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Number of Speakers: 18 million

Key Dialects: Owerri (Isuama), Umuahia, Onitsha, Orlu, Ngwa, Afikpo, Nsa, Oguta, Aniocha, Eche, Egbema, Oka (Awka), Bonny-Opobo, Mbaise, Nsuka, Ohuhu, Unwana.

Geographical Center: Niger-Delta region of Nigeria, inland.

Igbo is one of the four largest languages of West Africa. A total of 18 million people or roughly 16.6% of the Nigerian population speak Igbo, or as it is sometimes spelled Ibo. Within Nigeria, Igbo is spoken primarily in the following Southern Delta region states: Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo. It is also spoken in the northeast of the Delta state and in the southeast of the Rivers state. Igbo is rarely spoken outside of Nigeria. Igbo speakers are typically bilingual, speaking English as well

Igbo is a Kwa language of the Benue-Congo subfamily of the Volta-Congo and Atlantic-Congo branches of the Niger-Congo language family.

In total, there are approximately thirty Igbo dialects. These dialects vary considerably with respect to degree of intelligibility with the standard dialect. Variation is mostly lexical and phonological. The standard literary form is itself a dialect under development. It is based on the Owerri and Umuahia dialects.

The official Igbo orthography (known as Onwu) uses a Roman script.

The Igbo phoneme inventory consists of eight vowels, thirty consonants, and two tones, depending on the analysis. The use of double articulations in the consonant system, in particular the (implosive) labiovelars (e.g. [kp], [gb]), is a defining feature of the Igbo sound system. Likewise, aspiration and nasalization are also phonemic (contrastive) in the language. The tone system of Igbo consists of two primary tones (high and low). When these tones are combined in a variety of ways, various complex derived tone changes and tonal melodies occur. As in many West African languages, tone is both lexically contrastive and grammatical. In fact, the grammatical role played by tone is quite considerable, as more grammatical relations are expressed via tone than by word order/morphology. The syllable structure of the language is relatively simple, as only three syllable types are attested: syllabic nasal, vowel, and consonant-vowel sequences. Vowels within a given word harmonize with respect to the feature Advanced Tongue Root, meaning that a number of conditioned vowel changes take place word-internally. In other words, all vowels surfacing within a word will be produced either with the root of the tongue in a retracted state or in an advanced state. A number of other assimilatory processes occur as well.

Igbo is an isolating language with relatively little morphology. That is to say, grammatical information is for the most part encoded word-externally on discrete root morphemes as opposed to word-internally via a series of affixes. As is typical of Kwa languages, the majority of Igbo words are morphologically simple, showing little to no morphological structure. Igbo verbs, however, do bear a modest amount of morphological structure. Verbs inflect for tense (past, present, future) and aspect (progressive, perfective, durative, inchoative), via both prefixation and suffixation. In addition, verbs bear additional morphology depending on the sentence-type. For example, verbs in imperative sentences bear special suffixes and in negative sentences they take certain prefixes. Reduplication is a productive derivational morphological process in the language (for example, it is the primary means by which verbs are nominalized). Syntactically, verbs are among the most complex category of expressions in the language. Cognate object constructions (verbs taking identical de-verbal nominal objects), serial verb constructions (verbs followed by other verbs without mediation of coordination or subordination), and complex verbs (verb forms comprised of two distinct and often semantically non-compositional roots) are all widely attested in the language. As in other Kwa languages, very few adjectives and prepositions exist in the language. Nouns do not overtly bear marking of case. The basic clause order in Igbo is SVO.

In the southwestern and Delta regions of Nigeria, Igbo has official language status. There it is used for government notices. In the states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo, Igbo is the main language of trade and commerce. Igbo is used in mass media communication (radio and television) in the southern Delta region of Nigeria as well.

The origin of the Igbo people and language has been the subject of much speculation. It has only been within the last fifty years that any substantive work has been carried out in this area. The current line of thought is that the Igbo originated in an area roughly one hundred miles north of their current location at the confluence of the Niger and Benue Rivers around the ninth century. The earliest surviving works of Igbo art date back to the tenth century, somewhat supporting this contention. Subsequent migration from this area occurred in all directions. As such, the Igbo share linguistic ties with a number of ethnic groups: Bini, Igala, Yoruba, and Idoma. The first contact with Europeans came in the mid-fifteenth century with the arrival of the Portuguese and the British. The British ultimately colonized Nigeria, influencing some of the linguistic, economical, and cultural aspects of the Igbo people.

Anyanwu, Rose-Juliet. 1998. Aspects of Igbo Grammar. Phonetics, Phonology, Morphology, and the Tonology of Nouns. Hamburg: Lit Verlag.

Biddulph, Joseph. 1992. A Short Ibo Grammar. Pontypridd: Languages Information Centre.

Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (Editor). 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth Edition. Dallas: SIL International.

Green, M.M. and Rev. G.E. Igwe. 1963. A Descriptive Grammar of Igbo. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag.

Uwalaka, Mary Angela. 1997. Igbo Grammar. Ibadan: The Pen Services.

Ward, Ida C. 1936. An Introduction to the Ibo Language. Cambridge: W. Heffer & Sons, Ltd.

Williamson, Kay. 1972. Igbo-English Dictionary. Benin City: Ethiope Publishing Corporation.

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