guided and still guide the Igbo society. Some of these norms are fundamental to the survival of the Igbo man and woman. They are cherished and valued by the Igbo. These norms include the oath-taking and covenant making as well as their processes of administration.

This study tends to study the concept of oath and covenant among the Igbo and their processes of administration. To become a Christian does not imply that the cherished culture of the people must be thrown away, especially those cultures that are in tandem with the Christian doctrine and belief. African traditional norms have no doubt played an important role in shaping the minds of the people and sanitizing their society. In those days people were afraid of committing crime whether deliberately or indeliberately. Once a crime is committed whether personal or public every effort must be made to appease the spirit or the earth (Anị) goddess, which is regarded as the mother of morality lest the spirit strikes the person or even visits the community with death.

Oath-taking and covenant making are, therefore, one of the means of restoring trust and confidence between parties and anyone who goes against the norm is visited with punishment such as death or disease. This study, therefore, tends to highlight not only the concept of oath and covenant among the traditional Igbo of central subculture area, but also their processes of administration and implications on the people and society.

Conceptual Framework:

  • Concept of Oath

Iwuchukwu (2002) describes oath-taking as an occasion when "one invokes the deity in attestation of the truth of one's words, by what is probably an exaggerated reverence" (p. 79). Oath is a statement or assertion made under penalty or divine retribution for intentional falsity. Hornby (1989) sees it in two senses: religious and legal. In religious sense, he describes it as "solemn undertaking with God's help to do something", and in legal sense, he describes it as "solemn declaration that something is true, having sworn to tell the truth" (p. 577). In line with Hornby's view, McBrien (1995) defines oath as "an invocation of God's name in witness to the truth of a statement" (p. 926). He went further to identify two references or two types of oath. According to him, "an oath may be either assertory, referring to the validity of a past or present fact, or promissory, referring to the liability of a future commitment" (p. 926). On the other hand, Mbiti (1970) describes oath as "a form of prayer in which God is asked to witness the oath or execute the curse" (p. 211). Hence oath goes together with curses and blessings.

Oath taking is, however, a widespread practice among the Igbo. It is sometimes combined with the ordeal. A suspect is made to prove his innocence by submitting to swearing. In Igbo land, a shrine serves for an oath. In central sub cultural zone of Igbo land, oath constitutes principally in asking the accused to swear by a spirit. In other words, the accused takes oath to reinforce his affirmation or denial about some issues (Okeke, 2012). Arinze (1970) holds that "it is the desire for justice and truth which moves one man to ask his accused to swear by a spirit" (p. 30). And it is rightly observed that justice is one of the main pillars of Igbo morality.

In Igbo society, an oath as the invocation of the name of God in witness to the truth may be made only in truth, in judgment and in justice. This implies that an oath must be taken with discretion, not for any trifling affair and must be just. Oaths are taken seriously in Igbo society. Mbiti (1970) corroborated this when he asserted that "oaths are taken seriously and curses feared greatly in African societies (p. 211).

The above statement by Mbiti applies partly to central Igbo, who believe that the invocation of the name of God with reverence achieves its purpose. However, it must be pointed out that in Igbo traditional society, to curse in the name of God is not as frequent as to take an oath in the name of God. Chukwu is believed to be all-good and, therefore, is often called to witness one's testimony. Chukwu is the just judge and merciful Father. On the other hand, the names of the minor spirits are used very often in curses, because to them is attributed the power of punishment and revenge. The fact accounts for the numerous sacrifices made to the minor divinities who have to be thanked or as it were, paid for their services.

Process of Oath Taking

In the concept of oaths (ịnụiyi) all honesty and harmony, peace and co-habitation is solidified and based on ịgbandụ (covenant) which is an aspect of oath (Iwuchukwu, 2002). Iwuchukwu (2002) describes one condition for oath-taking among the Igbo. He states:

If A & B individuals or groups are quarrelling over a question such as ownership of a piece of land and it is difficult to arrive at the truth by human evidence, one party may be asked to swear an oath that he owns the piece of land. Similarly, two parties may seal a contract by swearing an oath. The oath is expected to kill or devastate the individual or individuals that swear falsely or break the contract within a period of time, generally within one year (p. 10).

So the Igbo of the central sub cultural zone use the administration of oaths to find out the truth when one is accused of something, also settlement of land disputes when there is no other means of establishing the truth. People resort to oath-taking administered with the ancestral staff and other objects. The administration is usually by a ritual leader or a priest before a shrine. Below is a sample of oath-taking by an individual who was accused of poisoning his brother:

The land of Eziowelle, all the divinities in Eziowelle, all the spirits in Eziowelle, the ancestral staff and spear of Arọ, I am taking this oath in your name. If I gave poison to my brother and I am denying it, please come and kill me. The seven native weeks I will be in oath, help please to reveal the truth. If I did not do this may life be my own, but may our ancestral staff kill those who stained my name. So be it!

The above oath was taken before a shrine at Eziowelle. The priest who was the ritual leader firstly poured a libation on his ancestral staff (ọfọ) and on the ground. Thereafter the accused person extended his hands towards the staff and took the oath.

For the oath to be efficacious, the land goddess who is regarded as the ultimate judge of morality and conduct and who is in close communion with the departed fathers, that is, the ancestors (ndịichie) of the clan whose bodies had been committed to earth is invited to witness the oath. More so all the divinities in the town, the spirits and the Arọ deity, all these are called upon as witnesses. When all these divinities are invited the accused then places his hands on the ancestral staff (ọfọ) and then the oath is administered on him. Without inviting these important divinities the oath taking would not be efficacious.

Furthermore, one observes that the accused person taking the oath asks the spirit to kill him, if he is found guilty of the accusation against him, if not may his curse go to his accusers.

Concept of Covenant

Covenant (ịgbandụ) is an establishment between two parties. It is a type of oath, though stronger than oath. According to Iwuchukwu (2002), in Igbo society, "Igbandu (covenant) was generally employed to establish agreeable and lasting relationship between the leaders of Nri town and the leaders of the Igbo communities" (p. 11). He claimed that the reason for establishing a covenant between the Nri town and other Igbo communities was because Nri is said to be the original and ancestral leaders of Ndigbo (the Igbo). However, this claim by Iwuchukwu (2002) in the view of this researcher, has not gained a consensus acclamation among the Igbo.

