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Morpho-Lexical Innovations and Socio-Political Themes in Joe Ushie’s A Reign of Locusts



This study is based on Joe Ushie's creative use of the morphological resources of the English Language to realise lexical innovations in his poetry collection A Reign of Locusts (2004). It has been argued that the contact between the English Language and Nigerian indigenous languages is responsible for the innovative use of language in Nigerian literature. However, this paper contends that Nigerian poets in general and Joe Ushie in particular, manipulates the linguistic resources of morphology to realise lexical innovations. The paper considers the creative use of compounding, affixation, blends, lexical hyphenation and lexical bracketing as morphological resources of lexical innovation that are stylistically and thematically motivated. It reveals that Joe Ushie manipulates existing morphological processes to create novel words. It further shows that Joe Ushie's lexical innovative processes are productive and creative and that the innovative lexical items are nonce formations that have not been integrated into the lexical stock of the English Language. It then suggests that close attention should be paid to such innovative lexis in creative writings in second and foreign language contexts (non-native) as they have the implications for increasing the lexical stock of non-native English in particular and Standard English in general.
3L: Language, Linguistics, Literature® The Southeast Asian Journal of English Language Studies
Vol 27(4), December 2021
Morpho-Lexical Innovations and Socio-Political Themes in
Joe Ushie’s a Reign of Locusts
Delta State University, Abraka, Nigeria
This study is based on Joe Ushie’s creative use of the morphological resources of the English Language to realise
lexical innovations in his poetry collection A Reign of Locusts (2004). It has been argued that the contact between
the English Language and Nigerian indigenous languages is responsible for the innovative use of language in
Nigerian literature. However, this paper contends that Nigerian poets in general and Joe Ushie in particular,
manipulates the linguistic resources of morphology to realise lexical innovations. The paper considers the
creative use of compounding, affixation, blends, lexical hyphenation and lexical bracketing as morphological
resources of lexical innovation that are stylistically and thematically motivated. It reveals that Joe Ushie
manipulates existing morphological processes to create novel words. It further shows that Joe Ushie’s lexical
innovative processes are productive and creative and that the innovative lexical items are nonce formations that
have not been integrated into the lexical stock of the English Language. It then suggests that close attention should
be paid to such innovative lexis in creative writings in second and foreign language contexts (non-native) as they
have the implications for increasing the lexical stock of non-native English in particular and Standard English in
Keywords: morphological resources; lexical innovation; Joe Ushie’s poetry; socio-political themes; nonce
The present study stems from our interest in the creative use of language in modern Nigerian
poetry in the context of English asa second language in general and the seeming observation
that morphological and lexical innovations are style markers in the poetry of Joe Ushie. The
language of Nigerian poetry of the pre-independence era or first-generation writers as classified
by Egya (2014 & 2019) has been described by Chinweizu et al. (1980) as archaic, unmusical,
and obscure with inaccessible diction. Poets of this generation include Wole Soyinka, Gabriel
Okara and Christopher Okigbo. Their poetry constitutes what Osundare (2002) considers as
not poetry. To Osundare, poetry is not an esoteric whisper, not a clap trap, and not a learned
quiz. Chinweizu et al. (1980), referring to this generation as euromodernist’ poets, suggest
that to write a serious and significant poetry, the poet should take every day sentence, chop it
into metric lines, juggle the word order of each line, suppress all auxiliary verbs, inject
neologism, shake up the rigid metric line and sprinkle as many foreign phrases as possible if
the writer has such erudition.
The above suggestion becomes the trend in the language of the second-generation poets
(post-independence era) and the third-generation poets (military era) (Egya, 2014,2019). The
language of the poets of these two periods is ‘a departure from the poetry of Soyinka and early
Okigbo style to poetry that is public, social and relevant’ (Osoba, 2013, p.29). This poetry
Osundare (2002, p. 251) describes as “the hawker’s ditty / the eloquence of the gong / the lyric
of the market place / the luminous ray / on the grass’s morning dew”. And as Ogede (1996, p.
62)puts it, modern African poets are:
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…compelled by the need to sound factual and down-to-earth in re-creating the real mood of the down-trodden
peoples born of their deprived status, the majority of the poets have been unable to resist the temptation of
making recourse to the use of plain prosaic language as a natural discourse of poetic composition.
And Ayejina (1988) puts it thus:
Young Nigerian poets were set to make poetry as relevant to the realities of their daily existence as possible,
no more the pursuit of the clever, if esoteric line of Soyinka, the latinate phrases Of Okigbo and Echeruo or the
Hopskinsian syntax of Clark (cited in Osoba, 2013, p. 29)
Their thematic preoccupation is the desperate situation of Africa and their stylistic
hallmarks are clarity and directness of expression, formal experimentation and deliberate
incorporation of African oral literary modes (Osundare, 1996, cited in Ushie, 2005).The second
generation is pioneered by poets like Niyi Osundare, Tanure Ojaide, Odia Ofeimun, Harry
Garuba and Femi Fatoba. Poets of the third generation era include Ogaga Ifowodo, Olu Oguibe,
Mike Nwosu, Nnimmo Bassey and Joe Ushie whose poetry is the subject of this study. In terms
of content and style, there is no significant difference between the poetry of the second
generation and the poetry of the third generation. As Garuba (2005) puts it, ‘theme and style
as markers of a specific literary period are obviously inadequate especially in modern African
literatures because of their strong connection to a boundless extra-literary context’ (cited in
Egya, 2014 & 2019, p. 14). However, the content of their poems focuses more on the social,
economic and political problems of Nigeria as a country. In language use, they adopt more
radical strategies of linguistic innovations than their forerunners (Ayileru, 2011). In the light
of the above, this study focuses on how Joe Ushie radically engages in linguistic innovations
at the morpho-lexical levels with the aim of revealing the socio-political themes of his poetry
and the implications of such linguistic innovations on the lexical stock of the English language
in the Nigerian ESL context.
