Igbo Speech and Language Development

Igbo Speech and Language Development There is a growing need in the United States for speech-language pathologists to find information on Igbo speech language development.  Here are some of the highlights of Igbo.

Igbo is the principal language of the Igbo people living in southeastern Nigeria. There are approximately 24 million speakers of Igbo.  It is written in the Latin script, which was introduced by British colonialists, and there are over 20 Igbo dialects.

Igbo Facts

  • Igbo Speech and Language Development There are approximately 220,000 Igbo speakers in the United States.
  • Some of the largest populations of Igbo speakers in the U.S. reside in Virginia, Missouri, California, and New Jersey.
  • Cities with large Igbo populations include New York, Philadelphia, Newark, Los Angeles, Boston, Miami, Chicago, and Houston.
  • Igbo is the fourth most spoken language in Africa.
  • Igbo is spoken by approximately 20 million people in Nigeria.

The Sound Systems of Igbo and English

If you’ve read our book, Difference or Disorder:  Understanding Speech and Language Development in Children from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds, then you  Igbo Speech and Language Development already know that we need to understand the similarities and differences between the sounds of languages before we can make a decision about whether a speech error is a language influence error or whether it might indicate a speech impairment.  So, take a look at the Venn diagrams below for information about the consonants and the vowels in Igbo and English.

Assume we are testing a child from an Igbo background who is learning English as a second language.

If errors occur on the sounds that are unique to English, that is indicative of language influence. 

If errors occur on the sounds unique to Igbo or the sounds shared between Igbo and English, that is indicative of a speech impairment.  

It’s more complex than that, obviously, but that’s a good place to start.  Then we need to think about the order of acquisition of the sounds in development, and of course the phonotactic constraints.  For more information on all of that, check out the Difference or Disorder book.

Igbo Speech and Language Development

Igbo and English Consonant Phonemes

Igbo Speech and Language Development


Igbo and English Vowel Phonemes

Igbo Speech and Language Development

Phonological Patterns in Igbo

Patterns of Native Language Influence: Example/description of possible errors:
Allowable syllable patterns in Igbo are vowel (V), consonant-vowel (CV), and syllabic nasal (N) Syllables might be reduced in multisyllabic words
Aside from the syllabic nasal, consonants cannot occur at the end of words Final consonants might be omitted
There are no consonant clusters Consonant clusters might be reduced or a neutral vowel might be added between consonants (e.g. pay for play or puhlay for play)
Substitution of [θ] with [s], [t], [f] thin – sin, tin, fin
There are only four vowel sounds (a, i, u, o) Other vowels might be substituted with [a, i, o, u]

(Anyanwu, 1998)


Feature Igbo English Examples of Errors
Word Order Usually subject-verb-object Usually subject-verb object None expected
Pronouns Igbo does not distinguish between subject and object pronouns (e.g. he vs. him) but person (first, second, and third singular and plural subjects) is distinguished. Pronouns can also be marked for possession.

Subject pronouns: he/she/they/we

Object pronouns: him/her/them/us

She mom is

here.*/ Her mom is here.

Them go to school.*/They go to school.

Articles No articles Has definite (the) and indefinite (a, an) articles I have cat.*/I have a cat.
Adjectives Adjective can precede or follow the noun. There are few adjectives in Igbo. Instead verb suffixes are used to describe actions. Adjective precedes noun I want the cat brown.*/ I want the brown cat.
Plurality Marked with a prefix /otutu/ so cup /iko/ becomes /otutuiko/ Add an /s/ to the noun Plurals might not be marked at aIl or might be marked incorrectly. I want two sandwich.*/I want two sandwiches.
Verb conjugations Verbs do differentiate between present and past. Instead, suffixes are added to the verb to describe the tense and quality of the verb. Examples include: tara/-tere: action in the past (he did); -la/-le: completed action (he has done); -ri: past completed action (he did); -go:  already completed the action (have done); -lu:  to indicate an intensification of the action of the verb Verb conjugates to demonstrate tense changes (I eat, I ate)

Igbo suffixes might be used to mark tense or intensity. (e.g. walklu to express intense walking)

Prepositions There is one preposition (na) in Igbo, which has to be understood by context Many different prepositions Incorrect use of prepositions

Note: Sentences marked with an asterisk (*) are not grammatical.

Thank you for all the great feedback for all the languages you are requesting information on!  We have published posts or are working on:  Albanian, Amharic, Cambodian, Cantonese, Flemish / Dutch, Filipino/Tagalog, Hmong, Igbo,  Karen, Kinyarwanda (ever heard of that one?), Portuguese, Romanian, Somali, Thai, Turkish, and Urdu/Hindi.  For those not familiar with our current book, we’ve already compared and contrasted English with Spanish, Vietnamese, Hebrew, Korean, German, Czech, Japanese, Farsi, Mandarin, French, Russian, Arabic, and the African-American English dialect.

If there are other languages you would like to see, please let us know with your comments below!

If you are looking for speech therapy in Austin, Texas for a child who speaks Igbo, contact our Austin speech therapy clinic.

Written by: Ellen Kester

26 Comments on “Igbo Speech and Language Development”

  1. April 20, 2017 at 7:07 pm #

    Greek and Mandarin

    • April 21, 2017 at 11:40 am #

      Hi Helen, We have a chapter on Mandarin in the Difference or Disorder book. I don’t have any resources on Greek yet but it is on the list now!

