Cross-River Languages

Eleme, along with the other Ogonoid languages (Kana, Gokana, Baan and Tai), belongs to the larger Cross-River group. The present section details some of the common features of these languages in terms of phonology and tone, morphology and constituent order. For more information on Cross-River and Nigerian languages in general, visit the references and links sections.

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Phonology and Tone

According to Faraclas (1989: 389), Cross River languages typically present a -CVC syllable root structure (with -CV:C and -CV: roots also present to a lesser extent). Consonant glide onsets are common to most languages and consonant-liquid clusters are also evident although no other consonant sequences are attested. Syllabic nasals occur in all Cross River languages. Vowel systems range from a ten vowel ATR harmony system, retained from proto-Benue-Congo, to a more simplified six vowel system, with ATR only relevant for the mid-back vowels. Contrastive nasalization of vowels is thought to be restricted to the Ogoni group of Cross River, to which Eleme belongs. Vowel length distinctions and VV sequences are also characteristic of the Ogoni group, although also found in some other subgroups of the classification. Faraclas (1989: 388) asserts that all Cross River languages employ systems of contrastive tone. While most languages are thought to have just two levels of contrastive tone, the Ogoni languages as well as some Upper Cross and Bendi languages are said to exhibit a three level tone contrast.

Morphological Characteristics

Nominal class concord systems typify the Cross River family, yet significant variation exists in the degree of retention of the proto-Benue-Congo system across the various sub-branches. At one extreme it is said to be 'near complete elimination' in the Ogoni languages (Faraclas 1989: 389). With the exception of noun-numeral concord, which is all but eradicated, concord between nouns and those morphemes associated with them in a given phrase (i.e. adjectives, demonstratives, relativizers, etc.) is retained in most languages. However, this is restricted to subject noun-verb concord in Lower Cross and Ogoni. Thus, while class marking and gender patterning is apparent in most Upper Cross and Bendi languages, it is essentially lost in Ogoni, Lower Cross and (to a lesser extent) Central Delta (Faraclas 1989: 391). Verbs are inflected by prefixes and less so by suffixes. Verb roots in the Cross River languages are said to fall into two or three classes dependent on their pitch patterns.

Clausal Constituent Order

Like the constituent order of the larger Niger-Congo group, Cross River languages exhibit a basic word order of SVO. Demonstratives, articles, possessives and numerals normally follow the head noun, although the position of 'adjectives' is more variable. Faraclas (1989: 392) suggests that this may be due to the potentially diverse sources from which items that function adjectivally are derived.