Lexical Innovation refers to the imaginative and creative use of novel lexical items. The Great
Soviet Encyclopedia sees it as a ‘new phenomena in language, primarily in morphology, which
emerged under the influence of various factors’. In the literature, such newly created words are
called nonce-formations. Hohenhaus (2007) states that nonce formations refer to words that
are newly and activity formed in performance as opposed to being retrieved from the
dictionary. Nonce words are created by a speaker or writer on the spur of the moment to cover
some immediate needs (Bauer, 2001). They are contextual coinages in a given communication
situation and the speaker or writer does not aim to impose his or her spontaneous coinage on
everyone (Dal & Namer, 2018). This explains why Joe Ushie engages in lexical innovations to
meet some communicative needs. A major problem of nonce formations is their detection in
text. However, one of the surest ways to detect nonce-information is to rely on clues furnished
by the writer or to identify discursive schemas fostering the emergence of such coinages (Dal
& Namer, 2018). This approach is adopted in this study.
Related to the lexical innovation and nonce formation is the distinctions made between
morphological productivity and creativity. This distinction is connected with the opposition
between intentionality and unintentionality (Dal & Namer, 2016). Morphological productivity
is understood as the possibility for language users to coin unintentionally uncountable number
of new morphologically complex words (Dal & Namer, 2016). Bauer defines morphological
creativity as the native speaker’s ability to extend the language system in a motivated but
unpredictable (non-rule-governed) way in contrast with productivity, which is, instead, defined
as ruled governed innovation. The summary of this opposition is that productivity is rule-
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governed while creativity is not rule-governed, a violation of the rules of word formation. As
Dal and Namer (2016, p. 79) put it, ‘the term creativity is reserved for the case in which the
(nonce) coined word obviously transgresses the morphological system, such as in poetry or
playful creations’.
However, Lyons (1977) affirms that creativity and productivity are complementary
terms indicating distinct ways of coining new terms or using new terms. He goes further to
propose that creativity and productivity should be taken as hyponyms of innovation and
distinguished according to whether or not rule governed is envisaged. This position is indirectly
adhered to by Dal and Namer (2018) as they state that creativity should be considered as low
case of productivity, in order words, it corresponds to the low pole of productivity continuum.
And as Munat (2007) affirms, there is no obvious reason for the theoretical distinction that are
claimed to exist between productivity and creativity as creative formations are less rule-
breaking than might initially be thought. In this study, this approach is adopted. Both
productive and creative nonce-formations in Joe Ushie’s A Reign of Locusts are identified and
analyzed as innovative new words which are stylistically and thematically motivated at the
spur of the moment to enhance effective communication of its social and political messages.
As noted earlier, Joe Ushie is grouped among the third-generation poets in the discourse of
periodisation in Nigerian poetry (Mowarin, 2009; Ushie, 2005).This generation started in the
early 1970s and late 1980s when the fortunes of Nigeria as a nation began to decline with
serious social, economic and political problems. At this stage, the poets see it as their
responsibility to document, expose, criticise and satirise the ills and injustices plaguing Nigeria
as a nation (Maledo, 2019). Thus, Joe Ushie focuses on the social, political, economic and
environmental ills plaguing his home country, Nigeria, in particular and Africa in general. He
engages the corrupt and inept military and political class and identifies with the ordinary
Nigerian people in the streets as he mirrors the total dislocation in every facet of Nigeria as a
nation. This paper argues that Joe Ushie’s success is partly due to his innovativeness in
language use.
Innovative use of language is a prominent feature of literature in general and poetry in
particular. It is also a major source of discourse in the use of English in the Nigerian second
language context and in the criticism of Nigerian literature. For instance, Udom (2013) is a
study of lexical innovations of the English used in the Nigerian second language environment.
The focus of the study is on the validity of the lexically innovative words in the Nigerian
environment. The paper concludes that the innovative words are valid since they are acceptable
and intelligible Nigerian English usage. Most critics see lexical innovation in literary texts as
a result of the contact between two languages. This position is clearly advanced by T’sou (2001,
p. 35) in his study of lexical importation and innovation in Chinese languages thus: ‘When
languages come into contact… one common outcome is the diffusion of cultural items along
linguistic boundaries. One clear manifestation of this cultural diffusion is the emergence of
new lexical items in a recipient language’.
Michael (2013) follows the above argument as he affirms that lexical innovation occurs
in the language learning process and lexical borrowing; he states that these two constitute the
major causes of lexical innovation in a language contact situation. And in the Nigerian ESL
context, most studies on the innovative use of language in literary texts are based on this
approach. Adopting a stylistic approach, Mowarin (2013) investigates lexical and
morphological innovations in Hope Eghagha’s Rhythms of the Last Testament (2002). The
paper argues more in favour of innovative lexis as a result of language contact situation.
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However, it identifies affixations, collocational shifts, and neologisms among others as sources
of lexical innovation used by the poet to foreground the themes of environmental degradation
of the Niger Delta region, abject poverty, political misrule and hope for the emancipation of
Nigeria from the hands of its tyrannical rulers. In the same vein, Oha and Anyanwu (2018) is
a study of stylistic features of linguistic innovation in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s
Americanah; they identify the graphological, syntactic and lexico-semantic features of the text
as innovative linguistic resources.
Ayileru (2011) also states that West African writers deploy linguistic innovative
strategies to indigenise the language of the new West African novel. According to the study,
the innovative linguistic strategies deployed are African orature, translation, transliteration,
metaphor, metonymy pidginization and intra/intertextuality. This approach affirms the
language contact position. Ushie and Aboh (2014, p. 129), adopting the CDA approach in their
study of lexical innovation in Nigerian novels, see lexical innovation generally as ‘the use of a
new lexical unit, the modification of the root or any part of the structure of a word in a
language’. To them, innovations occur from the existing patterns in the language in which
conversation takes place. Although Mowarin (2013) affirms that the contact between English
and Nigerian Languages results in lexical innovation in Nigerian poetry, this paper follows the
line of argument of Ushie and Aboh (2014). This is in view of the fact that in a bid to depict
the appropriate socio-political conditions in Nigeria, Joe Ushie engages in morpho-lexical
modification of existing English words to arrive at appropriate stylistic and thematic reflection
and refraction of the realities in the Nigerian social and political contexts.
