Assessing the Verb as a Fundamental Element in English

Assessing the Verb as a Fundamental Element in English

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This study assesses the verb as a fundamental element of English. Among the linguistic elements, the verb stands out not only as a ubiquitous, dynamic element, but as the most important of the syntactic elements. This superlative description of the verb is evident on its indispensability in projecting meanings in any expression. Other elements, no doubt, contribute to complete expression, but none can stand alone and make complete utterance structurally and semantically. The verb as the heart and life of expressions expresses action/deed of the nominal, state of the nominal, events about the nominal, behaviours no other elements in their morphological changes can supersede. It is the fundamental nature of this unique element that this paper addresses in order to, recommend further research on the other elements to ascertain possibly, their essential contributions to sentence formation which might result in one or all these elements substituting the verb in its indispensability. In arriving at the unparalled functions of the verb, materials from the libraries and internet were examined. These sources provided the data which furnished the work with the fact needed in ascertaining the verb as an indispensable element for sentence completion, well-formedness, semantic projection and category changing. This changing or functional shifting aids the noun and the adjective in taking care of situations incapable of being represented by these elements.

Chapter One


1.1        Background to the study

Language is a means of communication. As a vehicle of communication, language is seen as an arbitrary system that allows to transmit representations to others. According to Encyclopedia Britannica” language is a system of conventional spoken or written symbols by means of which human beings, as member of a social group and participants in its culture communicate”. Also, Henry Sweet sees language as “the expression of ideas by means of speech sounds combined into words. Words are combined into sentences, this combination answering to that of ideas into thoughts” (qtd in Encyclopedia Britannica). Bernard Bloch & George Trager, see language as “a system of arbitrary vocal symbols by means of which a social group co-operate”

(qtd in Encyclopedia Britannica). Language is the expression of one thought by means of words. By means of language, man is able to inform, express his feelings and emotions, to influence the activities of others and to comport himself with varying degrees of friendliness or hostility towards others. Language is human and non-instinctive method of communicating ideas, feelings and desires.These ideas and feelings are based on one’s environment and therefore on one’s culture. Language then can be defined as human culture expressed in words. It can also be viewed as the vehicle of culture.


The ability to speak or use a language does not only distinguish man from animals, but identifies him as higher than other creatures living on the surface of the earth. Thus language is species-specific to man. According to the Bible, God created Adam and endowed him with the ability to speak” and whatever the man would call each living soul (creature), that was its name”(New World Translation of The Holy Scriptures, Genesis 2:19). If language is human culture expressed in words, the English Language expresses English culture in words. Culture is therefore language imbued and personified.

However, every human language is distinctive. This means that every language has laid down structures which distinguishes it from other languages. Thus, language as a system consists of so many components that make meaning possible. Emphasizing one of its sub-systems, Bolinger says:

Human language is a system of vocal arbitrary communication, using signs composed of arbitrary patterned sound units and assembled according to set of rules, interacting with the experiences of its users. (12)

Language, according to Bolinger is rule-governed – whether spoken or written.

Every element has its distributional properties which makes interaction possible.

The English Language is undoubtedly the most important legacy of the British colonial masters to Nigeria. This language came to Nigeria in 1842 with the coming of the British traders and missionaries. Initially, English was not welcomed because Nigerians did not immediately recognize its value. Gradually,


however, it came to stay as it was adopted as the channel of instruction and “a vehicle for the training of badly needed man power to run the fledgling government services. More menial clerical officers – clerks, accounting assistants, messengers, interpreters, etc were hurriedly trained” Baldeh (2). The English language became a sine qua non for national political, social and economic change.

The absolute essentials of English constrained the constituent Assembly to decide after debates that the English language would continue to be the “only accepted language in the country’s legislative House”. Consequently, English became acceptable by the majority of Nigerians. It is now not only a medium of instruction in schools and colleges, but also a lingua franca, a second and an official language of Nigerians. The acceptance of English in Nigeria made it assume three basic functions namely accommodation, participation and social mobility. Banjo sees the English Language as “the language of social and economic power…” (65).

It is the language of international commerce … in the sense that orders are made in English. It is the language of record keeping, even when transactions are with non-English speaking countries.

Accommodation as a function of language exists at the level of oral communication. This is noticeable among market women and street vendors who use it in advertising their goods and hawking their wares. It also bridges the problems of differences in languages. In a situation in which the participants in


the communication do not share a common indigenous language, it helps to alleviate the fear of ethnic domination.

In participation, English will remain for a long time the language that guarantees one’s admission to parliament, educative, administrative and accommodative sectors of the country. Social mobility indicates that a person who has the facility on the use of English is regarded as being successful, brilliant and intelligent. Similarly, Baldeh (3) observes that “to obtain a lucrative job in the public or private sector, a pass in English was a necessary prerequisite”. According to him, “to be educated was, in the eyes of many, to be versed in the English language”. He also observes that “from being a catalyst for political emancipation, the English Language … has now apparently become the catalyst for nationalism, political consciousness, and inter-tribal comprehensibility. It is, the tool for social, political and educational expression in the vast, multi-ethnic, multi-racial country. In a nut shell, English provides Nigerians with a window on the world” Baldeh (7). English thus becomes “a statue symbol and a superior language”. Our time-minutes, hours, days, weeks and months are recorded and calculated in English and thought about them is in English” as well. Market haggling is also done in English (or pidgin). Thoughts, ideas, even one’s native thoughts are expressed in English.

Language is a habit, and habit is a part of one’s nature. The speaker speaks and words flow in their natural sequence. Igbo-English, English-Igbo. If a speaker is conscious of the speech situation, he resorts to one code. A language


or a variety of language may emerge as a result of merging two languages. For example, the mutual accommodation of European and West African languages has yielded “Pidgin English”.

Undoubtedly, the English language has come to stay in Nigeria as the lingua franca, official language or a vehicular language, and like other languages it has its patterns and structures. The patterns and structures are obvious in its four categories namely syntax, semantics, phonology and morphology. Syntax is concerned with the study of the ways in which words are put together to form sentences and the principles underlying them. Words are assembled into phrases and phrases are put together to form sentences. Semantics according to Alo is the study of linguistic meaning. Alo says “semantics is concerned with such phenomena as word meaning, utterance meaning, sentence meaning, ambiguity, semantic problems …”(21). Phonology according to Alo is “the level of linguistic description which describes the system and patterns of sound that occur in language” (15). Oyeleye, L. and Olateju, M. define phonology as “the study of how speech sounds of a language are organized into a system/pattern” (11). Morphology is concerned with the formation of words and their structural properties.

Talking on the structures of English recalls such things as phrases, clauses and sentences. The patterns of English have their foundations on the parts of speech. The English parts of speech are categorized into: nouns, verbs, adverbs, pronouns, adjectives, prepositions, determiners, interjections and conjunctions.


It is interesting to point out that each of these parts of speech has its distinctive roles which when combined, determine the pattern of English. The various parts of speech are made up of different kinds of words. Thus words fall into one class or another. The parts of speech are divided into two main categories namely:

i.             The major parts of spee

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