Igbo (Igbo: Ásụ̀sụ̀ Ìgbò) is a Niger-Congo language spoken primarily in Nigeria. There are between 18-25 million Igbo speakers living primarily in southeastern Nigeria in an area known as Igboland. Igbo is a national language of Nigeria and is also recognised in Equatorial Guinea. Igbo is made up of many different dialects which aren't mutually intelligible to other Igbo speakers at times. A standard for Igbo called 'Igbo izugbe' has been developed. Igbo is written in the Latin alphabet introduced by British colonialists and missionaries. Secret societies such as the Ekpe use nsibidi ideograms to write Igbo and other languages around its area of influence. Nsibidi is an ideographic writing system used for over 500 years.
Major cities where Igbo is most spoken include Onitsha, Enugu, Owerri (oh-weh-reh), Port Harcourt, and Asaba (in Igbo, ah-hah-bah).
Through the transatlantic slave trade, the Igbo language has influenced many creole languages in the Americas, especially in the former British Caribbean, including islands such as Jamaica, Barbados, Dominica, and Trinidad and Tobago. Variations of Igbo known as Suámo can be found in Cuba. Igbo is spoken by a significant number of people on Bioko island in Equatorial Guinea, formerly known as Fernando Po, and in micro-communities in Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, and it is also spoken by recent migrants of Igbo descent all over the world.
Igbo is a tonal language with a high, mid, and low range, in addition there are rising and falling tones. Accents are used to indicate the high and low tones; an acute accent such as 'ó' are used for high tones, and a grave accent such as 'è' is used for a low tone. There are further accents that indicate nasal tones. The lower dotted accent such as 'ọ' combined with a grave accent ('ọ̀') is used to indicate a low nasal tone, and an upper dotted accent such as 'ė' or a lower dotted accent with an acute accent ('ọ́') is used for a high nasal tone. The trema (¨) such as 'ö' or a simple dot underneath is used for a mid nasal tone. Other diacritics include the caron (ˇ) for rising tones, the circumflex (ˆ) for falling tones, and the macron (¯) for long vowels.
Igbo is considered an agglutinative language. A number of affixed phonemes denote the tense of a verb in addition to the other modifications of a verb root; an example using òjéḿbà, "traveller", can be split into the morphemes: ò, pronoun for animate and inanimate objects or "he, she", jé verb meaning "travel, walk, embark", ḿbà "town, city, country, foreign lands, abroad" resulting in "he/she/it-go[es]-abroad".
Nouns in Igbo have no grammatical number and there are no gendered pronouns or objects. Igbo grammar generally maintains a subject–verb–object clause order; mádụ̀ àbụ́ghị̀ chúkwú, "human[s]-[it]is[not]-God", "man is not God". Adjectives in Igbo are post-modifiers, although there are very few Igbo adjectives in the closed class; many so called "adjectives" in Igbo are considered nouns, especially when the word is a pre-modifier like im ágádí nwóké transliterated as "elderly man". Igbo features vowel harmony between two vowels and commonly features vowel assimilation where a preceding vowel influences the articulation (or the elision with /a/) of the next such as in ǹk'â, "this one", analysed as ǹkè "of" and â "this". Igbo syllable shapes are CV (consonant, vowel) which is the most common, V, and N which are syllabic nasals, there are also semi vowels like /CjV/ in the word bìá (/bjá/) "come" and /CwV/ in gwú /ɡʷú/ "swim".
Using special greetings when addressing elders of the society and those generally significantly older than you is expected in Igbo society. In smaller communities such as villages, it is also expected of non-elders to greet every elder whenever you first see them in a day. Here are some of the greetings used between different levels of the society.
the most common formal greeting equivalent to 'hello'
A formal greeting that can be used to greet anyone
this is the most common polite term when addressing an elder or important person in society, this is used alongside the persons name and an honorific
a greeting mostly used in the northern part of Igboland
can be an equivalent of 'what's up'
more direct, used only by friends, insulting if used on someone older than the greeter
very direct and informal, literally 'what's happening'.
