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Ikwerre language

Native toRivers state, Nigeria
EthnicityIkwerre people
Native speakers
1.2 million
DialectsApara, Ndele, Ọgbakiri, Ọbịọ, Akpor Alụụ, Ịbaa, Elele[1]
Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-3ikw
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Ikwerre, also spelt as Ikwere, is Igboid language spoken primarily by the Ikwerre people who inhabit Rivers State, Nigeria.


The Ikwerre language is classified as an Igbo dialect. The classification of Ikwerre as an Igbo dialect however is a subject of controversy among some in the Ikwerre community due to political reasons. 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.[2] 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.[3] There are indications that the Ikwerre society was bilingual even in the pre-colonial Nigeria, with people speaking other Igbo dialects and Ikwerre.[4]



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 syllabic nasal which is 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 with seven tones: high, mid, low, high-low falling, high-mid falling, mid-low falling and rising. Ikwerre also has a tonal downdrift. For example: rínyā̀ (high, mid-low falling) means "weight, heaviness", rìnyâ (low,high-low falling) means "female, wife", mụ̌ (rising) means "to learn", mụ̂ (high-low falling) means "to give birth", etc.


Ikwerre has an in-group variant, or cant, Agbirigba, that is meant to prevent understanding by outsiders.


  1. ^ Alagoa, Ebiegberi Joe; Anozie, F. N.; Nzewunwa, Nwanna (1988). The early history of the Niger Delta. Buske Verlag. p. 81. ISBN 3-87118-848-4.
  2. ^ Williamson, Kay (1974). ODUMA: The Lower Niger Languages. 1. Rivers State Council of Arts & Culture, Port Harcourt.
  3. ^ Williamson, Kay; Roger M. Blench (2000). African languages: an introduction. Cambridge University Press.
  4. ^ Kelechukwu U. Ihemere (2007). A Tri-Generational Study of Language Choice & Shift in Port Harcourt. Universal-Publishers. pp. 28–35. ISBN 9781581129588.
  • Clements, George N.; Osu, Sylvester (2005). "Nasal harmony in Ikwere, a language with no phonemic nasal consonants". Journal of African Languages and Linguistics. 26 (2): 165–200. doi:10.1515/jall.2005.26.2.165. S2CID 144317723.
  • Williamson, Kay (1970). Reading and writing Ikwerre. Ibadan: Institute of African Studies.
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