WORD FORMATION PROCESSES IN NIGERIAN SHORT-MESSAGE SERVICE
One of the features of a living language is that it constantly changes with new words finding their way into the vocabulary of the language. Languages’ vocabularies grow from time to time as a result of new innovations that continuously spring up in different sectors of life and human endeavour; one of which is the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM), in the recent century. This study, therefore, explores the various processes employed by Nigerian Short-Message Service (SMS) writers in generating new words, by critically sampling and analysing some of these new words to see the processes employed by these GSM users. It is discovered in this paper that these GSM users have the capability of reducing any form of expression to the starkest abbreviation. Generally, the new words analysed are in one way or the other in their reduced forms and this may not be far from the characteristic SMS requirement of limited number of characters.
Index Terms—word formation, GSM, SMS, clipping, alphanumeric and coinages
The current computer literacy level in the society has made text-based communication, which comes in various forms; assume a vital position among many people. These text-based communication techniques include chat on-line, text messaging, e-mail, among others. This form of communication (text-based communication) comes with its peculiar style of writing, creating and re-creating new ways of writing. This paper is an attempt in analysing the various word formation processes employed by Nigerians using the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) in text messaging.
GSM, which is an abbreviation for Global System for Mobile Communication, is a communication system that does not use wires and cables. It rather uses radio waves according to Homby (2001), and as such, it can be carried about and be used anywhere. Though GSM can be used for many purposes, it is majorly used for call making and text-messaging. However, this paper focuses on text massages.
Short Message Service (SMS) is a text messaging service component of web, phone or mobile communication systems that makes use of standardised communication protocol which makes it possible for fixed lines or mobile phone devices to exchange short text messages. SMS sends and receives messages of up to 160 characters per page to and from GSM handsets. In other words, there is a limited number of characters that can be sent or received through SMS. This may explain the need to create and re-create new words. This study is inspired by this new form of writing and the styles with which it comes.
Language is in constant change with new words coming into it almost on a daily basis. Though not every new word survives, some eventually find their ways into the vocabulary of the language. Word formation is simply the creation of new words in a language. Fromkin, Rodman and Hyams (2011) observe that new words have quite a number of ways by which they can enter the language. Scholars like Fromkin, Rodman and Hyams (2011); Aronoff an Fudeman (2008); Gries (2006); Peña (2010), among others, have identified these various processes of word formation to include: ISSN 1799-2591
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compounding, derivation, coinage, acronym, blending, clipping, back-formation, etc. However, the focus of this paper is on how Nigerian mobile phone users employ these and other processes in forming new words as are evident in their test messages.
For clarity of purpose, this paper is divided into five sections, with the first and the second sections bordering on introduction and views of various authors on the topic respectively. In the third section, the methodology adopted in the paper is discussed, while the various word-formation processes, alongside the resulting new words as identified in SMS, are provided and discussed in the fourth section. Finally, the fifth and sixth sections respectively summarise and conclude the paper.
II. WORD FORMATION PROCESSES: AN OVERVIEW
A word-formation process may be either or all about the following: a way in which an entirely new word comes into a language and/or a way in which a speaker creates complex words from already existing simpler word(s). In line with this view, Lieb (2013) defines word formation as forming new lexical words from already existing words using a word-formation process.
Bryson (1990) cited in Peña (2010) identifies six ways of creating new words which include: by adding to them, by subtracting from them, by making them up, by doing nothing to them, by borrowing from other languages and by mistake. This paper is not interested in the mechanism of doing nothing to them because it is an aspect of historical semantics. Moreover, in addition to the six mechanisms identified by Bryson (1990), Peña (2010) adds another which is: by combining them. Peña (2010) further explains that when we talk of adding to existing words, we mean the use of processes like derivation and compounding. Scholars like Peña (2010); Fromkin, Rodman, and Hyams (2011); Aronoff and Fudeman (2008); etc posit that derivation and compounding are the more productive ways of adding new words into English. Subtracting from them refers to word formation process as clipping; then borrowing and mistake refer to backformation or misspelling while combining them has to do with acronyms and blending or portmanteaus.
