On Igbo Verbs with Body-Part Complements
Maduabuchi Agbo (Benin, Nigeria)
This analysis of Igbo verbs with body-part complements is done within the theoretical perspective of Role and Reference Grammar. This framework has the advantage of determining the lexical decomposition of verbs and their inherent temporal properties. There are five sub-classes of verbs with body-part complements. The complements are: ónú ‘mouth’, óbi ̀ ‘heart’, ísí ‘head’, àhú ‘body’ and ányá ‘eye’. These complements are NPs which are semantic modifiers to the verbs. When used in sentence constructions, these complements give extended meanings beyond the basic expressions. For example, the complement ónú ‘mouth’ tends to carry an added sense of negativity in a sentence. The complement óbi ̀ ‘heart’ tends to always refer to the experiences of the soul. The complement ísí ‘head’ in a sentence, conjures up the state of the mind of the speaker or addressee, and the complement àhú ‘body’ brings up the mental picture of the state of the speaker’s or addressee’s well-being. The complement ányá ‘eye’ conjures up the knowledge of the worth of something by the speaker or addressee. The work concludes that the Igbo speaker’s knowledge of a verb’s meaning includes the meaning of its complement and their interaction with the principles of grammar.
Key words: Igbo verbs, role and reference grammar, lexical knowledge, body-part complements.
Igbo is a major language in Nigeria with about 25 million people speaking it as their first language. The Igbo people are famous for undertaking trading adventures across the West-African sub-region and this is why their language is spoken in large markets across the region (Emenanjo 1998: 43). Igbo is a tonal languagewith three basic tones, viz high, low, and the phenomenon of downstep. The language is classified as a Niger-Congo language which belongs to the new Benue-Congo sub-branch of languages (Bendor-Samuel 1989) or the West Benue-Congo (Williamson & Blench 2000). The language consists of many dialects which are mutually intelligible. The current trend in Igbo linguistics is to classify Igbo dialects based on the common features associated with the States of origin of these dialects. Hence, there exist the Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imoand Rivers dialects. This classification is deemed to be more realistic and practical because “Igbo people today associate speakers of Igbo dialects with features common to their states” (Igboanusi & Peter 2005: 60).
The assertion by Emenanjo (1975b; 1987; 2005) is that the “Igbo verb is made up of three mutually obligatory and complementary elements” (Emenanjo, 1978: 129). These obligatory elements are the verb itself, the complement and the bound cognate noun (BCN). He again stresses that in the surface structure, the verb co-occurs with both the complement and the BCN or either of them. The claim here is that every Igbo verb must exist with a “nominal element which always complements it” (Emenanjo, 1978:130). The nominal element is called Complement (CP) (Emenanjo 1978: 129). All Igbo verbs have the BCN which always which, in a given construction, always occurs closely linked to the verb and immediately behind it.
Uwalaka (1988: 1984) observes that the assertion by Emenanjo (1975b; 1978) is untenable. For Uwalaka (1984; 1988) the co-occurrence of verbs and their bound cognate nouns are “V(erb) +N(oun) complexes” (Uwalaka, 1988:36) which should be treated as semantic units in the lexicon. Uwalaka defines the cognate noun or object as one which has a high selectivity between it and the verb and not just as elements which are morphologically related to the verbal element.
The difference in analyses by these two scholars bears out in the lexical entries of dictionaries. For Uwalaka (1984; 1988), only V+N complexes should be entered in the dictionary because this solves the problem of homophonous verbs that abound in the language. For Emenanjo (1975b; 1978), in contrast, every verb should be entered with its complements or bound cognate noun to distinguish them even better. The tenable assertion from both scholars is that Igbo verbs co-occur with nominal elements which extend the meaning of the verbs. In this work, we follow Emenanjo (1975; 1978; 2005) in calling these nominal elements complements. As we shall see in the subsequent sections of this paper, the nominal complements are not arguments of the verb nor are they actively involved in the state of affairs denoted by the verb. This is why we adopt Emenanjo’s (1975b; 1978; 2005) claim that the nominal elements are complements. Besides, Uwalaka’s V+N complex (1984; 1988) is based purely on a structural description of the Igbo verb. The theoretical framework for this study is based on the lexical decomposition of verbs to determine their inherent temporal properties and arguments.
1 The Igbo Verb
In Emenanjo (2005), the Igbo verb is, with regard to the co-occurring nominal element, sub-divided into five major classes. These are;
(1) General Complement Verbs (GCV)
(2) Inherent Complement Verbs (ICV)
(3) Bound Complement Verbs (BCV)
(4) Prepositional Phrase Complement Verbs (PPCV)
(5) Ergative Complement Verbs (ECV)
1.1 General Complement Verbs
General Complement Verbs (GCVs) take a general noun complement, that is, nouns which may go on to be more narrowly specified. The general noun complement is the cover term for the specific nouns which sub-categorise the GCV.