There are greetings usually made to a group of people which can also be used to boost morale.
The most common group greeting, used only by males.
Dǎlụ́'nụ̀ (DAH-LOO nooh)
Meaning literally 'thank you all', this can be used by anybody.
In Igbo society there are different ways of addressing people depending on their status in society. In order to show good manners and politeness, Igbo speakers are expected to use honorifics to address those that are significantly older than them (usually those old enough to be an uncle or grandparent, sure enough 'uncle' is sometimes used as an honorific). Here are some of the basic honorifics used in Igbo society.
The most basic honorific for males, about equivalent to Mister. Mazi Ibekwe: Mister Ibekwe
The most basic honorific for females, about equivalent to Misses, Miss, and most similar to madam or ma'am. Da Mgbechi: Madam Mgbechi
Another honorific for males, usually used in an informal setting, may be seen as the male equivalent of 'da', it has no equivalent in English, but is similar to saying 'big brother'. It is usually shortened to 'de'.
literally elder, used to address male elders.
a noble title for males found in the northern parts of Igboland.
can be interpreted as 'dane' or 'dutchess', a title given to the wife of a titled man.
For those younger than yourself, they can be called by their gender, 'nwóké' male or 'nwânyị̀' female, or by 'nwá' (WAHN) meaning child. This form of address can be patronising.
The Igbo language was first inscribed with ideographs known as nsibidi which originated in the Cross River region of Africa. Nsibidi symbols were used to represent ideas and often times specific objects. British colonialism since the late 19th century till 1960 has wiped away nisbidi from general use and has led to the introduction of the Roman-script-based orthography known as ọ́nwụ́ which developed from several revisions of Roman orthographies in the 19th century and early 20th century. The first book written in Igbo was an Ibo-Isuama primer by Bishop Ajayi Crowther, a Sierra Leonean creole of Egba-Yoruba descent in the 19th century. As a tonal language, the Latin script has been modified to fit the different tones and sounds of the Igbo language.
Igbo-language literary works have been few since colonialism introduced an alphabet. Literature in English by Igbo writers on Igbo society, however, have achieved international acclaim, the most popular of these books, Things Fall Apart, written by author Chinua Achebe, deals with the subject of colonialism and the destruction of Igbo society in the late 19th century.
The Igbo languages' tonality may be confusing at times homonyms are differentiated by the way that the tones are expressed. Diacritics are used to signal tones in written Igbo along with other special characters such as the dot over (˙) and underneath (.). /akwa/ is a notorious homonym in Igbo which can be interpreted in different tones as /ákwà/ ('cloth'), àkwá ('egg'), /ákwá/ ('cry, crying'), /àkwà/ ('bed'), /àkwà/ ('bridge').
There are hundreds of Igbo dialects and Igboid languages spoken by different clans and former nation-states. The high variation and low mutual intelligibility between many Igbo dialects has been a hindrance to written Igbo and Igbo literature over the years, this has lead to the development of a standard form of Igbo known as 'standard Igbo' or Igbo izugbe. This standard form was based on dialects around the central parts of Igboland. Although it is was created to boost Igbo literature, it has received backlash and opposition from Igbo speakers such as author Chinua Achebe, who prefer to speak their own dialects. Igbo izubge is the standard used in the curriculum of Igbo-language studies.
The traditional week in Igbo speaking communities consists of 4 days, each are indicative of a particular market of many different communities. The market days were established by the god-like Eri, an important Igbo ancestor of the 1st millennium AD. Market days are very important to various Igbo communities as they are used to mark major events in the community. Each community is assigned a special day for their market; in a village group no other markets are to be held on a particular villages day. The names of the market days are also used for cardinal directions in some Igbo communities.
