A Study of Selected Igbo Television Presenters’ Pronunciation of English Speech Sounds

Cite this article as: Oworu, L.U. (2023). A Study of Selected Igbo Television Presenters’ Pronunciation of English Speech Sounds. Tasambo Journal of Language, Literature, and Culture, (2)2, 85-93. www.doi.org/10.36349/tjllc.2023.v02i02.010.

Lawrencia Uloma OWORU Ph.D


The English language is used to solve the problem of language variation or problems emanating from language variation in Nigeria. Mass media plays a major role in conveying information to the general public. The conveyance of information is possible and easy when appropriate linguistic tools as well as the correct pronunciation of words are employed. However, there is always the implication of wrong pronunciation on the listeners whenever television presenters do not articulate words correctly. Some television presenters are faced with the problem of mother tongue interference which may lead to the incorrect articulation of English speech sounds. This is responsible for the phonological errors that are evident in the speeches of many television presenters, especially from the Igbo speech communities with significant implications on the educational performance of Nigerian youths who see them as stars and also imitate their phonological errors. The study, therefore, investigates the pronunciation of English speech sounds of selected Igbo television presenters. Data for the study were gathered from four (4) randomly selected television stations and one (1) purposively selected television station. These stations were selected because they are widely watched and some of them are award-winning television stations. The data collected were analyzed using simple percentage frequency. The result of the study reveals that the presenters in this study substitute /t/ for // and /d/ for /ð/; /Ɔ/ and /Ɔ:/ for //; /Ɔ:/, /a/, or /e/ for /ɜ:/ and /i/, /a/ or /e/ for /ǝ/. The reason for this is the fact that the central Igbo consonantal inventory has no dental fricatives // and /ð/ and at the vowel level, it has no central vowels //, /ɜ:/ and /ǝ/. So, interference occurs in the pronunciation of these sounds. Based on the findings, it is recommended that the phonological aspect of the English language should be handled by specialists; Nigerians should be sensitized on the need for proficiency in oral English hence, it should be one of the criteria for selection of television presenters.

Keywords: English, Igbo, Presenters, Pronunciation, Speech Sound


In Nigeria, a country with a rich language diversity, the English language is widely used to overcome dialectal differences, including in the Igbo language, which belongs to the West Benue Congo language family (Kwa). The Igbo people are located in the South Eastern region of Nigeria, which includes the states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo as well as some parts of Bayelsa, Delta, and River States in the South-South region.

However, spoken English has not received sufficient attention. Proficiency in the English language is considered an important measure of educational attainment in Nigeria and this proficiency includes both written and spoken forms of English. Different individuals have their characteristic pronunciation which can be used to identify them (Muhassin et al 2018). Pronunciation can also be an obvious way to identify speakers of a particular variety of English in Nigeria.

The focus of the study is mother tongue interference at the phonological level. Mother tongue interference in the pronunciation of /q/ and /ð/ and the vowels /Ù/, /ɜ:/ and /ǝ/ by Igbo Television presenters will be the focal point. Aladeyomi (2013), in a study carried out to evaluate the spoken English performance of Nigerian Television Newscasters, discovers that it is a consensus that the standard of spoken English in Nigeria is not high enough. He states emphatically that Secondary School is the level of formal education at which most Nigerian speakers of the English language seriously learn to use the language. It is therefore reasonable to concentrate on the Secondary School level in one’s effort to provide a solution to the problems encountered by Nigerian speakers of the English language. There is a need to provide good models that the learners will emulate to raise the standard of their spoken English. Aladeyomi states further that generally, teachers as well as educated parents do recommend newscasters on television as models in Nigeria. Ayodele et al., (1984) emphasized that due to training and the process of self-improvement on the job, newscasters present a highly intelligible form of English through scrutiny of newscasters’ and television presenters’ articulation of English sounds at several layers of consideration, revealing that while the claim of high competence could be sustained to a large extent, much needs to be addressed for the newscasters as well as television presenters to fully qualify for national models. This, therefore, prompts the examination of the substitution process of the television presenters in this study.

