The Extinction of the Igbo Language

The Extinction of the Igbo Language
The Extinction of the Igbo Language

The power of every culture is in its language. The extinction of Igbo language leads the culture and of course the tribe to extinction as well; a mere speculation with no strong known presence.

Take for example the American red-Indian tribes, whose native languages, Navajo and Yupik have widely gone into “nearly extinction” and are now being replaced with the English language. As a result of this, the American Indians went into extinction, especially Koroa Indians, Beothuk Indians, Westo Indians, Utina Indians e.t.c

The UNESCO red book commissioned in 1995 was in an effort to spotlight the crisis of language across the world categorized the language of the world in descending order into six groups; “extinct” “nearly extinct” “seriously endangered” “potentially endangered or endangered” and “safe”.

Igbo in this book was classified as endangered. At first sight, this classification appeared to be grossly misplaced since its survival seems to be well guaranteed by its status both as one of the three main indigenous languages of Nigeria and also as one of the major languages of literature.

Looking at the situation in 2021, right from the inception of the foreign man’s education. A part of our people most especially the well-travelled and learned ones, at this moment in time, find it embarrassing to speak the native language, as English has now become the new sexy for these folks. In most homes, English has also replaced the Igbo language as a means of communication amongst family members. A lot of the 2000s and the late 90s generation barely know how to speak the mother tongue, in fact, there’s a term used in describing people who fall into this category; “my mama say I be Igbo”. Sadly, people termed in this category pride in this admission of degrading phrase as some of them see it has been fancy or affluent, sad reality!

More dangerously are the large numbers of the younger generation who have never been spoken to with the Igbo language. On the other end, there is the group of children who learn the language; but only one-fourth of them are active speakers, leaving the third-fourth of the rest as a group of people who understands the Igbo language perfectly but can barely make an Igbo sentence without code-mixing.

We must understand that speaking is equally as important as understanding the Igbo language. In years to come, these children would become parents who are left with the duty of passing down the culture to the future generation. The question “Would Igbo language become an “extinct” or “nearly extinct” language by then?” Begs for questioning.

How then do well avert this looming danger, what measures are being taken to promote the Igbo language adequately?

As a people, we have to collectively recognize the problem first before pro-founding solutions.


The most important external factors are;

1. Location distribution: People who grew all their lives in an environment with non-native Igbo speakers are likely bound to speak less of Igbo and to make sure this doesn’t affect the Igbo speakers; in ancient times our forefathers made it a point to instil active Igbo unions in all towns that had Igbo speakers. These groups are now becoming fewer with few members in the present age and time.

Folks of the present age, poise this group as an avenue to show off wealth rather than its purpose of creating social bonding, promoting the Igbo culture and its language.

2. Status: A wide range of affluent Igbo indigenes has allowed classism to affect the Igbo speaking culture. People now tend to perceive people who barely speak the mother tongue as being affluent and or the white man standard learned.

3. Repressive language policies in the Education system: Generally, Africans have inducted the behavioural trait of tagging their language as vernacular and the Igbo nation are no different. The English language has become the only accepted language in the educational system of Nigeria. Admission into secondary schools is dependent on a child passing their English exams. With WASSCE, a child who gets an A in all subjects including Math and gets an F in English has failed the entire exams and such a child is made to re-sit the exams.

4. Limitation of speaking Igbo competence in public and private setups: Take a walk around an Igbo market, a 70% range of people are either speaking in English or in pidgin. Meanwhile, in a Yoruba dominated area/market, you will find 80% of Yoruba’s speaking in their native dialect, these people are so patriotic that they do not care, if you understand their language or not. Unlike the Igbo traders, you find in Aba or Onitsha who would rather speak pidgin or English to other tribes than their own language. More funnily enough are our Igbo brothers who live amongst them, learning and speaking their language just to adapt to their environment, some of whom have taken the Yoruba language as their medium for communication, one would wonder why it is easy for us to learn other people’s language and not ours. Why aren’t we promoting our culture enough?

5. Borrowed language or codes: language shift has become a phenomenon that is well known to Igbo speakers, in fact, the Igbo language has the most borrowed language in Nigeria.

Language shift involves the gradual increase in a non-native Igbo linguistic element in the dialect of active speakers of Igbo as well as a parallel decrease in native Igbo linguistic element. It also involves the code-mixing and code-switching manifested in the hybrid lect commonly known as Engligbo. This is indeed the biggest problem.

Examples of these language shifts are;


Referring “Ini” as Eba (Yoruba name for the swallow)

Referring “Akpu Nkpo” as “Garri (again a Yoruba name for cassava flour)

“Awka” instead of “Oka”

“Asoebi” is a borrowed language as well as a borrowed culture used to refer to a bridal train or event, uniformed group.


1. Í ya-eje to the place má í travela

Meaning: Will you go to that place when you travel.

NB: notice the use of English in the phrase marked red

2. Please, mee something maka that problem before ya- erie your head

As against

Biko, mee ihe maka nsogbu gi aha, ka isi gi ya-erie tupu


A lot parallel to the fate of the Igbo dialects has been undergoing standardized movement founded by different groups such Koyra, Igboist, Igbo Amaka as well as other indigenous groups. Very more satisfying is the development of more universities in the Eastern part of Nigeria infusing the Igbo language as a compulsory course for all students including non-native speakers.

These audacious measures will see to our dear Igbo language moving from “endangered” language classification to a “safe” widely spoken language in the future

Igbo Kwenu

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