The calendar of the Igbo people is known as Oguaro or Oguafor (lit. 'counting of the years'). Month in Igbo is ọnwa (lit. 'moon'), year is 'afọ'. The traditional Igbo year has 13 months which are usually named after their position in the year; most are named after a religious ceremony or after a certain deity such as Ana the mother alusi (deity) of the earth. The traditional 13 month calendar is rarely used in Igbo society, instead the Gregorian 12 month calendar is used. Below are the months of the year in the traditional 13 week Oguaro calendar and their Gregorian equivalents.
Ọ́nwạ́ Mbụ (AW-WAH MM-BOO)
3rd week of February
Ọ́nwạ́ Abuọ (AW-WAH AH-bu-wor)
Ọ́nwạ́ Ife Eke (AW-WAH EE-fay AY-KAY)
Ọ́nwạ́ Anọ (AW-WAH AH-nor)
Ọ́nwạ́ Agwụ (AW-WAH AH-goo)
Ọ́nwạ́ Ifejiọkụ (AW-WAH EE-fay-jee-OR-koo)
Ọ́nwạ́ Alọm Chi (AW-WAH AH-LOHM chi)
August to early September
Ọ́nwạ́ Ilo Mmụọ (AW-WAH EE-low MM-MORE)
Ọ́nwạ́ Ana (AW-WAH AH-NAH)
Ọ́nwạ́ Okike (AW-WAH OH-kee-kay)
Ọ́nwạ́ Ajana (AW-WAH AH-jah-nah)
Ọ́nwạ́ Ede Ajana (AW-WAH AY-DAY ah-jah nah)
Late November to December
Ọ́nwạ́ Ụzọ Alụsị (AW-WAH oo-ZOR AH-LUH-SEE)
January to Early February
The Gregorian calendar is translated into Igbo either by naming the twelve months by their position in the calendar, or by using loan words from English.
The Igbo have adopted the Western way of writing the time and date, most of the times dates are written as they would in English speaking country's (dd/mm/yyyy). These are soome of the terms for date and time in Igbo.
Thank you, please and sorry can be useful in any society. The Igbo forms of these phrases are as follows.
In Igbo society, ndo is usually used to console someone whenever something bas happens to them, for example someone may say ndo to you if you trip over, but it generally isn't used to apologise, only in some cases.
'please', can also be used as an equivalent of 'excuse me'
Literally 'you've done it', this is used as a term for gratitude, if someone brings you a meal, this would be a term to use.
'thanks', this is the most similar to the English 'thank you' and is the most polite
Literally 'use strength', this term is used to show support for someone's hard work; if you see a cook working hard in the kitchen, you can say jisike, usually with a honorific, or if not use their gender ('nwoke' for male, 'nwaanyi' for female), so it would be 'nwaanyi jisike', and you will get a response like 'oh!' which is an expression of acknowledgement.
Like many African languages Igbo is a very expressive language that makes use of a lot of exclamations in its daily use. Some of these are included:
'though' This is usually added to the end of a question to make something inclusive.
'as well' similar to 'kwanu' but is added at the end of any sentence for the same effect.
'oh no!' An exclamation that can be made out of exhaustion, either from laughing at a joke or when work is done, realising a mistake, like leaving the lights in the house on all night, or any other terrible event.
'God!' Chineke is 'God' and is a common expression use for the same purposes as 'Jesus' often does in English.
'Okay, all right' A exclamation that often means agreeing with something, although it can sometimes be used as sarcasm, a common situation where this is used is when someone is arrogant in their knowledge of something. It is often used on its own, but can be attached to another word, e.g 'Chim o!' meaning 'my spirit'.
'No!' An expression used in a shocking tragic moment.
Ọ́ dị̀kwà égwù (AW dee-kwah EH-gwoo)
'Impossible' Sometimes used to show absolute rejection of something.
'Disgusting!' Extreme rejection or opposition of something, usually followed with clicking fingers over the head as to rid oneself of the thing in question. This is an often reaction to an abomination.
Chínēkè é kwélé ị́hyẹ́ ọ́jọ̄ (CHEE-NAY-kay EH KWEH-LEH EE-HEE-YEAH OH-JAW)
'God will not allow a bad thing' An exclamation made out of shock when a bad thing happens.