Language Endangerment in Nigeria: The Resilience of Igbo Language

Reference work entry


This chapter explores the viability of the Igbo language in Nigeria and its tendency to be endangered. Igbo has about 20 million speakers yet UNESCO classifies it as a threatened language that stands the risk of possible extinction by the end of the twenty-first century. Some scholars have contended this postulation. This study applies Fishman’s 8-level conceptual model as a framework for analyzing the Igbo language and makes prescriptions on possible actions to reverse the downturn. The data draws from a community of informants in randomly selected schools, churches, and homes from two Igbo speaking states in Nigeria – Ebonyi (Abakaliki) and Enugu (Enugu metropolis), through oral interviews and participant observations from September to November 2014 and February to July 2016. Respondents aged 18+ (adult) and below 18 years (children) constituted the representative population. Overall, 68 adults comprising 30 male and 38 female first language speakers of Igbo; 88 children were interviewed and observed. The children served as the control to check the validity and reliability of the information provided by their parents, and to determine if effective communication and intergenerational transfer occurs from parents to children. Findings reveal that Igbo language is no longer effectively transmitted to children, especially in urban areas. This is due to a negative attitude that some parents have toward the Igbo language and the preference of the younger population for foreign culture, identity, name, and language. There is loss of contact with ecological heritage, knowledge, and history which are usually transferred by oral traditions.


Igbo Fishman Language endangerment Language death 


Publisher’s note:

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.


  1. Asonye, E. (2013). UNESCO prediction of the Igbo language death: Facts and fables. Journal of the Linguistic Association of Nigeria, 16(1 & 2), 91–98.Google Scholar
  2. Azuonye, C. (2002). “Igbo as an endangered language” presented at the seminar on the problems and methodology for the preservation of the Igbo language, at the Nicon-Noga Hotel, Abuja, under the Auspices of the World Bank Igbo Language Fund, 2002. Available at:
  3. Bendor-Samuel, J. (Ed.). (1989). The Niger-Congo Languages. Lanham: University Press of America.Google Scholar
  4. Calvet, J. (1998). Language wars and linguistic politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Crystal, D. (2000). Language death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Emeka-Nwobia, N. U. (2017). Negotiating identity: Pentecostalism and glocalising of personal names among the Igbo of south eastern Nigeria. Presented at the 48th annual conference of contemporary African linguistics (ACAL 48). Held at the Indiana University, Bloomington, on March 30–April 3, 2017.Google Scholar
  7. Engholm, E. (1965). Education through English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Fabunmi, A. F., & Salawu, A. S. (2005). Is Yorùbá an endangered language? Nordic Journal of African Studies, 14(3), 391–408.Google Scholar
  9. Fakoya, A. (2008). California linguistic notes, Vol. XXXIII, No. 1, Winter.Google Scholar
  10. Fishman, J. (1991). Reversing language shift. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd..Google Scholar
  11. Gordon, R. G. (Ed.). (2005). Ethnologue: Languages of the world (15th ed.). Dallas: SIL International.Google Scholar
  12. Greenberg, J. H. (1963). The language of Africa. Bloomington/The Hague: Indiana University/Mouton.Google Scholar
  13. Grimes, B. F. (Ed.). (2000). Ethnologue: Languages of the world (14th ed.). SIL International: Dallas.Google Scholar
  14. Jones, H. (2013). Breton: Language birth and death and reversing language shift. The Student Researcher University of Wales, 2(2), 83–93.Google Scholar
  15. Krauss, M. (1992). The World’s Language in Crisis. Language, 68: 4–10.Google Scholar
  16. Lewis, M. P. (Ed.). (2009). Ethnologue: Languages of the world (16th ed.). SIL International: Dallas, Scholar
  17. Lewis, M. P., & Simons, G. F. (2009). Assessing endangerment: Expanding Fishman’s GIDS. A paper submitted September 2009 to the Revue Roumaine de Linguistique for the special issue on endangered languages. Publication:
  18. National Population Commission, Nigeria. (2016). 182 million Nigerians. Available at Retrieved on 3 Mar 2017.
  19. Ndimele, O. (2005). Globalization and the vanishing voices of Africa: Any glimmer of hope at this turbulent seas. In O. M. Ndimele (Ed.), Globalisation and the study of languages in Africa. Port Harcourt Nigeria: Grand Orbit Communication.Google Scholar
  20. Nwadike, I. U. (2002). Igbo language in education: An historical study. Obosi: Pacific Publishers.Google Scholar
  21. Obiero, O. J. (2010). From assessing language endangerment or vitality to creating and evaluating language revitalization programmes. Nordic Journal of African Studies, 19(4), 201–226.Google Scholar
  22. Ohiri-Aniche, C. (2014). More than 400 Nigerian indigenous languages are endangered. February 26 edition of Vanguard newspaper. Available at: Retrieved on 13 Apr 2016.
  23. UNESCO Ad Hoc Expert Group on Endangered Languages. (2003). Language vitality and endangerment, UNESCO. Publication: Scholar
  24. Van Hoorde, J. (1998). Let Dutch die? Over the Taalunie’s dead body. Info NT, 2, 6–10. The Hague.Google Scholar
  25. Wurm, S. A. (1998). Methods of language maintenance and revival, with selected cases of language endangerment in the world. In K. Matsumura (Ed.), Studies in endangered languages. Tokyo: HituziSyobo.Google Scholar
  26. Wurm, S. A. (2001). Atlas of the world’s languages in danger of disappearing (2nd ed.). Paris: UNESCO Publishing/Pacific Linguistics.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Linguistics and Literary StudiesEbonyi State UniversityAbakalikiNigeria

Personalised recommendations