Joe Ushie’s poetry, the subject of this study, has also attracted the attention of scholars.
For instance, Aboh (2013) examines the interface between language and social realities in the
use of pronouns in Joe Ushie’s poetry. He argues that Ushie brings his knowledge of linguistics
to align with his artistic crafting of social realities through the use of pronouns. In another vein,
Aboh (2010) discusses the role of lexical borrowing in the construction of identity and politics
in Ushie’s poetry. The paper affirms that poets indulge in lexical borrowing to assert their
identity and engage the socio-political situation in the society at a point in time. Etim (2019) is
based on the historical continuities in the life story and poetry of Niyi Osundare and Joe Ushie.
Adopting the New Historicist approach, the paper reveals that Ushie and Osundare do not only
share commonalities and ideologies, but also, their poetry bear a common mark of struggle
against tyranny, oppression, social justice and impoverishment of the masses by the new
imperialist forces. Nkopuruk (2019) discusses how Joe Ushie negotiates intentions and
meanings through the linguistic device of graphology. The paper adopts the multi-modality
approach to show how the graphic resources of a text can elucidate the inherent meaning of the
text. In the light of the above studies, this paper deviates in its approach to the study of Joe
Ushie’s poetry. It focuses not on innovation from the language contact perspective, but from
the perspective of the morphological resources of the English Language with a view to
identifying and analysing the morphological process involved in nonce-formation in Joe
Ushie’s A Reign of Locusts.
The aspects of lexical innovations investigated in this study are those that are based on creative
and productive manipulation of existing English words. Some of the processes deployed to
achieve these are compounding, affixation, blends, lexical hyphenation and lexical bracketing.
Explanations of these terms are provided at the level of analysis.
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Compounding is a morphological process of combining two or more words to form a new
word. Plaq (2002) describes a compound as a word that consists of two elements, the first of
which is a root, a word or a phrase, the second of which is either a root or a word. To Lieber
(2009), compounds are ‘words that are composed of two (or more) bases, roots or stems’. The
three major types of compound in the English language are compound nouns, compound
adjectives and compound verbs. In all, compound nouns are the commonest type (Plaq, 2002;
Carstairs-McCarthy, 2002) and nouns, verbs and adjectives can combine more freely in
compounding (Plaq, 2002). In most English compounds, the part of speech of the whole
compound is the part of speech of the rightmost part of the compound. This rightmost part of
the compound is regarded as the head of the compound as we have in ‘flower pot’ and ‘book
cover’. These are called endocentric compounds. Compounds like ‘loud mouth’ and ‘pick
pocket’ whose semantic head is outside the combined words are regarded as headless
compounds and they are traditionally called exocentric compounds (Plaq, 2002; Carstairs-
McCarthy, 2002; Akmajian et al., 2010; Synder, 2016).
Compound words can be written without a space between parts of the words (closed
compounds), with a space between parts of the words (open compounds), or with a hyphen
separating the elements of the compound (hyphenated compounds). However, Akmajian et al.
(2010) state that hyphen is used when a compound has been newly created or is not widely
used. They further state that when a compound has gained a certain currency or prominence, it
is spelt closed up, without the hyphen. This is observable in Joe Ushie’s poetry. Majority of
the identified innovative compound words are hyphenated with few instances of nonce created
closed compounds. Compounding is a rich source of new words in English and it is extremely
productive (Akmajian et al., 2010) as is shown in Ushie’s poetry.
Joe Ushie also makes predominant use of innovative hyphenated compound words in
his poetry. Such usages are thematically motivated and stylistically prominent. In the poem
‘Musa’s legacy’, Ushie relies on the phonological resemblance to create the novel compound
team-bucked from Timbuktu to illustrate how Mansa Musa of old Mali empire raped and
conquered the city of Timbuktu despite the people’ s resistance:
In the twinkle of your sword
Timbuktu was team-bucked (emphasis mine)
Team-bucked as used is a noun-verb compound with the contextual semantic implication that
Timbuktu was conquered or rapped by the dictatorial team of Mansa Musa who is seen in this
poem as the progenitor of modern dictatorship in Africa. Ushie draws on this to castigate the
autocratic and dictatorial injustices of most African presidents. Thus, he describes the sit-tight
Liberian leader, Samuel Doe, as throne-glued Doe. In the same vein, the social distance created
by fear between the masses and the military ruling class during Ibrahim Babangida’s regime in
Nigeria gave rise to the innovative use of fear-ruled lines in ‘Homage to the dragon’ to
foreground the fact that the military leadership creates a dividing line of fear between the rulers
and the ruled. In the same poem, Ushie uses the compound word hard-retrieved to modify the
word throne in describing the emerging democratic leadership which the people fought hard to
regain from the military, some at the expense of their lives. Contrasting the extreme poverty
and hunger ravaging the ordinary citizens and the affluence in which the politicians live in
‘Mobile caskets’, Ushie creates hunger-bleached as presented:
How can our hunger-bleached
Sheets of skin show
On this opaque mirror
Of your iron centaur? (emphasis mine)
As seen, the innovative creation and use of hunger-bleached to contrast with opaque
mirror and iron centaur has thematic and stylistic effect in the context of the affluence of the
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politicians and the abject poverty of the masses. Still on the theme of poverty, Ushie
innovatively creates ten-childrened to modify poor in ‘Our laugh will change’ as seen below:
We are the ten-childrened poor
From whose gaunt bedsitter
Laughter crackles like a miracle
Shocking anxious neighbours. (emphasis mine)
As used, ten is a noun while childrened is a creatively derived adjective from the noun
‘children’. Therefore, it is an adjective compound pre-modifying the noun poor which itself is
a nominalised adjective formed through the process of conversion. In ‘Akpan essian area’, the
poet focuses on the activities that go on in Akpan Essien Area, a very busy area in Uyo, the
capital of Akwa-Ibom State, Nigeria. The poet makes an unusual creative use of an adverb
compound all-ways with two semantic implications. It can be phonologically interpreted as
‘always’, meaning ‘at all times’ and graphically it could mean ‘all ways’, in other words, ‘every
way’. This dual meaning is achieved thus:
We stomp here all-ways (emphasis mine)
This could mean ‘we stomp here always or from all the ways’. This same lexical item is used
in another context with similar semantic implications as in:
There’s here the all-ways busy,
then always-starved head-counting office
with its idle demographic details
of the nation’s population (emphasis mine)
Here, all-ways has the semantic implication of ‘all the ways’ leading to the Population
Commission’s office are busy and the nation’s Population Commission’s office itself is
‘always’ busy. Always-starved is a creative adjective compound which modifies the noun
‘office’. The office is always starved because the budgetary allocations to make it functional
are diverted and embezzled by the politicians. Head-counting is also a creative adjective
compound. It modifies the noun office. As used, it describes the function of the office; a better
name would have been National Population Commission Office but the poet uses ‘head-
counting’ to provide details. The use of breast-shapped fruits in describing the mango fruit in
its breast-shapped fruits taste like love’ is to innovatively create sensual feelings and visual
imagery of love.