1.2 Inherent Complement Verbs
The second class of verbs in Emenanjo (2005) is the Inherent Complement Verb (ICV). The study of this class of verbs was pioneered by Nwachukwu (1984) (cf. Emenanjo 2005).
Inherent Complements verbs are “verbs the citation form of which includes a nominal element which may or may not be cognate with the verb” (Nwachukwu, 1984:109):
These verbs (which are “dual unit morphemes”) are each characterized by being immediately followed by a free morpheme, always a noun (and in very few cases by a prepositional phrase), which must be included in their citation forms. Thus the CV-stem and its nominal complement form one semantic unit and, in any dictionary entry, they must be cited together to fully specify their meaning. (Nwachukwu 1984, 109)
1.3 Bound Complement Verbs
Bound Complement Verbs (BCVs) are “verbs which are often used with Bound Verb Complements without the nuances of emphasis which is inherent in Bound Verb Complements” (Emenanjo 2005: 482).
1.4 Prepositional Phrase Complement Verbs
This verb class, according to Emenanjo (2005: 482), consists of verbs ‘that are often followed by prepositional phrases’, with which they constitute one indivisible semantic unit.
1.5 Ergative Complement Verbs
The serious study of Ergative Complement Verbs was pioneered by Uwalaka (1988). This class of verbs involves the alternation of the syntactic position of the subject and object of the verbs in question. This exchange of positions does not change the total meaning of the construction.
1.6 Tonal Classes of Verbs
Igbo verbs are also classified along tonal features. In the Anambra and Enugu dialects, there are three tone classes of verbs viz: high, high-low and low. This classification is based on the fact that the high- and low-tone verbs remain consistent in their tonal features, especially in the infinitive, the past tense and the imperative. On the other hand, high-low tone verbs do not remain consistent in these forms.
1.7 Transitivity in Igbo Verb Classification
The classification of Igbo verbs into transitive and intransitive verbs has been controversial in Igbo studies for about three decades. Eminent scholars of Igbo linguistics have taken sides in the debate whether Igbo verbs are transitive or not. The prominent scholarly works that propose the transitivity of Igbo verbs include Uwalaka (1984; 1988), Nwachukwu (1983; 1984), and Ubahakwe (1976). On the other side of the debate is Emenanjo (1975b; 1978; 2005) who is of the “consuming conviction that transitivity is not necessary for the classification of Igbo verbs” (Emenanjo, 2005: 479). He argues for complementation as the appropriate process that can be used to classify Igbo verbs. Ubahakwe (1976; cf. Emenanjo 2005) criticizes Emenanjo (1975b) for arguing that both transitive and intransitive verbs take objects. Emenanjo (1975b) argues that the nominal cognate element which complements the verb is “an object in function”. In other words, he assumes that both transitive and intransitive verbs exist at the deep structure of Igbo and their analysis is explicit there. Ubahakwe (1976) criticizes this assertion because for him, the idea of “object” and “transitivity” are in accordance with the surface structure and / or semantics of the language. The classification of verbs into transitive and intransitive in Ubahakwu (1976) depends on the ‘usage’ of these verbs. For him, the same verb may be transitive in one instance and intransitive in another.
Nwachukwu (1983) argues against the submissions in Ubahakwe (1976) and Emenanjo (1975). He adopts a “semantic-syntactic congruity argument which enables him to sort out all kinds of problems” (Emenanjo 2005: 486). Uwalaka (1988: 36) proposes the pronominalisation test to determine true objects and consequently transitive verbs in Igbo. The pronominalisation test is “a lexical rule which replaces a lexical NP with a pronoun” (Emenanjo, 2005: 486). This rule helps Uwalaka (1988) to submit that Igbo has transitive verbs. In Emenanjo (2005), the validity of the pronominalisation test is recognized but the limitations of this test are pointed out. The transitivity / complementation debate is not our concern in this paper, but it is important to note that both directions of the debate have their own merits.
2 Igbo Verbs with Body-Part Complements
We identify Igbo verbs with body-part complements as those verbs which take as their co-occurring nominal elements the NPs that denote body-parts in the language. This subclass of verbs fall under the Inherent Complement Verb (cf. Emenanjo (2005) and Nwachukwu (1983; 1984). We have identified the following as verbs with body-part complements.