Peña (2010) also defines borrowing as a process that involves the copying of a word from one language (to which it originally belongs) to another. For there to be a case of borrowing, the two languages involved must have come in contact with each other. Borrowed words often do not remain the way they are in the original/source language. However, they are modified to adhere to the phonological, morphological and syntactic patterns of the borrowing language. Languages that are in contact with one another tend to take-on terms they lack from each other.
In the case of compounding, Olsen (2007) calls the process of forming compounds, composition and posits that two stems from the vocabulary are combined to form a new word. On the other hand, Katić (2013) notes that initialisms and acronyms are shortenings which are derived from the initial letters in a phrase or name, explaining that
… while acronyms are pronounced as “single words” (NASA, AIDS), initialisms are pronounced “as a sequence of letters” (DNA, USA). The difference between these two types lies in how the resulting word is pronounced in spoken language, namely letter by letter or without intermission, (p. 3).
In essence, Katić (2013) is saying that initialisms (also called alphabetisms by Zapata 2007), and acronyms are words that are formed from the initial letters of words, (usually names of organisation or a scientific term, etc), which are pronounced as sequences of letters and as words respectively.
Clipping as another word-formation process, according to Peña (2010), is a process that involves the deletion of a part (usually, one or more syllables) of a word and leaving a certain part of the said word. In clipping, the deletion may take place at any position, initial, final or medial. In other words, any part of the word can be clipped off. Shahla and Amir (2013) posit that it involves abbreviating an already existing word.
In back formation, which is another word-formation process, Shahala and Amir (2013) say that it is a word-formation process where a shorter word (base) is being formed by deleting a supposed/imagined affix from an already existing word in a language. This type of word-formation process is, for instance, used to create verbs from nouns ending in ‘-tion/-sion’ or ‘-or/-er’. Kwary (nd.) says it is a creative reduction of a word due to wrong morphological analysis. This is a process of forming a new word by deleting what looks like a typical affix in the language. Shahla and Amir (2013) later summarise their view by saying that back formation is a process that is motivated by analogy.
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(i) the formation of blends is in fact substantially correlated with corpus-derived SPs (Selection Points) and that
(ii) a superficially very similar word-formation process, complex clipping, does not exhibit such a tendency, (p. 549).
Furthermore, Gries (1989) opines that this is an indication that “the intentional creation of blends at least suggests that their coiners make use of a general mechanism involved in the comprehension of words when they form a neologism, as if trying to anticipate comprehenders’ strategies” (p. 549).
As it concerns the empirical findings of other scholars, Peña (2010) carries out a contrastive study of word-formation processes in the English and Spanish languages with a view to contrasting the mechanisms used by the two languages in coining new words. She does this by describing each of the processes with examples in order to determine the frequency and productivity of the mechanisms in each of the languages. The work shows that both languages have corresponding coinage mechanisms which vary in frequency and productivity. Peña (2010:408) goes on to state,
These processes are derivation, compounding, clipping, borrowing, backformation, acronyms and blending. Derivation and borrowing are highly prolific mechanisms in both languages; compounding is very much used in English but not so common in Spanish; the rest are less prolific and more or less equally frequent in both languages.
Shahla and Amir (2013) have carried out a comparative study of the different word-formation processes used in Ilami, a dialect of Kurdish and that of the English language to see if there are similarities or differences in the ways these two languages form new words. By looking at different strategies of word formation like derivation, compounding, blending, abbreviation, etc, they discover that Kurdish makes use of compounding more than English. They also observe that Ilami makes less use of derivation to form new words. In addition, other processes of word formation were discovered to be rarely or never used in Ilami. Shahla and Amir (2013:83) believe that “Kurdish (as a whole and Ilami as a dialect of it), unlike English does not have a written form and is not an official language; these factors remarkably decrease the level of word-formation productivity in this language (and dialect).” Therefore, they are of the view that since word- formation processes have some kind or relation with written language, it should not be surprising that these processes are rare in Ilami.
