The Igbo language, also known as Ibo, is considered to be one of the most widely used languages in West Africa. The population of Igbo speakers in Nigeria is estimated at about 18 million speakers. The language belongs to the Benue-Congo group of the Niger-Congo language family. The Igbo language has a long history of more than 1200 years. It appeared in the area near the confluence of the Niger and Benue rivers in the 9th AD and then spread over a wide area of the western Africa.
The majority of Igbo speakers live in Nigeria where the language has an official status along with such languages as English, Hausa, Yoruba, Urhobo, Ibibio, Edo, Fulfulde, and Kanuri. The Igbo language is spoken in the Southern Delta states, the northeast of the Delta state and in the southeast of the Rivers state. When it comes to the Southern Delta states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo, the Igbo language is considered to be the main language is trade and commerce. Also, it can be heard on TV and radio.
Although exactly English language is considered to be the principal literary language of the country, the Igbo language is taught at all levels in eastern Nigerian schools, as well as it is widely used by its speakers both for writing and reading. It is worth to mention that most of Igbo speakers are bilingual in English, so when it comes to the urban areas, the Igbo language is often replaced by Nigerian Pidgin English.
There are numerous dialects of the Igbo language. There are about 30 dialects and not all of them are considered to be mutually intelligible. Nevertheless, in the most cases, there are just some slight lexical and phonological differences.
Because of a great variety of dialect, a standardized spoken and written Igbo was developed in 1962. The standardized dialect is based on the Owerri and Umuahia dialects, includes some words from other Igbo dialects as well as loanwords from other languages. It is worth to mention that the borrowings existing in the Igbo language mainly include words from English and some other African languages.
The written Igbo is based on the expanded version of the Latin alphabet. The Igbo language is used in books. The first book written in Igbo was published in 1857 by an ex-slave, teacher, and linguist Samuel Ajayi Crowther.