Aim and Objectives of the Study

The paper aims at studying the pronunciation of the dental fricative sounds /q/ and /ð/ and central vowels /Ù/, /ɜ:/ and /ǝ/ by selected Igbo television presenters.

The objectives of the study are:

i.         to examine the substitution process of the selected Igbo presenters at the phonological level;

ii.       to examine the interference of the mother tongue in the pronunciation of certain sounds by Igbo TV presenters; and

iii.     to investigate the reasons for the mispronunciation of sounds /q/, /ð/, /Ù/, /ɜ:/, and /ǝ/ by Igbo speakers of the English language.

Statement of the Problem

Language is a fundamental aspect of broadcast media as effective communication is essential for the continued survival of human society. The mass media serves a critical role in conveying information to the general public and this is possible only when appropriate linguistic tools and correct pronunciation of words are ensured. When presenters do not articulate words correctly, misconceptions and confusion arise among viewers who often look up to them as models. Some television presenters in Nigeria may experience problems with mother tongue interference at the phonological level resulting in incorrect articulation of certain English sounds and leading to phonological errors in their speeches. These errors are then passed on to their numerous viewers with resultant educational implications, especially among youths. The study focuses on the pronunciation of English speech sounds by selected Igbo television presenters from sampled stations in this State, Nigeria. Unlike many studies, which included many tribes or ethnic groups, this study focuses solely on a particular group – the Igbo. The research examines the speeches of selected Igbo television presenters to determine the level of interference in the pronunciation of certain English sounds through the substitution process.

Significance of the Study

The study will contribute to knowledge by adding to the existing literature on the pronunciation of English sounds that constitute a problem for Igbo television presenters. The findings of the study would also be very useful to television directors and producers during auditioning and provide direction for better production quality and a good impact on their numerous viewers.

The findings of the study will also be of immense value to other television presenters who may learn from the errors of the subjects under study to improve their pronunciation capabilities. The study may also be useful to educational institutions that may use the findings as feedback for curricular and teaching efforts in their production of Igbo mass communication graduates and practitioners on in-service training. The study will stimulate research in areas not covered by the study thereby serving as a reference point.

The Concept of Interference

Apeli & Ugwu (2013) report that the interference theory was an idea in psychology, propounded in 1950 to explain memory loss in language learning. They observe further that forgetting, according to psychologists, occurs because the recall of certain items interferes with the recall of other items. So, interference is a psycho-linguistic concept that is a reality in the language (Onike 2009). He states further that, theorists on interference problems believe that the acquisition of a first language usually affects performance in subsequent languages acquired. Dairo (2015) observes that scholars in the aspect of Nigerian English usage have identified mother-tongue interference as a problem and a major cause of deviation from Standard English, especially in the supra-segmental competence of Nigerian speakers of English.

Interference, is, therefore, a situation where two languages interpose. It can be described as an instance where the mother tongue affects the learning of the second language. Ojetunde (2001) states that interference is the trace left by someone’s native language upon the foreign language he has acquired. In this case, the linguistic system of one of the languages is transferred into the other in the process of producing the latter which is the second language.

Citing Derakhshan (2015), Sales (2022) states that interference is the error that can be traced back to the first language while the learners use the second language. There are two types of interference: proactive interference and retroactive interference. Proactive interference (facilitation) implies a situation whereby the knowledge of the already known language helps in the acquisition of the target or subordinate language. Retroactive interference, on the other hand, involves retardation. This is a situation whereby the knowledge of one language hinders or affects the acquisition of the target language negatively. It is, however, important to note that for interference to take place, there must be a degree of bilingualism in the speech community. Otherwise, there are no speakers to transfer structures from their mother tongue into the second language. Interference occurs, at all linguistic levels including phonological, lexical, grammatical, and discourse levels.