McBrien (1995) describes how covenant is understood among the Israelites. He says that covenant is an agreement between two parties. In the Old Testament there are two kinds of covenant. The first is unconditional, that is, an outright grant is made by one party to the other as a reward for faithfulness. Examples are the agreement between the Lord and Abram in Gen 15, Phinehas in Num 25, and David in 2 Sam 7. The second kind is conditional, that is, continuation of the agreement depends on fulfilling its requirements, as in the Sinai covenant between the Lord and Israel.

On the other hand, Hornby (1989) sees covenant in two ways. The first side according to him is that covenant is a formal agreement that is legally binding, written, signed and sealed, usually concerning property. The second side is that covenant is an undertaking to make regular payments to a charity, trust. However, among the Igbo, particularly the central Igbo, covenant can be made between two individuals or groups to clear some doubt, fear or suspicion. It can as well be made before the spirit of sacred tree or a shrine to ratify an agreement between individuals (Okeke, 2012). Hence, like oath-taking, covenant solidifies all honesty, harmony, peace and co-habitation.

Process of Covenant Making in Igbo Society: Similarities and DisimilaritiesBetween Covenant Making and Oath Taking

There is a sharp difference between oath-taking and covenant making among the Igbo just as the two concepts are not the same, though both concepts are related in one way or the other and their processes are almost the same. Oath is taken when an individual is accused of wrong doing. He takes an oath to prove his innocence. However, oath (inụiyi) or covenant (ịgbandụ) can be taken to douse tension or suspicion, or to establish a trust between individuals or a group. In the process of oath-taking, the accuser is summoned before the shrine or sacred tree. On the other hand, an individual can be summoned to state the reason why he violated the covenant between him and the other party. A sample of oath-taking is described earlier in this study.

In covenant making, the process depends on the type of covenant the parties want to establish. However, there is a confluence between the two. That is, both are taken or made before a shrine or a sacred tree such as silk-cotton plant (Akpụ), administered by the priest of the shrine, and witnessed by the deities as they would be summoned to be present. And while oath is taken with the ancestral staff (ọfọ), covenant is also sealed with the same staff in the presence of the visible and invisible beings.

Types of Covenant

In central Igbo, there are three types of covenant, namely, blood covenant, covenant to establish an agreement, and covenant with god or goddess. This study will examine them below.

  • Blood Covenant

This type of covenant is made with kolanut (ọjị) and a sharp object such as razor. The two parties or persons making the covenant bring kolanut to the priest (Ezemmụọ) or to the ritual leader and both parties are expected to say what they want. Thereafter, the priest presents the kolanut to the spirits through prayer of blessing, Then both parties are cut or given marks on any part of their bodies, preferably on the finger, then the kolanut is dipped into the marked spot to collect their blood and it is given to them to chew and swallow in the process, with the promise that whoever breaks or violates the established covenant will be harmed. Violation of this covenant can even lead to one's death or the offender runs mad. Example of this covenant is one between two parties: man and woman who intend to marry each other.

  • Covenant To Establish An Agreement

This covenant is also made in front of a shrine or a sacred tree. The priest (Ezemmụọ or Ezealụsị) of the shrine who acts as the ritual leader administers the covenant to the parties involved. The two parties are expected to repeat whatever the Ezemmụọ says, following their complaint to him. Incantations are made and the two parties would then reach an agreement. Then the Ezemmụọ seals the agreement by saying prayers in the name of the spirit or invoking the spirit of the deity. And the agreement is sealed with the ancestral staff (ọfọ).

Nothing is to be eaten and no blood is shed. Example of this covenant is one between business partners.

  • Covenant With the God or Goddess

This is a third type of covenant among the Igbo. This covenant is made where there is land dispute. It involves the earth goddess. The process requires that the parties involved are expected to present their case to the chief priest (Ezemmụọ) and show him the land in dispute. The (Ezemmụọ) priest of the land deity, goes to the site of the land, enters on it and walks round it without uttering a word. He only shows the edge of the land or demarcates the land with a sacred tree such as ogilisi or echiichii. As he goes round the land he is closely followed by the elders, not necessarily from among the two parties. While surveying the land they all must remove their foot-wears. After showing the demarcation of the land, the Ezemmụọ goes away without talking and none of the people who follow him will also talk or ask questions as they go round the land. Moreover, no edible item is eaten during this exercise.

Whoever had a covenant with the earth goddess (Anị/Ala) does not answer calls at night and he does not eat any food prepared outside his house. This covenant is usually made between brothers from the same kindred or villagers from the same town or community.

Reasons for Oath-Taking and Covenant Making among the Traditional Igbo

A lot of reasons abound why oaths are taken and covenant is made among the traditional Igbo of the central area and indeed, all parts of Igbo land. Oaths as well as a covenant are taken to resolve a conflict between two or more parties, communities, villages or towns. They are also taken to establish a trust, a harmony or peace. Oaths are taken to prove innocence where one is suspected for one reason or another.

One the other hand, covenant is made to build a strong relationship. If a conflict or quarrel or suspicion has arisen between two blood relations, the traditionalist is called upon to make the quarrelling parties enter into covenant. Below is a sample of a covenant administered on a family who suspects one another:

Using kolanut the ritual leader administers the covenant by saying, if any of you sees where his brother or sister is being killed or maltreated by others; he or she will not be in support and will not agree to it. But if he or she does, the evil spirit behind the covenant would harm or even kill the person.

All present shout in chorus, Iseee! (So be it!). Then the ritual leader seals the covenant with the ọfọ by stamping it on the ground. By so doing, the earth goddess and other divinities will now watch the parties and if any of them breaches the words of the covenant the spirit of the covenant will visit him or her with a punishment as it wishes. This type of covenant is to bring peace into the family.

A husband and his wife also go into covenant. However, marriage by nature is itself a covenant. And so, processes of marriage are naturally processes of covenant which lead to marriage in actuality. In fact, the marriage promise between the couple is conventionally a covenant. Nevertheless, when they live together as husband and wife and then, there arise any problems or suspicion between them, they may wish to enter into covenant in order to restore normalcy.

Furthermore, kindred or community members may enter into covenant for fear of being killed or harmed by the other group, or they may enter into covenant to protect one another either from enemies, war, or in business partnership.

Implications of Oath-Taking and Covenant Making

Oath taking and covenant making though have their merits, they have a lot of implications on the individual and society which may not easily be solved. The breach of an oath and covenant can affect the person involved. The person may be visited with punishment by death or diseases as the spirit of the deity wishes. And, if after fighting for the accused person who is innocent and he fails to go back to thank or appreciate the spirit, he or she will bear the consequences associated with the neglect or refusal.