Furthermore, in ‘Congo music I’, Ushie uses innovative hyphenated compound words
to underscore the hyperbolic effect of Congo music.These include heart-winning smiles, plain-
hearted Sylvie, Guinean-Senegalese Simone G, swift-flowing fee, earth-brightening stars and
Lingala-laced lilies. Through the above, the poet pours encomium on Congo music and
musicians which he sees as temporary escape from the harsh realities of his society. This point
becomes clear as he earlier addressed Congo music as ‘the spring that thaws my winter’ and as
‘the light that ends my nights’ in lines four and five respectively. It should be noted that the
compound words are hyphenated adjective compounds and each modifies a noun head. In
‘Cell’the poet expresses his captivity through a phonologically induced hyphenated compound,
heart-cuffed, following ‘hand-cuffed’ to foreground his being ‘arrested’ by love. Conversely,
in ‘Sad bed’, Ushie sings a dirge by creating a compound noun to encode the death of a loved
Ah, our bed-room of rose
Is now a tear-room of thorns (emphasis mine)
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Creating the compound noun tear-room and contrasting it with bed-room’ and contrasting
‘roses’ with ‘thorns’ foregrounds tear-room as an innovative noun compound. Thus, he
describes his present melancholy as wisdom-scorning, another innovative compound. In
recollecting his relationship with the loved one before the death, he creatively uses all-ways
And we went, all-ways,
A snail and its shell. (emphasis mine)
This implies that they used to go to everywhere together, like the snail that never leaves its
shell. His sad and lonely mood over the loss of a loved one makes him to describe death as sky-
wide absencein ‘Dark hour’.
In ‘The bond’,Ushie identifies humanity all over the world as one and in the same
bondage. He identifies the downtrodden through creative compound words. In stanza 1, the
poet says we are all one with the derelicts who are neighbours to love-hunting dogs, where
love-hunting is innovatively created to modify dogs. In stanza 2, he creatively pitches sun-
soaked lepers and oil-soaked Nigeria. This is a direct reference to Nigeria, an oil rich country
that cannot take care of its citizens due to corruption. In the same stanza, the poet pitches male-
nested women and Islam-tensed Afghanistan. Male-nested pre-modifies women. This implies
that women are denied of freedom in Islam dominated Afghanistan. The poet also criticises the
Igbos of Southern Nigeria who are Christian-soaked yet they still practice the Osu slave system
despite their predominant Christian belief. He also sees the Germans pejoratively as progress-
drunk in their annihilation of the Jews. This innovative use of creative compounds continues
in stanza 4 thus:
Those bomb-burnt bodies
on Abacha’s street of safety;
these gun-widowed women
in religious-suffocating Nigeria;(emphasis mine)
The compound word bomb-burnt is ironical and contrasting where we have a street of safety
during General Abacha’s regime in Nigeria. Also, gun-widowed is ironical in a country that is
religious-suffocating with so many churches and mosque. These lexical innovations underscore
the themes of deception and man’s inhumanity in the political, social and religious cycles all
over the world. In stanza five, the compound noun, Iroko-muscled is used to modifying ‘truck
pusher’ to underscore the themes of toiling and suffering by the ordinary citizens of Nigeria
with its abundant oil wealth. The only difference in all these, the poet claims, is in “name and
clime” as we bear the same pain. He says:
Your headaches are my back aches
Your body-aches are my soulaches
Your shame-aches are my pain-aches. (emphasis mine)
Here, shame-aches and pain-aches are innovative compounds which underscore the extent of
shame and pain people are going through all over the world as a result of tyranny, false religious
belief, corruption and bad governance.
Joe Ushie also explores closed compound words as one of his morpho-lexical resources.
Soulaches as we have in the above analysis is a good example. However, a very prominent
closed compound that permeates Joe Ushie’s poetry is hewman which is phonologically
modelled along ‘human’, though with a different semantic implication. The meaning of ‘hew’
as a word is to chop away or to mow down. It is morphologically yoked to ‘man’ to derive
‘hewman’ which means to chop away or mow down man. In ‘Night, still’ where the poet
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handles the theme of military misrule and dictatorship, he uses hewman bones. In ‘Homo
sappers’which focuses on man’s inhumanity and wickedness, he uses hewman rage and
hewmanity to foreground the message of the poem. These usages have stylistic effect in
foregrounding human wickedness and bestiality to fellow humans. In ‘Cell’ where the poet
persona is in love, he longs to be caged by his lover thus: ‘I long for your heartmost cell.
Heartmost is creatively formed along the line of ‘innermost’. It is an innovative means of
expressing how the poet feels and what he wants from his lover. Innovative compounds as
exemplified about capture the essence of Ushie’s thematic preoccupations. Hunger, diseases
and poverty which ravage every nook and cranny of his country is captured in hunger-
bleached, ten-childrened; inept military and political leadership is seen in throne-glued, team-
bucked, bomb-burnt, gun-widowed and fear-ruled. The themes of human wickedness, pain and
man’s inhumanity is well captured through innovative compound words as we have seen.