Phonological interference refers to the transfer of rules governing the production of speech sounds of a dominant language in a speech community to the sound system of a subordinate or target language (Onike, 2009). This transfer can occur at various levels, including the phonemic, stress, and intonation levels, with interference being predominant at the phonemic level due to the mother tongue of Nigerian English bilinguals. Omoniyi (2004) and Onike (2009) have confirmed that the phonological systems of indigenous languages differ from those of English, and as English is learned as a second language, indigenous phonological systems are adapted for English speech sounds and patterns rather than managing the two systems separately. This adaptation leads to phonological interference, where the knowledge of the sound system of the first language affects the learning of the sound systems of the second language in a speech community. In the case of the Igbo language, some of the sounds in English are not present in the indigenous language, making phonological interference a common occurrence. It is usually manifested as a foreign accent (Muhasin et al., 2018). According to Mahendra et al. (2020), phonological interference can take different forms, including sound addition, sound omission, and sound replacement.

 Ikekeonwu (1999) and Nkamigbo (2010), recognize that at the consonant level, the standard Igbo consonant inventory has no dental fricatives /q/ and /ð. At the vowel level, standard Igbo has no central vowels /Ù/, / /ɜ:/, and /ǝ/. Eight vowels exist in the Igbo language (Nkamigbo, 2022). These vowels can be simply presented as /i/, /a/ /u/ /o/ which belong to the group described as tense, narrow, or retracted. During the production of these sounds, the root of the tongue is squeezed and there is a greater concentration of pronunciation energy. However, during the production of sounds /i/, /e/, /u/, and /o/, the root of the tongue is relatively relaxed and the tip of the tongue is moved forward. The general law of this vowel harmony states that most dissyllabic words in Igbo contain only vowel sounds belonging to either the retracted vowel harmony group or the un-retracted. The centring vowels which are not present in the Igbo language sound inventory may be difficult for Igbo speakers to pronounce.

 Amayo (1986) observes that the average Nigerian has already internalized the linguistic structures of his mother tongue before beginning to learn English and even after acquiring a reasonable mastery of English, he continues to operate the two languages side by side as in the case of the Igbo speakers of English. Ufomata (1990) states that issues of pronunciation cannot be segmented. He believes that British English makes use of varied devices such as weak form, vowel reduction, and elision in unaccented syllables to maintain its characteristic isochrones – which bother on both sound segments and stress patterns. Solar (2000) in Soneye (2007) attests to the fact that a lot of problems encountered by learners of English (especially the Igbos) in the area of pronunciation are due to the inconsistency of the English sounds and spelling. Akande (2005) observes that most Nigerian speakers of the English language have problems with the pronunciation of certain fricatives and lax vowels. This study is limited to Igbo mother tongue speakers in their pronunciation of the dental fricatives /q/ and /ð/ and the vowels /Ù/, / /ɜ:/ and /ǝ/ as noticed in the speeches of Igbo television present.

English Consonants

English consonants are a major component of English speech sounds, falling into one of the classes of phonemes in the language (Dairo, 2006). They are sounds produced with some degree of constriction in the vocal tract, leading to partial or total obstruction of the air passage (Adeyanju and Egwuogu, 2003). This constriction occurs through contact between at least two organs of speech, creadisrupting the free flow of airstream and audible friction (Oyeleye, 1996; Adetugbo, 1993). English consonant sounds have also been described as marginal elements in the syllable (Gimson, 1980). Therefore, the production of English consonant sounds involves an obstruction or disruption in the flow of air from the larynx to the lips, either partially or totally.

 English consonants can be classified based on three features: (a) Place of articulation: this refers to the point where the organs involved come in contact. (b) Manner of articulation: this refers to specific ways in which the organs produce the sounds. (c) State of the vocal cords: this refers to whether the vocal cords vibrate or not. When voiceless sounds occur, the vocal cords do not vibrate but when voiced sounds occur, they do vibrate. English consonants can be divided into approximately fifteen voiced and nine voiceless consonants (Dairo, 2006).

