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The problem of the number of senses in an Igbo verb has remained topical in Igbo syntax and semantics. The structuralist and generative analysis of the Igbo verbs that dominated previous studies neglected the study of individual lexical meanings in favour of the compositional semantic structure of larger phrasal and sentential units. Furthermore, polysemy and sense of polysemous words were insufficiently treated in formal semantics. Therefore, it could be said that the sense relations and cognitive domains of the Igbo verbs in relation to the structures formed in context were outside the focus of previous works. The main aim of this research work, therefore, is to explore the cognitive domains of the sense relation of two Igbo perception verbs hụ́ and nụ́ in contexts using the polysemy analysis of lexical semantics. The study adopts the descriptive research method. The work used appraisal instrument to examine two Igbo literary works: Ihe Aghasaa, the Igbo translation of the novel Things Fall Apart, written by Chinua Achebe and Jụọ Obinna, written by Tony Ubesie, by identifying the semantic vagaries of the verbs hụ́ and nụ́ in the Igbo literary works. The method of data collection is through concordance using the e-logon software. The result from the data analysis shows that the verbs are polysemous with six and four meanings respectively as single morphemes and seven and four senses as inherent complement verbs (ICV). Furthermore, translation has effect on the lexical uses of hụ́ and nụ́ in the novels. Finally, the result got in relation to image schemata of hụ́ and nụ́ shows that they do not only encode the acquisition of sense data through the eyes, ears, nose and tongue; rather, through radial categorization, they embody semantic extension from physical perception to mental cognition.



1.1  Background to the study

The question of how many senses an Igbo verb possesses has remained a nagging issue in Igbo syntax and semantics. It has remained a topical issue in the study of Igbo verbs. In pursuance of the answer to the above question, Emenanjo (1975a), (1975b), (1978) and (2005); Nwachukwu (1983), (1984); Uwalaka (1983); Ubahakwe (1976),  have argued for or against the transitivity, complementation, ergativity or otherwise of the Igbo verbs. While Nwachukwu (1983; 1984) and Ubahakwe (1983) see Igbo verbs as inherently transitive, Emenanjo (2005:479) regards transitivity as a “surface structure feature which does not help to classify Igbo verbs according to the complement they select.” On his own part, Nwachukwu, sees “the Igbo verb root as empty,” following the syntactic approach, (Nwachukwu 1987:83). But Emenanjo says that “... rather than transitivity, ... complementation is itself the category that allows the correct generalisation to be framed,” (2005: 479). The assertion by Emenanjo (1975b; 1986; 2005) is that the Igbo verb is made up of two mutually obligatory and complementary elements; which are the verbs themselves and, the complement of the bound cognate noun (BCN).

Furthermore, in the twenty-first century, Uchechukwu (2011) adopts the cognitive approach using the image schema analysis of the Igbo verb. He argues that the Igbo verb root is not empty, neither does it become practically meaningless as a result of an increase in number of complexes formed with it, (contrary to Nwachukwu 1987); instead, through an image schema, one could establish a cognitive motivation of its semantics in the form of its root schema. Furthermore, Okeke (2012) addresses the above issue using the theory of thematic role of the functional grammar, where transitivity and verb meaning are considered to be a continuum (because they take a more semantic approach) rather than a binary category according to traditional grammar, since it takes into account the degree to which an action affects its object and also the type of expression involved. Using the Igbo psychological verbs, Okeke (2012) shows that transitivity cannot wholly take care of the verbs and the number of arguments they can possess to make a grammatical sentence, hence, the introduction of the theta roles in showing Igbo verb meanings.

The above overview shows that at present, there are three major schools of thought in relation to Igbo verbs and their meaning properties. Ubahakwe (1983) and Nwachukwu (1983; 1984) are the major adherents of the argument that transitivity is an essential category in the verb phrase. Emenanjo (2005:495) is of the opinion that transitivity is a “relic of pre-formal linguistics which has resisted formalisation,” hence, his support for complementation. On his own part, Uchechukwu (2004, 2005 & 2011) supports the application of the cognitive linguistics approach which shows the Igbo verb root to have meanings that arise from specific image schemata and their metaphoric and metonymic extensions.

The above investigations by various scholars are all based in the area of studies in Igbo syntax. No wonder Emenanjo (1991:129) says, “ is a fact of history of Igbo linguistics that more has been written on the area of syntax than on any other aspect of the language.” Thus, according to Uchechukwu (2005), some other aspects including both the lexical semantics and lexicon have hitherto received little attention. It is worthy of note, to state that the first major treatment of the Igbo lexicon as a linguistic problem was Lord (1975). The author identifies the semantic composition of the (verb + verb) compound and (verb + suffix) verbs in forming what she identifies as ‘action - result’ meaning. The insight is that in any such component, the first verb codes the initial ‘action/event’ while the second component codes the ‘result’. This was a major breakthrough which Lord (1975) achieved. In doing that, Lord carried out her investigation from three perspectives. The first was in terms of a transformational derivation of the verb + verb and the verb + suffix compounds. Lord concluded that “derivation by transformation rule was not a viable option,” (Lord 1975:35). The second perspective was to generate the Igbo verb compounds by phrase structure rules. She also dumped this as well, for the simple reason that these compounds rather involve considerations of word formation rather than constituent structure. Finally, the third perspective was her solution to have all compounds as lists in the lexicon and to account for the speakers productivity capacity by means of a combinatory rule that would have to be stated in the grammar. But Lord still sees the ‘action result’ relationship as part of the meaning of the compound and not just an inference that is based on the speaker’s experience. In her conclusion, Lord says that the meaning component also has to form part of the combinatory rule. However, she did not explore this aspect further.

Later works on the Igbo verb within the framework of generative theory (see Uchechukwu 2005) did not go into lexical semantics as this was not the issue they set out to address. Instead, their focus was on the phrase structure as a projection of the lexical properties of the verb, and on the syntactic theory of argument (Emenanjo 1984; Nwachukwu 1987; Manfredi 1991; Hale, Ihionu & Manfredi 1995 and Mbah 1999).

Another major treatment of the Igbo verbs that investigates their lexical semantics to an extent is Uwalaka’s (1997) use of Fillmore’s case grammar model. Through this approach, the author was able to form semantic groups of Igbo verbs and to also highlight some of their syntactic characteristics, like the subject-object switching of some experiential verbs. But, as her work was focused on a “semantico-syntactic analysis” of the Igbo-verb, the establishment of the syntactic correlations of the verbs’ semantics was of paramount importance; their lexical semantics as such was not fully explored.

Later in the 1970’s and early part of 1990’s, a different treatment of the Igbo verb root was seen in Igbo lexicography, where the Igbo verb roots were presented as lists of lexical items. This approach was spear-headed by Williamson (1972), and later Igwe (1999) in their various English-Igbo dictionaries. The Igbo dictionaries, especially Williamson (1972), have developed a system of writing Igbo verbs with many English equivalents which naturally will lead to the conclusion that all Igbo verbs are polysemous. However, polysemy always involves contextualization, which is, delimiting the various possible meanings of a lexical item b

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