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Understanding Politeness Strategies Of The Igbo Speakers Of English Language

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Language has been proven to be inseparable from socio-cultural interaction. Recent empirical studies on conversation in a discourse of a multi sociocultural group observe the need of politeness strategies to ensure smooth conversation among the interlocutors. Even though Nigeria has made English Language as a language of unity, the controversies, division and distrust among the various ethnic group that make up Nigeria exacerbate. However, the problem could be traced to inability of the ethnic groups to understand and accommodate the sociocultural background into the interaction. Hence this research intends to investigate politeness strategies of Nigeria speakers of English as a second language with more focus on the politeness strategies of the Igbo speakers of English as a second language.

The data empirically would constitute polite expressions in Spoken English made by people from Igbo extraction. The analysis would reveal the sociocultural elements inherent in this discourse by considering such features as social distance, sex, age, social background etc., which serve as determiners of polite utterances, whether positively or negatively. The research hence would observe some implications and then make recommendations based on the findings.

Our conclusion based on the findings is that Nigerians interactants in a discourse even though use English as a language of unity, integrally adopt the socio-cultural rules of their mother tongue in speech situations and the principles governing them have also been maintained.


Edlund and Helder in a manuscript states that conversation is the primary means of human communication, which involves exchange of positional context. During this exchange, the interlocutors must regulate the flow of information to make it proceed smoothly and efficiently. This is achieved through a when the interlocutors become aware as well as cooperate in adapting to various aspects of each other’s behaviour. According to Sapir (1963) “language does not exist independent of culture and as essential part of culture; therefore, it is more than just a means of communication. It also projects the culture of the people using it as well.”

Nigeria is a multilingual and multicultural nation of about 200 to 400 indigenous languages. Thus, the nation is unified by one official language English. Like in most countries where English is the second language, English spoken in Nigeria is influenced by the various ethnic groups both linguistically and culturally. In fact Ikonne (1986:30) describes the English spoken in Nigeria as “a multiplicity of idiolects spoken by native born Nigerians and understood by Nigerians who are literate in English.” The most important fact to note here is that the English Language has been cultivated, indigenized, domesticated and nativized to suit the cultures and traditions of various indigenous groups. (Simo-Bobda 1995, Igboanusi, 2002 a &b, Bamgbose, 2004, Dadzie 2004, Alo 2004).This supports one of the characteristics of language behaviour which states that all languages are subject to variations the moment they leave their natural environment and spread to other areas.

Conversely, the English spoken in Nigeria have not fully achieved its objective as language of unity. In a typical multicultural speech situation shows interactants expressing themselves in English that is integrated to their mother tongue. Consequently, individual speech behaviour which may not be understood or accommodated in the other ethnic group. In fact, findings from Enang, E.T., Eshiet C.S and S.T. Udoka (12) reveal that polite expressions in spoken Nigerian English are inseparable from the socio-cultural conventions of the various ethnic groups. Therefore, to ensure smooth interaction, there is need for the interlocutors to accommodate their fellow interactant’s language behaviour. Understanding the politeness strategies of the various ethnic groups will also minimise misconception and miscommunication.

This study therefore will investigate politeness strategies of Igbo speakers of English with the aim of revealing the polite expression and examining the implication.

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Statement of the problem

Following Kramsch (1998: 6) line of argument that common attitudes, beliefs, and values are reflected in the way language is used, some Nigerian Linguists such as Ogu, 1992; Banjo, 1996; Igboanusi, 2002 a & b; Alo, 2004; Bamgbose, 2004; Mbisike 2007 identify some culturally specific elements that govern the interactional discourse in Nigeria. Therefore, for a smooth conversation, the knowledge of the conversational rules guiding the target language is required. Though there have been previous researches on politeness strategies in some Nigerian languages none of the studies has linked it to how these strategies could be integrated in a multi sociocultural speech situation.

Aims and Objectives

This research aims to study the politeness strategies of Native Igbo Speakers of English Language

The following objectives have been devised to achieve the aim;

  1. To identify the polite expressions used by Igbo speakers.
  2. To identify how it is integrated in the spoken English of the Igbo speakers
  3. To investigate how that affects the speakers of English language from other ethnic group
  4. To assess the socio-cultural implications of this effect.

Scope of the study

The research limits its scope of study to the politeness strategies used by Igbo Speakers of English language. In addition, the investigation involves both two party and multiparty interaction.

Significance of the study

The study of the suprasegmentals as turn-taking devices could project a successful negotiation in a multicultural interaction. Therefore, this research would serve as a reference material for researches in pragmatics, semantics and critical discourse analysis (especially, in political discourse) as well as other related disciplines. In other words, the study of the unique features of Nigerian English (NE) is extended to pragmatics. This would assist one to have an understanding of NE (especially the Igbo speakers of English) as a distinct expressive system. It will also, create the ability to recognize the complications that may occur in an inter-group conversation where Igbo speakers of English are involved. Consequently, threats of misinterpretations and miscommunication will be minimised to greater extent.


Data description and collection procedure

The data used for this research was collected from various interactions and gatherings that constitute Igbo speakers of English. Hence, language of the data is the variation of English spoken by native Igbo speakers.

The data was recorded on a CD-ROM. This was accompanied by a tentative and verbatim transcription of the data. The transcription was based on transcript convention for conversational analysis adopted from Langford’s (1994) Analysing Talk: Investigating Verbal Interaction in English. Generally, instrumentation used in data collection involved reproducitivity, recording, transcription, laboratory and observation.

Analytical procedure and research sample

The data was analysed based on the theories of Politeness. These theories were selected because of their significance in social interaction. According to Karaforti (2007:120), research on politeness matters reveal the systematisation of interaction through the formulation of rules. Notable scholarship on these theories include Brown and Levinson (1978, 1987) and Lakoff (1973, 1990). These theories would therefore set basic parameter to identify the politeness strategies used by the Igbo speakers of English and their socio-linguistic implications in a social context. Moreover, both the qualitative and quantitative methods were used in the analysis. The samples were randomly selected from the data.

Working bibliography

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  2. Adegbija, E. 2005. Is English not foreign language in Nigeria? In Ajiboye, J. (ed) Nigeria and the foreign language question. Ibadan: Caltop Publications (Nigeria) Limited. 30-38
  3. Adegbija, E. 2002. ‘The domestication of English in Nigeria.’ In Awonusi, S and E.A. Babalola. (eds) The Domestication of English in Nigeria.. Lagos: University of Lagos Press. pp 22-44
  4. Alo, M.A. 2004. Social meaning in Nigerian English. Owolabi, K and A. Dasylva. (eds.) Forms and functions of English indigenous languages in Nigeria. Ibadan: Group Publishers
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  7. Banjo, A .1996. Making a virtue of necessity: an overview of the English language in Nigeria. Ibadan: Ibadan University Press.
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Understanding Politeness Strategies Of The Igbo Speakers Of English Language. (2022, February 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 6, 2023, from
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