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The Edo Alphabet: A Look At The Benin Letters And Sounds

(Last Update July 11, 2020)


It is specifically important at this point to direct attention at the alphabetical system of the Edo people, considering the present circumstances of the Edo language, which is almost fading away as a result of the influence of other cultures within and outside the Nation state, Nigeria, in which the Edo ethnic group occupy the present Edo state’ and by extension, parts of Ondo, Delta, and Anambra states.

Language, it should be noted, is part of a people’s culture. It is the one most important means of expressing a people’s culture, values, and beliefs. It is used for communication, interaction and exchange of ideas. Consequently, the extent to which a people’s language is developed and influenced necessarily reflects upon the culture of the people, and a change or loss of language invariably affects the perception of the people; viz their culture and socio-cultural realities. thus, language is a means of experiencing, and perceiving the environment and at same time, of communicating same to others.

In view of the foregoing, the Edo language is therefore the medium of interaction within the cultural frame of the Edo people. The unit constituents of language are the alphabets, and to properly understand the nature of the Edo language, it is important to have recourse to the alphabets and sounds which make up the language.

In this piece, the focus will be the Edo - Benin/Bini tribe of the Edoic race or ethnic group. The objective of this paper is to present the Edo alphabet and sounds in relation to the Edo language as core to the people’s socio cultural’ development and survival, and to expose certain misapplication of. the language and/or introduction’ of foreign letters and sounds into the Edo alphabet. Here the words Edo, Benin and Bini shall be used interchangeably.

There are 24 alphabets in the Edo language with 7 (vowels and 17 consonants. Interestingly, there are also 7 pairs of consonants (that is the pair or double consonants) which though are not part of the 24 consonant letters. They occupy a special category in the Edo alphabetical system and are pronounced differently from the single consonants.

The Benin letters include the following:

a/aa/; b/bi/; d/di/; e/a; e/e/; f/fi/; g/gi/; i/i/;; h/hi/; k/k a I; 1/1 a I; m/mi/; n/nil; o/;Q/or/ p/pi/; r/ril; s/si/; tltil; u/uu/; v/vi/; w/wi/; y/yi/; z/zi/. The vowels include a; e;e;i o/o;and u, while the consonants are b· d· f· g. h· k· I· m· n· p: r· s· t· v· w· y. and z

The double consonants, which are combinations of two consonant letters and sounds, include the following: gb, as in Ugbowo; gh, as in ughe; kh as in Ekhosuehi; kp as in Akpakpava; rh, as in Erhun; mw as in Omwan; and vb as in Ovbokhan. These’ double consonants are pronounced together and not separately or arbitrarily choosing and pronouncing one of them as most people, of other ethnic groups, do.

There are also corresponding double consonants in other Edoic groups or tribes. For example bh, as in Ibhadomen; kp as in Okpebho; gh as in Ighalo in Esan. In Etsako, there is vh as in Ivhador etc. The bh in Esan and vh . in Etsako, are closely pronounced like the vb in Benin.

Also to be noted is wh as in Emoborowho; kp as in Akpo; gh as in oghene; rh as Omoriobokirhie; in Urhobo and ts as in Oritsejafo in Itsekiri etc.·

It is clear from the above that there is no j/ji/ in the Benin alphabet nor is there the shl C / or kr/kri/ double consonants or sounds. It is therefore surprising how certain ,words purportedly claimed to be Bini words are then pronounced or even spelt with “j” and “sh”, “kr”, etc. This is. rather a misnomer and a far shift from the Bini language, hence the people’s socio-cultural reality.

A people’s alphabetical system constitutes the basis of their word formation (morphology) and the sound dictates their pronunciation (phonetics). The language of· the people therefore is predicated upon the variety of letters and symbols available in that particular culture for the construction of its language as language is “a systematic means of communicating by the use of sounds or conventional symbols”.

Hence, words cannot be formed in isolation but necessarily from a system of conventional signs, sounds, and gestures. Linguistic formation, in other words, follows the alphabetical systems of such linguistic groups. As such, no symbol or sound not being part of the linguistic system cat”: be used to form words within such linguistic cum cultural frame.

This is because a people’s culture is essentially tied to the language, as what cannot be expressed by the language of a people is considered not to exist - at least there is lack of knowledge of its existence - within the cultural realities of the people, and a people’s expression of their realities and existence through language is limited by the symbols and sounds used for such purpose. Thus, it is through language, that the knowledge, belief, values and behaviour of a people can be experienced, expressed and shared. Consequently, no words could be formed in a particular culture or language where the letters) and/or sound(s) used does not occur in the alphabetical system of that culture.

Accordingly, the use of the “t and “sh” symbol and sound in the formation of certain words within the Bini lingua context is practically inappropriate and intolerable as neither the single letter “j” nor the double consonants “sh” as well as their sounds can be found in the Edo alphabetical system.

Although, sociologically, language is flexible, ‘yet a foreign or new or modified word, symbol or sound cannot be regarded as belonging to the given culture unless’ and until it is forthwith included in the linguistic/alphabetical frame of such people.

There is, therefore, no word as “Jesu” or “ljesu” or any of its inflections as in “Jesurobo”, in the ‘Edo language. Similarly, there are no words like “Oshodin”, “Ologboshere”, “Iyashere”, “Tatashe”, etc whether in their spellings or pronunciation, in the Benin language. These are improper words or names and do not, reasonably and culturally speaking, fit into the Benin linguistics or socio-cultural realities. This is because there is no “j” letter nor the “Stl” in the Bini alphabet. Words which are expressed with such symbols are not B-ini words neither in their spelling, as in “Oshodin” nor in their pronunciation /osodin/.

However, an accurate spelling and pronunciation of these words would exclude the “j” symbol and substitute it with “y” as in “Yesu”, “Iye”, whereas “oshodin”, “tatashe”, will loss the “h” letter and the “sh”1s1 sound to become “Osodin”, “tat’ase”, “Iyase” etc. ‘

The use of the “j” and “sh” letters and sounds is due partly to inadequate knowledge of the Edo, alphabet and partly to the influence of foreign and local cultures.

For example “Jesu” is a corruption of the foreign word Jesus and in an attempt to arrive, at a near accurate of the word, the letter “j” was equally used for the localized name, disregarding the fact that the “j” letter does not exist in the Benin alphabet. The common misapplication and mispronunciation of the “y’ letter and sound for “j” also aided this inaccurate and intolerable transliteration. As for example, in some homes you hear some children call their mother “ije” rather than “iye”. ,

The, occurrence of the “j” letter in some Edoic culture like U-le Esan, as well, hastens its use in the Benin language .

The “sh”/ S I and “Ch”/tS I sound can be found in some Nigerian languages like Haus3, Yoruba and Igbo. In unequivocal terms, neither the “j” nor the “sh” feature in the Benin language.

It ‘will be submitted that though, the “j” and “sh” symbols and sounds form part of the linguistics of some Nigerian languages, they are however not included in that of the Benin - the primordial Edoic tribe - and as such cannot ‘be used for constructing or forming words, names or anything whatsoever within the cultural existence and experience of the, people. Until these symbols and sounds are so incorporated into the Benin alphabetical system, they, and whatever words are formed therefrom, remain linguistic misnomers.

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