Plag (2002) writes on word formation processes in English computer mediated communication (CMC and SMS). The summary of his findings show the following:
a. that native languages/dialects influence patterns of writing in CMC and SMS
b. that pronunciation spelling (which usually manifests in SMS/CMC) is not considered as a method of creating new words, but non-standard orthographic representation of words motivated by mother tongue interference
In conclusion, there are various ways by which new words find their ways into the vocabulary of a language – by adding to them (through the use of a processes like derivation and compounding); by subtracting from them (through the use of process like clipping); borrowing; mistakes (which involves a process like back-formation) and combining them (through processes like blending and acronyms). We can also have outright coinage, where an entirely new word is coined. In this case, it does not involve an already existing word. On this basis, as we can see above, linguists have carried out researches on word-formation processes in different languages of the world and also in various aspects of language.
This study is a descriptive survey. The researchers engaged the assistance of six field assistants. Two persons each were appointed for the three locations that serve as the areas of the study. Moreover, the youths (within the age bracket of 15-35) make up the population of the study. The youths are purposely chosen because they are more involved in the use of ICT. The researchers observe that these ‘new words’ in Nigerian SMS are common among the youths and do not necessarily cut across the entire GSM users. With the use of purposive cluster random sampling method, the researchers sampled two urban and one rural area within the southern, northern and western parts of the country. Data were collected from these locations viz: Enugu (for the South) and Kano and Lagos (for North and West respectively), with SMS from mobile phones serving as the primary source of data. The respondents were approached and they granted the researchers and field assistants access to the text messages they sent out within a period of two weeks. Additionally, library and the internet serve as secondary sources from where books, articles and papers relating to the topic were reviewed.
Within the selected locations, five respondents were randomly selected; making a total of fifteen respondents in each area. Eight hundred and ten messages (messages in the English language) were extracted from their phones. This number gives an average of about ten messages per respondent. However, only one hundred and forty (140) items were seen to contain the kind of words the paper is interested in, (i.e. words that are not in normal Standard English forms). Consequently, 140 words were used for this study. The data so collected were descriptively analysed, viz.: clipping, sound reduction involving deletion, alpha-numeric, and initialisms involving abbreviations. In the analysis, emphasis is on what actually happens to the source word (the words from which the new ones emanate). In other words, the analysis focuses on the patterns adopted by the respondents in creating the ‘new words’ from the already existing ones.
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1. cred credit 12. coz/bcos because
2. oft often 13. takia/tkia take care
3. sis sister 14. bhind behind
4. val Valentine 15. bday birthday
5. gen generator 16. pple people
6. esp especially 17. lil little
7. moro tomorrow 18. hols holidays
8. ope hope 19. abt about
9. ave have 20. pix picture
10. api happy 21. bros brother
11. xtian (clipping involving sound deletion) Christian
A look at items 1 – 19 above suggests that there is a pattern by which some letters are laid off and others retained for the respective clips to be formed. 1 – 6 above show that what is clipped off are letters that are at the end of the words with the consequent clip coming from the remaining part of the word-initial letters, back-clipping/apocopation; while in examples 7 – 10, what are clipped off are letters that are at the beginning of the respective words, fore-clipping/aphaeresis, retaining the final part. It is important to note here that example 10 does not adhere strictly to this rule. Apart from reducing the double ‘p’ to a single one, the letter ‘y’ is also substituted for ‘i’, depicting its sound. In examples 11 – 16, clipping takes the form of the first letter of the first syllable (or a letter that sounds like it as in example 11 above) and the whole of the subsequent syllable or a representation (what sounds like it as in 12-13 above) of the syllable. However, in examples 17-19 above, clips are formed by taking letters partly from the beginning as well as the ending of the words. On the contrary, there is no exact pattern involved in forming clips in examples 20-21 above except that the first, second as well as the first, second and third letters in the respective words are retained. It is also noteworthy to point out that ‘pix’ and ‘bros’ in the context of SMS in Nigeria can be used for both singular and plural. Summarily, in all the instances, words are reduced to some of their parts.