The accused or the person who has lost trust in his neighbor(s) or even the offender may run to a particular deity for protection and so, he becomes an outcast (Osu). In this case, the person is totally isolated or excommunicated by the community as he or she has been dedicated to the deity. His or her children are not left out, since it will affect the marriage of his or her children who are not yet married, and it will affect their communal living. In this sense, the community will no longer have anything in common with the family.

The breach of oath-taking and covenant may also result to madness. So, an oath or a covenant which one has contracted may sometimes go as far as affecting the family particularly the children who may not be aware of the exercise.

Furthermore, it is difficult for one party to go out of the covenant contracted with another if rituals of the covenant are not properly broken. A person who dares to go out of a covenant contracted may in the process be harmed, since tradition is no respecter of any person.

Ọfọ in Covenant Making and Oath-Taking: Why it is employed

Ọfọ is used in covenant making and oath-taking. Okeke (2012) describes ọfọ as "a mediator between the spirit of this world and the spiritual world" (p. 43). Ejizu (1986) describes it as "the abode of the spirits of ancestors, it is the emblem of unity, truth, authority and indestructibility of the individual or group" (26). In the same vein, Arinze (1970) describes ọfọ as "the symbol of authority which descends from the ancestors, a guarantee of truth, and sometimes part of the regalia of the ụmụ alụsị (spirits)" (p. 16).

Ọfọ is very significant in the religious, political and economic lives of the central Igbo and indeed, the entire Igbo. It is dreaded by the people, respected for its omnipotence (Okeke, 2008). When one holds ọfọ and oguin innocence against ones insurmountable foe, victory is obviously his. Ọfọ is the link between God and man, dead, the living and the unborn, while ogu is the moral force, a potent spur of righteousness, who drives the innocent against his aggressor (Munonye, 1985). The traditional Igbo believe that God created ọfọ to be sacred and that is why it is respected (Okeke, 2012)

The above reasons explain why ọfọ is employed during oath-taking and covenant making. In fact, there are no serious rites or ceremonies that can be performed without ọfọ. The people believe in the efficacy of this sacred tree that an agreement, oath or covenant cannot be made without sealing it with ọfọ. The holder of ọfọ taps it on the ground to summon the attention of the ancestral sprit, that is, the spirit of ọfọ. The traditional Igbo believe that the spirit of the sacred tree is watching whenever an oath or covenant is made. Therefore, one is bound to keep the words of the agreement or contract


Oath and covenant are generally employed to establish agreeable and lasting relationship between individuals. In this case, as Okeke (2012) explains, "covenant is a mechanism of consolidating an alliance and management of external affairs between individuals" (p. 43).

Oath and covenant are usually administered by the priest of the particular deity. Oath or covenant can be made by an individual as a promise to the spirit of a deity. If his request is granted then the individual is bound to fulfill his promise for fear of unexpected consequences. Oath and covenant are a sacred exercise. They are highly valued among the Igbo. They are a means of protecting the innocent, establishing relationship, uniting people and settling issues, among others.


Arinze, F. A. (1970). Sacrifice in Ibo religion. Ibadan: University Press.

Ejizu, C. I. (1986). Ofo: Igbo ritual symbol. Ibadan: Claverianum.

Hornby, A. S. (1989). Oxford advanced learners dictionary. London: Oxford University Press.

Iwuchukwu, A. C. (2002). Christian and traditional oath-taking among ndigbo: A comparative `analysis. Nimo: Rexcharles & Patrick.

Mbiti, J. S. (1970). Concept of God in Africa.London: SPCK.

McBrien, R. P. (1995). Encyclopedia of Catholicism.NewYork:The HarperCollins.

Munonye, J. (1985) The only son. Ibadan: Heinemann.

Okeke, C. O. (2008). Sacred trees in the central sub- cultural zone of Igbo land.Unpublished master's thesis. Awka: Unizik.

Okeke, C. O. (2012). The dynamics of Igbo traditional prayers in the central sub-cultural zone of Igboland. Onitsha: St. Stephen's.

Okeke, C. O. (2012). The phenomenology of sacred trees in traditional Igbo society: A theological dialogue. Onitsha: St. Stephen's.


Eze Maudlyn Adaora¹

Department of Linguistics and Literary Studies

Ebonyi State University


Ahamefula, N. O.²

Department of Linguistics, Igbo & Other Nigerian Languages, University of Nigeria, Nsukka ndubuisi.ahamefula@unn.edu.ng

Ezemoka Augustina3 Igbo Department, Federal capital Territory College of Education, Zuba, Abuja &

