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Ikwerre language

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Title: Ikwerre language  
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Ikwerre language

Region Nigeria
Native speakers
unknown (200,000 cited 1973)[1]
Dialects Ndele, Ọgbakiri, Ọbịọ, Alụụ, Ịbaa, Elele[2]
Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-3 ikw
Glottolog ikwe1242[3]

Ikwerre, also spelt as Ikwere, is a language spoken primarily by the Ikwerre people who inhabit Rivers State, Nigeria.


The classification of Ikwerre as an Igbo dialect is a subject of controversy among some in the Ikwerre community. Most publications classify it as an Igboid language. Based on lexicostatistical analysis, Kay Williamson originally asserted that the Ikwerre, Ekpeye, Ogba, Etche and Igbo languages belonged to the same language cluster, but were not dialects.[4] Subsequent studies by both Williamson and Roger Blench concluded that Igbo, Ikwerre, Ogba and their sister languages apart from Ekpeye form a "language cluster" and that they are somewhat mutually intelligible.[5] There are indications that the Ikwerre society was bilingual even in the pre-colonial Nigeria, with people speaking other Igbo dialects and Ikwerre.[6]



Ikwerre distinguishes vowels by quality (frontedness and height), the presence or absence of nasalization, and the presence or absence of advanced tongue root.
Front Back
High +ATR i ĩ u ũ
−ATR ɪ ɪ̃ ʊ ʊ̃
Mid +ATR e ẽ o õ
−ATR ɛ ɛ̃ ɔ ɔ̃
Low −ATR a ã

There is also a vowel */ə̃/ which is posited to explain syllabic nasal consonants in accounts of the language which state that Ikwerre has no nasal stops. This sound is realized as [ɨ̃] or a homorganic to the following consonant.

Vowel harmony

Ikwerre exhibits two kinds of vowel harmony:

  1. Every vowel in an Ikwerre word, with a few exceptions, agrees with the other vowels in the word as to the presence or absence of advanced tongue root.
  2. Vowels of the same height in adjacent syllables must all be either front or back, i.e. the pairs /i/ & /u/, /ɪ/ & /ʊ/, /e/ & /o/, and /ɛ/ & /ɔ/ cannot occur in adjacent syllables. Vowels of different heights, however, need not match for frontness/backness either. This doesn't apply to the first vowel in nouns beginning with a vowel or with /ɾ/, and doesn't apply to onomatopoeic words.


Bilabial Labiodental Alveolar Postalveolar
or palatal
Velar Glottal
Unrounded Rounded Unrounded Rounded
or affricate
Voiceless p t k
Voiced b d ɡ ɡʷ
Fricative Voiceless f s
Voiced v z
Non-plosive stop Voiced ḅ~m
Glottalized ʼḅ~ʼm
Tap ɾ~ɾ̃
Approximant l~n j~j̃ ɰ~ɰ̃ w~w̃ h~h̃ hʷ~h̃ʷ

The oral consonants [ḅ ʼḅ l ɾ j ɰ w h hʷ] occur before oral vowels, and their nasal allophones [m ʼm n ɾ̃ ȷ̃ ɰ̃ w̃ h̃ h̃ʷ] before nasal vowels. The "non-explosive stops" [ḅ ʼḅ] are not plosives (not pulmonic), and are equivalent to implosives in other varieties of Igbo.

The tap /ɾ/ may sometimes be realized as an approximant [ɹ].


Ikwerre is a tonal language.


  1. ^ Ikwerre at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Alagoa, Ebiegberi Joe; Anozie, F. N.; Nzewunwa, Nwanna (1988). The early history of the Niger Delta. Buske Verlag. p. 81.  
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Ikwere". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. ^ Williamson, Kay (1974). ODUMA: The Lower Niger Languages 1. Rivers State Council of Arts & Culture, Port Harcourt. 
  5. ^ Williamson, Kay; Roger M. Blench (2000). African languages: an introduction. Cambridge University Press. 
  6. ^ Kelechukwu U. Ihemere (2007). A Tri-Generational Study of Language Choice & Shift in Port Harcourt. Universal-Publishers. pp. 28–35.  
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