This was written a few years ago. I never got to finish it …
I am wondering if –ghi, which seems to be the negation marker in Igbo Izugbe, has developed as a result of writing down the language. According to Igwe (1999), the difference between an affirmative and a negated sentence is tonal, see (1) and (2). However, if you omit tone marks, as seems to be done frequently by Igbo speakers, then you could not distinguish between these two sentences (imagine the object was the same). –ghi might have become negation marker just to avoid that ambiguity.
(1) Í cì ánú.
‘You are (were) carrying meat.’ (Igwe, 1999)
(2) Í !cí ákhú.
‘You are (were) not carrying / did not carry palm nuts.’ (Igwe, 1999)
So when studying Igbo, I learned that the negation is formed by adding the suffix –ghi as in (4).
(3) O bu Omenka.
‘It is Omenka.’
(4) O bughi Omenka.
‘It is not Omenka.’
Soon I noticed that there is also negation without –ghi, such as in (5) and (6).
Name: ‘Nobody knows tomorrow’
(6) Igbo nwere eze.
Proverb: ‘The Igbo do not have a king.’
A friend gave the following explanation: “In some popular expressions, negation is also realized with a stepped-down tone on the last vowel of the verb, making the addition of -ghi unnecessary. In some cases, it will be quite wordy to use -ghi; in others, the use -ghi will confer an entirely different meaning from what the statement intends to convey. We shall see from examples that this style refers mostly to accepted statements of habit, standard expressions that have become generally acceptable over the years and even across generations.”
However, Igwe (1999) provides an example which shows negation without -ghi and which is not a popular expression, see (7).
(7) Ó !mé yá. (Igwe, 1999)
‘He didn’t do it.’
Igwe (1999) also shows that -ghi marks emphasis; compare (8) with (7). He writes: “-ghi/-ghi suffix; expresses ‘emphasis’, ‘insistance’. (The vowel harmonizes with that of the preceeding syllable. It may be the bearer of the second tone required for a negative verby form, hence the mistaken notion that it expresses the sense ‘not’.)”
(8) Ò mé !ghí yá. (Igwe, 1999)
‘He didn’t do it at all.’
Igwe (1999) also gives a sentence with –ghi that is not negated – see (9) -, which furthermore supports that -ghi is not the negation marker.
(9) Únú rútéléghí, ányì àgáwá. (Igwe, 1999)
‘As soon as you arrive, we shall set off.’
Miestamo (2005) writes that the distinction between affirmative sentence and negated sentence in Igbo has to do with the presence or absence of a vowel prefix and a variation in tone. He furthermore writes that -ghi often appears in negated sentences but is not obligatory in negations and can also appear in affirmative sentences. This might support Igwe (1999) but it is more likely that Miestamo did not do any own research and, instead, got his data from Igwe.
The important bit in Miestamo (2005) is the mentioning of the vowel prefix. I always thought that it agrees with the subject while Miestamo mentions it as a part of negation. In (10) and (11), it looks like a– agrees with the subject, while, in (12) and (13), a– seems to coincident with –ghi.
(10) O daghi mba.
‘He is not lazy.’ (Uchechukwu, 2006)
(11) Emeka adaghi mba.
‘Emeka is not lazy.’ (Uchechukwu, 2006)
(12) Nke a bu …
‘This is a …’ (Ohiri-Aniche and Emenanjo, 1990)
(13) Nke a abughi …
‘This is not a …’ (Ohiri-Aniche and Emenanjo, 1990)
Igwe, G. E. 1999. Igbo-English Dictionary. Ibadan: University Press Plc.
Miestamo, M. 2005. Standard Negation. The Negation of Declarative Verbal Main Clauses in a Typological Perspective (Empirical Approaches to Language Typology 31). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Ohiri-Aniche, C., and Emenanjo, E. 1990. Igbo Ekele: Igbo for non-native speakers. Ibadan: University Press Limited.
Uchechukwu, C. 2006. Grammatiktheorie mit lexikographischem Ausblick (LINCOM studies in lexicography 1). München: LINCOM.