EbubeChineke, Ifeyinwa³

Centre for Igbo Studies, University of Nigeria, NsukkaAbstractThis paper looks at functionalism in linguistics and its influence on language teaching. The functionalist approach views language as a means of communication or exchanging information. This paper looks at the main tenets of functionalism, behaviourism and scientific grammar as they relates to the functionalist approach. The various major inputs from which functionalism draws information were equally looked at i.e. linguistics philosophy and sociolinguistics. The factors that' influence language use from the sociological point of view, the influence of functionalism on language teaching, language training needs required by the functionalism and finally summary and conclusion shall equally be discussed in this paper. This paper calls the attention of the curriculum planners to consider the functionalist view in designing a curriculum that will make students competent speaker of the language.IntroductionFor long; language teachers see the structure of a target language as the basis of language teaching. The belief is that the knowledge of grammar would lead to an effective use of language. Three main concepts are essential in the discussion of language teaching. The three concepts are the approach, method and techniques. Some schools of thought are of the opinion that, for effective use of language, the knowledge of grammar would help while some are of the view that it is the use of language in communication will be of help. The nature of language with its different theories gave rise to different views of what language is. The two main approaches to language teaching are the formalism and functionalism. The formalist approach sees language as a code while the functionalist approach sees language as a dynamic and system. The functionalist sees language as a means of communication where the focus is on function. The goal of the functionalist according to Anasiudu (2001) is for communicative competence i.e. the ability of an individual to communicate effectively in the target language unlike the formalist approach which is more interested in the grammatical competence or a good command of the grammar of the target language. This treatise set out to dissect the functionalist approach to language teaching.Functionalist approachAccording to Anasiudu (2001), the functionalist approach views language as a means of exchanging information language, therefore, is a dynamic, open system. He noted that the functionalist sees language as a means of communication where the focus is on functions, which the form perform as a system in a communication. Functionalism describes the actual use of language within a given speech community. It pays particular attention to the functions of language in any given speech community as opposed to formalism which is based on the mastery of that language. Agbedo (2007:343) notes that the central idea
behind the functionalist approach derives from the sociolinguistic orientation and specifically, the ethnographic descriptions of communicative functions.The knowledge of grammar does not make one a good user of the language. That is the reason a functionalist is interested in the act of communication, the use of the language in communication: For example, the English have no distinction as regards who says 'hello' or 'how are you' first. A young person can say it to an older person and vice-versa. But this is not the case with the Yoruba A young person is expected to prostate very well while greeting an elderly person and a younger person is forbidden to say 'ba oni'? (This is equivalent to English "how are you?') to an older person. Functionalism is not interested in the correctiveness of the grammar but rather using the grammar in such a way that it shall be acceptable and appropriate. Therefore, functionalism is interested in appropriateness or communicative competence. For example, assuming a child wakes up in the morning and start adoring the earthly father like God ('the great I am', the creator of the whole universe, the owner of my soul) the father will become scared. The problem is that of appropriateness therefore, the functionalism will not accept it. Grammatically, the child may be correct but it is not accepted by the functionalist. Again assuming that a child was asked his name and be answers 'I am going to school', though the, answer is grammatically correct the functionalism will not accept it because the answer is not appropriate thus, it is not an acceptable as the answer to the question. Functionalism sees grammatical competence as a foundation from which communicative competence is build. Although functionalism is relatively new it is very important in the language. The functionalist approach engages both semantic and pragmatics. According to Oluikpe (1979), Yule (1996) and Lyons (1981) pragmatist is the study of the influence of the concept of usage on meaning while semantics is the study of meaning. For example, if somebody makes this statement:Okonkwo is a bad man The above statement could mean two different things in two different situations. So, the sentence can have the following meanings. (a) Okonkwo has a very bad behaviour
(b) Okonkwo does extremely well academically, Functionalism according to Nkamigbo and Eme (2009) therefore agrees that language is not homogenous. That is, external factors influence it. Hence, functionalism is concerned with the acceptability of utterances. According to Agbedo (2000) it is not just enough for the native speaker to possess knowledge of rules that can enable him to generate an infinite number of. Acceptable sentences in the language. He needs to also know the appropriate use of these grammatical structures in practical
situations. It is only when this is done that the speaker is said to have Communicative competence. The objectives of functionalism going by its curriculum are defined mainly in the behavioural terms: expressing or understanding particular communicative functions or notions acquiring useful skills. At this juncture, it is important to .add that functionalism has been greatly influenced by behaviourism. BehaviourismOne of the general theories of language acquisition which functionalism seems to promote is behaviourism. This theory is premised on the fact that there is no difference between the way an individual acquires his first language and the way he learns other skills. The behaviourist recognizes that only human being possesses the capability for language. He
recognizes that language is species specific. They accept what they can observe, therefore, the data they use are people's utterance and conditions under which they are made. In effect, learning is controlled by the conditions under which it take place. They believe that individuals subjected to the same condition learn the same way. For the behaviourist, repetition is as important as reinforcement hence, the strength of learning is measured in terms of number of times a response is made and reinforced. Therefore, only situation which demands active response promote learning. In other words, one learns by doing. In language teaching, the behaviourist emphasizes the spoken form of language. Activities are introduced 'which the' pupil participate in. behaviourist teaching relies on analogy rather than the rules for teaching the structure of language. If a learner tries to construct a sentence on the basis of rules previously learnt, he will find it difficult to produce language that is distinctive in a natural situation because that method does not resemble the natural learning process. Scientific grammar and functionalism. The essence of language is for communicative. In language teaching, one of the major objectives is for communicative competence. To effectively achieve this, the grammar of the language needs to be learnt by the learner. Scientific grammar plays a crucial role in functionalism. It is a known fact that native speakers of any language do not consciously think of grammar but still they do not make mistakes in the grammar of their language. The big question is: "why is it that learners of second language and foreign languages are not as competence as the native speakers of the language(s) in most times? The basic fact is that second or foreign language learners cannot effectively compete with the native speaker of the language. This is so because the way we learn foreign language varies from the way first language is learnt, hence the variation on the performance of the native speaker, and the foreign language learner. Obviously, the scientific grammar prepares the learner by guiding him on grammatical rules while the functional grammar builds on 'the Foundations laid. The two combine to bring about a better result in language teaching and learning. Alexandar cited in Onyia (2004) explains that teaching for communication means teaching students to do things through language and possibly mastering the grammatical structure necessary to achieve that end. This simply means that grammar helps in communication. Grammar is not an end itself but a means. He maintains that the ultimate source of accuracy in any language is grammar. It is grammar that paves way for communicative competence. Anasiudu (2001) also noted that functionalism has been influenced by a number of disciplines from which it draws pieces information including linguistics, sociolinguistics, and philosophy. The functionalist approach borrows idea from linguistics. Linguistics ideas include semantics and language variation. The emergence of traditional grammar gave rise to the renewed interest in semantics. Language is now therefore, defined as a system of meaning. Meaning is therefore represented by means of rules. The lexical hem 'boy' is specified thus:Boy + Noun+ Countable+ Animate . ..+ Human+ Male
· Adult(Adopted from Anasiudu 2001:41) .So, semantics requires logical description rather than syntactic relationship. As a result, grammatical concepts alone as found in traditional, structural, and transformational-generative grammars are not enough and should be replaced with logical concepts. Semantics now overlaps with pragmatics since the meaning of an expression actually derives from the situation in which the expression is used. In line with the emphasis on meaning, Anasiudu (2001) noted that the functionalist believe that a grammatical syllabus is unsuitable for the needs of this model because such a syllabus is only interested in form. He says that the functionalist therefore developed the notional syllabus, which defines the communication need of the learner and displays the way in which each communication need can be appropriately met. Another area that is of interest to the linguist apart from semantics is the variation. This is because language is not homogenous, rather it changes overtime. Again, status, age, sex and level of education should be put into considerations. From the foregoing, it is clear fact that language is used for communication. Each piece of language performs some functions in terms of conveying information. Similarly, language also conveys some information about the speaker as well as how he participates in the interaction. Therefore, for an expression to be acceptable, it has to be appropriate to the situation in which it is used. It ceases to be a simple matter of grammaticality.PhilosophyThe functionalist approach is also influenced by findings from
philosophers. The. major contribution of the philosophers according to Anasiudu (2001) is the speech act theory seen by Lyons (1977:735) cited in Anasiudu (2001) as a unified theory of the meaning of utterances within the framework of a general theory of social activity. He noted that a speaking person is not only speaking but also doing as seen in the use of per formative verbs. The philosophers believe that speaking is performing. "for example, I promise to give you money". According to this theory, each speech act consists of two elements which are the prepositional content and the communicative intention of the speaker. Therefore, certain -conventions must be followed when a speech act is performed so that the act should be understood properly by all involved. For example, if somebody promises to buy a car for you and the person promising to buy you a car has no bicycle and cannot afford a car, the promise becomes hollow. SociolinguisticsSociolinguistics is premised on the idea of man's need in the society. Man lives in society where he uses language to communicate. It is not only to know the grammar of a given language that matters but also the ability of one to use the language and use it appropriately. The native speaker of any language has the required kind of knowledge and skill that enables him to communicate effectively in any situation he finds himself. The learner needs such knowledge and skill before he can communicate effectively too. The learner should therefore have communicative competence as opposed to grammatical competence. This is not by mere knowledge of the language and grammar, but also to be adapt at the appropriate language for any given situation.
Factors that influence language use from sociological point of view The applied linguist is of the opinion that it is important to plan language course with an eye to the social and political constrains under which the learning will take place as to select, grade and teach appropriate language items. Who are the learners? Where these learners are, will greatly influence their motivation. Teachers know that strong motivation has a long way in cushioning the effects of poor facilities and materials while poor motivation will bring about a commensurate dismal performance. There are three factors which affects the design and implementation of language training programmers.(a) The sociolinguist profile of the society in which the learners are living. This entails having the backing of sufficient research to create a profile of the language situation in which our learners are operating. Many variables are required for education planning and language education, through three features is more important namely; the degree of linguistics heterogeneity of the state, the legal status of each represented language and the functions each has assigned it (Bell, 1981). (b) Language and educational planning: Many countries have certain goals. The achievement of these goals is influenced by a number of constraints. The goals can be purely linguistics. This involves changing the writing system etc or the sociolinguistics that has to do with changing the specific use and status area etc of a language. While the constraints involve firstly the economic, which change costs money in developing countries that is a scarce resource? Secondly politics is another determinant. Here the extent to which the proposed change furthers the general political policies of the state cannot be wasted away due to the environmental constraints which are all about the structure and efficiency of the educational system.(c) The social functions of the L2: There is a question where it is a foreign or a second language for the learners. The influence of functionalism on language teachingMere study of the grammar of a language does not and cannot give full account of language. It is therefore penitent to look at language in terms of function. Functionalism in language teaching is very appropriate since it involves both communication and grammar. It is true that the major focus of the functional grammar is on communication even at that grammar is still taught. It therefore influences language teaching positively. The basic skills in teaching and learning are taken care of in functionalism. It takes language teaching to be more of real life situation. The emphasis of functionalism on communicative competence makes the approach effective and useful to the learner and his needs in the immediate environment. Language training needs required by the functionalism. The emphasis here is to know the kind of needs language learners may have and also the training programme which must satisfy 'those needs for it to be successful. .In designing of training programme, there should be specifications of the needs of the trainees. This is because the majority of language courses have been 'designed on the assumption that the learner needs the whole of the language for general purpose. There is an assumption that the need was global and so the course should suit learners of any type. Since this goal is unrealistic, it is better to relate the needs of the learner to the structure of the syllabus ma way which sets limit on the items to be taught and the skill to be mastered. The learners' future activities can be predicted through designing of a syllabus and what is required here is notional syllabus. This has to do with children who are still in school, where the learner is an adult, the possibility of defining needs in terms of skills becomes far greater and in spite of this, specialized courses of different types have a relatively long history. The courses that rest on one of the two assumptions about the learners are; firstly the mother tongue is taken as primary and the course designed around the interference predicted from his background. Secondly, the occupation of the learner is taken as primary and the language component of the workers tasks forms the basis of the syllabus.