  2. April 21, 2017 at 7:59 am #


    • April 21, 2017 at 11:40 am #

      Hi April, Urdu is on my list and I have a few resources I can share with you. Best, Ellen

  3. July 14, 2017 at 3:10 pm #

    I have your first volume of this resource. When do you plan to publish Volume II??

    • July 15, 2017 at 9:24 am #

      We are working on it but do not yet know what the publication date will be. We will update our blog community as we get closer. Best, Ellen

      • September 5, 2017 at 1:55 pm #

        I hope it is very, very soon! 🙂

      • September 5, 2017 at 2:07 pm #

        Thank you! We’re moving as fast as we can. In the meantime, we’ll have a new language highlighted once a month in our blog.

  4. February 27, 2018 at 6:30 pm #

    Hello Ellen,

    I see that approximates such as “l”, “w” and “r” are not listed in the venn diagram and was wondering if they occur in Igbo.

    Thank you for all of the amazing information!

    • March 4, 2018 at 1:34 pm #

      /l/ and /w/ exist in Igbo. The r of Igbo is a post-Alveolar flap, unlike the English r.

      • October 29, 2019 at 10:49 am #

        Just to ensure I am understanding correctly… the /r/ and vocalic /r/ do not exist in Igbo, correct? When treating articulation in a child who is highly influenced by Igbo spoken in the home, we would not consider incorrect production of /r/ and vocalic /r/ an error, since these phonemes do not exist in Igbo. Is this correct?

  5. April 24, 2018 at 6:29 pm #

    Are /sh/ and /ch/ present in Igbo?

    • April 24, 2018 at 8:48 pm #

      Yes, both /ch/ and /sh/ exist in Igbo.

  6. April 24, 2018 at 6:39 pm #

    Do /m/, /n/ and /ng/ exist in Igbo?

    • April 24, 2018 at 8:49 pm #

      Yes, all three of those sounds exist in Igbo too.

  7. October 29, 2019 at 10:49 am #

    Just to ensure I am understanding correctly… the /r/ and vocalic /r/ do not exist in Igbo, correct? When treating articulation in a child who is highly influenced by Igbo spoken in the home, we would not consider incorrect production of /r/ and vocalic /r/ an error, since these phonemes do not exist in Igbo. Is this correct?

    • October 29, 2019 at 12:07 pm #

      That’s correct!

  8. October 26, 2020 at 9:48 am #

    Hey there! I just evaled a kid who immigrated from Nigeria about a year ago. His parents speak Yoruba. Do you have any forthcoming information on Yoruba and/or Nigerian English?

  9. November 4, 2020 at 11:56 am #

    Hi there!
    Just to clarify:
    In one article I read where the /l/ phoneme occurs in Igbo but is a dental sound instead of our voiced alveolar production.
    Would you say that this is true?
    So, would a student whose first language is Igbo qualify for speech therapy if they cannot produce the /l/ in the initial position in words?
    Also, I read where there are not consonant clusters in Igbo? Correct?

    • November 9, 2020 at 9:34 am #

      Hi Susan,

      The /l/ is a tough call because when we look at their phonemes (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Igbo_language) on wikipedia they show an /l/ in Central Igbo but no /l/ in Standard Igbo (?!). So it think it is best to always lean back on intelligibility. If you have high intelligibility and that is the only sound, that really isn’t ground for “academic need.” If they have other things to focus on, go that route and try to teach the /l/. The BEST way to figure this out is call mom or dad and say “Do you have words with /l/ in them in Igbo? Can you give me an example of a word that starts with /l/?

      From what we can find, they do not use consonant clusters at all or at any great level so it wouldn’t be a good goal: Consonant clusters might be reduced or a neutral vowel might be added between consonants (e.g. pay for play or puhlay for play)

  10. November 7, 2020 at 3:29 pm #

    This is great information about articulation, phonological and syntactic differences in children with families who speak Igbo. Do you have any information on pragmatic language differences?

    • November 9, 2020 at 9:41 am #

      Hi Elizabeth,
      This is really tough! With pragmatic discourse there is not a lot of information but sometimes you can kick it upstairs and rather than talking about Igbo pragmatics research pragmatic differences Nigeria, and if there is still no information go up one more step and look for African language pragmatic difference. We couldn’t find much but here is a cool, possibly related paper on Bantu: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Igbo_language to give you a sense of what might be different. The best way in these situations is to talk to the parents or a same culture representative (YMCA/mosque/cultural center/restaurant/etc) and say “hey, we are seeing this, does this make sense to you?” It is great if the student has siblings because we can talk to the parents and say: “Hey, we are seeing this, how would his older sister respond in that situation.”

  11. May 11, 2021 at 7:27 pm #

    I would love to see this for Swahili. We have a large Swahili population at my school and I would love to see this information. Thank you!

  12. August 25, 2021 at 9:31 am #

    Thank you so much for sharing your resources! I teach English as a second language pronunciation courses and one of my high-level students is Igbo-speaking.

    • August 25, 2021 at 2:53 pm #

      Thanks, Alyssa. So glad you find our resources helpful.
      Best, Ellen

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