B (i) Sound reduction involving deletion of letters
22. wit with 43. dis this
23. wat what 44. dat that
24. wen when 45. dem them
25. wud would 46. fada/moda father/mother
26. wot what 47. dey they
27. fon phone 48. dose those
28. tym time 49. tanx thanks
29. gal girl 50. eva ever
30. tot taught 51. ova over
31. kip keep 52. tite/tyt tight
32. kia care 53. nite/nyt night
33. kot caught 54. shud should
34. skul school 55. buk book
35. bak back 56. luv love
36. unik unique 57. xpanñ expansion
37. gud good 58. evry every
38. hapi happy 59. b be
39. beta better 60. n and
40. laf laugh 61. u you
41. suxes success 62. y why
42. pis/pisful peace/peaceful 63. c see
In the group of words above (examples 22 – 63), ‘new words’ are formed based on the sounds that make up the individual words. Though they are not exact transcription of the ‘original words’ (the words from which they are formed), the pronunciations of the ‘newly formed words’ represent typical Nigerian phonemic realisations of the said words (applied linguists may call this pronunciation – spelling error. For instance, Plag (2002) classifies words in example (Bi) as a product of pronunciation spelling based on the respondents’ native language/dialect). Here, ‘wh’ is represented by ‘w’ (see examples 32 – 36 above); ‘c’, ‘ch’, ‘ck’ and ‘que’ are simply represented by ‘k’ since they are pronounced /k/ in the words where they occur. Interestingly, ‘th’ which is pronounced as /ð/ in 43 – 48 and /θ/ in (49), is represented by ‘d’ and ‘t’ letters respectively. This may likely be as a result of the absence of the two interdental fricatives in Nigerian languages; hence, the sounds are always mispronounced as /d/ and /t/ respectively, using the nearest equivalent in their native languages. Therefore, it is not a surprise that GSM users in Nigeria would do such substitution as we see in examples (43 – 49) above. The reduction of somewhat complex spellings with the nearest letter that also depicts pronunciation is also evident in group B(i) above. Words in examples 59 – 63 are seen as depicting sound because they are intended to be realised when pronouncing the letters used in representing them and, as such, the letters then stand for the words. We should also note that examples B(i) (59 – 63) do not fall into a neat category. They 2218 THEORY AND PRACTICE IN LANGUAGE STUDIES
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also belong to another category (observe example C below). However, we will not also be wrong to present and analyse them as abbreviations of the original words. Observe B (ii) below.
B (ii) Sound reduction involving deletion and alphanumeric
64. 2 to/too 74. 4 for
65. 2giv to give 75. 4eva forever
66. 2d to the 76. 4giv forgive
67. 2day today 77. 4c fore-see
68. 2suxes to success 78. b4 before
69. 9ce nice 79. 4rm from
70. 9ite/9t night 80. 8 ate
71. 1 won 81. gr8 great
72. som1 someone 82. 0 nothing
73. any1 anyone
The final products from examples 64 – 81 are instances of neologism involving alphanumeric. It involves the special use of numerals to represent sounds in words, such that when the numeral is pronounced (sometimes, alongside other letters), the intended word (or something close to it), is realised. The figures ‘1, 2, 4, 8, and 9’ have been observed as being used to represent the words, ‘to’ – /tə/, ‘one/won’ – /wʌn/, ‘night’ – /naɪt/, ‘four/for/fore’ – /fɔ:/ or /fə/ and ‘ate/eight’ – /eɪt/ respectively. These figures are consequently added to form part of spellings of the words where such sounds they represent are found. In (82), SMS senders reduce ‘nothing’ to ‘0’, which is its equivalent in figures.
C. Initialisms involving abbreviations (Coinages)
83. y why 111. gf girlfriend
84. b be 112. bf boyfriend
85. d/di the 113. sth something
86. u you 114. swthrt sweetheart
87. r are 115. fym for your mind
88. n/nd and 116. oyo on your own
89. hr hour 117. IJN in Jesus name
90. bt but 118. asap as soon as possible
91. nt not 119. ftf face to face
92. rd road 120. cwot complete waste of time
93. frnd friend 121. np no problem
94. pls please 122. dnt do not
95. jst just 123. omg oh my God
96. wk week 124. cul see you later
97. bk back 125. btw by the way
98. hw how 126. lol laugh out loud/lots of love
99. yr year 127. pcm please call me
100. wr were 128. idnts I don’t think so
101. rm room 129. b4n bye for now
102. ur your 130. hand have a nice day
103. bdy body 131. mu I miss you
104. nxt next 132. ltns long time no see (colloquial)
105. msg message 133. hru how are you
106. urs yours 134. ruok are you okay
107. mth month 135. idd I don die (pidgin English)
108. bc because 136. txt text
109. a/c account 137. brb be right back
110. av/v have 138. tlc tender loving care
139. hml happy married life
140. lwkmd laugh wan kill me die (pidgin)
In example C, some of the renditions are acronyms while most of them are not. When we consider ‘nd’ in (88) and (89 – 105), we discover that the abbreviations are formed by simply retaining the consonant letters or sounds in the original words while deleting the vowels by that effect. Examples (111 – 114) are formed from the first letters of the two words that respectively make up the compound words. Others (like 106 – 110) are ordinary abbreviations that do not actually have a specific pattern. Moreover, we can also see examples (83 – 87) and ‘n’ in (88) as abbreviations that can be pronounced to realise the words they represent, by ordinarily pronouncing the letters as if in isolation (also observe examples 59-63 above). Moreover, phrases, clauses and even whole sentences are also reduced to abbreviations (see 115 -140 above for illustrations).