2.1 Verbs Taking the Body-Part Complement óṇ ú ̣‘mouth’
The sub-class of verbs presented in (1) below are high-low tone verbs. They all have the noun ó ̣nú ̣‘mouth’ as their inherent complement:
(1) (a) ıb́ú óṇú ̣ ‘to fast’
(b) ıt́ú óṇú ̣ ‘to boast’
(c) ıḱpó ̣óṇú ̣ ‘to have bad will’
(d) ıḱó óṇú ̣ ‘to verbally abuse’
(e) ígbá égbe óṇ ú ̣ ‘to exaggerate’
2.2 Verbs Taking the Body-Part Complement óbì ‘heart’
This class of verbs belongs to the group of high-tone verbs. The examples in (2a-d) have the noun óbì ‘heart’ as their inherent complement while the example in (2e) has a prepositional phrase n’oìî ‘in the heart’ as its complement:
(2) (a) ínwé óbì ‘to be persevering’
(b) íká óbì ‘to be daring’
(c) íkpóchì óbì ‘to be heartless’
(d) íbú n’óbì ‘to intend’
(e) ígbáwá óbì ‘to break someone’s heart’
2.3 Verbs Taking the Body-Part Complement ísí ‘head’
These verbs which are high-tone verbs have the noun ísí ‘head’ as their inherent complement:
(3) (a) ínwé ísí ‘to be purposeful’
(b) íbú n’ísí ‘to have in mind’
(c) ímá ísí ‘to find the root cause’
(d) ínyá ísí ‘to be arrogant’
(e) íkpá ísí ihe ‘to forage’
2.4 Verbs Taking the Body-Part Complement àhú ‘body’
The example in (4a) is a low-tone verb while the examples in (4b-e) are high-tone verbs. The verbs in this sub-class all have the noun àhú ‘body’ as their inherent complement:
(4) (a) ífíá àhú ‘to be difficult’
(b) ídò àhú ‘to be refreshed’
(c) ígbà àhú ‘to be quick witted’
(d) ínwé àhú ‘to be plump’
(e) ítá àhú ‘to be thin’
2.5 Verbs Taking the Body-Part Complement ányá ‘eye’
The example in (5b) below is a low-tone verb; however, the other examples (5a, c, d, and e) are high-tone verbs. The verbs in (5) all have the noun ányá ‘eye’ as their inherent complements.
(5) a. íwó ányá ‘to understand’
b. ídò ányá ‘to be skillful’
c. íwá ányá ‘to be street-wise’
d. ísó ̣ ányá ‘to defer to’
e. ínyú ̣ ányá ‘to make discomfited’
The verbs in examples (1) to (5) are used in the sentences (6) to (10) below. We analyze these sentences within the framework of Role and Reference Grammar as developed in Van Valin (2005), and Van Valin & La Polla (1997).
3 Theoretical Perspective
3.1 General Remarks
The present study is undertaken within the framework of Role and Reference Grammar (RRG) as developed in Van Valin (2005) and Van Valin & La Polla (1997). The RRG framework implements a system of lexical decomposition based on Vendler’s (1967) theory of Aktionsart. The term Aktionsart means ‘inherent temporal properties of verbs’ (Van Valin and La Polla, 1997:92).. Van Valin (2005) proposes six classes of verbs, viz. state, achievement, accomplishment, activity, active accomplishment and semelfactives. A number of syntactic and semantic tests determine the Aktionsart of a clause.
Agbo (2010) has developed six syntactic and semantic tests to determine Igbo verb classes. Igbo verbs with body-part complements fall into three classes, viz: achievement, accomplishment and active achievement verbs. The RRG framework implements a system of lexical decomposition of verbs with state and activity predicates as the basis. The lexical representation is known as the logical structure (LS) of the predicate. State predicates are represented as predicate′ and activity predicates include do′. Accomplishment LS have the operator BECOME, while achievements LS have the operator INGR, which is short for ‘ingressive’. Semelfactives include the operator SEML.
One important component of the RRG framework is that of semantic macroroles. The two semantic macro-roles, actor and undergoer, are equivalent to the primary arguments of a transitive predication. Transitivity in RRG is determined by the number of macro-roles a verb can take. A transitive verb takes two macro-roles while an intransitive verb takes one macro-role.
The RRG framework is justifiable for this study because it allows a classification of Igbo verbs based on lexical decomposition instead of by specification and abstraction. RRG has the advantage of being inspired by both theoretical and descriptive considerations. The framework incorporates the prominent roles of semantics and pragmatics in explaining language phenomena. Our data are better understood if the cultural perspective of the verbal complements is taken into consideration.
