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          This research focuses on the phonology of Yukuben, a language spoken by about 25,000 speakers in Sabongida Yukuben of Takum Local Government Area in the east of Taraba State in Nigeria, and North West Province, Menchum division, west of Furu-Awa, near Nigeria border in Cameroon. In the absence of a population census, a rough estimate would put their population at over 500,000.

          Yukuben is however a generally accepted term (oxonomy) for an area, an ethnic group and a language located mainly at the eastern edge of Nigeria (but also in the neighbouring part of Cameroon). The name Yukuben was derived from Jukun (the language of Takum) which serves as lingua franca in Taraba. The speakers call themselves Yukuben, and the language is locally called Uhumkiji.

          Today, the Yukuben is widely spread across such states as Kaduna, Yola etc. in Nigeria and also in North West regions in Cameroon. The speakers are also found in every part of the country, and in many African countries such as Niger, Cameroon, to mention a few.

(Source: Lewis M. Paul (ed) 2009, “Yukuben a language of Nigeria”)


          According to oral tradition, the Yukubens originated from Iden in the north neighbouring Cameroon. A large part moved down to their present location on the plains at the foot of some hills namely Kichieni, Sabo, Iya, Kehensin, Oluko, Kalakir and Ito during the British colonization. Since Cameroon was colonized by the French, there was a boundary that separated both countries and the people.

         Their oral history also has it that the Kuteb once tried to invade the Jukuns, but the Jukuns fought back and were victorious. Then, the Kuteb tried another plot on Yukuben sometime around 1992. Failingly, the Kuteb went back to fight the Jukun again, who eventually put an end to their will of invasion.

          Oral tradition also has it that presently there is no king title in Takum since there is no proven superiority nor is there a conclusive agreement between the Jukun and Kuteb. King in Jukun is called Kuru and Okue in Kuteb. Though, history has it that the Jukuns once proposed the king be called ‘chief’ instead of both contradicting names, but the Kuteb claimed the name ‘chief’ was foreign and unacceptable.

          However, oral tradition states that the Yukuben, being able to drive the Kuteb away afforded them the opportunity of owning their kingdom and having their king title as the “Udeng Uquen of Uhumkji land”.



          The speakers of Yukuben call themselves Uhumkiji and call their language Yukuben (“spiritual being”). The origin of the name can be traced to a time during the slave trade, when a rebellious slave from Uhumkiji refused to work and was being tortured. Suddenly, bees emerged from nowhere, stung and scared everybody away. Following this scenario, slaves and slave traders gave the name Yukuben (“child of a witch”) to the slave and people from Uhumkiji generally.

          Most Yukuben speakers, including the younger generations are multilingual; using Yukuben, Hausa, Kuteb, Jukun and in rear cases English. English language is the medium of instruction in schools, while Yukuben is used as a second language. The older generation are not quite as fluent in English as the younger generation, who through education; hold positions in the administration and the public service, including the police.


          Going by the Joshua Project figure in 2010, the Yukuben speakers are estimated to be about 23,000 in Nigeria and 25,000 in all countries. My respondent on this language however argues that the Yukuben population will by now be more than five hundred thousand (500,000). This can be justified considering the fact that Yukuben speakers are spread across the country and most have settled in different regions.

          Yukuben speakers are found in any part of the country where farming exists. This is based on the fact that most of the Yukubens are farmers with thousands of settlements in different parts of the country. For example, a large population of the Yukubens is found occupying a large area in Kaduna state, Adamawa state and many other Northern states in Nigeria. Even in the west; Yukubens are found in large population in states like Ondo, Osun etc. as farmers.


          There are three distinct dialect of Yukuben, recognized according to the main villages or towns where each dialect is spoken. The dialects are: Lisa, Shibun and Fete. Also, there are other languages spoken within the Sabongida Yukuben which belong to other ethnic groups.  These languages are Lufu, Malam-she and Kapia, the three being Jukun languages, then Genuwa, Acha, kpampo and Lisam form Kuteb.

