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General Background

This study examines aspects of Kuturmi phonology, a language spoken in some parts of Kaduna State of Nigeria by a population of about fourteen thousand speakers 14,000. (Vision accessed 19th Jan, 2010). Phonology is a branch of linguistics which investigates the ways in which sounds are used systematically in different languages to form words and utterances. It is the scientific study of arbitrary vocal symbols used in human speech, and patterns in which symbols enter to produce intelligent, meaningful utterances (Oyebade 2004:2).


1.2    Historical Background


The history of Kuturmi people has always been associated with migration. There are two sources of the Kuturmi origin. One traditional source says that the people of Kuturmi formerly called ‘the Kutumbawa’ hailed from Daura province in Kastina State. Burdon (1909) allerged, that Baganda who was the grandson of Bayajidda ‘the snake killer of Daura’ was the one that led the Kutumbawa people to capture Kano Empire in the year A.D 499. The second source says that they migrated from Kano city in 1809 AD as a result of jihad wars and ruled Kano Empire between 14th to 18th centuries.


The  Kuturmi people were nicknamed after the occupation of their forefather ‘mortal carving by their neighbors. Kuturmi means motar carving called (Sassakan Turmi in Hausa language) while ‘Turmi’ in their language means ‘mortal’. They can be identified among other tribes through their longitudinal marks on their chicks. It was alleged that when Kano empire was over thrown in 1809 AD, the Kuturmi people who were residing in Kano city under the leadership of  Bakutumba of Kutumbawa fled to Sabo village to the west of Kano city from where they migrated southwards in search of refuge. There by passed Zaria to the north and Kauru to South and settled at a village called Kallah Kauru to South and settled at a village called Kallah Kauru District of Kajuru Local Government Areas. On arriving at the place the people  attacked and conquered Kajuru kingdom. The Kuturmi still in search of refuge moved further southward and settled at Iburu in Kufana district from where they moved southward and settled at their present site in Kaduna State. After settling down, their forefathers continued with their traditional rulership constitution under the leadership of ‘Ogumo’ meaning ‘king’ in Kuturmi Language.


The headquarters of Kuturmi people was built in Awon village because their speech form has the standard language of the speakers. There are several dialects in the language. They are Anturu, Akama, Ariko, Awon, Asane, Akwando. All these dialects speaks differently from the standard language called Awon,


1.3   Socio-Cultural Profile


Culture is a shared, learned, symbolic system of values, beliefs and attitudes that shapes and influence perception and behavior. The socio – cultural life of the Kuturmi which among others, mode of dressing, belief of system, marriage and festivals are dicussed bellow:




The major occupation of their forefathers is making of mortal but presently then occupation is mostly farming. Others includes fishing, basket weaving. The farming is carried out in sessions starting with yam, cocoyam, hungryrice, guinea corn and local maize. Today, because of their large lands they produce food crops in commercial quantity for sale.




Marriage in Kuturmi in the olden days was the responsibility of the parents. The parents chose would be wife, for their sons right from the day that female child was born. Gifts of foodstuffs were usually presented at the end of every farming season until she attained marriage age. In the contemporary kuturmi society, the females marry between the ages of seventeen and twenty  (17-20) and their males between twenty one and twenty five (21-25). Their dowry is usually a hen and a pot of local wine called ‘Burukutu’




The Kuturmi men dressed in animal skins and Agwando. The animal skins were usually worn around the waist with another hung covering only one part of the body. The Agwando dress is made from cotton, worn by the male children and adolescence. The women dressed in ture a piece of cloth of about 1.5 meter long and two inches wide, tied around the waist and covering only the essential parts of the women while young girls use leaves. Today men dress simply using flowing gowns while women wear wrappers and blouses with head ties to church or celebrations.




The people believes in God, spirits, ancestors, magic and medicinal practices. The religion of the speakers before the coming of Christianity just like any other Nigerian community was essentially traditional but presently they belief in God because they believe that God is the creator and controller of the universe. The name ‘God’ in the language is known as ‘Onung’ meaning the ‘supreme being’ Onung is represented by them as being too holy to be approached directly. Hence, they have devised other means of approaching him. These means serve as mediators and one of such means is through the ‘Okwu’ shrine known as ‘Ujenekwu’ to consult the Supreme Being concerning their problems and the chief priest Ete-kwu’ normally leads them in performing the rituals required for them.


The spirit means ‘Ushari’ they are said to constitute a world of their own and live as humans with organized form of life and authority. Some are associated with protection while others with destruction. The protective ones are harmless while destructive ones are called ‘red or black’ depending on the degree of destruction. They cause illness and death to people. The speakers and strangers are not allowed to visit such places especially at noon.


The general name for ancestors is ‘Okwu’, both male and female ancestors. They are believed to be interested in the affairs of the living members of their families. Ancestors are worshipped on sessional basis especially after the harvest and at the start of rainy seasons. Individual families organize generational ceremonies known as ‘Umuroso’ for those that died at very old age.


