University of Ibadan, Nigeria
 Federal University, Otuoke, Nigeria
The use of syllabic consonants in Standard English words is a phenomenon that results from the elision/obscurity of the reduced vowel /ə/ in unstressed syllable positions. This has been observed to be rarely employed in Nigerian English. In this study, a perceptual study was undertaken to confirm whether or not Isoko English (a sub-variety of Nigerian English) is characterised by the use of syllabic consonants as peaks of unstressed syllables where they are found in Standard English.
Thirty speakers of Educated Isoko English (EIE) who encountered English in a second language context (Nigeria) took part in a production test comprising a passage of about 158 words containing 11 instances of syllabic consonants. Variants of the sounds produced by the 30 EIE subjects where syllabic consonants are expected were sorted out into frequencies and converted to percentages. They were then sorted out into cases of the Use of Syllabic Consonants (USC) and Strong Vowel Insertion (SVI).
The findings from the analysis reveal that majority of the EIE subjects did not make use of syllabic consonants as peaks of unstressed syllables. Rather, strong vowels were inserted between the syllabic consonants and the preceding consonants. Out of the 330 expected instances of syllabic consonants as peaks from the 30 EIE subjects, 326 instances or 99% of the expected number of occurrences are cases of vowel insertion. Only in 4 instances i.e. 1% were syllabic consonants used. The vowels that were inserted are all full vowels maintaining their strong qualities. This has been found to have serious implications for the rhythm of Standard English which relies heavily on the alternation between stressed and unstressed syllables and the obscuration of unstressed syllables to achieve its typical stress-timed rhythm.
Keywords: syllabic consonants, unstressed syllables, Isoko English, perceptual approach, stress-timed rhythm.
The linguistic situation in Nigeria is by no means homogenous. As a result, there are diversities of languages about 500 (Gordon, 2005) resulting in different sub-varieties of the English spoken in Nigeria (Elugbe, 1994). These sub-varieties can be identified on regional, tribal, social or educational basis such that there are varieties termed as Hausa English, Yoruba English, Igbo English, Isoko English etc (Akere, 1980; Jibril, 1982a; Udofot, 2000). Very few of these sub-varieties (such as Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo) have been extensively researched upon. Many others, especially the minority languages among which Isoko is, have not been well researched. This paper seeks to examine how Educated Speakers of Isoko English (EIE) make use of syllabic consonants as peaks of unstressed syllables. This is an essential characteristic of Standard English which influences to a great extent, its typical stress-timed rhythm.
One of the major characteristics of the English language is the distribution of strong and weak syllables (Gimson, 1975; Roach, 1991; Roca and Johnson, 1999; Akinjobi, 2004, 2009) which is largely determined by stress. Roach states that the terms “strong” and “weak” are used to refer to phonetic characteristics of syllables which could partly be described in terms of stress such that strong syllables are said to be stressed and weak syllables unstressed. He further maintains that any strong syllable will have a vowel phoneme as its peak while weak syllables can only have at its peak the weak sounds /І/ and /ə/ or any of the syllabic consonants /ṃ, ṇ, ḷ/.
Gimson (1975:33) observes that a crucial feature of English pronunciation is that unstressed syllables tend to be weak and have obscure qualities while Akinjobi (2004) notes that a major area of deviation from Standard English usage for Nigerian speakers of English is in the realization of vowels and syllables that occur in unstressed syllables. These vowels have a general tendency to shorten and become of lower intensity because more often than not, a vowel occurring in an unstressed position is reduced to /ə/ or totally elided. In some instances, especially at word boundaries, the elided vowel is replaced by syllabic consonants which then constitute the peak of such unstressed syllable.
A passage of about 158 words containing 11 instances of syllabic consonants occurring in the words panel session, threatened, threatening, reckon, examination and student was read by 30 speakers of Educated Isoko English (EIE) and a British speaker, who served as control, to further confirm the established use of syllabic consonants in Standard British English (SBE). Thus, 330 instances of the use of syllabic consonants as syllable peaks as produced by the 30 EIE subjects were expected to occur.
The subjects for the study were selected randomly across the sciences, social sciences and the humanities disciplines, excluding those who have been trained extensively in spoken English. They were either undergraduate students or degree holders who never encountered the English language in English-as-first-language contexts and speak Isoko as their first language.
Three hundred and thirty (330) expected instances of syllabic consonants were analyzed perceptually, using simple frequency counts and percentages.
Table 1: EIE realizations of the -nel in Panel.
*SBE: Standard British English
Two variants of the second syllable in panel were produced by EIE subjects as nel and nɛl constituting 77% and 23% respectively. In no instance was the appropriate SBE form /nḷ/ produced.
Table 2: EIE realizations of the -sion in Session.
*SBE: Standard British English
The /ʃṇ/ of session was realized as /ʃɔn/ in 28 instances, amounting to 94% of the total number of its occurrences and as /ʃɔ:/ and /ʃɔ:n/ in an instance each i.e. 3% respectively. In none of the instances was the appropriate SBE /ʃṇ/ realized.
Table 3: EIE realization of the -dent in Student.
*SBE: Standard British English
The word student appeared five times in the read passage. Two vowel types are frequently inserted by the EIE subjects between /d/ and /n/ in the second syllable of student. This amounts to 130 instances of /e/ insertion between /d/ and /n/ and 20 cases of /ɛ/ insertion between /d/ and /n/. In other words /-dṇt/ is realized as /dent/ in 87% of the total expected number of occurrences while in 13% it was as realized /-dɛnt/. In no instance was it realised appropriately as /dṇt/.