Affixation is a word formation process that is concerned with the attaching of affixes to the
root or base of a word to form new words. The processes of affixation in English can be divided
into prefixation, suffixation and infixation, depending on whether the affix is added before the
base, after it, or at some determined point within it. Thus, the affix itself may be a prefix, a
suffix, or an infix (Mathews, 1991). In this study, our attention is focused on prefixation and
suffixation as morpho-lexical innovative strategies as the table below illustrates:
TABLE 1. Innovative affixation
Poem / Page
Musa’s legacy / 15
Musa’s legacy / 15
Ladder / 17
Homo sappers / 27
homo sappers
homo sapiens
-er, -s
Homo sappers / 26
-less, -ly
Mobile casket / 31
-dom, -s
The bond / 91
-ful, -ly
Sad bed / 85
Table 1 shows the identifiable creative use of affixation. The poet explores the
phonological resemblance with ‘ongoing’ to realise ungoing in (i). Un- is a negative prefix
added to particles to mean not’ while –ing is added to verbs to form the progressive aspect. In
the context of the poem, the military has inflicted wounds on the people but the poet does not
see the emerging democracy as a palliative. In the same vein, the poet sees the scars inflicted
on Africans during the slave trade era as ungoing in the poem ‘Musa’s Legacy’. Thus, ungoing
means ‘not going, permanent’. In unusualled, un- is a negative prefix that can be added to
adjectives to mean ‘not’. However, the use of ed is unusual. As a derivational suffix, -ed is
added to nouns to derive adjective but here it is creatively added to an adjective unusual to
derive another adjective. By this, the poet retrospectively exhumes the deeds of Mansa Musa
of the old Mali Empire. This lexical innovation is used to foreground the fact that his misdeeds
in history (using humans as shields) are unprecedented till date as we can see below:
How can we forget your human shield
Of 500 slaves ahead and 500 following
Each unusualled with a gold-adorned stall? (emphasis mine)
In the poem ‘Ladder’, the poet makes a comparison between those who are laddered
and those who are dis-laddered. The prefix dis- means ‘the opposite of’. As used, it means ‘to
remove ladder from’.The ed suffix is a denominal adjective suffix which means ‘to add to or
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having’. The laddered are those who are up there by virtue of the commonweal of the people,
they are those who enjoy the nation’s wealth while the dis-laddered are those whose sweat and
toil bore the laddered. This refers to the social and political stratification between the poor
masses and the rich politicians. The poor masses are the dis-laddered; they are those who do
not have the political means to enjoy the wealth of the nation while the laddered are the rich
politicians. At the end, the poet concludes that both the laddered and the dis-laddered are equal
in death.
‘Homo-Sappers’, as the title of the poem indicates, is a lexical creativity with
phonological resemblance with homo-sapiens’. In the social context of this poem, sap, is a
verb which means ‘to destroy something or somebody gradually’. The er morpheme is an
agentive morpheme while the –s morpheme is a plural marker. With homo meaning human,
the addition of sappers has a semantic implication of human destroyers. This is aptly stated in
the first four lines of the poem thus:
If you save a beast
It goes its way
If you save a man
He kills you
In the same poem, the poet contrasts man’s cruelty to man with the way wild animals
take care of their kind. He concludes that man’s attitude to his fellow man is Unbestial. Un- as
a prefix is usually attached to adjective to mean ‘not’ while the suffix –ial is a denominal
adjective suffix used to derive the adjective ‘bestial’ from the noun beast. Through lexical
innovations, the poet makes a point that the cannibalistic instinct in humans is very much unlike
what is seen in wild beasts.
In ‘Mobile caskets’ the poet consciously creates tyrelessly with phonological similarity
with ‘tirelessly’. The less is denominal adjective morpheme which means ‘without’, while
ly is added to adjectives to form adverbs of manner. Through this, the poet creatively makes a
distinction between the rich politicians and the poor masses. While the politicians cruise in
their ‘tyred casket’, the poor masses or their ‘skeletons’ watch them Tyrelessly. The semantic
implication is that they cannot afford a tyre not to talk of a car. In Murderdoms, murder is a
noun, -dom is a denominal noun suffix meaning ‘domain’ while –s is a plural morpheme. In
unleashing his vituperations against African dictators, he refers to their domain as murderdoms
as they are all busy killing their citizens whom they were meant to protect. Lossfully is coined
in line with the pattern of lustfully in the poem ‘Sad bed’ to express a feeling of deep loss over
the death of a close one:
This ceiling eyes this naked bed lustfully
The sky eyes the undressed sea lustfully
Belly up, I eye this emptiness lossfully. (emphasis mine)
The suffix –ful can be attached to lust to derive an adjective ‘lustful’ which can also
accept the deadjectival adverb suffix, -ly. This is not the case for ‘loss’. Therefore, lossfully is
a nonce-formation coined to encode the themes of loneliness and pain. Ushie predominantly
makes use of innovative negative prefixes and suffixes to project his dissatisfaction with the
existing social and political order. This foregrounds his anger and serves as a means of
projecting his messages to his audience.
Lieber (2009) defines blending as a process of word formation in which parts of words that are
not themselves morphemes are combined to form a new word. A blend then is a kind of
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Vol 27(4), December 2021
compound word where at least one component is truncated and reproduced only partially
(Carstairs-McCarthy, 2002). As a type of compound, blends may consist of a full word and a
splinter (part of a morpheme) or two splinters. Blends may make comprehension difficult
because readers have to figure out their meanings which should approximate the meaning of
the combining parts. Blends are cute, amusing and they work as a form of word play. They are
attention catching and could attract readers to read what is being presented (Lehrer, 2007).
