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Okwe Mkpụrụokwu Igbo: Reinventing endangered language




UNIMPRESSED with state-sponspored efforts to salvage the Igbo language, Olisaemeka Gerald Njoku, has developed Igbo Scrabble, Okwe mkpụrụokwu Igbo, with which he hopes to catalyse renewed interest in and learning of the language. Confident that there is still hope in saving the Igbo language from extinction, he believes that people would be more receptive to the language if they could learn by playing games with it.

said interest in the Igbo language has been on the decline because Igbo people — both children and adults — scarcely use the language in written, and especially, spoken communication.

Corroborating this, President of the Linguistic Association of Nigeria (LAN), Prof. Chinyere Ohiri-Aniche, says Nigerian languages are endangered due to past neglect and denigration, noting that some had already become extinct, while 152 others were on the verge of extinction.

According to her, “Our greater concern is that our languages are not being handed over to children in homes and schools. Researches show that on the average, 25 per cent of children below 11 years are unable to speak their parent’s indigenous language. If this trend is not checked, then Nigerian languages will be in extinction in two to three generations, that is in 50 to 75 years’ time.”

Njoku, who is a graduate of Linguistics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), said the inspiration to create the game came in October 2010, when he was playing the English scrabble with friends and discovered that with the letters on the tiles he had could form an Igbo word.

“We joked about it that if an Igbo version existed, I would have had something to play. So two days after, I began working on the Igbo language version of the scrabble. I worked on it for two days and developed the first board design and lettered/numbered tile with thick paper,” he said.

He said at that time, he never thought about it along the line of improving Igbo literacy or commercialisation, but was just enthralled with the joy of inventing something, which might probably be groundbreaking in the field of indigenous languages or linguistics.

Noting that he created the game in his second year at the university, he said being a Linguistics major helped in translating some terms from the English scrabble to Igbo.

“It also helped in coming up with a tentative tile-letter distribution formular and accuracy of the diacritics. Moreover, my knowledge of linguistics helped me in creating the rules for the game, without which the aim of using the scrabble as a tool of literacy would be defeated,” he added.

He is optimistic that the game would be a game-changer for the Igbo language, noting; “The impact is expected to be massive. Just as the scrabble helps improve spelling and word formation, the Igbo scrabble equally does that for the learners and players through exhaustive and brainstorming game play. Therefore, I believe the game is a revolutionary innovation in the field of applied linguistics and Igbo language literacy.

On the acceptance of the game by people, he said, “The response has been a little encouraging, but the challenge has been huge. The financial side of making the sets available, advertising it and even teaching people the rudiments of the scrabble hasn’t been easy. I need sponsors and people who could advertise the game and those who could assist in producing the sets.”

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