V. SUMMARY OF THE FINDINGS
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This paper looks at how GSM users manipulate words and spelling symbols to re-create new words while writing their text messages. The previous section shows that GSM users make use of clipping, sound-reduction and initialisms involving abbreviation in forming these words. Example ‘A’ above shows that clipping in text messages comes in various forms. While some can be said to have a pattern, others are without any identifiable pattern. However, they are understood by the communicators. This can be proved by the communication flow observed in the data extracted from the respondents.
Again, there is a notable difference as well as irregularities that exist between the English sounds and their corresponding spellings. This, from the result of the findings, may be the reason behind the new form of writing exemplified in B above. Here, new words are formed on the basis of one-to-one correspondence between the pronunciation of words and their spelling. It is worthy of note to state that what is done is not outright transcription but a rendition of words is a typical Nigerian pronounceable way that still portrays the original word. Typically, the nearest letters that depict the speech sounds of the words are chosen in the representation and this is usually clear where the actual sound segment is not present in any of the native languages. As observed earlier, Plag (2002) sees it as pronunciation spelling which is not considered as a word creating process, rather to represent non-standard orthographic variants. But our findings see it as a word creating process. This conclusion was reached by observing other text messages (still within the 810 messages collected) sent by the same group of respondents to their elder ones and official colleagues. In these official text messages, the above instances of clips, abbreviations, alphanumeric, etc were written in Standard English forms. This is a clear indication that the respondents are not motivated by non-standard spelling. Furthermore, B (ii) shows a pattern of sound-reduction, which can be called alphanumeric, where numerals like 1, 2, 4, 8 and 9, are used to represent sounds. These can either be used in isolation or alongside other letters in the original word to form words in the language of Nigerian SMS users.
This study also discovers that there is a wide range of abbreviations in use among the SMS writers in Nigeria. As against the general notion that initials are being formed from names of organisations and technical names, we see these GSM users’ ability to reduce almost anything they desire to initials. These abbreviations range from single words to phrases, clauses, as well as sentences. Therefore, we can say that Nigerian GSM users reduce both simple and complex expressions to the starkest abbreviation.
It is also evident from the data presentation and analysis that what we have are all forms of reducing words and expressions because of lack of space, (which may not be far from the characteristic limited number of characters that are required in SMS), impatience on the part of GSM users to type full words (obviously to save time), and cost. As it concerns cost, it was only last year (2013) that the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) reached an agreement with network providers that inter network SMS charge be a flat rate of N4.00 per SMS. Before 2013, it costs N15.00 and above.
Furthermore, this paper discovers that these ‘new words’ are generally interpreted in context. For instance, what is obtainable in the Nigerian context may be different from the Ghana or American context and vice versa. Also, the manner in which words are shortened in the sampled SMS shows that, except within context (i.e., context of use now), these expressions may not be understood. Even though interpretation of SMS is outside the scope of this paper but the analysis reveals that context is the major factor that provides lucid interpretation of these new created forms of writing, which people usually refer to as ‘the language of the GSM.’ Again, (though it is not within the scope of this paper), it is equally important to note that the users of these short forms are mostly youths. Adult GSM users, most times, do not understand this “new language”, and are not usually involved in it. Therefore, the usage is more among the youth, who apparently understand the language. Again, new words are not actually created in that sense of word formation. What we have is a unique writing system in Nigerian SMS that involves the recreation of existing words through clipping, alphanumeric, and sound reduction and deletion.