Below is a table showing creative blends in Joe Ushie’s A Reign of Locusts:
TABLE 2. Creative blends
Source Words
Poem / Page
soft + substitute
A substitute that is not hard
Night, still / 11
compatriot + griots
Fellow poets or singers
Night, still / 11
yesterday + death
Previous killings or deaths
Homage to the
dragon / 23
atmosphere + fear
Atmosphere of fear
The exchange / 33
pain + kilometre
A unit of measurement of pain
The exchange / 34
hypnotise + trapped
To be trapped by someone else
Particle / 60
cosmetic + thick
Superficially effective
Particle / 60
Executive + thief(ly)
A corrupt executive officer
Mobile casket / 31
From Table 2, softitutes is created by exploring the phonological similarity between the
first syllables of the word ‘substitute’ and ‘soft’. In the context of the poem, ‘Night, still’, the
poet is seeking for other familiar issues / subjects to engage his songs since the era of military
dictatorship is gone with the emerging democracy. However, this is not to be as the pendulum
still swings ‘between this dawn and that night’. In (ii), there is a phonological overlap in the
final syllables of the two words. The blend is facilitated by the substituting the /t/ phoneme for
/g/ phoneme in compatriots. The poet uses this lexical blend to seek for solidarity and
cooperation from his fellow poets (griots) to be courageous and fearless in confronting the
misrule of the military junta. As a hyphenated blend, Yester-death violates morphological rules
because blends are not usually hyphenated. It is derived from a splinter ‘yester’ and a root word
‘death’ used to remind the military of their previous killings of innocent citizens they were
meant to protect.
The blend in (iv) is also phonologically motivated in the similarity between the last
syllable in ‘atmosphere’ and the root word, ‘fear’. Post-modified by the prepositional phrase
‘of pain, the entire phrase, atmosfear of pain, describes the social condition in the bone
doctor’s compound to be that of fear and pain. The ‘painometre of mango / leaves’ is a
metaphorical expression. To the poet, the leaves of the mango tree inside the bone doctor’s
compound are devices that notice, observe and take the readings of the physical and mental
pains experienced by the broken bone patients. Thus, the mango leaves ‘murmur mournfully’.
Hypno-trapped and cosme-thick creatively violate the morphological rule of blend by being
hyphenated. They are used in the poem ‘Particles’ to foreground resistance to the forces of
state. In hypno-trapped, the poet personal was hypnotised and trapped in a fragile throne, but
he was able to resist and escape. In cosme-thick the poet was lured by superficially effective
promises; again, he is able to resist it too. As used, Hypo-trapped and cosme-thick underscore
the themes of falsehood and deception. As noted on the table above, Executhiefly is a blend
formed from ‘executive’ and ‘thief’ with an unproductive ly morpheme attached to ‘thief’ in
the creative process to derive an adverb from the noun ‘executhief’. In the context of the poem
‘Mobile casket’ and in the Nigerian social context, an ‘executhief’ is a politician, an executive
officer in a government sector or in a public sector who is corrupt. In this poem, the politician
is said to be dead (though still living) and shrouded executhiefly in his tyred casket. This implies
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that the expensive car he drives is acquired with resources stolen as an executive officer.
Through these innovative blends, the poet expresses dual meaning in a single lexical item to
project the desired theme. For instance, atmosfear expresses an environment that is fearful.
Yester-death expresses previous killings by the military while executhief means an executive
officer who is a thief. These are aspects of the socio-political context of Ushie’s poetry.
Another device of morpho-lexical innovation is lexical hyphenation. This is a process of
breaking up of a word into different syllables through the use of hyphen. The motivation behind
this is to realize dual meanings in one word. Ushie uses this to achieve stylistic effect and social
meaning. In ‘Night, still’, Ushie breaks the word ‘bondage’ into bond-age to mean the
celebration of his bond and the period he has been in bond as we have in the lines below:
And the bondsman
Celebrates his bond-age; (emphasis mine)
In what follows, excerpts from the poem The exchange’ are used to illustrate this
device. ‘The exchange’ is focused on the pains the ordinary masses suffer from broken bones
as a result of the avoidable accidents on the ever-busy untarred Oron Road in Uyo, Cross River
State, Nigeria. The use of hyphenated words helps to reflect, refract and foreground the
physical dislocation and prolonged pains in the memory of readers:
Here, on some wild raw mornings,
a forest of moving crut-
ches – veterans from auto–mobile
war on the streets – wel-
comes you into that p(l)aincom-
pound that empties
into the stretch, under
an empire of a sad mango tree. (emphasis mine)
Here the theme of physical brokenness is fully illustrated by the lexical pattern.
‘Crutches’ which is associated with broken bones in the real world is hyphenated into two
separate lines ‘Automobile' which is the agent of the broken bones is also hyphenated. The
hyphenation of ‘welcomes’ and compound’ are suggestive of prolonged pains and continuous
movement of accident victims of fractured and broken bones into the compound. The use of
lexical hyphenation to reflect physical dislocation is further seen in stanza five as each part of
the bones that are broken is equally fragmented in its lexical presentation thus:
Beneath the lush foliage
of the sad mango tree
we take our turns-
old men, old women, ladies,
then babies, each brand-
ishing a broken fem-
ur, a shattered le-
g bone, a col-
lapsed shoulder joi-
nt, a tensed shin bone
a twisted ankle-
all ready for the bonesmith’s
anvil of pains. (emphasis mine)
As shown, brandishing’ is hyphenated to capture how long it takes the victims to show
their broken bones as a result of dislocation and pain. This manifests more in the pronunciation
of brand-ishing. The hyphenation of ‘femur’ shows that the femur bone is no longer whole; it
3L: Language, Linguistics, Literature® The Southeast Asian Journal of English Language Studies
Vol 27(4), December 2021
has been disjointed. In ‘leg’, letter ‘g’ stands alone in another line. This underscores physical
dislocation. Same for ‘collapsed where we have col-lappsed, this draws attention to the
disintegration of the bone and its inability to carry the whole body frame. And the hyphenation
of ‘joint’ further foregrounds the disjointing of the whole bodily bones. Of interest in this stanza
is that for every hyphenated word, the other component starts on the next line. This again is
suggestive of disintegration of the body and the entire society from the multi-modal point of
view. Thus, through the use of innovative lexical hyphenation, Joe Ushie projects the theme of
physical, societal and even psychological disintegration.
