Volume 2: 2017

Editorial Comments

Igbo as a tone language has generated a lot of interest right from the early missionary incursions into the language. Although the types of tone in the language have been identified and described, there nevertheless intermittently emerges one tonal feature or the other, which leads to further reflections on the attributes of tone in the language. The present volume of the Igbo Language Studies is a collection of such reflections.

Emenanjo’s manuscript revisits the issue of ‘mutual intelligibility’ between the members of the various Igbo dialects. Starting with the role of tone in Igbo grammar, he briefly touches on tone in Igbo poetics, musicology and written Igbo texts. While agreeing with Armstrong that the stability of tone is the basis for mutual intelligibility between the speakers of different Igbo dialects, he still maintains that a wider, inter-disciplinary approach is needed to begin to unravel the nature of tone in Igbo.

Chukwuogor also dwells on the stability of tone in Igbo; what he calls ‘the dialectal uniformity of tone’. He notes how the extant dialectal studies do not pay much attention to tone in the language. His conclusion is that the already identified stability of tone across the dialects is a contributory factor to tone being taken for granted in most cross-dialectal studies of the language.

Manfredi focuses on the issues connected with tone-marking Igbo texts, but from a historical perspective. He chronologically examines some of the approaches to tone-marking Igbo texts, but with the caveat that a proper solution to the different approaches would require ‘more adequate theoretical approach’ than the present methods of linguistic science can offer.

Okoli’s paper is a documentation of the different graphic methods that have been used to tone-mark Igbo texts. She advocates a ‘historical perspective’ to tone-marking Igbo texts as an approach that should be adopted by the present generation of Igbo language scholars. By this, she seems to underscore the painstaking effort and ‘ear for details’ that emerges from the examination of old tone-marked texts, no matter the approach adopted.

Nkamigbo’s contribution could be summarized with the question: what is the vowel height of the Igbo HIGH tone? The answer, surprisingly, is ‘it depends’. It could be extremely high, or very high, or also normal high. In other words, when one speaks of Igbo as having a HIGH tone, one actually speaks of the ‘prototypical’ high tone, which would be the ‘extremely high’. The ‘highness’ of the tone marked text is therefore an approximation.

Uwaezuoke uses the autosegmental approach to examine glides in Igbo tonology. He first notes the lack of agreement with regard to the description of a particular tonological phenomenon, which is the tendency of tones to be phonetically motivated to glide. Uwaezuoke agrees with Igwe’s description of the phenomenon but also further argues for the autosegmantal phonology model as the best approach to handling the issue of glides in Igbo phonology.

Uchechukwu draws attention to the morpho-tonological process of ‘ideophonic pairing’ that he discovered some years ago. It is different from pure reduplication and involves the formation of a pair, abbreviated as IDEO1IDEO2, from a single language structure. While the source structure could be made up of a combination of high and low tones, the first component of the derived pair has mainly high tones while the second component has low tones. This is abbreviated as IDEO[HIGH] IDEO[LOW]. With a few examples from at least three dialects of the language, Uchechukwu argues for the Ideophonic pairing phenomenon as a possible pan-Igbo phenomenon.

Do invectives, as a form of speech act, also have tone patterns? That is the objective of Umeodinka. He uses the example of the Umuchu dialect of Igbo to demonstrate that different classes of invectives in Igbo do have particular tone patterns. His categorises and characterization of the invectives could form the basis for cross-dialectal comparison of the tonal patterns of invectives.

In their comparison of tone in Igbo and Etulo, Okoye and Osuagwu establish that tone performs lexical and grammatical functions in both languages.  However, they are also able to establish that the two languages differ in the tonal patterns of interrogatives and associative constructions.

The contribution from Mbah and Benjamin is another comparison of the tone system of Igbo with that of another language, Ibibio. In addition to identifying several differences between both languages, they also conclude that Ibibio has a register and contour tone system while Igbo has a register, terrace tone system.

Finally, Ugochukwu’s paper in Igbo compares the tonology of the Nanka dialect with that of standard Igbo. It shows that both varieties have the pan-Igbo three tones, but with the Nanka dialect having the downstepped tone in particular circumstances that do not occur in standard Igbo. Also Nanka has rising and falling tones that are non-existent in standard Igbo. All these make it easy to identify Nanka speech but also raise the issue of the extent to which other speech varieties differ from Standard Igbo.

Our hope is that this volume would encourage and further research in Igbo tonology.

Chinedu Uchechukwu