The main competing theories are government and binding (Chomsky 1986a) and the Minimalist Program (Chomsky 1995a), which are popular in Nigerian Linguistic circles. Government and binding (GB) and the Minimalist Program (MP) have the point of view that language should be studied independently of any communicative and sociocultural contexts. For these theories, syntax is the core aspect of language while semantics and pragmatics belong to the periphery. In other words, the only element which is necessary for language study is the native speaker’s intuition.
GB and MP cannot fully explain the constructions in our data. The selectional restrictions of the verbs with body-part complements with their semantic and pragmatic relations are best captured within the framework of RRG.
In the next section, we follow the RRG framework to give a descriptive account of the occurrence and lexical decomposition of Igbo verbs with body-part complements in Igbo sentences.
Van Valin (2005) discusses the semantic macro-roles of the argument of a verb. There is a relationship between the logical arguments of a verb and the semantic macro-role of the verb. “…given the logical structure of a transitive verb, the leftmost argument will be the actor and the rightmost argument the undergoer. This is the default situation” (Van Valin, 2005: 61). The number of macro-roles a verb takes is predicated on the logical structure. If a verb has two or more arguments in its logical structure, it takes two macro-roles, and if a verb has only one argument in its logical structure, it takes one macro-role. If a verb takes two macro-roles, they must be actor and undergoer, but if it only takes one macro-role, it must be an undergoer. An activity predicate takes an actor, while a verb with a state predicate takes an undergoer.
The actor and undergoer must be referential in nature. This means that the actor must be an entity that instigates an action that actively affects the undergoer. In other words, both actor and undergoer must actively participate in the state of affairs depicted by the verb, one instigating the action, the other being affected by the action.
3.2 Sentence Constructions Illustrating Verbs with the Body-Part
Complement ó ̣nú ̣‘mouth’
The constructions in example (6) below include the verbs in example (1) above. They are verbs with the body-part complement ó ̣nú ̣‘mouth’. The examples in (6a-e) express the occurrence of the verbs in basic Igbo sentences, while (6a′-e′) illustrate the occurrence of the verbs with the nà progressive marker (Agbo 2010). This is to confirm that the verbs (6a, b and d) belong to the class of accomplishment verbs while (6c) belongs to the class of state verbs. The sentence in (6c) fails the test of the verb co-occurring with the nà progressive marker. This is why the example in (6c′) is ungrammatical. Example (6e) is a semelfactive verb (Agbo 2010). Note that the tonal features of the verbs change in the simple sentences in (6a-e). Although they have high tones in the infinitive form in (1), they take low tones in the simple sentences in (6a-e). This is why they are classified as high-low tone verbs in the literature. Their inherent complement ónú ‘mouth’ retains the basic tones. The examples in (6a′′-e′′) represent the lexical representation of the verbs in the sentences. The lexical representation expresses the logical structure of the verb, which is intended to give the particular meaning of the verb in the sentence (Van Valin 2005: 47).
(6) a. óù- rù óṇú ̣
3sg carry-TNS mouth
a′. ó nà- é- bú ón ú ̣
3sg PROG- AGR- carry mouth
‘S/he is fasting’
a.′′ BECOME carried′ (3sg, óṇú )̣
b. Ézè tù- rù ó ̣nú ̣
Eze sprout-TNS mouth
b′. E zè ná- é- tú ó ̣nú ̣
Éze PROG-AGR- sprout mouth
‘Eze is boasting’
b′′. BECOME sprouted′ (Eze, óṇú )̣
c. Ńnéka kpo`-̣ro` ̣ Àdá ó ̣nú ̣
Nneka hit-IND Ada mouth
‘Nnékā has bad will for Ada’
c′. *Nneka nà- a-̀ kpó ̣ Àdà ó ̣nú
Nneka PROG-AGR-hit Ada mouth
‘Nneka is having bad will for Ada’
c′′. hit-with-the mouth′ (Nneka, Ada)
d. Úchè ko-̣̀ rọ̀ Ézè ó ̣nú ̣
Uche cut-TNS Eze mouth
‘Uche made offensive remarks to Eze’
d′. Úchè nà- a-̀ kó ̣ Éze ̀ óṇ ú ̣
Uche PROG- AGR-cut Eze mouth
‘Uche is making offensive remarks to Eze’
d′′. BECOME cut-with-the mouth′ (Uche, Eze)
e. Ha sà-rà n’ó ̣nú
3PL spread-IND in mouth
e′. Há na-̀ a-̀ sá n’ọnụ
3PL PROG-AGR-spread in mouth
‘They are confessing’
e′′. SEML dó (3PL, [confess′ (3PL)])
In (6a), the verb phrase bú ó ̣nú ̣‘carry mouth’ has a negative connotation in traditional Igbo life and culture where fasting is not an admired activity. To the Igbo mind, fasting is done only when there is famine. Otherwise, the Igbos cherish their food and drinks. Fasting was introduced to Igbo culture with Christianity. So anyone fasting would be seen as snubbing the food offered to him/her. This act of snubbing is carried out with the mouth tightly closed and directed away from the food.