Lexical bracketing is a new lexical innovation process often used by Joe Ushie. It is a lexical
reduction strategy which encloses a single letter of a word in a bracket to realize two different
words with two different meanings within the same linguistic context. As a lexical innovative
process, it is attention-catching and it helps in encoding double meaning on a single lexical
item as we have in Table 3:
TABLE 3. Lexical bracketing
Derived words
Poem / Page
s(p)ent up
spent up & pent up
The termitarium / 20
reign & rein
Homage to the dragon / 22
mobile (e)state
estate & state
Mobile caskets / 30
plain &pain
The exchange / 32
prude & rude
Dark hour / 89
In Table 3, (i) is a phrasal verb and the derived words are ‘spent up’ and ‘pent up’.
These words are condensed to s(p)ent up to aptly illustrate and foreground the central theme of
the poem. ‘Spent up’ implies the physical and mental exhaustion of the people from excessive
exploitation. ‘Pent up’ on the other hand implies deprival of freedom of expression. In
‘Homage to the dragon’, the poet pours his venom on the former military head of state, Ibrahim
Babangida. In this poem, re(i)gn in the expression ‘heydays of your r(e)ign’, can be interpreted
as ‘reign’ and ‘rein’. ‘Reign’ refers to the period of exercise of maximum power as a king while
rein’ implies his period of total control over the entire nation. In (iii) as used in ‘Mobile
casket’, ‘estate’ defines the type of car which the mobile casket typifies while ‘state’ refers to
the current affluence status of the politician with the stolen funds. In ‘The exchange’, Joe Ushie
is concerned with the pains of broken bones suffered by accident victims. The two lexical items
derived from p(l)ain has two semantic implications. First, ‘plain’ is the description of the bone
doctor’s compound while ‘pain’ is the physical and mental feeling of suffering by the patients
resulting from the broken bones. ‘Dark hour’ is a dirge to comfort Sonny Udoh who lost a
loved one. In this poem, the poet describes death as a ‘(p)rude tax collector’. This implies that
death is ‘prude’ and ‘rude’, meaning easily offended and sudden or unpleasant. Through this,
the poet chides death for taking the life of a loved one so early. The above analysis shows that
Joe Ushie uses lexical bracketing of a single letter in one word to innovatively create two words
with double semantic implications. This is a lexical condensation strategy, a means of
expressing more than one meaning in one word. The analysis of re(i)gn and p(l)ain above is
very apt in the thematic potentials of this strategy in Ushie’spoetry.
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This study has shown how Joe Ushie creatively and productively manipulates the morpho-
lexical resources of the English language to encode socio-political themes in his poetry
collection A Reign of Locusts (2004). It has demonstrated that lexical innovation in ESL and
EFL contexts does not necessarily depend only on the contact between a foreign language and
an indigenous language and that language users also extend the morphological processes and
resources of the foreign language (in this case, English) in their lexical creative innovations. In
this study, it has been revealed that Joe Ushie innovatively creates nonce-formations coined on
the spur of the moment to cover some immediate communicative needs in the Nigerian socio-
political contexts. Thus, their interpretations require support from the contexts as they are
coined for performance and not listed in the lexicon of the English language yet (Bauer, 2001;
Munat, 2007). Joe Ushie’s lexical innovations are not neologisms since they have not been
institutionalized in the wider Nigerian ESL speech community. They are confined to the text
world of his poetry. However, such innovations have the potentials of becoming part of the
lexicon of the English language in the Nigerian ESL context. Some of such nonce-formations
have the potentials of increasing the word stock of the emerging standard Nigerian English in
particular and Standard English in general.
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... Its wealth has been hijacked and stolen by its past and present leaders who are deeply corrupt. Corruption and the attendant poverty by the majority have given rise to other socio-political and religious vices in the Nigerian space (see Akingbe, 2014;Maledo, 2021). Among these are election rigging and political killings, terrorism and armed conflict fuelled by religious and ethnic differences, unfaithful religious leaders, excessive greed for wealth, general insecurity, kidnapping and abduction of a large number of people, nepotism, and above all, the total insensitivity of the present leadership of the country to the plight and sufferings of ordinary Nigerians. ...
... He argues that Ushie brings his knowledge of linguistics to align with his artistic crafting of social realities using pronouns. Similarly, Maledo (2021) affirms that Joe Ushie appropriates lexical innovations to underscore the themes of deception and man's inhumanity in the political, social and religious cycles all over the world in general and specifically in Nigeria. Akingbe (2014) studies the articulation of social decay in contemporary Nigerian poetry. ...
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This paper examines the metaphorical representation of the socio-political and religious space, Nigeria, in StephenKekeghe’s award-winning collection of poems, Rumbling Sky (2020). Contemporary Nigerian space has been plaguedwith social, political, and religious vices such as election malpractices, corruption, religious intolerance, cyberspacecrime, farmers-herders clash, secessionist claims, kidnapping, killings, and terrorist activities, just to name a few.Writers from different genres of literature have captured these vices in their creative output and critics have remainedcommitted to such writings. This paper examines several vices that ravage the Nigerian space which are reflected andrepresented in Stephen Kekeghe’s Rumbling Sky, poems that received accolade by the 2020 Association of NigerianAuthors. The analysis of poems, therefore, employs critical stylistics and applies the conceptual metaphor approachas its framework, adopting Naming and Describing as its critical stylistic textual-conceptual function. The findingsreveal that Stephen Kekeghe’s Rumbling Sky might better be considered as an adequate representation and reflectionof the contemporary Nigerian space in poetry. It further reveals that the ills of the political ruling class and the tacitconnivance of the Nigerian presidency are responsible for the perpetuation of social, political, and religious vices
... This study has shown the extent to which slangs are morphological formed. It observes morphological creativity as a means through which slangs are created to extend the language system in a motivated but unpredictable way in contrast with productivity which is ruled governed (Maledo, 2021). The most frequent morphological process of slang formation from our data is borrowing with its attendant semantic extension. ...
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One of the distinguishing features of the Internet language is slang formation and usage among youths in some Internet domains. Such slangs are formed following morphological processes and they are used to convey in-group identity and meaning. In the light of the above, this paper undertakes a morphological analysis of some Internet-based slangs with a view to uncover the morphological processes of slang formation on the Internet and the semantic implication of such slangs. Twenty slangs were sourced from some Internet domains for this study, and it adopts Bauer’s (2004) Morphological Productivity with insights from Booij’s (2010) Construction Morphology as its theoretical framework. The findings reveal that Internet slangs as a means of forming in-group identity follow varied morphological processes with varied semantic implications which reflect the social context and the topic of interaction within the group.
