Echeruo's Igbo-English dictionary
Advancing Igbo Linguistic Legacy

M. O. Ene


When Professor Michael J. C. Echeruo proposed the New Standard Orthography (NSO) for Igbo language [See KWENU I:2] to resolve the unforeseen "technical typographical complications" of the subscript dots under three Igbo vowels, many sat up and took a second look at written Igbo. Prof. Echeruo went a step further to promote the publication of Igbo books using NSO, one of which is Nwüre by Chief Philip Edomobi of Umunumo Mbanö. The learned academician followed up and delivered a comprehensive Igbo-English dictionary.

Igbo-English Dictionary: A Comprehensive Dictionary of the Igbo language with an English-Igbo Index is published by Yale University. The twenty introductory pages of the book prepare the reader adequately for the novelties of the book. The NSO is reproduced. The reader will easily agree with the double super-dot, but the reason for the replacement of "ch" with "c" might be harder to take once one sits back to consider Cineke, Cukwu, nca, öca, etc. If you are thrilled by all the changes, the new "sort order" is welcome and the status of "sh" will make many aware of this alphabet that is sometimes ignored by urban Igbo speakers for whom "ishiewu" (or ishieghu) becomes "isiewu."

The dictionary itself is a wealth of words under two covers. If you are expecting "bïa = come" type of dictionary, you are better off buying the five-dollar Igbo Basics for Beginners in America [published by Maazï Alex Iheke of TransAtlantic Connections]. If you are expecting a generic "English-vernacular" dictionary from the ivory tower, you will be pleasantly surprised. This dictionary is for keeps. From "a-a" to "züö," it presents a mosaic of all that is good about the Igbo language: tones, vowel harmony, dialects, spellings, etc. It is indeed the most comprehensive Igbo dictionary between two covers.

The beauty of this book is that Prof. Echeruo locates and defines "existing free-standing meaningful words in Igbo and in many dialects." It has words you would think are too dialectical and those you would never expect in any book. For example: abüdü (variety of monkey); übüba (deciduous plant with heavy foliage); etc. Now, what’s "shovel" in Igbo? Find out!

One reason why some linguists are not too thrilled about NSO is the fact that toning will be a nightmare. Prof. Echeruo meticulously provides the tonal structure of each lexical item using "L(ow)" or H(igh) combinations. This enhances pronunciation for non-native speakers and leads native speakers to equate unfamiliar words with similar term from their own dialects.

The dictionary is indeed comprehensive and rich, but it is not exhaustive; no dictionary is. It devotes much space to spelling variants and or dialects; space that could go to words deserving a place in such a monumental work. Such words as "kedu" ("hi" or "how") deserve prominent positions than "ale," a curious variant of ala that fouls the rule of vowel harmony. I would not expect anyone looking up abüghö instead of agböghö (maiden).

One would want to see Ozuzu, Kalü/Kanü, ishiewu/isiewu/ishieghu, etc. before Osebülüwa, Ese ama, and other obvious Edo imports. Kwenu did not make it, but the root "kwe" and detailed explanations of "nu" and other suffixes/enclitics are in the book. However, "kwenu" is one of those words like kedu, biko, bïa, etc. that a new speaker would want to check out.

This new book, which is widely available and is soon to be published in Nigeria, will accelerate the pace toward the first Igbo dictionary in an official and widely acceptable orthography. The double super-dotted vowels might take some time before they completely replace the single sub-dotted vowels, but I am in support of anything that makes Igbo language easier to read and write. But I doubt that "c" will replace "ch" in our lifetime, not in "Echeruo" and definitely not in "Ögöchukwu."

This book is great. I recommend it. It is worth every nickel of the $40.00 tag; it is a great investment. We are indeed fortunate to have Prof. Michael Echeruo, our own "Michael West."