Following Van Valin’s (2005) and Van Valin & La Polla’s (1997) analysis of the semantic macro-roles of a verb, the actor in (6a) is the individual indicated by the third-person singular morpheme, ó, ‘s/he’. It is referential in nature because it is an entity which can instigate or be affected by the action denoted by the verb. In this case, it is an actor. The complement of the verb óṇú ̣ ‘mouth’ is not an undergoer because it is not referential in nature. Recall that an activity predicate takes an actor. The sentence in (6a) has an activity predicate as illustrated with the logical structure of the verb in (6a′′). It is an accomplishment verb. The lexical representation in (6a′′) translates to the fact that the actor carries his/her mouth away from the direction of the food presented to him/her. This action of fasting goes on for some time but terminates at a certain point. Hence, this verb is telic.
The examples in (6b and d) have similar analyses to the example in (6a). For (6b), the verb tú ó ̣nú ̣‘to boast’ is an activity predicate and has a negative connotation in the Igbo mind. Boasting about one’s accomplishments is not encouraged in Igbo culture. The actor, who instigates the action of boasting, is the entity ézè. The lexical representation of the verb in (6b′′) indicates that the mouth of the actor sprouts like a boil when he boasts about his achievements. The verb is an accomplishment verb and it is telic in nature. Similarly, for (6d), the verb, kó ̣ ó ̣nú ‘̣ to verbally abuse’ has a negative connotation. Like in most cultures, the Igbos frown at the verbal abuse of persons. The sentence in (6d) has an actor and undergoer. The actor here is ú chè, the entity that instigates the action of verbal abuse, while the undergoer is é zè, the entity that is actively affected by the action of the actor. The lexical representation in (6d′′) shows that the verb is an accomplishment verb. It also depicts the fact that the actor, úchè, uses his mouth as an instrument to cut ézè, the undergoer.
The verb kpó ̣ óṇ ú ̣ ‘have bad will’ has the entity ńnékā as the actor while the entity àdá is the undergoer. It is also a verb with a negative connotation because it is not acceptable in Igbo culture for anyone to have bad will for his neighbour. The lexical representation in (6c′′) illustrates the idea that Nneka, the actor, instigates bad will for Ada, the undergoer, by using the mouth as an instrument to hit Nneka.
The verb sa n’ọnụ ‘confess’ is an activity predicate that denotes a one-off event. It is used usually in the language to express the action in which someone confesses to wrong doing. The actor in the sentence in (6e) is há, the third- person-plural free morpheme in the language. The lexical representation of the verb in (6e′′) expresses the action of spreading one’s mouth wide in confessing the wrong doing.
In the next section, we discuss the verbs with the body-part complement óbì ‘heart’.
3.3 Sentence Constructions Involving Verbs with the Body-Part
Complement óbì ‘heart’
In the sentences in example (7) below, verbs from example (2) above are included. These are simple Igbo sentences. The verbs (7a, b, c, and e) fall into the class of state verbs. State verbs fail all the syntactic tests for verbs documented in Agbo (2010). The verb in (7d) has a causative reading. The verbs belong to the class of high-low tone verbs. They have high tones in the infinitive (cf. example (2) above), but take low tones in the simple sentences (7a-e). The verb complement óbì ‘heart’ retains the inherent tone. The examples (7a′-e′) represent the logical structure of the verbs.
