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Monday, July 26, 2010

Lesson 1: Tones, Sounds, and Characters

Igbo is a tonal language and this means that while it is made up of sounds like any other language, varying the tone of the sounds in Igbo changes the meaning of what is being said. As a result, when speaking Igbo, you must be very careful to express the correct tone or you could find yourself saying some very embarrassing things. (Case in point, Ike can mean strength, power, energy, - among other things - or anus depending on the tone)

Since the purpose of this blog is to teach the Ndebe Igbo writing system, all Igbo words will be written in Ndebe and Loma (Roman letters/Latin characters) will only be used for clarification.

Sounds and Characters

Each of the individual sounds that make up the Igbo language is represented by its own character. Below are the Igbo sounds (in Loma) and their characters (Ndebe).

Tips for Writing

When writing Igbo the characters for consonants and vowels are written very differently.

For consonantal characters, there are five basic stems and six basic radicals which can be interchanged to form the various characters that represent the consonant sounds. Each stem and radical has its own name.

These consonantal characters that are formed in this manner are collectively referred to as [NAME]

Here is a handy chart to help you remember all the [NAME]:

The vowel characters on the other hand are collectively referred to as [NAME] and must be memorised as they are. (Don't worry, it's much easier than you think!!! =D)


Now about those pesky tones. Tonal variations in Igbo have scores if not hudnreds of subtleties but generally speaking there are three broad tones: A Low Tone, a High Tone, and a Rising Tone.

The low and high tones are extremely easy to identify and self explanatory but the rising tone is perhaps a bit trickier. The third tone is called a rising tone for a reason. What this means is that a sound that carries a rising tone is higher than the low tone and tends to rise towards the high tone but is still MOST DEFINITELY LOWER than the High Tone.

A good judge of whether a sound has a rising tone is to compare it to a confirmed high tone (such as  Aka - hand).

Do not judge a suspected rising tone by comparing it to a low tone because a rising tone will always sound high right after a low tone.

In Igbo only two consonant sounds bear tones:  (N) and  (M), (and this is only in certain cases) but all vowel sounds bear tones all the time. For this reason, when writing Igbo, there are three versions of each vowel, one for the low tone, one for the rising tone, and one for the high tone. When N or M carry tones, it is denoted by strokes indicating high or low tone on the platform of each character, or by a dash if the tone is rising.

Remember! Memorisation comes with constant practice and reading so don't worry if you don't recognize all the characters right away. You will very soon.

~Igbo Rocks... Go forth and speak it~