The Language of The Week: Igbo

To be honest, I had never heard of that language before- even in my linguistic courses! 🙂 Well, that means, we will discover it together!

Let’s find out what kind of language Igbo is! 🙂

– Igbo is a native language of the Igbo people, an ethnic group primarily located in southeastern Nigeria. There are approximately 20 million speakers that are mostly in Nigeria and are primarily of Igbo descent.

– Igbo, like many other West African languages, has borrowed words from European languages, mainly English. Example loanwords include the Igbo word for blue [blu] and operator [opareto].

– Igbo has an extremely limited number of adjectives—just eight: ukwu ‘big’, nta ‘small’; oji ‘dark’, ọcha ‘light’; ọhụrụ ‘new’, ochie‘old’; ọma ‘good’; ọjọọ ‘bad’.

– Words may also take on multiple meanings. Take for example the word akwụkwọAkwụkwọ originally means “leaf” (as on a tree), but during and after the colonization period, akwụkwọ also came to be linked to “paper,” “book,” “school,” and “education”, to become respectively akwụkwọ édémédéakwụkwọ ọgụgụụlọ akwụkwọmmụta akwụkwọ. This is because printed paper can be first linked to an organic leaf, and then the paper to a book, the book to a school, and so on.

-Proverbs and idiomatic (ilu in Igbo) expressions are highly valued by the Igbo people and proficiency in the language means knowing how to intersperse speech with a good dose of proverbs.

– Igbo is a tonal language with two distinctive tones, high and low.

– The language features vowel harmony with two sets of oral vowels.

– The Igbo people have long used Nsibidi ideograms, invented by the neighboring Ekoi people, for basic written communication.

–  The current Önwu (/oŋwu/) alphabet, a compromise between the older Lepsius alphabet and a newer alphabet advocated by the International Institute of African Languages and Cultures (IIALC), was agreed to in 1962.

Igbo had a written script known Nsibidi:

Nsibidi Sheet 1


If we have natives here, please share more information with us! 🙂

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