(7) a. ú chè nwè-rè óbi ̀
uche have-IND heart
‘Uche is courageous’
a′. have′ (uche, óbì)
b. ùgò ka-̀ rà óbi ̀
Ugo strong-IND heart
‘Ugo is daring’
b′. be′ (Ugo [daring′]
c. Chike kpoc̣̀ hì-rì óbi ̀
Chike lock-IND heart
‘Chike is heartless’
c′. be′ (Chike [heartless′]
d. Chika bù n’obì ́ ı́lú Íféómā
Chika carry in heart to marry Ifeoma
‘Chika has the intention of marrying Ifeoma’
d′. carry-in-heart′ (Chika, ílú íféómā)])
e. É kè gbàwá -rà m óbi ̀
Eke break-IND 1s heart
‘Eke broke my heart’
e′. [do′ Eke, ɵ)] CAUSE [BECOME broken′ [1sg, óbì)]
The sentence (7a) is a state predicate. The undergoer Uche possesses the attribute of courage. This is depicted in the logical structure of the verb in (7a′). The interpretation of this logical structure means that Uche has the virtue of courage as part of his make-up. For the example in (7b), the verb ká óbi ̀, which translates into ‘daring’ in English, serves as an attributive predicate. The logical structure of example (7b′) indicates that to be daring is an attribute of Ugo, who has the macro-role function of undergoer in the sentence. The same analysis can be extended to example (7c). In (7c), whose logical structure is represented as (7c′), Chike, the undergoer, has the inalienable attribute of heartlessness. The example (7d) has two arguments, as shown in the logical structure in (7d′). The verbs íbú n’óbì ‘to carry in the heart’, when translated into English, means ‘to desire’. The first argument of the sentence, Chika, has the active desire to marry the second argument, Ifeoma. The first argument has the semantic macro-role of actor, while the second argument has the semantic macro-role of undergoer. The sentence with a causative reading in (7e) has a complex logical structure in (7e′), which consists of a predicate (do′) indicating the causing action linked to a predicate (broken′) indicating the result of the action. The first predicate shows that an activity takes place. Hence, the argument Eke, which effects this, is an actor while the undergoer is the argument, m, the first-person singular free morpheme in the language. Note that the action of actor results in the state where the undergoer becomes broken-hearted.
3.4 Sentence Constructions with Verbs Taking the Body-Part Complement
The verbs in example (8a-e) are sentences containing verbs in (3) above, with ísí ‘head’ as the inherent complement. Their logical structures are shown in (8a′-e′). The verbs in (8a-c) are state verbs while the verbs in (8d and e) are activity verbs. The tonal features of the verbs in the sentences classify them as high-low tone verbs.
(8) a. Ó nwè-rè ı́sı́
3sg have-IND head
‘It is significant’
a′. have′ (3sg [significance′]
b. Ùgò bù yá n’ísí
Ugo carry PRN in head
‘Ugo has it in mind’
b′. carry-in-head′ (Ùgò, yá)
c. Ó ma-̀ rà ı́sı́ yá
3sg know-IND head PRN
‘S/he knows the root cause of the matter’
c′. know-the-root cause′ (ó, yá)
d. òbı́ na-̀ á- nyà ı́si ́
Obi PROG- AGR- sway head
‘Obi is arrogant’
d′. do′ (obi, [sway′ (òbı́, ísí)])
e. Ó na-̀ a-̀ kpà ı́sı́ yá
3sg PROG-AGR- forage head PRN
‘S/he is looking for the root cause of the matter’
e′. do′ (3sg, [forage′ (ó, yá)])
The logical structure in (8a′) shows that the verb in (8a) is an identification predicate. It serves to identify the undergoer (the third-person-singular morpheme, Ó) as being of importance among other things. For the examples in (8b and 8b′), there are two arguments, an actor, Ugo, and an undergoer, yá (the third person singular object pronoun). The representation in (8b′) denotes that the verb is a result-state predicate. In (8c′), which is the logical structure of (8c), the lexical representation indicates that the verb takes two arguments. The first argument ó (third-person-singular-subject, free morpheme) is the actor, while the second argument, which is the undergoer, is yá (third-person-singular object pronoun). The lexical representation in (8c′) is also a result-state predicate.
The activity verbs in (8d) and (8e) have their lexical representation in (8d′) and (8e′), respectively. In (8d′) the verb takes two arguments. The first argument, óbì, has the semantic macro-role of actor, while the second argument, ísí ‘head’, has the semantic macro-role of undergoer. The act of arrogance, as depicted by the logical structure of the verb, is demonstrated by the swaying of the head. In the Igbo mind, this swaying of the head also represents defiance and contempt for authority. The two arguments in (8é) are ó (third-person-singular-subject, free morpheme), which is the actor and yá, (third-person-singular object pronoun), which is the undergoer. The logical structure depicts an action of the actor (ó) foraging for something, and in this case, it is the root cause (yá).
In the next section, we discuss the constructions taking the body-part complement àhú ‘body’.
3.5 Sentence Constructions with Verbs Taking the Body-Part Complement
The constructions in (9a-e) all are attributive state verbs (Agbo 2010). All the verbs, which are cited from the examples in (4) above, have the inherent complement àhú ‘body’. The verbs in (9a, d, and e) are high-low tone verbs while those in (9b and c) are low tone verbs. The complement àhú retains its inherent tone in all the constructions.