Summary and conclusion

The basic skills in teaching and learning language are taken care of in functionalism. This is due to insights from different disciplines including not only linguistics, philosophy and sociolinguistics but also psychology. The major emphasis of functionalism is communicative competence which Gumpez (1971) notes as his ability to select, from the totality of grammatically correct expression available to him, forms which appropriately reflect his social norms governing behaviour in specifi encounters. Functionalism therefore is now a theory in applied linguistics that refers to this approach to language teaching.

ReferencesAgbedo, C.U. (2007), Functionalist approach to language teaching: The role of socio1ingustics. In B.N. Anasiudu, G.I. Nwaozuzu, C.N. Okebalama (eds.). Language and literature in a developing country. Onitsba:Africana First Publishers Limited,.3.41-353.Anasiudu, B.N. (2000). Approaches and methods of language teaching. Mimeo. . .,Anasiudu, B.N. (2001). From formalism to functionalism: New approach. Nsukka. Journal of African Languages and Linguistics (NJALL), 2(1),33-44. Bell, R. (1981). An introduction to applied linguistics: Approaches and methods in language Teaching. London: Bratsford. .Gumperz, J. (1972). Directions in sociolinguistics: The ethnography of communication. New York: Holts, Reinhard and Witson...:Halliday, M.A.K. (1985b). An introduction to functional grammar. London: Edward Arnold. .Lyons, J. (1981). Language and linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. .Nkamigbo, L.C. & Eme, C.A. (2009). Phonology: A. crucial input to language teaching. NKOA, 2,1-13.Oluikpe, B.O. (1979). Igbo transformational syntax. Onitsha: Africana Educational Publishers.Palmer, F. (1976). Semantics: A new outline Cambridge: :Cambridge University Press. .Richards, J.C. &. Rodgers, T.S. (2001).. Approaches and methods in language teaching. Cambridge: NY Press.Yule, G. (1996). The study of language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The Semantic and Pragmatic Analysis of Igbo Clipped Names


Egwuonwu-Chimezie G. N. (Ph.D

Department of Linguistics and Igbo Imo State University, Owerri. nk4real80@yahoo.com


This paper investigates the semantic and pragmatic contents of Igbo clipped names. Clipping normally occurs due to laziness of people and the increasing familiarity with the particular subject. There is the need to analyze the semantic and pragmatic contents of Igbo clipped names and also document them because majority of them have lost their meanings. The data for the research work was sourced from Igbo language speakers through interview. 50 selected Igbo clipped names were grouped according to the type of clipping that is involved. Their structural, semantic and pragmatic contents were analyzed using the use of theory meaning. The findings showed that Igbo clipped names fall into four broad categories which are final, initial, final and initial and middle clipping. Final clipping is the most common. There is also misinterpretation of most of these names especially by the youths while some have lost their meaning. Moreover, it was discovered that it is mainly the people (parents) who gave the name know the meaning because the names are being used for the record of the events and circumstances surrounding the birth of the child as well as the immediate family. This paper thus recommends that parents should endeavour to teach their children the meaning of their clipped names for the purpose of safeguarding and strengthening Igbo language.

