Ńdébé, A Functional Writing System For The Igbo Language

Lotanna Igwe-Odunze (popularly known as @sugabelly) invented Ńdébé in 2009, then refined it over a decade. Today, she has published a book that serves as a functional teaching tool for this writing system. 
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Customized tee available on ndebe.org

The Ńdébé script is designed with all tonal variations of Igbo, a language indigenous to the South-Eastern region of Nigeria. It fuses the ancient Igbo writing system with modern-day functionality in what the author describes as “the first truly usable, truly writeable, truly readable, and truly indigenous written form of Ìgbò.”

Understanding the limitations of the English language when it came to adequately translating Igbo, the author defines Ńdébé as a ‘syllabary.’ This means that for each syllable, this new script reflects the individual sounds in the way that they are to be pronounced. For instance, the word, ‘onyinye’ (gift), may be misconstrued as ‘on.yin.ye.’ Ńdébé makes it clear that it is ‘o.nyi.nye.’

Speaking on the importance of this book, Lotanna Igwe-Odunze says:

The vagaries of history, but British colonisation and missionary evangelism especially, suppressed the natural growth and development of Igbo as a language and a medium of expression and communication. Long after Nigeria and Ìgbò people received independence, our language never caught up with the modern world. Today, Ìgbò is a threatened, if not an endangered language because, no matter how many initiatives and meetings we attend to encourage people to speak Ìgbò, our language will never truly flourish until we write and read widely in Ìgbò.

The script could also be described as a more urban version of Nsibidi, the standard Igbo writing system, which, Lotanna Igwe-Odunze posits, is severely impractical as a daily writing script. She sought to make writing and speaking the language easier for Igbos and Non-Igbos alike, in a vastly evolving world where everyone seems to be on the move.

The author, Lotanna Igwe-Odunze, is a Nigerian Software Engineer, Writer and Artist who is driven by her passion for the Igbo language and culture, seeing a need to document it for clarity and everyday functionality.

We have modern, busy lives. We want to be able to write and read Ìgbò immediately. Those limitations don’t scale. Ńdébé is designed to.”

                                                               – Lotanna Igwe-Odunze

This is an ingenious way to preserve an African culture that is constantly at the risk of fading out. The book, Ńdébé, a modern Igbo Writing System, is available to order on ndebe.org.

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