Language, Culture and Communication: The Ibibio Worldview

Article excerpt


Language, culture and communication are complementary elements/features in all societies. The Ibibio society which is the focus of this article describes the people as well as the language. The Ibibios are found in the South- South Geopolitical zone of Nigeria. They number about four million people and speak the language-Ibibio-which belongs to the Lower Cross languages, a sub-family of the Benue Congo Phylum. The Ibibio worldview highlights the beliefs, the ideologies, values and the thought-pattern of the people. Using the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis with some modifications, we have shown that the worldview of a people is not determined only by the structure of a language. In addition, especially for the African (Ibibio) society, the worldview extends beyond the members of the society at a given point in time to those who are dead instead of the unborn. The data for this work were elicited through oral interview and participant observation using Ibibio proverbs among others in order to posit answers to the objectives stated in this article.

Key words: Language; Culture; Communication; Worldview; Generation past and present

"History is a pact between the dead, the living and the yet unborn".

- Edmund Burke


Language is as old as man and as McWhorter in Kottack (2004, p. 158) observes: Language arose with Homo sapiens in Africa, extends from the philogenetic separation of homo (2.3-2.4 million years ago) and pan (5-6 millions years ago) at the very beginning of genus homo (Wikipedia the free encyclopedia). What then is human language? Language as a phenomenon has varied definitions. Our definition of language will reflect the concept of culture and communication in any speech community, or society. The reason is that "language" is seen as a defining feature of human behaviour Crystal (1993, p. 194). Hall in Okon and Ansa (2009a, p. 125) sees "Language as an institution for communication". In addition, Okon, Ekpe, Ansa and Udoinyang (2009b, p. 312) assert that as an institution, "language is all embracing and other issues in the society are subsumed in it". Its embodiment of other issues includes the culture, the act, and arts of communication.

Culture is communication and communication is culture. Samovar, Porter and McDaniel (2007, p. 17) state, "There is not one aspect of human life that is not touched and altered by culture". "Culture is a group's worldview which shows how a particular society organizes the world over time." In a similar vein, Wardhaugh (2006, p. 221) quotes Goodenough thus, "a society's culture consists of whatever it is one has to know or believe in order to operate in a manner acceptable to its members, and to do so in any role that they accept for anyone of themselves". In agreement with the above assertion, Okon (2007, p. 3) asserts that, "Culture is the knowledge that someone has by virtue of his/her being a member of a particular society". To sum up then, there is no society without a culture and language must and does perform its function as a vehicle for cultural transmission. Culture in essence calls for the knowledge of the "history, religion, values, social organization and language" in order for one to be able to live successfully in any society because these are the elements of culture.

As already stated, communication and culture work in tandemand as Samovar et al., note (2007, p. 12), "Communication is your ability to share your beliefs, values, ideas and feelings which is the basis of human contact". Communication is symbolic in that human beings use symbols both verbal and nonverbal to share their internal states. The use of symbols enables culture to be passed on from generation to generation. In any culture, one is able to generate, receive, store and manipulate symbols. A symbol is a symbol because a group of people agree to consider them as such. In others words, although all cultures use symbols, they usually assign their own meanings to the symbols. …