Igbo (Igbo: Asusu Igbo) is a language spoken in Nigeria by around 20-35 million people, the Igbo, especially in the southeastern region once identified as Biafra and parts of Southsouthern region of Nigeria. The language was used by John Goldsmith as an example to justify deviating from the classical linear model of phonology as laid out in The Sound Pattern of English. It is written in the Roman script. There is also the Nsibidi alphabet which is used by the Ekpe society. Igbo is a tonal language, like Yoruba and Chinese. There are hundreds of different dialects and Igboid languages that the Igbo language is comprised of such as Ikwerre Enuani (linguistics) and Ekpeye dialects.
The wide variety of spoken dialects has made agreeing a standardised orthography and dialect of the Igbo language very difficult. The current Onwu orthography, a compromise between the older Lepsius orthography and a newer orthography advocated by the International Institute of African Languages and Cultures (IIALC), was agreed in 1962.
The dialect form gaining widest acceptance, Central Igbo, is based on the dialects of two members of the Ezinehite group of Igbo in Central Owerri Province between the towns of Owerri and Umuahia, Eastern Nigeria. From its proposal as a literary form in 1939 by Dr. Ida C. Ward, it was gradually accepted by missionaries, writers, and publishers across the region. In 1972, the Society for Promoting Igbo Language and Culture (SPILC), a nationalist organisation which saw Central Igbo as an imperialist exercise, set up a Standardisation Committee to extend Central Igbo to be a more inclusive language. Standard Igbo aims to cross-pollinate Central Igbo with words from Igbo dialects from outside the "Central" areas, and with the adoption of loan words.
In 1999, Chinua Achebe, the most internationally famous Igbo speaker, passionately denounced Standard Igbo and its ancestors as colonial and conservative impositions on the rich range of Igbo dialects. To illustrate his point, he delivered his lecture in a dialect peculiar only to Onitsha speakers, which was almost unintelligible to more than half the audience.
Many names in Igbo are actually fusions of older original words and phrases. For example, one Igbo word for vegetable leaves is "akwukwo nri", which literally means "leaves for eating" or "vegetables". Green leaves are called "akwukwo ndu", because "ndu" means "life". Another example is train ("ugbo igwe"), which comes from the words "ugbo" (vehicle, craft) and "igwe" (iron, metal); thus a locomotive train is vehicle via iron (rails); a car, "ugbo ala"; vehicle via land and an aeroplane "ugbo elu" ; vehicle via air. Words may also take on multiple meanings. Take for example the word "akwukwo." "Akwukwo" originally means "leaf" (as on a tree), but during and after the colonization period, akwukwo also came to be linked to "paper," "book," "school," and "education", to become respectively "akwukwo edemede", "akwukwo ogugu", "ulo akwukwo", "mmuta akwukwo". 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. Combined with other words, "akwukwo" can take on many forms — for example, "akwukwo ego" means "printed money" or "bank notes," and "akwukwo eji eje ije" means "passport."
Igbo is a tonal language with two distinctive tones; high and low. In some cases a third, downstepped high tone is also recognized. The language features vowel harmony with two sets of vowels distinguished by pharyngeal cavity size and can also be described in terms of "advanced tongue root" (ATR).
In some dialects, such as Enu-Onitsha Igbo, the doubly articulated /g͡b/ and /k͡p/ are realized as a voiced/devoiced bilabial implosive. The approximant /ɹ/ is realized as an alveolar tap [ɾ] between vowels as in árá. The Enu-Onitsha Igbo dialect is very much similar to Enuani spoken among the Igbo-Anioma people in Delta State.
Syllables are of the form (C)V (optional consonant, vowel) or N (a syllabic nasal). CV is the most common syllable type. Every syllable bears a tone. Consonant clusters do not occur. The semivowels j and w can occur between consonant and vowel in some syllables. The semi-vowel in CjV is analyzed as an underlying vowel 'ị', so that -bịa is the phonemic form of bjá 'come'. On the other hand, 'w' in CwV is analysed as an instance of labialization; so the phonemic form of the verb -gwá 'tell' is /-gʷá/.
|gb||/ɓ/ ~ /ɡ͡b/||kp||/ɓ̥/ ~ /k͡p/|
|m||/m/ and /m̩/||gw||/ɡʷ/|
|n||/n/ and /n̩/||kw||/kʷ/|
The graphemes Tones are sometimes indicated in writing, and sometimes not. When tone is indicated, low tones are shown with a grave accent over the vowel, for example → <à>, and high tones with an acute accent over the vowel, for example → <á>.
Tones are sometimes indicated in writing, and sometimes not. When tone is indicated, low tones are shown with a grave accent over the vowel, for example → <à>, and high tones with an acute accent over the vowel, for example → <á>.