Agricultural Resources


The vegetation of the area falls under the guinea savannah type with prominent feature of tall grasses called ‘elephant grasses’. Among the natural resources of the people are timber, palm produce, agricultural products such as ginger, maize, millet, yam, and cassava.


1.4   Geographical Location


Kuturmi land is located on latitude 9.5 degree north and 10 degrees south and on longitude 7.5 degrees east and 8.0 degree west. The region lies to the western part of Kachia district headquarters. The region is bounded by the river Gwarara to the east and south where hippopotamus are found and to the north and west by Kadara tribe. In the northern part of the region is a range of hills called ‘Apan-okung and at the central location is another range of mountains called Kankan hills. The kilometers between Kachia Local Government to Awon village where the standard language of the speakers is spoken, is about 20 kilometers (20kms).


1.5   Genetic Classification of Kuturmi Language


A genetic classification is a sub-group of all relevant languages into genetic nodes, meaning group of languages in each of which one language is more closely related to the other than to any language inside the group. Therefore, genetic classification is based on the assumption that languages have diverged from common ancestors and the method used in classifying them is based on the resemblances found in elements of languages.


According to Ruhlen (1987: 1) ‘the idea that groups of languages that share certain systematic resemblance have inherited those similarities from a common origin, is the basis for ‘genetic classification’. Therefore, Kuturmi language can be classified under Kada sub-group of Benue Congo.


Source: Ruhein (1987: 1).


1.6  Scope and Organization of Study


This research work describes the aspects of Kuturmi phonology. It examines the sound system and patterns of Kuturmi language and the phonological process that are found in the language.


Chapter one focuses on the historical background, geographical location, socio-cultural profile, genetic classification as well as the theoretical framework for the study. The research methodology used is also included in this chapter. Chapter two presents the sounds, types of syllable and syllable processes of Kuturmi language. It also deals with the charts of both consonant and vowel sounds. Chapter three examines the phonological processes like assimilation, deletion, insertion, nasalization and vowel harmony that are attested in the language. Chapter four presents the tone and tonological processes of the language. It also gives detailed information on the types of tone attested in Kuturmi language. Chapter five concludes and summarizes the work. Further findings and recommendations are also included in this chapter.


1.7   Theoretical Framework


The theoretical framework adopted for this research work is Generative Phonology (GP). This theoretical framework is a theory that builds on the insights of taxonomic phonemics while remodeling the focus of phonological analysis. Generative Phonology focuses on three fundamental issues in language which are linguistic intuition, foreign accent and speech error. The goal of this theoretical framework is to express the link between sounds and utterance that are present in a language. Generative phonology view speech as sequences of discrete segments which are complex of a particular set of phonetic features and  the simultaneous and sequential combinations of these features are subjects to a set of specific constraint found in this research work.


Hyman (1975:19) describes generative phonology as the description of how phonological rules can be converted into phonological representation and to capture the distinctive sounds in contrast in a language. Therefore, in this research work, we shall consider how phonological representation is converted into phonetic representation through phonological rules.


According to (kenstowicz 1994:8), phonetic representation indicates how the lexical items are to be realized in speech. Sommerstein (1977:115) also says that it is characterized by ‘a degree of narrowness such that any two sounds that are distinguished in any human language are differently represented. For example, in Yoruba language, we have words like;


[ìjàwó]       ‘Wife’


[ajé]          ‘world’


[כmכ]          ‘child’


The phonetic representations are  [ ìjàwó] ,  [ ajé ], [כmכ]


Structure of Generative of  Phonology


According to Oyebade (2004:11), generative phonology assumes three general components. The underlying representation, the phonetic representation and the phonological rules. Generative phonology proposes that utterances can be profitably analysed based on two levels of representations which are underlying level called ‘UR’ and phonetic or surface level.


Phonological Representation


Oyebade (2004:11) says phonological or underlying representation is assumed to be an abstract representation existing in the linguistic competence of the native speakers. At this level, items with variant meanings have identical representations. For instance, the forms of negation prefix in English language having the same meaning are accounted for:


e.g.   (indirect)  in    __       /indərəkt/


(illegible)          il    ___     / iledзebl/


(impossible)       ir    ___      /impƆsəbl/


(incomplete)       iŋ    ___     /iŋkכmpli:t/


(imbalance) im  ___      /imbæləns/


Phonological Rules


Phonological rules are directives which join underlying forms on the surface forms. As Hyman (1975) points out, they are derivational sequence of items from an underlying level to a phonetic level. They are regarded as predictable rules. For example, the data below in Yoruba language shows how phonological rules assimilate nasal segment to the place of articulation of the following segment.