Below is a table showing the English consonants:

A Study of Selected Igbo Television Presenters’ Pronunciation of English Speech Sounds

(Adapted from Roach 2009)

English Vowels

 Vowels are speech sounds that are produced without any obstruction to the flow of air as it passes from the larynx to the lips (Roach, 2009). They are a major segmental unit of English speech sounds, and the main difference between vowels and consonants is the lack of obstruction in their articulation. According to Dairo (2006), three factors are considered in describing English vowels: (a) Tongue height, which refers to whether the tongue is raised towards the roof of the mouth or not, and the degree of height, i.e. close, half close, half open, or open. The front, centre, or accentuation of the tongue is also taken into consideration. (b) Position of the soft palate, which is either raised in the production of oral vowels or lowered for nasalized vowels. (c) Lip aperture, which refers to the kind of opening formed by the lips, the degree of rounding, and whether the lips are unrounded or spread.

A Study of Selected Igbo Television Presenters’ Pronunciation of English Speech Sounds

English Pure vowels chart (Adapted from Jones, 2011)

(a)    Igbo Consonant Chart

A Study of Selected Igbo Television Presenters’ Pronunciation of English Speech Sounds

Igbo Vowel Chart

A Study of Selected Igbo Television Presenters’ Pronunciation of English Speech Sounds

Both were adapted from Ikekeonwu (1999)


The study adopted the descriptive research design. Five television stations were randomly selected from the ten (10) major television stations in Lagos State while one station (Africa Magic Family channel 154) was purposively selected. All the television stations were selected because of their wide viewership. The Television stations are ‘Africa Magic Family Channel 154’, ‘Television Continental (TVC) station’, ‘Channels Television’, ‘Galaxy Television’ and ‘Lagos Television’. One Igbo television presenter was randomly selected from each of the selected television channels to make a total of five presenters for the study. The programs were watched and the speeches of the presenters were recorded. The recordings were played back and transcribed phonemically. This was checked by some phonology experts for correctness. The number of occurrences of the sounds examined was recorded and the number and percentage were obtained. The instances of correct pronunciation as well as those of deviation were recorded and summarized. The summary and discussions are presented below:

Results and Discussion

Table 1: Fricatives /q/ and /ð/

A Study of Selected Igbo Television Presenters’ Pronunciation of English Speech Sounds

From the table presented, it is evident that the sound /q/ was pronounced incorrectly 51 times out of the total 62 occurrences, which amounts to 82%. On the other hand, the correct pronunciation of /q/ was only observed 11 times (18%). Similarly, the sound /ð/ was mispronounced 36 times (84%), while only 7 instances (16%) had the correct pronunciation. This finding is consistent with Nkamigbo's (2010) claim that Igbo speakers of English may experience difficulties with producing the dental fricatives /q/ and /ð/.

Table 2: Substitution Process of the Dental Fricatives /q/ and /ð/

A Study of Selected Igbo Television Presenters’ Pronunciation of English Speech Sounds


The substitution process means the habit of replacing one sound with another. The table above indicates that presenter one replaced the /q/ sound with /t/ 20 times (100%) and /ð/ with /d/ 10 times (100 %). Presenter two replaced /q/ with /t/ 13 times (100%) and /ð/ with /d/ 10 times (100%). Presenter three replaced /q/ with /t/ 4 times (40%) and /ð/ with /d/ 3 times (30%). Presenter four replaced /q/ with /t/ 4 times (44%) and /ð/ with /d/ 3 times (30%). Presenter five replaced /q/ with /t/ 10 times (100%) and /ð/ with /d/ 8 times (100%). Looking at Table two, we can see that there is the predominant replacement of the intended sounds /q/ and /ð/ with /t/ and /d/ by the presenters. This finding aligns with Williamson’s (1967), Ikekeonwu’s (1999), and Nkamigbo’s (2010) assertions that, as regards consonants, standard Igbo has no dental fricatives, hence, there could be a tendency for some Igbo speakers of the English language to substitute /t/ and /d/ for /q/ and /ð/ respectively thus, confusing such words, as “tick and thick”, “den and then”, “thank and tank” and “they and day”.