Key Words: Semantics, and Pragmatics, Clipping, Igbo Clipped Names.


Morphology is the branch of linguistics that studies the word structure of a language and the principles governing the combination of individual morphemes to form these words. There are productive and less productive word formation processes. Productive word formation processes are mainly those that involve affixation. Other word formation processes like clipping, blending, acronyms back formation, etc. are less productive.

However, these less productive word formation processes especially clipping continuously gain ground in Igbo names. The use of clipping displays a speaker's familiarity with the subject matter. It also expresses and strengthens the speaker's belonging into a certain social group. Clipping is the process of forming a new word by dropping one or more syllables from a polysyllabic word. A clipped form has the same denotative meaning as the word it comes from, but it is regarded as more colloquial and informal. Sometimes, a clipped form may replace the original word in everyday usage.

A clipped name can develop a new sense thereby making the original word to lose its meaning. Once a word has been clipped, it can become completely autonomous and be combined with other word formation processes. Some clipped forms happen to get so autonomous that they are perceived and considered as the standard forms. There is the need to analyze the semantic contents of the Igbo clipped names so as to retain their communicative functions. African names and Igbo names in particular have semantic significance as observes by Barki (2009). Most of the Igbo clipped names have lost their semantic significance. In Igbo land, a name is not just a tag of identity or personal label but a story and an experience of the events and circumstances surrounding the birth of the child as well as the parents' life experiences and worldview (Onumajuru 2016). Names in Igbo land are carefully constructed in a semantic sense to depict their beliefs, state of mind, culture and the ecstasy of the Igbo man.

Statement of the Problem

Once a product of clipping is derived, it may rival with the lexeme it was derived from and because of this, undergoes semantic changes or loses the semantic contents entirely. This phenomenon has resulted that some Igbo youths do not understand the meaning of the names they are bearing. There is the need to analyze the semantic and pragmatic contents of Igbo clipped names because to understand the meaning of Igbo names is to understand the language and the culture of the people.

Theoretical Framework

The use theory is also referred to as the contextual or operational theory of meaning. According to this theory, the meaning of a word or an expression is determined by the context of its use. It is the effects created by a linguistic unit within a given context that expresses its full meaning (Ogbulogo 2005).

According to Horwich (2004) the meaning of a word, w, is engendered by whichever non-semantic feature of w is the one that explains w's overall deployment and this will in turn out to be an acceptance in property of the following form "that such-and-such-w-sentences are regularly accepted in such-and-such circumstance" is the idealized law governing w's use (by the relevant experts, and given certain meanings attached to various other words).

Some notable features of this theory are:

It rebuts Quine's skepticism about meaning.

It rejects the idea that the meanings of public language terms derive from our intentions.

It focuses on idiolects but can also accommodate communal meaning.

It embraces a limited form of meaning -holism.

The Concepts of Semantics and Pragmatics

Semantics is the study of meaning of words, phrases and sentences. It is the scientific description of a language. According to Palmer (1991:1), "semantics is the technical term used to refer to the study of meaning". It is the linguistic meaning of morphemes, words, phrases and sentences.

Semantics is the study of meaning communicated through language. The idea concerning meaning has been that meaning is some sort of entity or thing. The relation between a linguistic expression and what it refers to is denotation, linguistic reference and semantic reference. The meaning of each expression is the actual object it denotes.

The connotative meanings are peripheral and unstable as compared to the denotative meaning which is central and stable. The connotative meaning is introduced into the language by individuals. Gradually they become socialized and become part of the language. Osoba (2016:29) rightly observes that:

Words can be used in denotative or connotative sense. The denotative meaning is the general, primary, precise, literal, dictionary meaning of a word. It meaning that conforms to the sense, in which the word is normally used without adding evaluation or emotional shade to it. The connotative sense is implied, figurative, associative, added or extended meaning of the word. The connotational component of meaning related to the emotive or expressive notion of the speaker or the stylistic values. The denotative meaning alone cannot be adequate to describe the total meaning of all lexical units.

"Pragmatics is concerned with the interpretation of linguistic meaning in context" (Fromkin, Rodman and Hyams 2007:199). Two types of contexts are relevant for the interpretation of linguistic meaning which are the linguistic context - the discourse that precedes the phrase or sentence to be interpreted and the situational context - virtually everything non linguistic in the environment of the speaker.

The pragmatic analysis of language can be broadly understood to be the investigation into that aspect of meaning which is derived not from the formal properties of words and constructions, but from the way in which utterances are used and how they relate to the context in which they are uttered.

Sometimes, pragmatics is reviewed in terms of the study of "speaker meaning", as opposed to linguistic meaning. Hence, the ability to understand another speaker's intended meaning is referred to as pragmatic competence. In general, pragmatics studies the way in which language is used to express meaning in particular situations, especially when the actual words used may differ from what is meant.

Theoretical Study of Meaning

The problem of meaning has been approached in different ways in linguistics. The first theory of the meaning of a word is treated as the thing named by it. Thing refers to concrete objects like fan, action like jump, state like know, abstract notions like obedient, honesty and qualities like blue or black. This theory has a number of limitations. It does not cover function and relation words like the English word 'yes'. Moreover, it does not account for such objects as phoenix, unicorn, etc. which have only fictitious and mystic existence. Two expressions naming the same thing may not mean the same. For example, the morning star and the evening star both refer to the same object "the planet Venus" but have different meanings. An object may be referred to differently by different phrases at different occasions. For example, the same woman may be referred to as a wife, a mother, a daughter by different persons at different occasions (Fodor 1977).

Another theory of meaning is the ideational or the mentalistic theory which postulates that meaning of an expression is the idea or thought associated with the expression in the mind of the speaker or hearer. Here, the notion of idea is conceived as mental pictures and images. This theory is not free from shortcomings though it accounts for objects like unicorn and phoenix. The mental pictures and images change from person to person and from occasion to occasion. The same object may evoke different ideas at different occasions. For example, 'table' may evoke different ideas at different occasions. It may be associated with furniture for writing at one time and as a present being given at the time of some functions. This theory covers fairly satisfactorily the physical and the concrete objects though it fails to cover a large number of sound forms or expressions.

