Article

Creating 'Union Ibo': Missionaries and the Igbo Language

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Abstract

The literature of ethnicity in Africa indicates a major role for Christian missionaries in the creation of languages in Africa. It has been argued that certain African ethnic groups owe their existence to the ‘invention’ of their language by missionaries who created a written dialect—based on one or more vernacular(s)—into which they translated the Bible. This language came to be used for education in mission schools and later also in government schools. The Bible dialect consequently became the accepted standard language of the ethnic group and acquired the function of one of the group's prime identity markers. In the case of the Igbo language, the history of the CMS missionaries' efforts at creating a written standard Igbo shows that the process was not always straightforward. The article describes the problematic process of creating a written language. The missionaries undertook continual attempts on the basis of several dialects, but it was half a century before they produced the first translation of the Bible. They complicated matters by working in different dialects, but eventually created a standard dialect which they named Union Ibo, a mixture based on several Igbo dialects. The missionaries were also confronted with resistance from at least part of the Igbo population, who contested their choice of dialect. However, it appears that the majority of the Igbo were simply not interested. The Igbo population were far more interested in education in English, and although the CMS missionaries forced some vernacular education upon the people, actual interest remained limited. It is thus not surprising that the Bible language did not become the accepted standard language of the Igbo ethnic group. The spoken Igbo language does nevertheless function as one of the prime identity markers of the group. The article argues that the importance of the Igbo language to Igbo identity is partly the result of the missionary activity.

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... However, in the course of translating the Bible into Igbo, these indigenous terms were not used to represent the concept; rather, new terms were coined and used instead and, overtime, spread and integrated into the language. Adopting the concept of language elaboration (Author 2018), this study investigates the motivation for this act and its impact on the Igbo language. The study is guided by the following questions: ...
... A model for Bible translation and language elaboration (afterAuthor 2018) ...
... The survey was conducted as part of a bigger project (seeAuthor 2018) and was aimed at exploring the spread of some lexical and conceptual innovations occasioned by Bible translation into Igbo. The present study focuses only on data supplied for the concept of virgin. ...
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... c.f.Ogharaerumi 1986, Bersselaar 1997, Fulford 2002, and Oyali 2018 for a detailed history of the Union Igbo Bible project. ...
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Article
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