Writing programs in Igbo, What’s the Point?

Photo by Dlanor S on Unsplash

A Programming language is a constructed language designed by humans to communicate instructions to a machine, particularly a computer. There are about 300+ of them and about 90% are developed in English speaking countries, meaning they possess English-inspired keywords and code libraries.

The English Language, spoken by 1.5 billion of the world’s population, is an entity to be most considered when creating technologies including a programming language for world-wild adoption. An example is Ruby that was created in Japan but is based on the English language to look appealing to an international audience.

JavaScript, Python, Java and C# are currently the most used programming languages on earth and of course, based on the English language, but this wasn’t the case in the 50s and 70s. In France, Automatic Programming of Formulae (PAF) and Langage symbolique d’enseignement (LSE) – flourished and was backed by the French Ministry of National Education – used French keywords.


Although PAF became old fashioned and LSE fell behind industry standard, they both were successes in countries where French is the first language.

In Nigeria, English is the first language and the natives as second, how would an Igbo based programming language be of use even to a software developer whose native language is Igbo?

Roland Chima Obi has built IboLang, a programming language designed to write computer programs in Igbo, a language native to South Eastern Nigeria. It’s similar to Python and maintains all its syntaxs and methods.

Codes in Ibolang

English is Nigeria’s official and first language, no doubts, but a few shortfalls -Religion, poverty, political instability and a deficit in its education system – hinders its citizens residing majorly in rural areas to learn how to actually speak the language.

The affected, adopts the language of his/her birthplace (Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba) as the first and only language s(he) communicates and thinks with. The major barrier here is teaching about computers or programming-  a cultural bias that favours those who grew up reading and writing English- to an individual who doesn’t understand English.

Here’s where IboLang bridges the language barrier.

“I’m someone whose primary language of communication is English, I can learn Python. An Igbo speaker will have to learn academic level English, then Python.” Roland said, “this is a high hurdle for brilliant minds who majorly communicate in Igbo, If you take away that first step for them they can learn at a younger age, teach and be taught more comfortably, and create internal demand for other Igbo programmers.” he told 4kreport.

You could agree that the adoption of western civilization and cultures by Nigerians has excessively established the country but it’s also opposition to Ibolang’s necessity and scalability from just a programming language for teaching Igbo-only speakers how to code to a commercial language that gets widespread industrial usage.

Two in every three developers who are Igbo will identify as not been able to speak Igbo or can’t read Igbo, this can be traced to the rural-urban migration issue with Nigeria. Everyone moves to the city, to relate, you have to speak/write a universal language everyone understands; English. Down the generational line, we’ll forget our native language.

Ever wondered why the English language is a must pass in schools to get promoted and Igbo or Hausa or Yoruba is not?

The Igbo language is static, it doesn’t have many words to express certain English terms, sometimes you’ll end up mixing both English and Igbo up. All reputable softwares are written in English. Finding the correct Igbo translation for certain words in python is daunting.

“In situations like this, I imagined what my grandmother would call it, or consult with a friend who majored in linguistics” Rowland said.

The Igbo language is going extinct, parents of these days no longer communicate with their children in Igbo. Ibolang is one of the ways we can contribute to making sure the Igbo language doesn’t die.

Words translations from the Ibolang dictionary can help improve Google’s translate results and can be scaled to set Igbo as a language option on social media applications. Making Igbo a voice option for virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa may be considered.

Still similar to python, Ibolang is open sourced on GitHub and maintains all the python syntaxes and methods. What’s left is to get a bucket of popcorn on my right arm and cola on my left then watch Ibolang become a functional tool to teach programming or as a medium of cultural expression or just another failed project.

For now, Roland is just improving Iblanog to become a better version of itself.

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