Table 4: EIE realization of the -tened in threatened.
In the production of threatened, four variants of /-tṇd/ are realized by the EIE subjects as /-tind/, /-ti:nd/, /-tin/ and the expected production /-tṇd/. /-tind/ is realized in 11 instances constituting 37% of the expected number of occurrences; /-ti:nd/ in 16 occasions amounting to 53% and /-tin/ in an instance i.e. 3%. Only in two occurrences which constitute 7% was the expected realization, /-tṇd/, produced.
Table 5: EIE realizations of the -ten in threatening.
In 28 instances, the /tṇ/ in threatening was produced as /-tin/ i.e. 93% of the expected number of occurrences and the expected realization, /tṇ/ occurred in just 2 instances constituting 7% of the total expected number of occurrences.
Table 6: EIE realization of the /kṇ/ reckon.
*SBE: Standard British English
Table 7: EIE realization of the /ʃṇ/ in examination.
*SBE: Standard British English
All thirty EIE subjects realized the /ʃṇ/ in examination as /ʃɔn/. In none of the instances was the appropriate /ʃṇ/ produced.
In summary, rather than use /ṇ/ and /ḷ/ as peaks of the unstressed syllables tested, EIE subjects inserted vowels between the preceding consonants and the supposed syllabic consonants. The summary of the use or otherwise of syllabic consonants as peaks of unstressed syllables is presented in the table below. Variants of EIE subjects’ productions are coded USC (Use of Syllabic Consonant) and SVI (Strong Vowel Insertion).
Table 8: Summary of the use of syllabic consonants.
The results of the table above are represented in the pie chart below.
The summation table shows that out of the 330 expected instances of syllabic consonants as peaks from the 30 EIE subjects, 326 instances constituting 99% of the expected number of occurrences are cases of strong vowel insertion (SVI). Only in 4 instances constituting a negligible 1% of all instances were syllabic consonants used. Unlike what obtains in SBE, the vowels that were inserted are all full vowels maintaining their strong qualities. The pie chart shows clearly the negligible use of the appropriate syllabic consonants as peaks in the investigation as opposed to instances of strong vowel insertion.
We have in this paper been able to establish the fact that EIE subjects do not make use of syllabic consonants as peaks of unstressed syllables; rather strong vowels are inserted between the syllabic consonants and the preceding sound. The insertion of strong vowels where syllabic consonants should be peaks could be said to result not only from the inability to reduce strong vowels to /ə/ or maintain the obscurity/ elision of reduced vowels but also because of the strategic tendency of Nigerian speakers of English to simplify consonant clusters into CVCV structures (Jowitt 1991:97).
Although Akinjobi (2004) examined the use of syllabic consonants by Educated Yoruba Speakers of Nigerian English (EYE), her findings are similar to the ones reached in this paper. She observed that the EYE subjects examined often inserted a vowel between the syllabic consonant and the preceding sounds. A few cases of vowel substitution for syllabic consonants were attested but the percentage was not remarkably significant. She further observes that the vowels which were inserted were usually strong. Though there are no instances of vowel substitution in present study, we have been able to obtain similar results confirming the tendency not to make use of syllabic consonants as peaks of unstressed syllables in EIE.
There is a tendency for Nigerian speakers of English not to make use of syllabic consonants as peaks of unstressed syllables. However, this fact needs to be supported by more investigations covering a wide range of data from other sub-varieties of Nigerian English.
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Akinjobi, A., & Ilolo, A. (2013). Syllabic Consonants as Peaks of Unstressed Syllables in Isoko English: A Perceptual Approach. Open Science Repository Language and Linguistics, Online(open-access), e70081925. doi:10.7392/Research.70081925
Akinjobi, Adenike, and Akpoghene Ilolo. “Syllabic Consonants as Peaks of Unstressed Syllables in Isoko English: A Perceptual Approach.” Open Science Repository Language and Linguistics Online.open-access (2013): e70081925. Web. 7 Feb. 2013.
Akinjobi, Adenike, and Akpoghene Ilolo. “Syllabic Consonants as Peaks of Unstressed Syllables in Isoko English: A Perceptual Approach.” Open Science Repository Language and Linguistics Online, no. open-access: e70081925. http://www.open-science-repository.com/syllabic-consonants-as-peaks-of-unstressed-syllables-in-isoko-english-a-perceptual-approach.html.
Akinjobi, A. & Ilolo, A., 2013. Syllabic Consonants as Peaks of Unstressed Syllables in Isoko English: A Perceptual Approach. Open Science Repository Language and Linguistics, Online(open-access), p.e70081925. Available at: http://www.open-science-repository.com/syllabic-consonants-as-peaks-of-unstressed-syllables-in-isoko-english-a-perceptual-approach.html.
1. A. Akinjobi, A. Ilolo, Syllabic Consonants as Peaks of Unstressed Syllables in Isoko English: A Perceptual Approach, Open Science Repository Language and Linguistics Online, e70081925 (2013).
1. Akinjobi, A. & Ilolo, A. Syllabic Consonants as Peaks of Unstressed Syllables in Isoko English: A Perceptual Approach. Open Science Repository Language and Linguistics Online, e70081925 (2013).
Research registered in the DOI resolution system as: 10.7392/Research.70081925.