Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Language Profile: Igbo

This week we're taking a look at the last of the four top languages used in Nigeria. Despite English being the sole official language of Nigeria, the languages of Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo are also important in society. Since we've already covered the first two in recent weeks, today we'll be focusing on Igbo.

Igbo is a Niger-Congo language that is the native language of the Igbo ethnic group in southeastern Nigeria. In the Western world, the Igbo are most known due to the famous novel Things Fall Apart by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, which tells of the effects of British colonialism on an Igbo community.

There are over 20 dialects of Igbo including Standard Igbo, which was developed in the 1970s. The language does contain some loanwords, most of which come from English due to colonization of the area.

This is a Nsibidi record of a judgment from a court case.
You can read the translation of it here.
Currently, Igbo is written using a Latin-based alphabet introduced during British colonization. However, the language was previously written using Nsibidi, an ideographic writing system that uses symbols to represent specific concepts. While the Latin alphabet may help speed up creating written records in Igbo, Nsibidi certainly is a fascinating writing system, and it's a shame that it isn't as commonly used anymore. 

Proverbs and idioms are given much importance by the Igbo people as well. Spoken language is often full of these expressions, which at times can even shorten something that would have taken hundreds of words to say into a few-word phrase. Igbo also is said to only use eight adjectives, words for bigsmalldarklightnewoldgood, and bad. English is absolutely bursting with adjectives, so it's interesting to imagine how different Igbo conversations must be!