A Minimalist Account of Interrogative Word Movement in Ibibio


Okon, E. A.


This work presents a description of the minimalist account of interrogative word movement in the Ibibio language, a morphologically rich Lower Cross language of the Niger-Congo phylum spoken in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria. The Ibibio language attests specific interrogative items for questioning human nouns, ànìé 'who', non-human nouns, nsòó/ǹtághà 'what/why', value and quantity, ìfáñ 'how much/many', time nsínì 'what time', places úké/mmọó 'where' and processes, dìé, 'how'. These question words which are base-generated within the VP are subsequently moved overtly or covertly to the SPEC-TP domain for case checking and SPEC- CP for focus. This work adopts Chomsky (1995) Minimalist Program (MP) framework to account for the movement of these words. As a feature driven model, the MP regards sentence derivation simply as the pairing of sound and meaning guided by economy principles of Shortest Move, Greed and procrastinate. Movement is understood to mean copy and delete. The work establishes that interrogative words move to different positions in overt syntax. It is observed that interrogative words which are base-generated within the VP Shell are overtly displaced for case activation for interrogative word subjects at the SPEC-TP. The study also observes that the movement of the interrogative words within the VPShell can be covert for interrogative objects. It therefore postulates that the LF raising of the interrogative word is covert for interrogative word objects. The work also reveals that object interrogative words can be moved to the left periphery of the sentence identified as I SPEC-C – a FOCUS Phrase. Once they are moved, they are obligatorily followed by the focus marker ké in the language and such leftward unbounded movement is for some prominence on the focused item.


case, feature, interrogative, movement, left periphery


Language is a complex and structured arbitrary vocal system in which words are merged for communication. It is the output of the cognitive process in which the stock of lexical items are minimally ordered for communication. Communication also includes question formation or posing a question for an answer. With the human mind as a language processor, it is assumed that lexical/phrasal elements/interrogative words are re-arranged to produce different questions or sentences. Interrogative words are words used in asking questions.


Unlike the English language, interrogative words in Ibibio do not have the 'whs' beginning their questioning words at any instance, but they occupy the SPEC-TP in Ibibio and SPECCP for non-in-situ derivations in both languages. Under the minimalist view, movement of interrogative words can take place before and after the Spell-out. Movement operations which take place before and after the Spell-out are called overt and covert movements respectively. Olaogun (2016) observes that overt movement is feature movement in addition to pied-piping of the element that bears the features, while covert movement is limited to feature movement without pied-piping. Movement of interrogative phrases in the Ibibio language is both overt and covert . The Ibibio language makes a distinction between two kinds of questions. One is a question which requires a Yes-No answer, while the other does not require a Yes-No answer. According to Essien (1990), the latter kind of question is referred to as wh-questions in the sense that the equivalent question words in English contain 'wh' except how. In the Ibibio language, question words do not contain 'wh'. Though this work identifies interrogative words, but it uses the term wh-movement to characterise the process of movement. Therefore, wh-movement is an attested phenomenon in the language. Ibibio displays two patterns with respect to the position of wh-words in overt syntax. The two patterns include wh-in-situ for the subject and the object positions (in which the interrogative word is basegenerated) and non-in-situ (in which the interrogative word is optionally moved). However, the syntactic behaviour of interrogative words in this language displays three possibilities and each of them is both grammatical and acceptable in the language


This study is based on the tenets of Chomsky's (1995) grammatical model, the Minimalist Program. The predicate Internal Subject Hypothesis (PISH), one of the tenets of MPassumes that the subject of a clause originates from the VPShell. In relation to this study, it is observed that the interrogative word subject is base-generated within the VPand is subsequently raised to the SPEC-TP where its nominative case feature can be checked. The checking operation that is licensed by movement is the elimination of the [-interpretable] formal features. The study equally observed that within VP Shell, the movement of the interrogative word object is covert where the accusative case feature is checked within the merge condition. On the other hand, an interrogative word can be displaced from a motivated case object position to a position of focus. This position is not within the minimal clause. This type of interrogative word movement is described as a leftward unbounded movement. From the above, it is observed that the Ibibio interrogative words can be found at the subject and object positions of the sentence as well as at the inter-clausal domain where is preposed to the left periphery.


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