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8 November 2009

Igbo Typography

We are pleased to feature the work of one of our community members, sugarbelly.. The Ndebe Project is an attempt to construct a writing scrip for an almost extinct Nigerian spoken language, Igbo. Be sure to visit the Ndebe Project Facebook page and blog for more information and for an opportunity to get involved.  Here is a brief introduction.

Source: Ndebe Project

The Ndebe project is an ongoing development of a new writing system for the Igbo language. Igbo is a beautiful melodious language that is mostly oral although it can be written down using the existing English alphabet (with a few modifications of course). Unfortunately, increasing disinterest in Igbo of native Igbo speakers due to its general uselessness in the shadow of English is threatening the very survival of our language.

If Igbo dies out, one of the most beautiful languages in history will be lost to the world forever. For our language to survive it must be relevant. For our language to be relevant it must expand. For our language to expand it must be written down. And for our language to be written down, people must think it is worth writing down.
Many Igbo people have no use for Igbo outside their homes because the technology and circumstances in the world today have surpassed that which our language is able to describe. For those that do not know, that is what language is; description. Igbo cannot be relevant unless we can name every thing under the sun in our own language, not with words borrowed from English which grows ever bigger because it is not shy to make up new words as it needs them. The limited use of Igbo orally is compounded by the fact that written Igbo is so similar to English and so affected by its oral handicap that the modern Igbo speaker encounters nothing but frustration when trying to relay their daily activities in Igbo. Some people don’t even bother anymore.

We’re here to change their minds. We’re here to change YOUR mind.

The Ndebe script is a new writing system designed exclusively for Igbo with the needs of Igbo speakers and hopeful Igbo writers in mind.

- It is visually distinctive from English eliminating any possibility of confusion with sounds that have been previously associated with English letters.

- It’s interesting to look at. Pretty letters make a happy writer!

- It’s economical. It reduces the length of all words by the total number of vowels in each word! Shorter words mean faster, happier writers!

-It provides a single letter for each of the bilabial implosive sounds (gb, gw, etc) as is proper since these are individual sounds.

- It is mostly cursive which gives writers greater flexibility when exploring other uses for written Igbo such as calligraphy

- It accomodates all dialects of Igbo and promotes writing of YOUR own dialect.

- The Ndebe writing system is embracive of the Nsibidi script and the Ndebe project is developing the Nsibidi script into a full logographic shorthand that can be used to pass secret messages!  (Love notes anyone?)


Igbo is a great language spoken by millions of people and for too long it has suffered under the limiting clutches of the Latin alphabet. Igbo deserves its very own writing system, and the Ndebe writing system is the first truly Igbo complete writing system in history.

About jepchumba

Jepchumba is an AFRICAN DIGITAL ARTIST and DIGITAL ENTHUSIAST who works hard to combine her two passions: Digital Media and Africa. Originally from Kenya, she has lived around the world developing her interest in philosophy, art and technology. An African digital artist, Jepchumba loves experimenting with motion, sound and various digital effects and techniques and has an extensive background in digital art, web design and development, audio/visual production and social media strategies.

  • Erm

    “almost extinct Nigerian spoken language”

    Are you serious?! There are at least 20 million speaker in the world.

  • http://afrika.am/ chuks

    Awesome.

    Keep up the good work, Igbo live and strong.

  • Prof.Francoise Ugochukwu

    Check statistics and you will see that, apart from the 20,000,000 + who speak and write Igbo in Nigeria, there are millions of Igbo people on the planet. Igbo language is not extinct at all, in fact it is being taught even in HE institutions in many countries including UK and America, Spain and others. I can’t believe you want us to return to the dark ages of quarrels over Igbo orthography. This is diaspora gone too far.

  • Kelechi

    While I understand the fear related to changing that which we are familiar, I would never put down any effort to spark interest in language and linguistics.

    I don’t understand the comment referring to the dark ages. The study of language takes one into the future, in anything.

    In a world where respected languages boast hundreds of millions of speakers (AND WRITERS), 20,000,000 can, I believe be accurately described as almost extinct. Remember there are 521 languages indigenous to the region within the borders of Nigeria. A dozen or more of them are classified today as totally extinct. This will only increase as time goes on, given the complete rejection of Igbo and other languages in Nigeria for English, French and Arabic. This is in contrast to efforts to develop and use indigenous languages in official communication amongst greater populations in Eastern and Southern Africa. The way things are today, the only West African language to survive the next century will be Hausa, given its Latin and Ajami scripts and use as a lingua franca amongst numerous groups across ECOWAS.
    I think it’s fair to list Igbo as endangered, if not almost extinct, when one consideration is made: Today, a lesser percentage of full-blooded ethnic Igbos fluently speak Igbo than at any other time in our history. This is a fact. I am one of them. And let’s be honest – NOBODY writes anything in Igbo! The only time I actually ever personally see anything written in Igbo is in Catholic missals used in rural churches.
    Even Igbos who don’t speak English, count in English rather than in Igbo, especially when the number is greater than 10.
    For these reasons, I fully support and commend any effort to make the language relevant and accessible to more people. Particularly when the effort is on the part of a person of Igbo descent.

  • http://sugabelly.blogspot.com Sugabelly

    Thanks Kelechi!!

  • Chuma

    Truly i’m impressed. If there’s a way i can help, please do contact me. I’m an avid lover of Uli and Nsibidi