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This paper examines the interface of language and social reality as reflected in the use of pronouns in Ushie's poetry. The paper adopts the concepts of pronominal reference and deictic expressions as its theoretcal framework. The data are drawn from three of Joe Ushie's poetry collections – (1998, 2004 henceforth ), (2004, 2010 henceforth ) and (2000, 2004 henceforth ). These collections are selected because they demonstrate exquisite use of pronouns in in-group and out-group constructions. The paper shows that pronouns are linguistic features that give uniqueness to poetic discourse, i.e., they indicate how antagonism to the negative , and solidarity with the in-group can be constructed. Also, the archival and procreative roles of the Nigerian poet are revealed.
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The idea that history mediates contemporary postcolonial discourses in African literature and criticism is a given; however, existing studies are dominated by the notion of periodisation in relation to social structures and the resultant conflicts generated in the texts. This paper corroborates Andrew Abbott's thesis that continuity in time does not only occur at the level of the larger social structures, but also, and most importantly, historical continuities are more dynamic with individuals. To exemplify how this idea works in literature, this paper selects to study, from the New Historicist perspectives, both the life story and the works of Joe Ushie and Niyi Osundare by critiquing their history, historicity, historicism, historification and historicality, which constitute the five Hs in their poems. The analysis reveals that Ushie and Osundare do not only share commonalities in personal life accounts and ideologies, their works also bear the marks of their common struggle against tyranny, injustices, oppression and impoverishment of the masses by the neo-imperialist forces within and outside their milieu, as the analysis of selected poems in such anthologies as A Reign of Locusts, Hill Songs, The Eye of the Earth and Village Voices, among others, is indicative. The paper concludes that postcolonial literary criticism can be very interesting and more rewarding when approached from the angle of individual historicality rather than from the perspective of social structures.
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The concept of Style does not exist in a vacuum; it has meaning when language is used to communicate the message. The central question in stylistics is how a text means and language undoubtedly remains the central medium through which a writer’s style is revealed. Deviation on the other hand happens to be the sharpest way through which a writer foregrounds his intention and achieves aesthetics. By definition, deviation is the conscious attempt of flouting the linguistic norms for the purpose of foregrounding, revealing or defining the writer’s style or peculiarities. This dissertation is an investigation into the poetry of Joe Ushie from the perspective of linguistics. Joe Ushie, a prolific poet has to his credit, six poetry collections and other literary publications. As a matter of fact, scholars of stylistics have scarcely given this poet a deserving attention. This is evident by the insufficient literature in this discipline. More remarkably, none of these collections has been studied stylistically. Again, students whose interests are narrowed into the field of literary stylistics need an articulated and current work in the field to update their knowledge. The identified problems put together, informed the desire for this research. There are different linguistic levels of analyzing a literary or non-literary text. These levels include: syntax, semantics, lexis, phonology, graphology and others; in order to achieve the objectives of this study, this essay investigated the deployment of graphology as a device of meaning and aesthetics. Graphology is the study of language in print; a stylistic instrument which makes Ushie’s writing peculiarity an illustrating example of style as deviation from the actual linguistic norm. The study adopted Foregrounding and Multimodality as theoretical frameworks to the stylistic interpretations of the poetry of this author. Foregrounding as a theory was first put forward by Jan Mukrovsky, a don at the University of Prague. Significantly, by the establishment of a modified model of categorization of Graphological devices, this research will improve the teaching and learning of graphology as a device of literary composition by way of assisting learners to develop linguistic abilities necessary for them to read, understand and respond to literary and non-literary works sensitively. Keywords: Graphology, Pedagogy, Stylistics, Deviation, Foregrounding and Multimodality
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Nonce-formations, conceived as “[n]ew complex word[s] created by a speaker / writer on the spur of the moment to cover some immediate need” (Bauer 1983: 45), have been a theme in Anglo-Saxon and Germanic studies for several decades now (cf. among others Lipka 1975; Bauer 1983; Hohenhaus 1996; Crystal 2000; Štekauer 2002; Kerremans 2015), but they have received very little investigation in the French domain. Although nowadays all the conditions are met for the capture of observable data with the use of large corpora, French morphologists tend to be suspicious of individual coinages, especially if they are playful and diverge from what they consider established word formation rules. In French studies, despite the emergence of corpus-based studies, context is rarely taken into consideration, and the generative distinction between competence and performance often remains active: nonce-formations are in the scope of performance, (socio-)pragmatics or stylistics; therefore, they are not to be taken into account in morphological studies. However, nonce-formations address some interesting morphological issues: do they have to be taken into account for productivity measures? What about the clear-cut distinction between productivity and creativity? In the vein of Dal and Namer (2016a), this paper focuses on patterns of emergence of playful nonce-formations in French. After a brief definition of nonce-formations (§ 1), we first identify several recurring patterns of emergence of nonce-formations (§ 2). We then use these patterns to build a continuum among playful nonce-formations (§ 3.1). Lastly, issues related to productivity are discussed (§ 3.2).
This paper is a stylistic analysis of how Eghagha innovatively and creatively manipulates lexical items and engages in morphological innovations in order to foreground the themes of the adverse effect of socio-economic and political misrule by Nigerian rulers on the ordinary man in the Niger Delta region in particular and Nigeria in general. It focuses on the themes of the environmental degradation in the Niger Delta region and that of hope for emancipation of ordinary Nigerians from the tyrannical and corrupt practices of Nigerian rulers. Collocational shifts, lexical paradigms, loan words, neologisms and metaphorical expressions constitute the lexical items that Eghagha creatively manipulate in Rhythms of the Last Testament . The specific morphological patterns innovatively manipulated by Eghagha are affixation and compounding. The paper concludes that Eghagha’s creative manipulation of English diction and morphology foregrounds the interface between language and literary creativity in the use of the English Language.