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The basic concern of this article is to analyse Language And Culture As A Tool For Identifying Peoples Tribe And Ethnic Groups In Nigeria using the interpretation of Elechi Amadi’s novel, The Concubine, as an Igbo novel (i.e., a novel that specifically reflects on the ways of life of the Igbo people of Southeast Nigeria). Relying on insights from sociolinguistics and ethnic studies, the paper analyses select expressions in Igbo, along with ethno-linguistic and cultural features of the people as manifested in the novel. It shows that Amadi’s use of language in The Concubine appears to be a peculiar speech form of the Igbo language. The paper further reveals that the novelist makes conscious use of certain linguistic items in order to express ethnic identity as a way of projecting “Igbo linguistics” and their cultural values as these were before the advent of colonialism.



Background to Study

Nigeria is the third most ethnically and linguistically diverse country in the world, after New Guinea and Indonesia1. This ethnolinguistic diversity has very significant implications in almost every area of the economy. It implies a major investment in educational and media resources to reach a diverse population. Diverse ethnic groups, with varied cultural patterns, have very different levels of social capital and thus differing capacities to enter into the process of pro- poor change. The relative wealth of the country and the large size of some ethnic groups has allowed them to express their ethnicity in remarkable and sometimes problematic ways that are not mirrored in other similar countries. Dominance of particular ethnic groups in certain sectors of the economy has significant implications for equity. The pattern of dominant and excluded minorities is embedded in the administrative and economic subsystems and has important implications for access to justice and equitable resource- sharing. Ethnic conflict has been a perennial feature of the Nigerian scene since pre -colonial times, but access to modern media and sophisticated weapons has increased the intensity of such conflicts to a degree that threatens the present fragile democracy. The education system, its teaching tools and attitudes reflect strongly the dominant urban culture and effectively exclude monoglot speakers of minority languages in many areas.

Nigeria has at least five hundred languages, although the exact number remains unknown since new languages are regularly being recorded for the first time, while others are disappearing. Such a statement inevitably begs the question of the definition of a language. It is often casually said that these languages must be ‘dialects’ but this is quite false. Dialect, in particular, is a somewhat pejorative term suggesting it is merely a local variant of a 'central' language. In linguistic terms, however, dialect is merely a regional, social or occupational variant of another speech-form, with no presupposition as to its importance or otherwise. But languages in Nigeria are distinct from one another and imply cultural and ethnic variation on a massive scale.

Table 1. Ethnodemographic patterns in Nigeria



Regions with single dominant

SW  (Yorubaland),  NE  (Kanuri-speaking),  North  (Hausa),  South-


Central (Igbo), SE (Ibibio)

Regions of high diversity

Northern Cross River, SW of Niger-Benue Confluence, Jos Plateau,

Muri mountains

Broadly speaking, this pattern reflects political antecedents; Hausa, Kanuri and Yoruba have spread and assimilated minority populations through military conquest. Acephalous peoples such as the Igbo and Ibibio have powerful cultural and religious systems that tend to adapt and assimilate the systems of neighbouring peoples. It is often the case that high levels of ethnodemographic diversity are associated with inaccessible areas, such as the Niger Delta or the Mandara mountains.

The use of second languages for communication and in administration was well-established in pre-colonial Nigeria and has further expanded as more diffuse and long-distance migration patterns have required the development of linguae francae. Language was strongly connected with the extension of political power; as the Hausa city-states consolidated their hegemony, so many ethnic groups were assimilated and switched to speaking Hausa. In regions where most populations had an acephalous political structure, languages of inter-communication also developed, the most well-known being Efik in the southeast. The colonial era did much to spread specific languages such as Hausa and Yoruba, as it was necessary to develop regional languages of administration.

In the post -Independence era it became necessary to develop specific languages for use in schools and media and the choices made in this arena began the process of politicisation of language issues that continues today.