Table 3: Vowels /Ù/, /ɜ:/, and /ǝ/

A Study of Selected Igbo Television Presenters’ Pronunciation of English Speech Sounds

Table three shows that the sounds /Ù/, /ɜ:/, and /ǝ/ occurred a total of 135 times, with /Ù/ occurring 48 times, /ɜ:/ occurring 35 times, and /ǝ/ occurring 52 times. Upon observation, it was found that the sound /Ù/ was mispronounced 35 times (73%), while it was correctly pronounced only 13 times (27%). Similarly, the sound /ɜ:/ was mispronounced 30 times (86%) and correctly pronounced only 5 times (14%), while the sound /ǝ/ was mispronounced 47 times (90%) and correctly pronounced only 5 times (10%). This finding is consistent with Ikekeonwus (1999) claim that Standard Igbo has only eight (8) vowel sounds, none of which are central vowels /Ù/, /ɜ:/, and /ǝ/. As a result, some Igbo speakers find it difficult to pronounce these vowels accurately.

Table 4: Substitution Process of the Centring Vowels

A Study of Selected Igbo Television Presenters’ Pronunciation of English Speech Sounds


Table 4 illustrates that presenter one substituted the /Ù/ sound with /Ɔ/ seven times (70%) and with /Ɔ:/ three times (30%). The sound /ɜ:/ was substituted with /Ɔ/ five times (33%), while the /ǝ/ sound was substituted with /æ/ ten times (67%) and with /e/ five times (33%) by the presenter. Presenter two substituted /Ù/ with /D/ eight times (100%), /ɜ:/ with /Ɔ/ four times (67%), and with /a/ two times (33%). The /ǝ/ sound was substituted with /æ/ ten times (100%) by the same presenter. Presenter three substituted /ɜ:/ with /Ɔ/ six times (100%) and /ǝ/ with /æ/ five times (100%). Presenter four substituted /Ù/ with /Ɔ:/ two times (20%), /ɜ:/ with /Ɔ/ three times (37%), and /ǝ/ with /æ/ five times (50%). Lastly, presenter five substituted /Ù/ with /Ɔ/, ten times (67%) and with /Ɔ:/ five times (33%). The /ɜ:/ sound was substituted with /Ɔ/ ten times (100%), /ǝ/ with /æ/ eight times (67%), and with /e/ four times (33%) by presenter five.

This finding is in agreement with Williamson’s (1967), Ikekeonwu’s (1999), and Nkamigbo’s (2010) assertions that standard Igbo does not have centring vowels /Ù/, /ɜ:/, and /ǝ/. Therefore, our findings here confirm Ikekeonwu (1999) and Nkamigbo (2010) that Igbo speakers of the English language may tend to substitute /Ɔ/ or /Ɔ:/ for /Ù/; /Ɔ:/, /a/ or /e/ for /ɜ:/ and /i/, /u/, /a/ or /e/ for /ǝ/ as observed in the analysis.

Conclusion and Recommendations

This study aimed to investigate the pronunciation of /q/ and /ð/, /Ù/, /ɜ:/, and /ǝ/ sounds by selected Igbo television presenters, with a specific focus on Igbo mother tongue interference at the phonological level. The speech of the presenters was recorded, transcribed phonemically, and analyzed based on substitution processes, taking into consideration that the presenters were Igbos. The study revealed that the presenters substituted /q/ and /ð/ with /t/ and /d/, /Ù/ with either /Ɔ/ or /Ɔ:/, /ɜ:/ with /æ/, /e/, and /ǝ/ with /a/, /Ɔ:/, or /u/, respectively. This issue was attributed to the absence of dental fricatives /q/and /ð/ and central vowels /Ù/, /ɜ:/, and /ǝ/ in standard Igbo's consonant inventory. Based on the findings, the following recommendations are made:

1.       It is crucial to have specialists teach the phonological aspect of the English language to reduce the difficulties faced by second-language speakers.

2.       Nigerians should be continuously educated on the importance of oral English proficiency.

3.       The selection criteria for television presenters, particularly Igbo speakers, should include proficiency in oral English.

4.       There should be phonetic workshops organized for television presenters to enhance their oral English skills.


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