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Friday, July 31, 2009

Writing 1: Basic Forms


In order to write in Igbo there are 11 basic forms you must master.

All the consonants are made up of two parts:


The radicals are joined to the stems by a horizontal bar, like so:

The following video demonstrates writing the basic forms that make up the script:

Different consonants are formed by combining different stems and radicals.
The chart below shows how to do this, and can be used as a reference when reading.

The consonants in the chart are grouped according to STEM. Each horizontal stem line represents a sound group.


Vowels on the other hand have to be memorized. Since vowels are used so frequently in Igbo you should have very little trouble becoming familiar with the vowels with practice. There are eight vowels in Igbo broken into three sub-groups:

  • High-Tone vowels
  • Mid-Tone vowels
  • Low-Tone vowels

Please refer to Lesson1 for the video on how to pronounce the letters

Why Ndebe?

The old Igbo alphabet has 36 letters while the Igbo alphabet under the Ndebe system has 52 letters.

This is because unlike the Roman alphabet which was never designed for Igbo anyway, the Ndebe alphabet has been specifically designed for the Igbo language and accounts for vowel tones which the Roman alphabet does not.

Because this new Igbo alphabet assigns a different letter to each vowel tone, comprehension is exponentially increased when reading. Many Igbo speakers and writers often forget to indicate vowel tones when writing Igbo as they are not used to doing this with English (which is written with the same roman alphabet). This creates confusion as a single word in Igbo can have numerous meanings depending on its tone. If the author of the text that you are trying to read is not readily available, you may be stuck wondering whether the 'akwa' you see means bed, cloth, tears, or bridge.

The Ndebe system does away with this problem entirely and strictly limits the use of tone marks to the very few consonants that occasionally need them.

Also, because the Ndebe writing system is strikingly different from the roman system, it puts the user in a completely different mindset when reading or writing. A mindset that is purely Igbo.