Every human society depending on its needs require new words from time to time to satisfy such needs. Therefore, new innovations make it needful for new words to come into a language in order to name new things and take care of their present communication needs. Every language needs new words almost every day. However, these words are got by borrowing, derivation, conversion, etc. The most important thing is that new concepts are taken care of in the vocabulary of a language. This is why language cannot remain static – since innovations will not cease. Hence, language keeps growing and developing to meet up with the changes in the society. In recent times, many words have entered the vocabularies of many languages as a result of many innovations; for example, the turn-around in the information communication technology (ICT) requires a great deal of new words to meet the demands of the industry since the words we have presently are not adequate to take care of the new things that come with it. ICT makes it necessary for new words like ‘internet, website, ping, cookies, blog, bookmark, download, etc to enter the vocabulary of the English language as well as for old words like web, surf, and bug, etc., to acquire new meanings. Also, there is need to reduce the number of characters in a text since the number of characters in a mobile phone is restricted. This encourages the use of clipped words, abbreviations and the reduction of series of letters to a single letter or figure that will take care of the sound(s) represented by the series of letters as we saw in the paper. Of all the processes of word
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formation available, Nigerian GSM users make use of clipping, initialisms, abbreviation, alphanumeric, sound-reduction and deletion to create ‘words’ in their SMS.
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Okeke, Chukwuma Onyebuchi was born on the 11th of April, 1978 at Awgu in Enugu State of Nigeria. His educational background runs thus:
2004 – 2006: The University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, Nigeria. M.A. (socio-Linguistics)
2008 –Till date: The University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nsukka, Enugu State, Nigeria. Ph.D. (semantics) in progress
2013 (Spring): The Virtual Linguistics Campus (www.linguistics-online.com), Marburg, Germany. Statement of Accomplishment in Linguistics
2013(July): African Linguistics School, Ibadan, Nigeria, Testimonial of Participation in Linguistics
He is a lecturer in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Presently, he is participating in African Humanities Programme (AHP) organized by the American Council of Learned Society (ACLS) to complete his Ph.D. dissertation. Some of his publications include:
a. Okeke, C.O. (2012). Traces in the Igbo language. The Journal of West African Languages XXXIX (2), 3-19.
b. Mbah, E.E. & Okeke, C.O. (2013). Vowel raising in Nkpor dialect: A pattern of sound change. Linguistik Online, 59, 1-11.
c. Okeke, C.O. & Obasi, G.T. (2014). Semantic content of Igbo traditional non-verbal modes of communication. International Journal of Linguistics and Literature (IJLL). 3(2), 47-62.
He is interested in the core areas of Linguistics via phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics. Currently, he is working on the cognitive domains of some Igbo verbs in the AHP fellowship.
Mr. Okeke is Member, Igbo Studies Association (Member Editorial Board), Member, Linguistics Association of Nigeria, Member, West African Language Congress, Member, Acoustical Society of Nigeria and Fellow, African Humanities Programme. Mr. Okeke has the following awards: (a) Best Graduating Student in the Department of Linguistics, Igbo & Other Nigerian Languages, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, 2003, (b) Best Graduating Student in Faculty of Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, 2003.
Obasi, Gloria Tochukwu was born on the 20th July, 1983 at Ajalli in Anambra State, Nigeria. She attended the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and graduated in 2008 with a B.A. (Linguistics) Second Class Honours (Upper Division). In 2013, she registered for her master’s degree and graduated with an M.A in Applied Linguistics.
She is a lecturer in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. One of her publications is:
Okeke, C.O. & Obasi, G.T. (2014). Semantic content of Igbo traditional non-verbal modes of communication. International Journal of Linguistics and Literature (IJLL). 3(2), 47-62.
She is interested in applied linguistics and linguistics in general. Presently, she is working on the morphology of place names in Igbo in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
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Ms. Obasi is Member, Igbo Studies Association, Member, Linguistics Association of Nigeria, Member, West African Language Congress, and Member, Acoustical Society of Nigeria. Ms Obasi was the best graduating student in the Department of Linguistics, Igbo and Other Nigerian Languages, University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 2008. 2222 THEORY AND PRACTICE IN LANGUAGE STUDIES