Another theory of meaning is the behavioural or the causal theory which states that the meaning is not associated with ideas or mental pictures but with the manner in which a hearer responds to a word. In other words, the meaning of an expression is the stimulus that produces the utterance and the response it elicits from the hearer. This theory fails to account for all expressions. A nonsense expression may evoke stimulus and may get response in the same way as a meaningful one. Moreover, a hearer may respond to a stimulus in more than one way and all of them may be quite different from the one actually intended by the speaker. This theory again is not adequate to account for a correct meaning of meaning.

The most widely accepted theory of meaning is the theory of abstraction or referential theory. It is also called the theory of signification. This theory is based on the first theory discussed above. The connection between the words or expressions and their referents is through the process of thought, the words and expressions are just symbols. The major shortcoming of this theory is that there are many words without physical objects they refer to (Ogbulogo 2005). Each of these theories has its own merits and shortfalls and none has actually accounts the meaning of words aptly.

Review of Related Literature

Odebode and Onadipe (2011) attempt a pragmatic study of Abiku names from the face act theory's perspective. Ten Abiku names were selected and analyzed. The study indicates that names, in particular Abiku names are not just given in the traditional African Yoruba setting, transcend ordinary labeling to historicize, socialize, spiritualize and influence people psychologically.

Obwoge (2014) also did a research on the lexico-semantic analysis of Ekegusii circumcision social varieties and found out that Ekegusii is content and context specific. Findings of the study also provide proof that there is no Ekegusii for men and women but that each gender is socialized differently because of the role played by each in Ekegusii speaking community. The lexicon of Ekegusii circumcision social varieties is a style as well as register. This is illustrated through the existence of euphemism, symbolism, hyponymy, synonymy, homonymy, polysemy and antonymy. These Ekegusii sense relations bring about changes in meaning.

Onumajuru (2016) investigates the semantic and pragmatic contents of personal names and naming in Igbo language and culture. The findings suggest that names in Igbo are philosophical. Some of the names are so semantically opaque that it is only the names givers and their relations can decode the message being expressed. Igbo names are not personal labels as in some cultures where names are given just as tag of identity.

Ezenwa-Ohaeto (2015) examines the sociolinguistic import of name clipping among Omambala cultural zone of Anambra state and finds out that clipping of names is a social practice borne out of the need to be a weapon of inadvertently used by the people of Omambala cultural zone of Igbo language to place their dialect among the endangered species. The negligence of the danger posed by the extreme clipping of names strips such names of the major attributes with which Igbo names are known.

Egwuonwu-Chimezie (2017) also studies the lexico-semantic analysis of Igbo folk songs and finds out that, folk songs which are regarded as entertaining can also serve as a medium for instruction. She advocates that the folk song 'mbe agaba' should be added into the curriculum as an instructional song which will aid children in the understanding of addition and multiplication.

To the best of the researcher's knowledge, adequate analysis of Igbo clipped names has not been carried out. This actually prompts the investigation into the research topic.

Data Presentation and Analysis


Clipping is the word formation process whereby a lexeme (simple or complex) is shortened while retaining the same meaning and also still being a member of the same form class. Katamba (1993) adds a phonological dimension to his definition by stating that "clipping is the term for the formation of a new word form, with the same meaning as the original lexical item, by reducing it to a monosyllabic or disyllabic rump".

Clipping in Igbo names mainly consist of the following types:

  • Final/back clipping (Apocope).
  • Initial/fore clipping (Apheresis).
  • Final and Initial clipping.
  • Middle clipping.

Final / Back Clipping (Apocope)

This is the type of clipping in which the beginning of the prototype is retained. Some examples in English are: doc.(doctor), exam (examination), gas (gasoline), Memo (memorandum) e.t.c.

Igbo Final Clipped Names

These are Igbo names in which their beginnings are retained. That is, the names are clipped from the back.

Final Clipped forms





Uche + Chukwu + ga-eme

Mind + God + will happen

God's will, will be done




Mgbe + e + mere + ihe + ọma + a + gaala

When + pref + do-past + thing + good + pref + go-perf

When good thing is being done has passed




Nke + m + a + kọ + la +m / Nke + m + ji + ka

Own+me+pref+ lack+ perf +me / Own+me+hold+greater

Let me not be found lacking / Mine is greater




Nke + m + mere + jụ + oyi

Own + me + do-past + cool + down

What i did should be pardoned




Mgbe + o + kwere + Chukwu + ka + mma

When + 3per.sg. + agree-past + God + supper. + good

God's time is the best




Ọnwụ + bụ + arịrị

Death + be + regret/torment

Death is torment




Ọkpara + nna + ya

First son + father + 3per. sg. pro.

First son of his father




Ihe + a + ka + mmadụ

Something + pref-neg + greater + human

Nothing is greater than human being




Be + nde + a + dịghị + njọ

Place + people + pref + be-neg + bad

Peoples' home is their pride




Ọ + wụ + nanị + m + ka + ọ + mere

It + be + only + me + conj + 3per.sg + do-past

Is it only me that it happened to?




Ọnwụ + e + yi + agba

Death +pref.-neg. + fix + time

Death does not fix time




Aka + Chukwu + dị + na + ahụ + m

Hand + God + be + on + body + me

God's hand is on me / God has done great thing to me




Ọnụ + kwube

Mouth + talk- suff

Let mouth be talking




Otu + m + e + buka

Group + me + pro. + big-suff

My group is bigger




Agha + melụ + m

War + do-past + me

War kept me in this condition




Ama + e + china

Lineage + pref-neg. + extinct

May lineage not go extinct




Chi + nụalụ + m + ọgụ

God + fight-suff. + m + fight

God fight for me




Ụba + si + na + Chi

Wealth + come + from + God

Wealth comes from God




Ọha + e + gbula + m

People + pref + kill-neg. + me

People will not kill me




Ibe + a + bụ + Chi

Men + pref + be + God

Men are not God




Q + bụ + m + selụ + ọgụ

It + be + me + cause-past. + fight

Is it me that caused the fight?




Mmadụ + bụ + ike + ibe + ya

Human + be + strength + another + 3per. sg

Human being is the strength of another




Ọ + gụgụ + a + m + akwa

2per. sg. + console + pref + me + cry

He/She has consoled me



AnịzỌba / Anịchebe

Anị + zọba / Anị + chebe

Land + protect-suff / Land + protect-suff

Earth goddess protect




Ụwa + bụ + nke + onye

Earth + be + own + who

Who owns the earth?