          There are alternative names to Yukuben and they are: Ayikiben, Balaabe, Boritsu, Nyikobe, Nyikuben, Oohum, Uhumkiji, Uuhum, Uuhum-Gigi, and Gohum. These names are given to them by different ethnic groups in an attempt to address them. However, the two popular names with which they are always addressed as are Yukuben and Uhumkiji.



          The Yukubens are Christians with cases of Traditional Religion which according to them is taken as part of the culture of the land. Since Christianity came later, the people believe that their Traditional Religion (Idol worshiping) should not be stopped. They still worship some idols which they believe protects them from witchcraft and burglary. Some of these idols are: Oohgum, Khima (god of thunder), Bahmbie etc.

          During the British colonization, Christianity was introduced by missionaries and some of the people abandoned their original clan cults for a reformed form of Christianity (CRCN: Christianity Reform Church of Nigeria), and many other denominations.

          It is their belief that all the Yukuben sons and daughter must be Christians of good faith, and should have no reason to change their religion. This is evident in the fact that no single mosque is found in Sabongida Yukuben. It is therefore likely that a Yukuben indigene may not hear or know any Muslim prayer or salutation in his or her lifetime . However, influence based on trade, marriage, education, and some other social factors between the Yukubens and Muslim Hausas, may in no time introduce Islam to the Yukubens.


          Except for the educated Yukubens, who occupy positions in administration, police and in educational sector, most Yukubens are farmers. This would account for the reason why they are found more in different settlements in all parts of the country.

          The major crop is guinea-corn, which they call “Ihin”. They also grow crops such as peanuts, maize, rice, cassava, soya beans, palm, cocoa, cola nut and different varieties of vegetables. They also engage in hunting, carpentry, basketry, gourd carving etc.


          There is a formal family introduction of the male and female families. Then, the male or groom’s family present palm oil (in a calabash) and a fowl (cock) to the in-laws. Other gifts, usually bush meats like grass cutter may be presented.

          After the approval by the bride’s family, a wedding date is chosen. On the wedding day, the groom’s family provides locally bade beer (‘Besen, also called ‘Burukutu’) mixed with honey. Then, the attendants drink, dance and celebrate.


          The Yukubens have a king title. The king is called the ‘Udeng Uquen’ of Uhumkji land. At the level of the family, the husband is the head of each home. Each extended family also has a chief who is the head of compound.


                   Yukuben culture is highly enriched with traditional practices, which are often reflected in their various festivals at different times and seasons. The most common and celebrated festival among the Yukubens is the annual “Kukyib Festival” which is festival for appeasing the gods. This masquerade festival is considered the biggest celebration in the land.

          Another big celebration is the circumcision. The festival is called “Kukyib Kamang” among them. This circumcision is only observed for the men as sign or a celebration that ushers the boys (between the age 10-15) into adulthood. Other celebrations include death, marriage, chieftaincy, coronation etc.

          Yukubens’s mode of dressing is similar to that of Jukun. In the olden days, women use leaf to cover their private parts while men use bark of the tree, called ‘Isang’ among them. A Yukuben female child or woman kneels down to greet, the same way the Yoruba’s do, while a Yukuben male child or man will only squat while greeting.

          Yukubens also have a number of cultural food like Tuwo (bunna). The major drink in the land is called Besen (Burukutu).




  AFRO-ASIATIC     NILO-SAHARA                            NIGER-KORDOFANIAN          KHOISAN


                                                                NIGER- CONGO                                       KORDOFANIAN




                                                         PLATEAU      JUKUNOID           CROSS- RIVER        BANTOID


                                                SOURCE: WILLIAMSON (1982)


          This work comprises five chapters in all. Chapter one covers the general background and introduction of the study, quits to historical background, and their socio-cultural profile like, occupation, religion, population, tradition, culture and festivals etc. The chapter also contains the languages genetic classification, theoretical framework, data collection and analysis.

          Chapter two focuses on the basic phonological concepts like sounds inventory, which comprises consonants and vowels together with tonal and syllable inventory, sound distribution and distinctive features.

          Chapter three centres on the phonological processes that are attested in the language. It explains such processes as in the language like labialization, nasalization, homorganic assimilation, vowel harmony etc.

