Abesabesi Grammar


Other Names Akpes
Speakers 7,000
Status (EGIDS) 7 (Shifting)
Location Nigeria
ISO 639-3 ibe
Glottocode akpe1248


Abesabesi is a minority language of South-Western Nigeria. It is spoken in nine villages in the Akoko North East and Akoko North West Governmental Areas of Ondo State by around 7,000 speakers. Abesabesi is the endonym to refer to the language that is commonly called Akpes in the literature (Agoyi 2008). The area is home to various languages, such as the neighboring languages Ukaan (AIKA), Arigidi, Àhàn and Ayere. Yoruba and English are used as lingua francas. While Yoruba is used in church and mosque services and as an informal language in school, English is the official medium of instruction and is used in official public gatherings. Abesabesi, however, is used for informal domains such as within the family, amongst neighbors, and at the market. Young people prefer Yoruba to Abesabesi and intergenerational transmission is at risk of ceasing altogether (Agoyi 2014, p. 4). Yoruba is generally perceived more positively by the population. Both, the looming discontinuance of intergenerational transmission and unfavorable language attitudes are causing a gradual shift towards Yoruba that is endangering Abesabesi. The endangerment of Abesabesi is additionally increased by rapid urbanization.

The multilingual context makes Abesabesi and the surrounding languages an example of language contact and small-scale multilingualism. Abesabesi features a three tone inventory plus downstep, and distinct vowel harmony systems that differ among dialects (Agoyi 2008). It also exhibits a highly reduced noun class system, which only distinguishes human from non-human and singular from plural. This distinction is also reflected in the pronouns of the third person. The word order is SVO and all nominal modifiers follow the noun. One verbal extension exists, which expresses verbal plurality.

The genetic classification remains controversial, although a number of publications has tackled the topic: Agoyi (2013), Ohiri-Aniche (1999), Elugbe (2001; 2012) and Ibrahim-Arirabiyi (1989). Abesabesi is attributed to the Benue-Congo language branch of the Niger-Congo phylum. However, while some scholars have claimed that it forms an independent branch of Benue-Congo (Williamson & Blench 2000), others have posited a closer relationship to Ukaan or the Edoid languages (Agoyi 2008; Elugbe 2001).

This grammatical description and documentation mainly focuses on the Ekiromi dialect. It is spoken by approximately 2500 speakers in the town of Ikaram (also referred to as Ikeram/Ikaramu), where most of the fieldwork will take place.

Further information