E + le + kwa + chi + anya

Pref. neg. + look-stop + God + eye

Do not cease to expect from God




Onye + kwere + na + ọ + ga +a + dịrị + m + na + mma

Who+believe+past+conj+3per.sg.+will+pref+be-past+me +prep.+good

Who believed that it will be good for me




E + gesị + ọnụ + ụwa

Pref. neg. + listen-suff + mouth + world

Do not listen to the world




Ụka + akụ

Talk + wealth

Talk of wealth




A + sọ + ọgụ

Pref. neg. + avoid + fight





Ọzọ + e + mena

Again + pref. + happen-suff.

May it not happen again




Homestead + be + early

Homestead has been in existence




Ude + egbu + la + m

Fame + pref. neg. + kill + perf. + me

May fame not destroy me




Odo + m + e + mezue

Fame + me + pref. + accomplish

My fame has accomplished




Ike + e + gbula + m

Strength + pref. neg + kill perf. + me

Let forces not kill me

Initial / Fore Clipping (Apheresis)

This is the type of clipping in which the final part of the prototype is retained. It is the omission of one or more syllables at the beginning of a word.

Igbo Initial Clipped Names: These are Igbo names in which one or more syllables are omitted at the beginning.

Clipped Form





Nwa + ka + ego

Child + greater + money

Child worths more than money




Chi + mụ + anya

God + wake + eye

God is alive




Ọchị + a + bụ + ụtọ

Laugh + pref. neg + be + sweet

Salutation is not love




Nebe + Olisa

Look- suff. + God

Look unto God




Nna + e + dozie

Father + pref. + settled

Father had settled all



Ibeabụchi / Mmadụabụchi

Ibe + a + bụ + Chi / Mmadụ + a + bụ + Chi

Men + pref. neg. + be + God

Men are not God / Humans are not God




Chi + m + a + ma + n + da

God + me + pref. neg + will+ pref. + fall

My God will not fail




Sọ + Chi + ka + ayị + ma

Only + God + is + 1st per. pl. + know

We depend only on God

Final and Initial Clipping

This type of clipping retains the middle part of a word, getting rid of the beginning and ending parts. For example, flu (influenza), fridge (refrigerator).

Igbo Final and Initial Clipped Names:

These are Igbo names in which one or more syllables are omitted both from the beginning and the end.

Clipped Form





Ọzọ + e + me + na

Again + pref .neg. + happen + suff.

Let it not happen again




Chi + na + a + za + ekpere

God + is + pref.- answer + prayer

God is answering prayer




Chi + zara + m + ekpere

God + answer-past + me + prayer

God has answered me

Middle Clipping (Syncope)

This type of clipping occurs in Igbo names when there is contraction due to a gradual process of elision under the influence of rhythm and context. The middle syllable or more are being dropped in the process. Examples in English are ma'am (madam), fancy (fantasy) etc.

Igbo Middle Clipped Names:

These are Igbo names in which one syllable or more are dropped from the middle through the process of elision under the influence of rhythm.

Clipped Forms

Full Names




Taa + bụ + gboo

Today + be + early

Today is early enough




Arịrị + sụ + ụkwụ

Regret + reduce + leg

Regret/Torment be reduced




Onye + bụ + Chi

Who + be + God

Who is God?




Ta + ba + nsị

Eat + suff. + excrement


Pragmatic Analysis of Some Igbo Clipped Names

According to Ezenwa-Ohaeto (2015), names in Igbo land will continue to function, actively, as the irrefutable means of recording history and experiences as long as Igbo people and their language live. In this vein, context is very important in analyzing the meaning of Igbo names. Context is the set of facts that surrounds a particular event or situation. It is everything that surrounds the production of a piece of communication. These include the physical situation in which the communication takes place, the interlocutors, the knowledge of the communicators of their cultural norms and expected behaviour and the expressions that precede and follow a particular expression. In order to give account of the proper meaning of any Igbo name, the above situations must be put into consideration. To understand the meaning of Igbo names is to understand the language and the culture of the people.

Ọnwụbụarịrị semantically means that death is torment. Pragmatically, it may be that the parents of the child have experienced so many deaths in the family. They want to express their bitterness and unhappiness in order to feel comforted. The name Chinụalụmọgụ semantically means "God fight for me". Pragmatically, it may be that people and forces are unfriendly to the parents for no just curse. The name expresses the state of mind of the name giver(s). It may also be that the family has suffered a lot of calamities and they are calling on God to salvage them. The name Ụbasinachi semantically means that wealth comes from God. Pragmatically, it may be that the family is poor and they give their child the name in order to console them or to show that they are trying hard to break the poverty chain. In the other hand, it may be that they are rich and people are saying all sorts of negative things against them. It may be that their wealth is not from good source.

Chimụanya semantically means that God is alive. Pragmatically, it may be that the parents of the child bearing such name went through calamities, sufferings and all sorts of difficulties during the gestation period and birth of the child but at the end became victorious. Nnaedoezie semantically means that father had settled matters. Pragmatically, it may be that the family or the parent of the bearer is in enmity before the birth of the child but the arrival of the child brought peace to the parents/family. It may also be that the arrival of the child brought open door to the parent.

Ọzọemena semantically means let it not happen again. Pragmatically, it may be that the parent/family had series of tribulations like miscarriages, child dead or the death of loved ones. They give their child the name, appealing to God to save them. It is also a supplication unto God. Chizaramekpere semantically means that God has answered one's prayer. Pragmatically, it may be that the parents had stayed for a long time without offspring. They gave the child the name in order to express their gratitude to God or it could be that there are other good things which they are looking unto God to fulfill which He had done.

Arịrịsụụkwu semantically means let regret be reduced. Pragmatically, it may be that the parent/family had encountered a lot of misfortune before the birth of the child. They gave the child the name to plead to God to intervene and rescue them. Tabansị semantically means eating excrement. Pragmatically, it means that the giver(s) of the name are socially humiliated or stigmatized by the society. They gave the child the name in order to express their state of mind and their endurance.


Clipped names in Igbo always provide synonymous words from the base.Some of the clipped names have lost their meaning completely because most people bearing these names do not know the meaning. Most of the younger generations expressed complete ignorance of the meaning of their surnames. This is a very big damage to the Igbo language which is exposing it to extinction. In order to safeguard the language, clipping of Igbo names should be minimized. Where necessary, parents should communicate the meaning of the clipped names to the bearers.


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