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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences - Department of African Studies

The Hausa Language

Hausa is classified as a member of the Chadic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family of languages. It is the best known and most important member of the Chadic branch. It is the most widely used in the fields of education and it lays claim to a significant literatures. By way of number, it is spoken by an estimated 40 to 50 million people as a first and second language thus, it believed to be one of the most commonly spoken African languages.


Where is Hausa Spoken?

Most Hausa speakers live in Northern Nigeria and Southern Republic of Niger. In Nigeria, Hausa-speaking area encompasses the historical emirates of Kano, Katsina, Daura, Zaria and Gobir, all of which were incorporated into the Sokoto caliphate following the Fulani Jihad led by Usman Shehu Ɗanfodio in the early 19th century. Hausa is also spoken in diaspora by traders, scholars and immigrants in urban areas of West Africa, for example, southern and central Nigeria, Benin Republic, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Togo as well as Chad and the Blue Nile Province and western region of the Sudan.


Hausa and its Dialects

Hausa has a number of geographical dialects, marked by differences in pronunciation and vocabulary. In some instances, one can notice the variation between eastern dialects on the one hand, e.g. Kano, and areas to the south (Zaria), southeast (Bauchi), with (Daura) and western dialects on the other, e.g Sokoto, Gobir, and northwards into Niger. Within eastern dialect, Standard Hausa is coined. It is based on “Kananci” the dialect of Kano, an enormous Hausa commercial centre located in Northern Nigeria. Standard Hausa has been recognised as the norm for the written language as contained in books and newspapers and also for broadcast in radio and television. This variety is used as Subject and Course as well as language of instruction in schools, colleges, universities including Humboldt University Berlin, Germany. It is pertinent to mention that Hausa language dialects are mutually intelligible.


Hausa Phonology and Language Structure

The phonemic inventory of Hausa consists of consonants and vowels. There are 34 consonants in Standard Hausa. The vowels are 13 comprising of 5 short vowels and 5 corresponding long vowels and 3 diphthongs.

In the inventory, some consonants are not found in English. Most common of these are the hooked letters, ɓ, ɗ, ƙ and the semi vowel `y, which are entirely different from the corresponding plain letters b, d, k and y.

/b/      barìi               To leave/To stop

/ɓ/      ɓarìi               Shivering

/d/      daidai            Correct/Exact

/ɗ/      ɗaiɗai             One by one

/k/      bàakii             Mouth

/ƙ/      bàaƙii             Guests

/y/      yaayaa?         How?

/`y/    `yaa`yaa        Children/Sons/Daughters/Fruits


In like manner, short and long vowels also show difference in meaning in some cases.

/a/      Tàfi                To go/To travel/To walk

/aa/    Taafii              Palm of hand/Sole of foot/Clap


The 3 diphthongs are: /ai/, /au/ and /ui/.

/ai/     Râi                  Life

          Mài                 Possessor of, Doer of                     

/au/    Yâu                 Today

          Yàushè?          When?

/ui/     Guiwa              Knee


Hausa is a tonal language. It has 3 tones:

1. High

2. Low

3. Falling.

High tone is left unmarked. Low tone is indicated by a grave accent (`) while falling tone is a combination of high and low and is indicated by a circumflex (^). These tones are extremely important in distinguishing meanings and grammatical categories. For example,

Bàaba  (LH)    Father.                       

Baabà  (HL)    Mother.                      

Baabaa          (HH)  Indigo.

Dà       (L)      And/With.

Dâ       (F)      Formerly/Before

On language structure, Hausa sentences are basically in conformity with the Subject Verb Object (SVO) order. For example,


Markus  yaa      tàfi Nijeriya. Markus went to Nigeria.                   

Markus  He.PST go  Nijeriya.


Writing Systems in Hausa

Hausa has a literary tradition extending back several centuries before contact with Western culture. Hausa was first written in an Arabic script known as Ajami. Today, this representation of the language has been superseded for most purposes by the Roman script.



Adamu, M. 1978. The Hausa Factor in West African History. Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Press

Adamu, M. 1984. “The Hausa and their Neighbours in the Central Sudan”, In:General History of Africa. IV: Africa from the twelfth to the sixteenth century. D.T. Niane (ed), Californica: University of California Press

Cowan, Jr. and Russell, G. Schuh. 1976. Spoken Hausa, Ithace, NY: Spoken Language Services.

Charles H, Kraft and A:H:M: Kirk-Greene. 1973. Teach Yourself Hausa, London: The English University Press, Ltd.

Graham L. Furniss 1996. Poetry, prose and popular culture in Hausa, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

M.A.Z Sani. 1999. Tsarin Sauti Da Nahawun Hausa, University Press PLC Ibadan.

Yahaya Y. Ibrahim. 1988. Hausa a Rubuce: Tarihin Rubuce-rubuce Cikin Hausa, NNPC, Zaria.