Igbo Language and Igbo Dialects

The homeland of Igbo language is the Southern Nigerian states of Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo, Rivers and North Central state of Benue.

Igbo language is the majority language in Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo States. There are as many dialects of Igbo language as there are villages in Igbo land. There are over 100 dialects of Igbo. The dialects vary widely in their degree of mutual intelligibility. The Igbo term for dialect is 'olumba' The following are some dialects of Igbo language:

Some Dialects of Igbo Language
StateDialects
Abia StateOhuhu
Ohafia
Abiriba
Ngwa
Arochukwu
Anambra StateOnitsha
Ogbaru
Idemmili
Awka
Aguleri
Delta StateUkwuani
Ika
Ndokwa
Enuani
Ebonyi StateAbakaliki
Afikpo
Izii
Enugu StateEnugu
Nsukka
Inyi
Achi
Imo StateAwo
Orlu
Mbaise
Okigwe
Ugwuta
Egbema
Rivers StateObigbo
Echee
Ndoki
Opobo
Egbema
Ikwere

It is important to note that some speakers of dialects of Igbo language in Akwa Ibom State, Cross River State, Delta State, and Rivers State might not like their language to be referred to as a dialect of Igbo language, they prefer to refer to them as standalone languages.


Igbo Izugbe
Igbo Izugbe is the dialect that is taught in schools. It does not belong to any community or village, it arose as a result of interaction among speakers of various Igbo dialects, and conscious effort by early Igbo scholars to agree on a standard dialect for teaching and learning in schools and other formal settings, and for scholarly purpose. Some scholars argue that Igbo Izugbe is a written dialect because it is standardize, while the spoken version is called Central Igbo, as Central Igbo is not standardized. Igbo Izugbe is a spoken dialect for people who learnt to speak Igbo language in a formal settings or outside Igbo homeland.


Igbo Izugbe vs. Central Igbo
Written Igbo is standardized, and spoken Igbo is not standardized. Generally, when people speak Igbo, they speak the dialect that they feel comfortable speaking, but they tone it down, so speakers of other dialects can understand them. The 'toning down' is called Central Igbo. When three people; one from Mbaise, one from Awka, and one from Nsukka are discussing, each would be speaking a toned-down version of their dialect to enable the other persons understand what they are saying. That`s called Central Igbo. This is the current meaning of Central Igbo. Historically, Central Igbo meant something else.


Some ways dialects of Igbo language might differ
There are a lot of ways dialects of Igbo language might differ from one another. Some of the differences could be in the following:

  • Pronunciation
  • Accent
  • Bound morphemes
  • Word
  • Syntax

Difference in pronunciation
There are 36 letters in the Igbo language alphabet (Igbo Izugbe). Some dialects have sounds that are not represented by any letter of the standard Igbo language alphabet, and some dialects do not use all the 36 letters of the alphabet. For example, some dialects do not have the 'sh' sound, and some dialects do not have the 'v' sound. There are 8 vowel sounds in Igbo Izugbe, but some dialects like Ohafia, Agbor, Afikpo have additional vowel sound that would make it 9 vowel sounds.

Examples using Ohafia Dialect
EnglishIgbo IzugbeOhafia Dialect
eyeanyaẹnya
nameahaẹha
handakaẹka
horseịnyịnyaẹnyinya

There are 28 consonant sounds in the Igbo alphabet. Majority of the differences in pronunciations come from variations in consonant. Studies have shown that Ohuhu dialect has 55 consonants, Owerri dialect has 60, Orlu dialect has 65. Generally, Igbo dialects with nasalization (such as the foregoing) have more consonants than the dialects without nasalization.

Examples using Orlu Dialect
EnglishIgbo IzugbeOrlu Dialect
leakingaraara
breastaraarra
having sexaraarha
termiteakụakụ
wealthakụakhụ

Difference in accent
Dialects might have the same word for something, but the accent and tone might be different.

