The Functional Motivation of the High Tone Syllable in Yorùbá:
The following text contains characters, which may not be displayed correctly in your browser.
Please download the pdf version of this paper.
A V-syllable having a high tone and known in Yorùbá linguistic
literature as the high tone syllable or HTS for short, regularly occurs directly
after the subject in Yorùbá declarative sentences. Its underlying
form, ó (Awobuluyi 1992: 32; Bamgbose 1990: 180), always assimilates
(sometimes vacuously) to the final vowel of the subject NP (Yorùbá
words are all vowel final). Examples are:
function of the V-syllable (henceforth, the HTS) has long been a subject of
debate among Yorùbá Linguists, who have variously called it (a) a
"Subject-Predicate Junction Marker" (Bamgbose 1967: 35); (b) a
"Clitic" Adewole (1998: 55–56); (c) a "Subject
Concord Marker (Courtenay 1968: 71–74; Stahlke 1974: 177;
Fresco 1970: 79–80); (d) a "Past/Present tense marker"
(Awobuluyi 1975, 1978, 1992, 2008); (e) a "Concord Marker" (Bamgbose
(1980: 197); and (f) an "Agreement Marker" (Dechaine
1993: 84, 483). In their own relatively recent contribution to that
debate, Bisang and Sonaiya (1999) call the HTS "an operator which
actualises or validates the relationship between a predicate and a subject
within a state of affairs." Put more simply, this claim, as one
understands it, affirms that the HTS serves to indicate that the action or
process denoted by a predicate actually took place or occurred. The aim of the
present contribution is to show that there is good reason to doubt that this is
the real function of the element.
2 The HTS as a Validator of Actualized Processes/States
Sonaiya (1999: 9f.) say the function of the HTS is to validate predicative
relationships, i. e. to confirm that the actions or processes denoted by
predicates actually occurred or came to pass. That being the case, there should
be no sentences containing 'actualized' predicates that feature no HTS in the
language. However, contrary to this expectation, such sentences regularly occur
in the Èkó and the Ìjerò (Ekiti) regional
varieties of the language as in
Going by the
unambiguous meanings of these examples, the various actions denoted by the
predicates there are all understood to have taken place. Yet there is no trace
of the HTS anywhere in them, and that can only logically mean that that element
has nothing to do with validating actualized predicates. This conclusion would
appear confirmed by further data relating to Bisang and Sonaiya's next claim
about the HTS and negators.
3 The Incompatibility of HTS with kò and other Negators
Sonaiya (1999: 11–15) note that the HTS does not co-occur with the
negators kò 'not' and
kì 'not' as well as
with the conditional ìbáà
'even if'. They then take that as proof positive that the HTS truly validates
only actualized predicates, and not predicates that were not actualized, i. e.
that did not occur or come pass. Apparently unknown to them, however, the HTS
does occur with the negators in the (Èkìtì) regional variety of the language
(cf. Olúmúyìwá 2006: 34f.), as in
The co-occurrence of the HTS with the negators kò 'not' and kì
'not' as well as with the conditional ìbáà even if' is not completely
unknown in Standard Yorùbá either. According to Awobuluyi (1992: 28),
the Standard Yorùbá second person singular unemphatic pronoun usually
written and pronounced as o is actually a fusion of ọ (from
ìwọ̀ 'you emph. sing') and the HTS, ó. (Lending empirical support
to that analysis is ùgwọ 'you, singular, emphatic', which is similarly
a fusion of ugwọ and ó; the HTS in AO dialect; on this,
see Taiwo (2005: 78).) The fused form of that pronoun regularly co-occurs with
negators as in
Not only does it
follow from these types of examples that, contra Bisang and Sonaiya, the HTS
indeed can co-occur with the negators, it also follows that the HTS could not
possibly be a validator of predicates since it co-occurs with processes and
events that are clearly marked as not having occurred or come to pass.