The logical structures of (9a-e) are represented in (9a′-e′).
(9) a. Lingwistiks fìà-rù àhú
Linguistics rub-IND body
‘Linguistics is difficult’
a′. be′ (Linguistics [difficult′])
b. òbı́ do-̀ rò àhú
Obi settle-IND body
‘Obi has gained weight’
b′. be′ (Obi [refreshed′])
c. òbı́ gba-̀ rà àhú
Obi V-IND body
‘Obi is quick-witted’
c′. be′ (Obi [quick-witted′])
d. òbı́ nwè-rè àhú
Obi have-IND body
‘Obi is plump’
d′. be′ (Obi [plump′])
e. òbı́ ta-̀ rà àhú
Obi dry-IND body
‘Obi is thin’
e′. be′ (òbı́ [thin′])
In (9a′) the verb ı́fı́á àhú ‘to be difficult’ takes only one argument, ‘Lingwistiks’. Since the verb is a state predicate, this argument must be an undergoer. It is the entity undergoing the action of difficulty denoted by the verb in the sentence in (9a). This same analysis can be extended to the logical structure of the verbs in (9b′-é), which also take only one argument each with the semantic macro-role of undergoer. The verb ı́dò àhú ‘to be refreshed’ in (9b′) has òbı́ as its only argument. This argument has the semantic macro-role of undergoer. Likewise, the verb ı́gbà àhú ‘to be quick-witted’ in (9c′) takes the undergoer òbı́ as its only argument. The verb in (9d′) ı́nwé àhú ‘to be plump’ also has òbı́ as its only argument. It has the semantic macro-role of undergoer. The verb ı́tá àhú ‘to be thin’ in (9e′), with the only argument òbı́ as undergoer, has the same analysis.
3.6 Sentence Constructions with Verbs Taking the Body-Part
Complement ányá ‘eye’
The verbs in the constructions in (10a-e) have the inherent complement ányá ‘eye’. Examples (10a-d) contain result-state verbs, with the examples in (10a-c) having attributive predicates while (10d) is a result-state verb. The construction in (10e) has a semelfactive verb, which has an activity predicate. The example in (10b) contains a low-tone verb while (10a, c, d, and e) have high-low-tone verbs. The logical structures of the verbs are represented in (10a′-e′).
(10) a. ó wò-rò m á nyá nà Àdá ga-̀ à- bíá
3sg understand-IND 1sg eye that Ada AUX-AGR- come
‘I understand that Ada will come’
a′. be′ (ó, [informed′]
b. òṇ yì ̣ nýamó tò dò-rò Òbı́ ányá
act of driving a car clear-IND Obi eye
‘Obi is skillful in driving’
b′. be-skillful-in′ (Obi, oǹ ̣ yìṇ yá mó to)
c. Òbı́ wà-rà ányá
Obi break-IND eye
‘Obi is street-wise’
c′. be′ (Òbı́ [street-wise′]
d. Ó sò-rò Òbı́ ányá
3sg avoid-IND Obi eye
‘S/he deferred to Obi’
d′. show-deference′ (ó, Òbì)
e. Ó du-̀ rù Òbı́ ányá
3sg cast-IND Obi eye
‘He cast a furtive glance at Obi’
e′. SEML cast′ (ó, Obi)
The verb íwó ányá ‘to be informed’ in (10a), (with its logical structure in 10a′) takes only one argument, ó (third-person-singular-subject pronoun). This argument has the macro-role function of undergoer. In (10b), the verb ı́dò á nyá ‘to be skillful’ takes two arguments. The first argument with the semantic macro-role of actor is òbı́ while the second argument with the semantic macro-role of undergoer is ọ̀nyi ̣ ̀ný a ḿoto ‘̀the act of driving a car’. The logical representation of the verb is shown in (10b′). The verb íwá ányá ‘to be street wise’ takes only one argument, òbı́ in (10c). This argument has the semantic macro-role of undergoer. The logical structure of the construction is illustrated in example (10c′). A look at the construction in (10d) reveals that the verb ísó ányá ‘to defer to’ takes two arguments. The first argument is ó (third-person-singular-subject pronoun), with the semantic macro-role of actor, and the second argument is òbı́ with the semantic macro-role of undergoer. The logical structure is represented in (10d́′). The activity predicate ídú ányá, ‘to cast a furtive glance’ in (10e) takes two arguments. The first is ó (third-person-singular-subject pronoun). This argument has the semantic macro-role of actor while the second argument òbı́ has the semantic macro-role of undergoer. The verb is a semelfactive verb (Agbo 2010).
