< Idoma | Major Languages | Ijo >
Categories: Languages, Nigeria

1.  Classification / Classification

The linguistic lineage of Igbo (sometimes spelled Ibo):

Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, Benue-Congo, Igboid, Igbo. (Ethnologue?)

Igbo is both the name of a language cluster as well as the name of the largest language within the cluster. That is to say, the Igbo language cluster is subdivided into: Igbo, Ika, Ikwere, Izii-Ezaa-Ikwo-Mgbo, Ogbah, Ukwuani-Aboh-Ndoni. (Ethnologue)

2.  Where Spoken / Localisation géographique

Igbo is the major language of south-eastern Nigeria. Igbo is spoken indigenously in the states of Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Benue, Delta, Edo, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo and Rivers. (However in Benue and Edo, it is a minority language.) The related Igboid language, Ekpeye, is spoken in two states, Bayelsa and Rivers. (Unijos)

3.  Number of Speakers / Nombre de locuteurs

There is a lot of uncertainty with regard to the exact number of speakers. Most published works give conflicting numbers, and looking for an exact number from the Nigerian government is really of not much help, as the number from the government has always been subject to politically motivated alterations. 18,000,000 (1999 WA) (Ethnologue); 25,000,000 (Eze and Manfredi 2001)

According to Ethnologue, speakers of Izi-Ezaa-Ikwo-Mgbo number 593,000 (1973 SIL).

4.  Dialect Survey / Enquête de dialecte

There are individual efforts in Igbo dialectology; Ubahakwe (forthcoming: see bibliography) includes a survey of Igbo dialects. (Webbook) [needs update]

According to Ethnologue, dialects include: Owerri (Isuama), Onitsha, Umuahia, Orlu, Ngwa, Afikpo, Nsa, Oguta, Aniocha, Eche, Egbema, Oka (Awka), Bonny-Opobo, Mbaise, Nsuka, Ohuhu, Unwana. 30 dialects vary in inherent intelligibility. The standard literary form is developing based on the dialects of Owerri and Umuahia, omitting the nasality and aspiration found in those dialects.

Also according to Ethnologue, Izi (Izzi), Ezaa (Eza), Ikwo, and Mgbo (Ngbo) constitute an additional dialect cluster.

5.  Usage / Utilisation

Igbo is a national language, also widely used in primary schools as a medium of instruction. (Webbook?)

According to Ethnologue (accessed 2007): Official language? in the southwest [sic - presumably mean the southeast of Nigeria]. The main trade language of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo states. Used for government notices.

6.  Orthography / Orthographe

6.1  Status / Statut

Igbo has an official orthography established in 1961; everything published in Igbo is in this orthography. (Webbook) It is Latin-based, with several diacritic characters, and is known as the Onwu orthography.

The standard written form of Igbo is based on the Owerri and Umuahia dialects and has been in use since 1962. (Omniglot)

G. C. A. Oldendorp, a German missionary, was the first person to produce a book containing material written in Igbo, which consisted of a few words and phrases. His book, Geschichte der Mission der Evangelischen Bruder auf den Carabischen (History of the Evangelistic Mission of the Brothers in the Caribbean), was published in 1777. The first book in Igbo, Isoama-Ibo a primer, was produced in 1857 by Samuel Ajayi Crowther ... (Omniglot)

There are some recent efforts that deviate more or less from the Onwu orthography.

  • "[In the] Igbo-English Dictionary from Egemba Igwe (1999), the author has added the necessary signs for the missing sounds, as his dialect is one of those that cannot be fully written the standard orthography. His dialect has nasalized vowels, and some other dialects have nasalized consonants. But note please that he DOES NOT add any new alphabets." (Chinedu Uchechukwu, Message #101 in the "Igbo language & ICT" message board)
  • Michael Echeruo's Igbo-English Dictionary (1998) attempted to introduce an alternative orthography, substituting diaresis for subdot on some vowels, and changing the value of some letters. This has aroused some controversy.

6.2  Sample Alphabet / Alphabet exemple

The "Igbo language & ICT" message board has a sample at http://www.quicktopic.com/17/H/tCcDxVXHgQxN (see especially messages 8-10, 46). This is summarised here:
a, b, ch, d, e, f, g , gb, gh, gw, h, i, ị, j, k, kp, kw, l, m, n, nw, ny, ṅ, o, ọ, p, r, r, s, sh, t, u, ụ, v, w, y, z

Alphabets as reported by Hartell (1993) and presented in Systèmes alphabétiques:

See also:

Sample texts on the "Language Museum" site:

7.  Use in ICT / Utilisation dans les TIC

7.1  Fonts / Polices

Unicode fonts with the Extended Latin Additional? range are necessary.

