The Dialects of Igala Language
John Jibo Idakwoji at September 23rd, 2015
A dialect is a variant form of a language that has clear differences in pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, idioms, set phrases and so on. Igala language has been prone to influences of other languages for a long time. These influences are more noticeable in the communities straddling the external boundaries of Igalaland to the north, south, east and west where the Igala Kingdom shares common boundaries with different ethno-linguistic groups.The major boundary sectors where dialects of Ígáláà are noticeable are:
(i) Ígáláà/Ìdọmà Boundary in Ánkpa and Ókpō sectors (in Ánkpa and Óḷamábóṛọ LGAs);
(ii) Ígáláà/Ìgbò Boundary in Ògwùgwù, Ètè, Ákpányá and Òḍ óḷ ú sectors;
(iii) Ígáláà/Ìgbò Boundary to the south of Ìbàjí LGA;
(iv) Ígáláà/Àgàtú Boundary in Ọ̀málá sector to the north-east.
(v) Èbú community in Òshìmìlì LGA, Delta State.
Ánkpa-Ókpō-Ògwùgwù (Eastern) Dialects
The trans-border contact between Ígáláà, Ìdọmà and Ìgbò languages spoken on the other side of the eastern/southern boundary has necessitated a regional variety of Ígáláà which bears a ‘foreign’ accent reflecting a Second Language (L2) influence. For instance, in central Igala speech, the terminal vowel in a noun is, sometimes, duplicated, with the second to the last vowel bearing a high tone and the last one a low pitch, as in: ‘íbáà’ (fever); ‘ádúù’ (load); ‘ámáà’ (curse); ‘úkpóò’ (cloth), etc. The same noun, when pronounced in the eastern dialects, sheds the high-toned vowel and retains the last with a low pitch. Thus, ‘íbáà’ becomes ‘íbà’; ‘ádúù’ is pronounced ‘ádù’; while ‘úkpóò’ is called ‘úkpò.’ A few more differences are shown in the examples below:
Central Area English Translation Boundary Area
óbíì kola-nut óbì
ùlókóò Iroko tree ùlókò
òókáà one òókà
ánéẹ̀ ̣ earth; ground ánéè ̣
Ígáláà the Ígálá ethnic group Ígálà
Another example is the pronoun, ‘éṇ éẹ̀ ,̣ ’ as used in the interrogative sentence, ‘Ẹ́né ̣ dēẹ̀ ?̣ ’ (Who is this?), which is pronounced “Ẹ́nè ̣ déẹ̀ ?̣ ” Here, as in other sectors, both language groups are usually bilingual, meaning that they speak Ígáláà and the other language fluently. There are also cases of First Language (L1) speakers in this area inserting syllabic nasals, like ‘m’ or ‘n’ or even ‘ñ’, into their speech, as shown in the examples below:
Central Area English Translation Eastern Boundary Area
úgbo where; at the place of Úmgbo
éṇ ẹé ̣ káà Someone éṇ ẹ ñkà
Ákpa Name of a town Áñkpa
Ẹ́jẹmà Name of a town Ẹ́ñjẹmà
Éṇ é ̣ wā-ì? Who is it that has come? Éṇ è ̣ wá (dēẹ̀ )̣ ?
Bassà Ngéẹ̀ ,̣ Kákánda and Núpé Neighbours
In the northern and western sectors of Igalaland, which are peopled by the Bassà Ngéè,̣ Èbìrà Mózùm, Bassà Kómo and sub-groups of Núpé and Gbagyi ethnic groups respectively, sibilant sounds are ‘smuggled’ into the Igalaa spoken by them in that axis. E.g. (i) the verb, ‘jẹñwu’ (to eat) is pronounced ‘zẹñwu’; (ii) the word, ‘chẹñwu’ (to do something) is pronounced ‘sẹñwu’ or ‘sunwu.’
As you move southwards along the eastern boundary, in Ògwùgwù, Ákpányá, Ávrugò and Òḍ óḷ ú areas and their environs, including Ógwúlúgwú, in Nsukka area, where Igala populations exist side by side with the Igbo (see Ọ́́nó ̣jáà Òbòní in “Postscript: Notable Igalas in Precolonial and Colonial Periods”), the second language that is spoken is Ìgbò; and it has had a dominant influence on the Ígáláà spoken there. Here, again, the L1 speakers are highly bilingual, speaking Ìgbò with the fluency of its native speakers, alongside impeccable Ígáláà.
Ìbàjí and Èbú Igalas and Their Neighbours
While it can be safely stated that the differences existing between the Ígáláà spoken in the eastern and central areas are minor and negligible, the same cannot be said of Ìbàjí and Èbú dialects. The Ìbàjí occupy the southern tip of the Igala Kingdom and share a common boundary with north of Anambra State and Òjìgónó (Ilushi) to the west, across the Niger in Ẹ̀dó State; while the Èbú occupy part of Òshìmìlì LGA, about 12 km. from Àsàbà, the capital of Delta State, Nigeria. The Ìbàjí and Èbú Igáláà are descendants of valiant generals and men of the Àtá-Igálá’s Royal Army who had prosecuted the Ígálá-Benin War of 1515-1516 (see ógwu; Ógwu Ìbìíní). They lost the war and, while the Èbú decided to stay back even though ‘temporarily’ (see èbú), the Ìbàjí crossed over to their present location, south of Ídá, to settle. The Àtá-Igáláà on the throne then was Àji-Àtá (some call him Àtá Áji). (See Postscript: Dynastic Sovereigns of Igala History). As a result of the long period of separation, substantial differences have been observed in the Ígáláà spoken the Ìbàjí and Èbú. According to Uriel Weinreich, a German linguist, in his book, Languages in Contact (1957), “…when a language is imported from its native home and it comes in contact with another language, there are bound to be deviations from the norm,” which sums up the reason for the differences in the dialects of Ígáláà that they speak.
It should, however, be noted that, in spite of these observed dialectal differences, Igala people from different parts of the kingdom and outside it (in the case of Èbú) do understand one another when they speak their respective tongues of the same language. However, this is not to say that a mainland Ígáláà does not find it difficult to readily understand Èbú and Ìbàjí dialects in a conversation. Still, notwithstanding, the various tongues are mutually intelligible; and that accounts for the cohesion of the entire Igala people wherever they live. It is that mutual intelligibility that has enabled them to forge formidable cultural and socio-linguistic ties as an entity bound by a common ancestry, history, language, culture and heritage.