ń-bò ḿbƆ  ‘is   coming’

ń -bà ḿbà   ‘is   perching’


ń -tò ńtò ‘is    arranging’

ń -tà ńtá    ‘is   selling’


3)     ń- kí     ήkí    ‘is   greeting’


ń- kà ήkà    ‘is    reading’


Three rules are accounted for in this phenomenon.


Rule 1. An alveolar  nasal becomes a bilabial nasal before a voiced bilabial stop at morpheme boundary.


ŋ→m  -b [+nas] _   +cons          +cons                                   -cont


+ant                +ant                                        +ant


+cor                  -cor                                         -cor


+nas     +nas            +voiced                                Rule 2. An alveolar  nasal becomes an alveolar nasal before a morpheme, beginning with a voiceless alveolar stop.


n→n −   t [+nas]       +cons               +cons                              +cont


+ant             +ant                              +ant


+cor               +cor                       +cor                     +nas               +nas                               -voiced


Rule 3. An alveolar  nasal changes to velar nasal velar it occurs at morpheme boundary before a velar  stop.


n→ŋ  −  k [+nas] ___      +cons         +cons                         +cont


+ant              -ant                      −ant


+cor            -cor                      −cor


+nas                +nas               -voiced


Distinctive Features


Halle and Clements (2004:22) point out that the sets of articulatory and acoustic features sufficient to define and distinguish one from the other is the great majority of the speech sounds used in languages of the world. This theory of phonological features is concerned with the discovery and explanation of generalization about the phonological behavior of phonological segments both in isolation, in sequence or as member of a segment. There are two major criteria that potential features must meet to be admitted as distinctive features. These criteria are phonetic specifiability and morphophonemic relevance. On the basis of these criteria, generative phonologists identified twenty distinctive features as the only linguistically relevant features of the human vocal production which can be loosely classified in terms of :


Major class features (syllabic, consonantal, sonorant)

Place of articulation features (anterior, coronal, labial).

Tongue body features (high, low, back, ATR/ tense).

Manner of articulation feature (continuant)

Lip feature (rounded).

Acoustic feature (strident).

State of glottis feature (voiced, spread, constricted).

Others (nasals, laterals, distributed).

For instance, in Yoruba language, the following feature can be used to distinguished vowels with the use of binary features that is, to determine if a sound is present or absent.


1.8.1   Data Collection


Samarin (1965:45) says that the kind of corpus a field researcher obtains is determined by the purpose and the techniques he adopts in his data. The two types of data collection methods suggested by Samarian are the informant method and introspective method. The informant method and frame technique was used in this research while the native speaker served as a source of information as well as the means of evaluation of all sounds and tones present in the language. The introspective method involves the linguist serving as his/her informant. It describes a situation whereby the linguist, or investigator is working on his/her native or second language. The two informants that kindly engaged in the development of this project are Mr Jonathan Shekarau (42years old), an assistant headmaster in kuturmi and Mr Sunday Dogo Danmadammi (32years old) headmaster.


1.8.2   Data Analysis


All the data obtained in the language were written, transcribed and recorded using a sixty minute cassette and a tape recorder in the evenings after their farming work. The classification of the data was done through parts of speech namely: Nouns, Verbs, Adverbs, Adjectives, Prepositions, Pronouns, and Conjunctions. All these reflect parts of the body, household items kinship terms, colour terms, numerals. We also analyzed information through frame techniques.


1.9.1   Phonemes


Phonemes are sounds that constitutes a difference in the meaning of words in a language. Its an abstracts linguistic unit that brings about a change in a given language. Phonemes can be identified in three ways namely, minimal pars, complementary distribution and analogous environment. For instance in minimal pairs of  English language, phonemes are members of the smallest unit of sound that serves to distinguish one utterance from another. e.g.  /bat/, /hat/, /cat/, /rat/. The four words change in meaning at the initial position. Therefore, the phonemes are /b/, /h/, /c/ and /r/.


1.9.2   Allophones


According to Ladefoged (1993:40), ‘the variants of the phoneme that occur in detailed phonetic transcription are known as ‘allophones’. They are generated as a result of applying the phonological rules to the segments in the underlying forms of words. It can also be described as conditional variants of phoneme generated by phonological conditioning. They are usually represented in a squared brackets. For example in English language allophones are derived from voiceless alveolar fricative that is phoneme /s/. Observe the data below:


Lip – s     ‘lips’

KLp  – s   ‘kLps’


ræt   – s    ‘rats’


rib – z    ‘ribs’

rכɖ    – z   ‘rods’


ræg   – z   ‘rags’


æʃ – iz     ‘ashes’

dʒ^dʒ  -iz     ‘judges’


ʧʒ:ʧ      -iz     ‘churches’


From the example above, the plural suffix in (1) remains voiceless if  the preceding consonant is voiceless while in (2 and 3) the plural suffix changes to voiced if the preceding consonant is voiced. The allophones in the data are [z] and [iz]. derived from phoneme /s/.


[z]- before voiced sounds


/S/                      [iz]- before voiced sound





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