Comparative Study Of Enuani And The Nkwerre Dialect Of Igbo Language

Project and Seminar Material for African Languages

Comparative Study Of Enuani And The Nkwerre Dialect Of Igbo Language


This research work critically examines the phonological variation in Enuani and Nkwerre dialects. The method of data elicitation was mainly perceptual against descriptive approach. This was achieved through systematic observation and analysis of the speakers’ use of language in natural situations. In collecting the data adult male and female were interviewed with 8persons from each dialect, 4male and 4female respectively. In this study the researcher provided some linguistic evidence to support his argument that 1ę1is an autonomous vowel phoneme in the Enuani dialect. First, he uses some minimal pairs to show instances where it contrasts with both lal and 1e1. In addition, he compares the Enuani vowel harmony set with the Nkwerre set, pointing out that whereas the fonner has 9 vowel phonemes with the vowel phoneme 1ę1inclusive, the latter has 8 without it. Finally, he uses unitary words to show instances where 1ę1 like lal and 1e1 either co-occur or do not co-occur in the Enuani dialect. With the above points he conclusively stated that 1ę1is a vowel phoneme in the Enuani dialect.

Chapter One


1.1 Background of the Study

Before the 16th century, the Igbo had an ideogram form of writing called “Nsibidi ideograms” (“Nsibidi” is an ancient system of graphic communication indigenous to the “Ejagham people of South-eastern Nigeria and South-western Cameroon in the Cross River region”). This form of writing was also used by other neighbouring people like the Ibibios and the Efik. The form of writing was invented by the Ekoi people for written communication. This form died out most likely due to the fact that many of its users were members of secret societies such as Ekpe, who then made “Nsibidi” a secret form of communication and did not want to publicly discuss it.

(“Nsibidi”: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution and Oraka (1983), the foundations of Igbo Studies).

The first book to publish Igbo words was Geschichte der Mission der Evangelischen Bruder auf den Carabischen (German: History of the Evangelistic Mission of the Brothers in the Caribbean), published in 1777. Shortly afterwards, in 1789, the interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, a former slave, featuring 79 Igbo words. The narrative also illustrated various aspects of Igbo life in detail, based on Olauah Equiano’s experiences in his hometown in Essaka (Oraka, 1983:21; Equiano & Olaudah, 1789: 9).

In 1854, a German philologist named Karl Richard Lepsius made a “Standard Alphabet” meant for all languages of the world. In 1882, Britain enacted an educational ordinance to direct the teaching of reading and writing only in English. This temporarily inhibited the development of Igbo, along with other languags of West Africa and this was after the Igbo culture had been comprised by British imperialism in 1807, after slavery was abolished. ‘Central Igbo’, the dialect form gaining widest acceptance, is based on the dialect, of two members of the Ezinihitte group of Igbo in Central Owerri Province between the towns of Owerri and Umuahia, Eastern Nigeria. From its proposal as a literary form in 1939 by Dr. Ida C. Ward, it was gradually accepted by missionaries, writers, and publishers across the region. In 1972, the society for Promoting Igbo Language and Culture (SPILC, a nationalist organization which saw central Igbo as an imperialist exercise, set up a standardization committee to extend central Igbo to be a more inclusive language. Standard Igbo aims to cross-pollinate central Igbo with words from Igbo dialects from outside the “Central” areas, and with the adoption of loan words. The wide variety of spoken dialects has made agreeing on a standardized orthography and dialect of Igbo difficult.The controversy over Igbo orthography began in 1927 when the International Institute of African Languages and Cultures (IIALC) published a pamphlet called “Practical Orthography of African Languages”. The consonants /kw/, /gw/ and /nw/ were added to represent Igbo sounds. The pamphlet used some symbols from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), which brought a controversy with the missionary society who had used Lepsius’ writing for almost 70 years. In 1929, the Colonial Government Board of Education tried to replace Lepsuis’ with the International Institute of African Languages and Cultures’ Orthography.

The Government, along with Roman Catholic and Methodist Missionaries, accepted and adopted the new orthography; however other protestant missionaries opposed it. A standard orthography which is the current Onwu alphabet, a compromise between the older Lepsius alphabet and a newer alphabet advocated by the International Institute of African Languages and Cultures (IIALC) was agreed to in 1962.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

This research is a comparative study of Enuani dialect of Igbo and the Igbo language spoken in Imo State by Nkwerre people with the view of capturing the possible similarities and differences found in the sound system of Enuani dialect of Igbo and the Nkwerre dialect of Igbo.

According to Ikekeonwu (1987), there are about 20 Igbo dialects and these dialects include Enuani, Nkwerre, Ngwa, Orlu, Mbaise and so on. The project work focuses on the phonetics and phonology of the Enuani and Nkwerre dialects of Igbo. A comparative study of this nature sets out to identify similarities or differences in the sound systems of these dialects with the aim of determining the relationship between them.

1.3 Purpose of Study

This research will present sound systems in the two Igbo dialects of interest in the work – Enuani and Nkwerre. It will identify the possible similarities and differences between the sound systems of these dialects with the aim of showing their peculiarities as far as their sound systems are concerned.

1.4 Scope of Study

This work focuses on the comparative study of the phonology and phonetics of Nkwerre and Enuani dialects of Igbo. We would examine the sounds of these dialects and this will be done by comparing words in these dialects to know the sounds that makes one distinct from another.

1.5 Method of Data Collection

This work was gathered from native speakers of the dialect of study using the Ibadan four hundred (400) list.

Chapter Five


In this study the researchers have demonstrated that 1ę1 is neither an allophone nor a variant of either the lalor 1e1vowel phoneme but is, indeed, an autonomous vowel phoneme in the Enuani dialect. That by implication means that there are 9 vowel phonemes in the Enuani dialect as against the 8 that have been recorded in the Nkwerre dialect. To demonstrate that 1ę1 has the full status of a vowel phoneme and that it, indeed, is the 9th vowel phoneme in the Enuani dialect, the researcher have to do a comparative study of the Enuani and NkwerreIgbo vowel charts where we discovered that whereas the former has 9 vowels the latter has 8 vowels.

The study also observed that whereas in the NkwerreIgbo vowel chart all the vowels in sets I and II do co-occur and harmonize with one another it is only the ones in set I which can co-occur and harmonize among themselves as it is alsoonly the ones in set II that can co-occur and harmonize among themselves in set II in the Enuani vowel chart. To further demonstrate that 1ę1 like lal and 1e1 is an autonomous vowel phoneme in the Enuani dialect the researcher have used some minimal pairs to show that it contrasts with both vowel phonemes. And more importantly, the researcher by the use of some unitary words in the dialect, shown instances where it co-occurs with both lal and1e1which evidence unquestionably demonstrates that it can neither be an allophone nor a variant of either of these vowel phonemes but, actually, is an autonomous vowel phoneme in the Enuani dialect.

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