4. Igbo Verbs with Body-Part Complements and the Nature
of Lexical Knowledge
The verbs studied in this work all have extended meanings beyond the basic expressions in the sentences. For example, it seems that whenever the noun ónú ‘mouth’ is the complement of a verb (cf 6a-e), the expression carries an added sense of negativity to the experience of the speaker. It also seems that whenever the noun óbì ‘heart’ is the complement of a verb (cf 7a-e), the expression refers to the experiences of the soul, while the expressions in (8a-e), with the noun ísí ‘head’ as complements of the verb, have the added meaning of referring to the state of the mind. The verbs in (9a-e), with the noun àhú ‘body’ as complement, render the added meaning of “the state of well-being” and ‘general awareness’. In the sentences in (10a-e), the verbs with the complement ányá ‘eye’ give the expressions the added meaning of ‘the knowledge of the worth of something’.
The Igbo speaker has the ability to make subtle inferences about what constitutes the arguments of a verb. For the examples in (6-10) above, the Igbo speaker knows that the complements of the verbs are not their arguments because they are not entities that actively participate in the activities denoted by the verbs. Again, Igbo speakers know that the meaning of a verb determines its syntactic behaviour. This is why the verbs in the examples (6a, b and e) have only one argument with the macro-role function of actor, while the verbs in the examples (6c and d) have two arguments, with the macro-role functions of actor and undergoer. Similarly, the meaning of the verbs in the examples (7a-c) determines the fact that they take one argument only, with the macro-role function of the undergoer, while the verbs in the examples (7d and e) take two arguments with actor and undergoer functions. The meanings of the verbs in the examples (8) to (10) take a similar analysis.
This work shows that the arguments of a verb are derived from the interaction between its meaning and the general principles of syntax. In other words, the lexical knowledge of the Igbo speaker includes the particular meaning of the individual verb and its complements, and the general principles of grammar.
There are two schools of thought on the structure of the Igbo verb. The first school of thought (Emenanjo (1975b; 1978; 2005) asserts that the structure of the verb is made up of the verb itself, the complement, and a bound cognate noun. Here, the complement of the verb is a noun that extends the meaning of the verb. The other school of thought (Nwachukwu (1984) and Uwalaka (1984; 1988) claims that the verb is made up of the verb and noun complex, which should be treated as a semantic unit. Here, the noun is treated as an inherent part of the verb. Igbo scholars are also divided on the transitivity of Igbo verbs. One school of thought led by Emenanjo (1975b; 1978; 2005) is of the opinion that transitivity is not necessary for the classification of Igbo verbs, while the other school championed by Nwachukwu (1984) and Uwalaka (1984; 1988) is of the opinion that transitivity is necessary for the classification of Igbo verbs. The transitivity controversy is beyond the scope of this paper.
However, in this work, we have adopted the claims by Emenanjo (1975b; 1978) about the structure of the Igbo verb. Following the work of Van Valin (2005) and Van Valin & La Polla (1997), we have analysed a sub-class of Igbo verbs with body-part complements. These verbs have as their complements nouns denoting body-parts in Igbo. Our analysis shows that the Igbo speaker’s lexical knowledge includes the meaning of the verb, its complement and their interaction with the general principles of grammar.
Igbo is a ‘verb language’ (Emenanjo (2005), Nwachukwu (1984) and Uwalaka 1984; 1988)), and the study of any aspect of the Igbo verb amounts to the study of the language in its entirety. This study makes valid contribution to the study of the language, especially, in elucidating the inherent temporal properties of Igbo verbs and their argument structures.
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Department of Linguistics and African Languages
Faculty of Arts
University of Benin, Benin City
 The tone pattern of each lexical is provided to underscore the importance of tone. High tone is indicated by a raised accent thus / ́/. Low tone is indicated by a grave accent / ̀/, while the phenomenon of downstep is indicated by a raised macron thus / ̄/.
 The examples in this paper were taken mostly from the daily utterances by speakers of the Anambra and Enugu dialects of Igbo. The examples were tested for grammaticality by five native speakers of these dialects. The author is also a native speaker.
 The transcriptions follow standard Igbo orthography. The abbreviations are: TNS (tense), IND (indicative), PROG (progressive), AGR (agreement), 3sg (third-person singular pronoun), 3pl (third-person plural pronoun).
 See Emenanjo (2005) for details of the analysis of GCVs.
 The tonal characteristics of verbs will be illustrated with the examples in (6) to (10) below
 See Van Valin (2005) and La Polla (1997) for details of the lexical representation for Aktionsart classes and the Default Macro-role Assignment Principles.