          Chapter four deals with the tonal/syllable processes as attested in the language while chapter five covers the summary and conclusion of the study.


          Generative phonology, as in Chomsky and Halle (1968), will be used in this study of Yukuben phonology. The basic goal of generative phonology is to express the link between sound and meaning (Chomsky 1965). It gives the rule of how the mind perceives sounds and how those sounds are produced with the interpretation of utterances. Generative phonology accounts for linguistic intuition, accent, speech error and language acquisition among others.

          Generative phonology is one of the most recently used optimality theory. In 1959, Chomsky and Halle worked on generative phonology with knowledge of the sequential constraints, which are responsible for the fact of speakers in language to have a sense of sounds like in their native language. Generative phonology is the description on how phonological rules can be converted into phonological representation and the capturing of the distinctive sounds in contrast in a language (Hyman 1975:19).

          Generative phonology focuses on grammar as consisting a set of finite rules operating upon a finite vocabulary, and capable of generating an infinite set of sentences. According to Lyons (1970), the rules and structures generated through generative phonology are like syntax, “recursive”. For instance, one could say;

‘This is the man that married the girl that wrote the book    that was stolen by my friend that lives in London’.

One could therefore say that a generative syntax or phonology explains the grammar that is capable of generating an infinite number of recursive rules of operating upon a finite vocabulary.


         According to Hyman (1975:80), phonological structure is an abstract phonemic representation, which postulates the rules that are derived from various surface realizations. In postulating the underlying form at the systematic phonemic level from which surface alternatives have systematic relationship termed linguistically significant generalizations, there are three representations in GP, they are highlighted and explained below:


          Underlying representation is the non-predictable parts of words. It is a form with abstract representation existing in the linguistic competence of a native speaker.


          Phonological rules are predictable rules. According to Hyman (1975), they are derivational sequence of items from an underlying level to a phonetic level.

Example of phonological rule is the rule that inserts a vowel to break a sequence of consonant (consonant cluster) in Yoruba. It cab be written thus:

i.e.     Ø                  V/C               C

          Ø                   [+syll.] / [+cons]                       [+cons]


According to Hyman (1975), it represents possible pronunciation of forms in the realization of speech and at the surface level.


          The data for this research will be collected using “Language Informant” to elicit data. The Ibadan word list of four hundred (400) basic lexical items will be used in data collection.

          The method of the collection is through direct interviews with the informants (language helper) alongside the usage of the Ibadan word list, which contain items that are illuminating and capable of making a linguistically significant generalization.

          The information concerning the two informants used in this research are given below:

          Informant 1

NAME:       Augustin Bako

AGE:          35yrs

LANGUAGE SPOKEN:         Yukuben, Hausa, Yoruba, Jukun, English

RELIGION:          Christianity


OCCUPATION:   Security Man

ADDRESS:          No. 1 Sabongida Yukuben, Takum Local Government, Taraba State.


Informant 2

NAME:       Bako Adamu

AGE:          90yrs

LANGUAGE SPOKEN:         Yukuben, Hausa, Jukun, Kuteb

RELIGION:          Christianity


OCCUPATION:   Forest Guard (retired)

ADDRESS:          No.4 Sabongida Yukuben, Takum Local Government Taraba State.

MARITAL STATUS: Married         


          With the view of capturing linguistically significant generalizations of the language under study, the analysis of the corpus will be carried out by transcribing all linguistic corpus collected accurately, in order to discover the stands that are attested in the language, in addition to some other suprasegmental features. The data will be organized to bring out all inventories of the distinctive phonemes and their features.

          The distribution of the data is also determined alongside the syllable structure, phonological processes and tonal processes.


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Type Project
Department Linguistics and Communication
Project ID LAC0073
Price ₦3,000 ($9)
Chapters 5 Chapters
No of Pages 130 Pages
Format Microsoft Word

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    Type Project
    Department Linguistics and Communication
    Project ID LAC0073
    Price ₦3,000 ($9)
    Chapters 5 Chapters
    No of Pages 130 Pages
    Format Microsoft Word

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