4 THE HTS in Focus Constructions
Bisang and Sonaiya (1999: 15f.) feel that "the presence of the
focus particle ni does not provide the right environment for the felicitous
use of the HTS". And yet they paradoxically contend that the same "particle
ni" "serves the purpose of a copula". Now, assuming
just for the sake of argument that this particular claim of theirs is right, it follows
that the expression below,
"validated or actualized" predication of NP, Ayọ̀. For that
reason, it should feature the HTS. But, contrary to that expectation and as
Bisang and Sonaiya themselves admit, the HTS is actually not permitted there,
and the only relevant conclusion one can draw from that is that the element has
nothing to do with validating or actualizing predicates since, on the evidence
of the above example, that can be achieved without it.
examples cited above from Standard Yorùbá and some of its regional varieties
feature cases in which the HTS fails to occur where Bisang and Sonaiya's (1999)
view requires it to occur, as well as cases where it occurs totally contrary to
expectations based on that view. In other words then, those examples show that
the view makes wrong predictions concerning the Yorùbá language. In effect,
Awobuluyi (1978: 49) accurately foresaw this state of affairs when he
said: "There has long been uncertainty among grammarians as to the precise
[...] function of the syllable. It seems very doubtful whether a perfect solution
will ever be found to this problem". However, not wishing to discourage
any brave souls from ever trying their hands at the problem, one prefers to
simply say here that the last word is definitely yet to be said on it.
Adewole, Lawrence (1998):
"Another visit to the Yorùbá High Tone Syllable".
Afrikanistische Arbeitspapiere (AAP) 53: 91–106.
Awóbùlúyì, Ọládélé (1975):
"On 'the Subject Concord Prefix' in Yorùbá".
Studies in African Linguistics 6: 215–238.
Awóbùlúyì, Ọládélé (1978):
Essentials of Yorùbá Grammar. Oxford University Press Nigeria.
Awóbùlúyì, Ọládélé (1992):
"Aspects of Contemporary Standard Yorùbá in Dialectological Perspective".
In: Isola, Akinwumi (ed.):
New Findings in Yorùbá Studies. Ibadan/Lagos: 1–79.
(= J. F. Odunjo Memorial Lecture Series 3).
Awóbùlúyì, Ọládélé (2008):
Èkọ́ ìχẹ̀dá-Ọ̀rọ̀ Yorùbá.
Bámgbóṣé, Ayọ̀ (1967):
A Short Yorùbá Grammar. Ibàdàn.
Bámgbóṣé, Ayọ̀ (1980):
"Pronouns, Concord and Pronominalization".
Afrika and Übersee. Sprachen. Kulturen 63/2: 189–198.
Bámgbóṣé, Ayọ̀ (1990):
Fonọ́lọ́jì àti Gírámà Yorùbá.
Bisang, Walter/Sonaiya, Remi (1999):
"The functional Motivation of the high Tone Syllable in Yorùbá".
JALL 20: 1–19.
Courtenay, Karen (1968):
A Generative Phonology of Yorùbá.
Ph.D. dissertation. Los Angeles.
Déchaine, Rosemary (1993):
"Predicates Across Categories. Towards a category-neutral Syntax".
Doctoral dissertation. Massachusetts.
Fresco, Edward (1970):
"Topics in Yorùbá Dialect Phonology".
Studies in African Linguistics, Supplement 1.
Olúmúyíwà, Tèmítọ́pẹ́ (2006):
Àwọn Wúnrẹ̀n Onítumọ̀ GírámÀ
Nínú Àwọn Àárín Gbùngbùn Yorùbá.
Ph.D. Thesis. Àkùngbá-Àkókó (Nigeria).
Stahlke, Herbert (1974):
"Pronouns and Islands in Yorùbá Studies".
African Linguistics 5: 171–204.
Taiwo, Oyè (2005):
Negation in the AO dialect of Yorùbá.
Ph.D. Thesis. Ibàdàn.