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The nature, structure, conventions and inconsistencies inherent in spelling and sound in English create problems for Igbo spellers of English as a second language. It is this singular factor and how to reduce its effect to the barest minimum that gave rise to this research.

Generally, language serves the basic function of communication. But the status and the extent of use a language is put determines its function in a geographical setting.

English is the world’s most widely used language. It has three main categories of use. The first is the use of English as a native language or mother tongue; the second is the use of English as a second language and the third is the use of same as an official language.

English is used in a second language situation in countries of such divergent background as Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Uganda, and Kenya etc owning to their colonization by the imperialists.

The language is highly regarded in these countries because it is viewed as the greatest legacy of the British colonial masters. As such, it is the language of education, politics, commerce and other social functions, especially where such socials cut across cultures.

The pride of place accorded the English language in Nigeria makes the learning and the use of the language compulsory for anyone who wants to be kept abreast of the on-goings of the world over. It is the only voice with which Nigerians are heard beyond her vicinity.


A Nigerian learner is bound to encounter problems in the course of learning the language because, he/she is a bearer of two language traditions as Akwanya (84) posits, that is, “ the Igbo language tradition and the English language tradition.”

The problem as Ngonebu (19) notes, may arise due to two main factors:

These problems may arise due to extra-lingual factors and intra–lingual factors. Extra lingual problems arise from factors that are not directly related to the language being learned. Intra-lingual problems originate from the nature of the second language itself.

Igbo language is deemed ideal for the comparison because English is the second language of Igbo native speakers. Also, the sound and the spelling patterns of Igbo and English are not exactly the same.

The presumption here is the already existence of the linguistic features of a language -Igbo, which is their native language. So, added to the internalized features and structures of the native language is the linguistic features of the second language. The learner therefore has to learn new sets of words, sound and spelling patterns. This entails an acquisition of new habits of thought, Akwanya (84).

To this effect, interference, approximations, over-generalization and other phenomena of second language learning emerge.

Approximation can be likened to a situation where the learner over-generalizes that his/her native language syllable structure and spelling rules cut across every other language and as such, are applicable to them.

By so doing, he/she equates and transfers whatever that is realisable in the Igbo language in terms of syllable, word formation, conventions and practices into the learning of English.

This the learner does out of the ignorance that no two languages are exactly the same as Eyisi and Onuigbo (87) assert, “ …even when many human languages share some characteristics, each language is usually marked with peculiar features which make it different from another language.”

The stipulation above accounts for why an Igbo learner, having internalized the linguistic features of his/her native language, harbours nothing beyond the fixed nature of that language’s syllable. The Igbo syllable runs thus: Consonant – vowel – consonant – vowel and vice versa, except in very minute cases of a double vowel at the end of a word. This can be exemplified by the Igbo language word “Abuo” which denotes “two” as a number. The word’s syllable structure runs thus:………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..


The problem that gave rise to this research is the fact that spelling- sound relation vary from one language to another. As such, unless the learner of a second language is exposed to the conventions, similarities, differences and other factors guiding spelling and sound in the target language, deviances may be too hard for the learner to overcome in the spelling of the words of the language.

This work, therefore, wishes to compare the relationship of sound and spelling in Igbo and English as a basis to establish the underlying reason for poor spelling and pronunciation of English words among Igbo speakers of the language.


This study aims:

  1. To trace the genealogy of both languages so as to ascertain possible areas of similarities and contrasts between them.
  2. To x–ray the inconsistent, deceptive, rule – governed and exception – filled features of spelling especially as they are obtainable in the English and Igbo languages.
  3. To lay bare the different linguistic influences that had impact on English and Igbo spelling


such as: the invention of printing, the Norman Conquest, dialectal variations, vowel harmony etc.

  1. To draw conclusion and make useful suggestions for further references and research.


The purpose of this study is to engage in a systematic comparison of the relationship of spelling and sound in English and Igbo, so as to unravel the inconsistencies inherent in English to Igbo spellers.

Also of ultimate purpose to this work is to disclose the importance of giving adequate attention to spelling pedagogically because, deviances in it hinder intelligibility and communication.

Finally, this study will help scholars come to grip with appropriate spelling conventions in both languages, for, the skills involved in spellings are highly demanding.  According to Jack et al (220):

Of all the aspects of every language that has writing system, spelling needs more complicated orthographic or any other writing system processing than reading. This is because, it requires perfect reproduction

of all the letters in their exact order.


            This work will study only the relationship of spelling and sound in English and Igbo languages. The sounds and the grapheme inventories of both languages will be used to establish the extent of correspondences that are permissible in the languages.

All the activities of this research will revolve around the above scope for effective study, comparison and analysis.

It will also bring to limelight the various literatures of earlier and renowned scholars in the study of language, who found some blind spots and other inherent complexities that cause an up- hill task for users of both languages.


            This research limits its study only to the relationship of spelling and sounds in English and Igbo language for effectiveness, owing to constraints such as time and cost. The variables to be studied are not the only linguistic levels of language analysis that studies need be carried out in, but, they are aspects of some skills of the languages. Yet, they are carefully chosen so as to ensure proper study and analysis that will bring positive contributions in this field’s sand of time.

The study will also be limited only to two languages- English and Igbo, for time and resources may not allow for a reliable research result if too many other languages are to be encompassed.


This research will be of immense help to learners of English as a second language especially scholars of English and Igbo in particular, as both are various departments in institutions of higher learning.

That is, findings of the study will add to the existing studies and knowledge in Igbo the users of English as regards discrepancies that exist between sounds and spelling in English.


Pedagogically, this study will alleviate the problems encountered in the teaching and learning of spelling of English words. Through this work, the urgency of the need to enshrine spelling in the school curriculum, so that, proper attention be devoted to it as a writing skill, will be felt.