Is It Really Wrong to Say Hausas, Yorubas, Igbos, Tivs, etc?

Is It Really Wrong to Say Hausas, Yorubas, Igbos, Tivs, etc?

By Azuka Onwuka

A Nigerian hill

When you read Nigerian newspapers, you notice that an “s” is never added to the Nigerian ethnic groups when  talking of their plural forms. It is usually the Efik, the Ijaw, the Igbo, the Hausa, the Yoruba, the Nupe, or the Kanuri.

Every proofreader or sub-editor in a newspaper knows this. It is implemented to the letter.

The argument is that Hausa or Yoruba or Igbo is not an English name and should not be pluralized with the addition of an “s”.  If you don’t want to use “the Igbo,”  for example, you are told to use “Ndi-Igbo,” which is the plural way of saying it in Igbo.

Sound argument, right?

But wait a minute.

Is Iraq English? Is Pakistan English? What about Kenya, Somalia or Israel or Croatia, or even ethnic groups like Tutsi, Hutu, Zulu, Ashanti? Is any of them English? Why do we address them as the Iraqis, the Pakistanis, the Kenyans, the Somalis, the Israelis, or the Croats? Why do we talk about the Tutsis and the Hutus of Rwanda or the Zulus of South Africa or the Ashantis of Ghana?

Israel is from the Hebrew language but the people are addressed in English as Israelis,  not in whatever way it is written in Hebrew. Most English speakers don’t bother to find out what the plural of Israel is in Hebrew. It does not matter to an English speaker. Saudi Arabian people are addressed in English as Saudis, not in Arabic. Kenya, Ghana,  Somalia, etc, are not English but they are addressed as Kenyans,  Ghanaians, Somalis respectively.

Now let us look at this from another angle.

You are writing an article for publication in a newspaper that is published in English, or you are writing a book in English, or you are writing something in English to post on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. Please what is your medium of communication? Is it not English? Are you writing in Igbo or Yoruba or Ibibio? No. So where did this argument that you have to use “Ndi-Igbo” or “the Igbo” or “the Yoruba” spring from?

Let us flip this argument.

If am writing in Igbo, for example, and I need to say that I like the Americans and the Portuguese, would I say: “Ahụrụ m the Americans and the Portuguese n’anya”? Doesn’t that sound nonsensical? How can I bring in English words that have local equivalents into an Igbo essay? The logical thing to write is: “Ahụrụ m ndị Amerịka na ndị Potokiri n’anya.”

When you are communicating in a language, the names of towns or ethnic groups or countries are not determined by the language of those towns or countries, but by your language of communication. That is why the French call their northwestern neighbours Angleterre and their language Anglais, but the people involved call themselves English and their language English. In the same vein, the Germans call their nation Deutschland and call their language and people Deutsch. If you write in German, you say: “Ich bin ein Deutscher;” but in English it becomes: “I am a German.” You can’t say in English: “I am a Deutscher,” neither can you say in German: “Ich bin ein German.”

So if we address other ethnic groups and nations in English while writing in English, why should we address Nigerian ethnic groups in the local languages while writing in English by not adding an “s” to their names when we want to talk about the people of a particular ethnic group?

Who even came up with this ridiculous rule that many Nigerians have adopted in the name of nationalism without asking questions? Are we linguistic zombies or robots? Why should we not question things that make no meaning or follow logic?

Does that mean that English speakers have to investigate how all ethnic groups in the world pluralize their people before deciding how to write the plural forms of all ethnic groups in the world? Does that make any sense?

Whenever I send an article to Nigerian newspapers, they remove the last “s”  from any Nigerian ethnic group I mention. But whenever I am in charge of editing an article, I insist on adding that “s”.

Nonetheless, because I am open to superior arguments, I will accept to stop adding the “s” to the plural forms of Nigerian ethnic groups, if someone can come up with a point that is linguistically cogent. So if it is proved to me that it is wrong to write Edos, Hausas, Igbos, Ijaws, Tivs, Yorubas, etc, I will stop doing so. But if it is just based on people telling me to do so without any logical explanation, I will not accept that.

Until then, the status quo remains for me and all those who are not afraid to stand alone. When I write in English, the people from Hausa land remain Hausas; the people from Igbo land remain Igbos; the people from Yoruba land remain Yorubas, and so on.

Does anyone have a counter argument with a logical justification?




  1. CaisyGidson October 26, 2017 Reply
    • Azuka OnwukaAuthor October 27, 2017 Reply
  2. Victor April 17, 2018 Reply
    • Azuka OnwukaAuthor April 18, 2018 Reply
  3. Olabisi Showole January 23, 2020 Reply
    • Azuka OnwukaAuthor February 6, 2020 Reply

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