Percolation Principle Perspective of Verb-Suffix Distinction in Igbo Verb Compounds.

Author:Onwukwe, Chimaobi


The existence of compounds in the Igbo language has long been settled as championed by Nwaozuzu (1991), Oluikpe & Nwaozuzu (1995), Anagbogu (1995) among other works. There are equally nominal and verb compounds in Igbo. With regard to verb compounds, studies (such as Lord, 1975, Mbah, 2005, Onukawa, 1999, Onwukwe, 2015), have shown that verb compounds in Igbo exhibit this form: Verb-verb compound and Verb-suffix compounds hence verb compound in Igbo is subcategorized thus:

VC [right arrow] [V.sub.1] + {[V.sub.2]/S}

This form has often posited uncertainty as to determining when the second element of the verbal compound is a verb or an affix (suffix). This is as a result of the fact that the distinction between verbs and suffixes in the Igbo language is not a sharp one (c.f Ward 1936, Emenanjo 1979, Green & Igwe 1963). It is held that suffixes are verbals in origin in Igbo (Emenanjo, 1979, Onukawa 1999).

This seeming uncertainty in determining when the second element of a verb compound in Igbo is a verb root or affix (suffix) has led to various distinction attempts. Notably, Lord (1975) on Igbo verb compounds, Emenanjo (1978) on suffixes in Igbo, Emenanjo (2015) on extensional suffixes, and Onukawa, (1999) on the order of extensional suffixes in Igbo. We therefore attempt a distinction of verb root and suffix in Igbo verb compounds from another perspective- the Percolation Principle.

Percolation principle is a rule that governs the constituents of a compound and ensures that a constituent and its 'head' have the same feature complex (c.f. Williams, 1981). It was expounded by Selkirt (1986) in the explanation of compounding and the idea of headedness of compounds.

The tone convention adopted in this paper is that of Green and Igwe (1963) where low and step tones are marked and high tones unmarked. The paper is structured as follows: Percolation principle explained, briefs on the Igbo verb compound, previous verb-suffix distinctions, the Percolation principle explanation and then summary and conclusion.

Literature Review

Selkirt (1986, p.21), formalizes the Percolation principle thus: "If a constituent [alpha] is the head of a constituent [beta], [alpha] and [beta] are associated with an identical set of features (syntactic and diacritic)"

Percolation principle is therefore a convention that governs the relationship between compounds or associative constructions, in that there must be a head of the structure which shares it features with other non-head constituents. In other words, the features of the head, diacritic and syntactic, percolate on the other constituents. Williams (1981) holds that "the head of a constituent plays a crucial role in the description of the distribution of the diacritic features related to both inflectional and derivational morphology. Specifically, a general well-formedness condition on syntactic representation, commonly referred to as Percolation, ensures that a constituent and its head have the same feature complex" (cited in Selkirt, 1986).

The features which play a role in this convention can be assigned to two classes: the syntactic features and diacritic features. The syntactic features could mean the category features such as noun, verb, adjective, etc or other relations necessary in explaining the syntactic structure of the construction while the diacritic features "include those relevant to the particulars of inflection and derivational morphology. The inflectional features might include, for example, conjugation or declension class markers, features of tense, gender, person, number and so on." (Selkirt, 1986, p.7)

Percolation principle stems from the position of Williams (1981) that word structures (either compounds or affixed structures) are headed and that the convention regarding the distribution of (category) features in such a syntactic representation is called percolation.

Igbo Verb Compound

"A compound verb is the verb which has a minimum of two verbs that may act as independent verbs. In its citation form, it may mean or refer to any verbal construct, which is not accessible to the vowel harmony rule. In other words, though the affixes attached to them may copy vowel harmony from them, they cannot alter their forms to reflect this harmony" (Mbah, 2005 p.584). Taiwo (2008) describes this type of verb compounding as "amalgamation of verbs'--the amalgamation of verbs is a process in which two or more verbs are combined to form a compound verb"...

To continue reading