Examples of Difference in Accent
EnglishIgbo IzugbeSome Dialects
morningụ́tụ̀tụ̀ụ̀tụ̀tụ̀
afternoonéhìhìèèhìhìè

Difference in bound morphemes
The table below shows some dialectical variations in bound morphemes

Suffix indicating past perfect
EnglishIgbo IzugbeSome Dialects
has (verb)-la-na
-go
-gwe
-gwo
-wo
-gwome
-gwele
He has comeỌ bịalaỌ bịana
Ọ bịago
Ọ bịagwe
Ọ bịagwo
Ọ bịawo
Ọ bịagwome
Ọ bịagwele

Suffix indicating past (negative)
EnglishIgbo IzugbeSome Dialects
did not (verb)ghị -rọ
-shọ
-họ
-hụ
-ghụ
He did not comeỌ biaghịỌ biarọ
Ọ bịashọ
Ọ bịahọ
Ọ bịahụ
Ọ bịaghụ

Suffix indicating future tense
EnglishIgbo IzugbeSome Dialects
will-ga -ma
-ya
-wa
-je
-bịa
He will comeỌ ga-abịaỌ ma-abịa
Ọ ya-abịa
Ọ wa-abịa
O je-abịa
Ọ bịa-abịa

Difference in words
This could be complete difference in word, slight difference in word or extended meaning of a word.

Complete difference in word: In this case the word for things are completely different. Speakers of other dialects without prior exposure to this dialect would not know what the word means.

Examples of Complete Difference in Word
EnglishIgbo IzugbeSome Dialects
peanutahụekereapapa, ashịboko, ụkpaala, sisimoko
bitter kolaakị iluugoro, oworiwo, adụ, agbị ilu
cassavaakpụjiakpụ, jiakwụ, egboro, ovoko, iwa
age grade/mateebiriọgbọ, ụkwa, uke, egu, ọgba
afternoonehihieogoroowu, ikete, efenaị
twentyiri abụọohu, ọgụ, ukporo
cornọkaakpe, aza, mkpa, ịkpa, akpa, ogbondu
oneotuofu, nnaa, nge, ọlị
ashntụụzụzụ, etum, ibe, obu
plantain (banana)unereogede, ntịtị, abịrịka, inine, ji ịkpa
kitchenusekwuụsọ ọkụ, okpukpo ọkụ, ụfọ, obiri
bambooacharaọtọsị

Slight Difference in word: This is as a result of variance in one or more vowels or consonants.

Examples of Slight Difference in Word
EnglishIgbo IzugbeSome Dialects
bodyahụarụ, ashụ, ehụ, eshụ, eshi, eghụ
landalaale, alị, ana, anị
husbanddiji, ndi, idị
hungeragụụagụọ, agụrụ, egụụ, agụ, egụ
whatgịnịngịnị, ngịrị, ngọnọ, gụnụ, nụnụ, nịnị, kịị
dognkịtankụta, nchịta, ntịte
houseụlọulo, uyo, ụyọ
isdịdụ, rị, rụ, lị
thingiheife, ifhe, ihie, hie, hwe, nhie, ive
soupofeohe, ọve, ohwe, ofo
morningụtụtụụktụtụ, ụkụtụ
afternoonehihieefifie, evivie
foodnrinni, ni
anotherọzọọdọ, ọdzọ
yearafọahwọ, ehwọ, arọ
threeatọa-htọ, itọ
fouranọnnọ, inọ
yesterdayụnyaahụnnyaa, ụnyaa, nnyaafụ, nnyaafụlụ
nameahaafa, ẹha, ava, afva, ẹva

Extended meaning of a word: There are also cases where a word in one dialect might have extended meaning in other dialects

Examples of Extended Meaning of a Word
EnglishIgboDialect
tomorrowechiOrlu
tomorrowechiMbaise
yesterdayechiMbaise
------------
I will go tomorrowAga m aga echiOrlu
I will go tomorrowAga m aga echiMbaise
------------
I went yesterdayAgara m ụnyaahụOrlu
I went yesterdayAgara m echiMbaise

Since Orlu people live close to Mbaise people, Orlu people already know that Mbaise people use the same word for tomorrow and yesterday. However, a young boy from Awka who has never left his town might wonder why someone is using 'yesterday' for 'tomorrow'.


Difference in syntax
There could be difference due to the order of words in a sentence.

Examples of Difference in Syntax
EnglishIgbo IzugbeAba Dialect
He is eatingO na-eri nriO riga nri
John is laughingJohn na-achị ọchịJohn chịga ọchị

Conclusion
Igbo speakers generally understand one another, provided the dialects are toned down. For example, speaking Igbo in places like Aba, Onitsha, Umuahia, Owerri, Enugu involves some compromise, which is almost automatic for people who live in those areas. In conclusion, there are a lot of dialects of spoken Igbo, but written Igbo is one: Igbo Izugbe