7.2  Keyboards / Claviers

a) Keyboard Layouts / Dispositions de clavier

Some are discussed on the "Igbo language & ICT" message board at http://www.quicktopic.com/17/H/tCcDxVXHgQxN

b) Production Keyboards / Claviers de production

Lancor's "KỌNYIN" keyboard for Windows includes all needed characters for Igbo - http://www.konyin.com/

c) Keyman Based Keyboard Layout for Igbo [Andrew Cunningham and Chinedu Uchechukwu]


7.3  Content on computers & internet / Contenu en informatique et sur l'Internet

Universal Declaration of Human Rights http://www.unhchr.ch/udhr/lang/igr.htm

Wikipedia in Igbo at http://ig.wikipedia.org/ (over 1000 articles as of 11-2015)

"Ụwandịigbo" ("dedicated to the promotion of Igbo language, literature and culture") http://uwandiigbo.com/wb/ & http://www.groups.yahoo.com/groups/uwandiigbo

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program in Nigeria will include some Igbo content: Ótù laptọ́ọ̀pụ̀ maka ótù nwatakịrị - http://laptop.org/index.ig.html

7.4  Localized software / Logiciels localisés

None yet, though there was a translation effort underway by Linux2Igbo. [need update and info on other efforts]

7.5  Codes / Codes


  • ISO 639-1: ig
  • ISO 639-2: ibo
  • ISO 639-3: ibo


  • ISO 639-3: eza

''Izi-Ezaa-Ikwo-Mgbo (retired, 2012)

  • ISO 639-3: izi


  • ISO 639-3: izz


  • ISO 639-3: gmz

(Izi-Ezaa-Ikwo-Mgbo was "Split into Izii [izz], Ezaa [eza], Ikwo [iqw], Mgbolizhia [gmz]")

7.6  Other / Autre

The Motherland Nigeria has some items on Igbo: http://www.motherlandnigeria.com/languages.html

8.  Localisation resources / Ressources pour localisation

8.1  Individuals (experts) / Individuelles (experts)

8.2  Institutions / Institutions


  • Lancor Technologies, Ikeja, Lagos State, Nigeria

8.3  On the internet / Sur la toile

"Igbo language & ICT (fonts, keyboards & applications)" message board, http://www.quicktopic.com/17/H/tCcDxVXHgQxN

"Linux2Igbo · Linux Translation Project for Igbo," http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Linux2Igbo/

IgboLoc, http://igboloc.org

"Igbo Accent Codes" (TLT, Penn State Univ.) http://tlt.its.psu.edu/suggestions/international/bylanguage/igbo.html

9.  Comments / Remarques

10.  References / Références

Chanard, Christian (2006), Systèmes alphabétiques des langues africaines, LLACAN, CNRS, http://sumale.vjf.cnrs.fr/phono/

Dwyer, David (1997), Webbook of African Languages, http://africa.isp.msu.edu/afrlang/hiermenu.html (page on "Igbo," http://africa.isp.msu.edu/afrlang/Igbo_root.html )

Eze, Ejike & Manfredi, Victor 2001. "Igbo" In Facts About the World's Languages: An Encyclopedia of the World's Major Garry, Jane, and Carl Rubino. Languages: Past and Present. New York/Dublin: H. W. Wilson Press.

Hartell, Rhonda L., ed. (1993), The Alphabets of Africa. Dakar: UNESCO and SIL. (The French edition, published the same year, is entitled Alphabets de Langues Africaines).

Omniglot, "Igbo (igbo)," http://www.omniglot.com/writing/igbo.htm

SIL International, Ethnologue: Languages of the World, "Ezaa," http://www.ethnologue.com/language/eza

______, "Igbo," http://www.ethnologue.com/language/ibo

______, "Izi-Ezaa-Ikwo-Mgbo," http://www.ethnologue.com/language/izi

______, "Izii," http://www.ethnologue.com/language/izz

______, "Mgbolizhia," http://www.ethnologue.com/language/gmz

SIL International, "ISO 639 Code Tables," http://www-01.sil.org/iso639-3/codes.asp

U.S. Library of Congress, "ISO 639.2: Codes for the Representation of Names of Languages: Alpha-3 codes arranged alphabetically by the English name of language," http://www.loc.gov/standards/iso639-2/php/English_list.php

University of Nigeria, Jos (Unijos), Department of Languages & Linguistics, http://www.uiowa.edu/intlinet/unijos/nigonnet/nlp/regions.htm

Wikipedia, "Igbo language," https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Igbo_language

< Idoma | Major Languages | Ijo >

Categories: Languages, Nigeria