Nkem Ifejika’s BBC News piece “Why I stopped mispronouncing my Igbo name” is excellent, I might even say exemplary. It not only explains why he grew up not speaking his family’s native Igbo and not even able to pronounce his own name correctly, it includes an audio clip in which he says both the short and long forms, as well as the word “Igbo” itself — and tells us why he prefers to use “Ibo” in English. (Amusingly, it’s hard to tell the difference between the two unless your ear is attuned to the combined gb phoneme.) He also explains why Igbo is described as “endangered” even though the population is actually growing, and gives a brief history of the tragic attempt of the Igbos to leave Nigeria half a century ago (I well remember the Biafra War from that time, as a result of which Igbo was one of the first African languages whose name I knew). He ends:
While growing up, I didn’t care that I couldn’t speak Igbo, but in adulthood, especially since becoming a father, it’s something I want to fix. I find myself wanting to bequeath Igbo to my son, Anyikamba (the name means “we are greater than a nation”), as an invaluable inheritance.
I don’t yet know as much as I should about my ancestors, or enough about Igbo history, so I can’t pass these on to him. But language as an embodiment of that living, breathing, history, I (and especially my wife) can give.
My identity is fairly cosmopolitan and outward looking, and I’m very adaptable. I’ve never been anywhere where I felt, “there’s no way I can live here”.
The global languages I speak are probably more in keeping with my outlook, so why would I want to speak a language which restricts me to 41,000 sq km in the southeast Nigeria?
I think it’s because the modern world is so fluid, and multiple identities are more possible than ever before, that I want something rooted and preserved in time.
And for me, that’s Igbo.