Statement of Problem

There is a significant amount of empirical and theoretical work on the relationship between language and identity (Akindele and Adegbite 1999; Fishman 2001; Harris 2006; Aboh 2012), as well as some important contributions from discourse-religious and socio-historical perspectives (Joseph 2004; Novikoya 2005; Aboh 2010; Jaspal and Coyle 2010; Aboh and Lamidi 2011; Ushie 2012). However, there has been little work on language and ethnic identity particularly on Igbo ethnic identity, one of the largest ethnic majority groups in Nigeria, although some attention has been paid to questions of ethnic identity in general (D e Fina 2007; Jaspal and Coyle 2009; Jaspal and Cinnirella 2012).

This article presents a linguistic as well as a socio-ethnic interpretation of Elechi Amadi‟s novels – The Concubine. It describes significant “Igbo linguistic features”, along with extra-textual entities naturally associated with ethnic and cultural representations. The paper has two concerns. First, it illustrates that socio-cultural entities such as ethnic identity and group membership construction are operational concepts that are reflected on literary discourse via ethno-linguistic variables. Such variables, however, vary from writer to writer, depending on the identity construction goal of the writer. The fact is that the novel, like other genres of literature, provides elaborate accounts of socio-cultural realities. In fact, Fowler notes that a novel “gives an interpretation of the world it represents” (Fowler 1996). Moreover, the novel indicates how non-native English writers employ it as a deconstructing site, where they attempt to dislodge the dominance of English over their indigenous languages, a typical Nigerian example being Chinua Achebe and much of his oeuvre. This political disempowerment has been upheld by the novelist, who considers language an essential component of ethnic identity, especially in instances where the novelist has a control of two languages: a borrowed language (usually a European language brought on the wings of colonialism), and an indigenous language.

The second concern of this paper is to account for the linguistic features of Igbo, as demonstrated in The Concubine, and to indicate that Amadi‟s use of language appears to be speech forms/mannerisms that are emblematic of the Igbo in eastern Nigeria. The contribution also shows how the novelist makes use of linguistic features in order to project his ethnic identity; reflect on the cultural exigencies of Igbo; and re-enact the communal identity of the Igbo people where communal imperatives take preeminence over individual ambitions. Aboh (2012) has particularly argued that “the adoption and adaptation of indigenous items” enables “Nigerian novelists to express their socio-cultural affiliations in a far reaching language that is in communion with their historical experiences.” This based on the knowledge that language is at the centre of identity construction in any context that involves its use. The choice of a socio-ethno-linguistic approach for our analysis here is especially rewarding given discourse analysis and identity construction‟s enduring tradition of studying both the micro and the macro levels of identity. Researchers in the area have realised that we can neither take for granted membership in social categories such as ethnicity, class, or gender, nor presuppose the aspects of social life that are relevant for the configuration of those categories. The present paper offers such a perspective. This is, however, not intended to represent a pre-determined framework for future studies on ethnic identity, but rather a means of providing explicit research questions which could direct future work in the area of literary discourse and ethnic identity construction.

Objective of Study

Finally, this paper looked at the interplay between the three linguistic strategies and ethnicity. Like Fishman (1997) the term ethnicity is used to refer to a cultural grouping that is associated with a sense of linguistic distinctiveness and customs. Two ethnic groups were investigated in this paper Anang and igbo. Specifically the study examines

1.     Language as a tool of cultural domination or essential tool for unity

2.     Code-mixing as an Indices of Ethnic Identity

Significance of Study

In this regard our significance of study will be both on the theoretical levels and

practical levels. Theoretically, this study seeks to highlight and widen scholarly perceptions language and ethnic groups in Nigeria.

More importantly, the study intends to critically examine the various efforts by individuals in providing answers to the problem of identifying ethnic groups in Nigeria.

Basically, this study will be of vital importance to scholars on linguistics as such serve as a further take off point for future inquiry in the study under review.

Scope of Study

The study uses the novel “the concubine” as the basis for the analysis of language as a tool for identifying people’s tribe and ethnic groups.

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