Fula language

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Fula language
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{{Short description|Language of West Africa of the Senegambian branch of the Niger–Congo language family}}

Fula {{IPAc-en|ˈ|f|uː|l|ə}}Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh, also known as Fulani {{IPAc-en|f|ʊ|ˈ|l|ɑː|n|iː}} or FulahWEB,weblink Fulah, Ethnologue, 19, 2016, WEB,weblink Documentation for ISO 639 identifier: ful, ISO 639-2 Registration Authority - Library of Congress, 2017-07-04, Name: Fulah, WEB,weblink Documentation for ISO 639 identifier: ful, ISO 639-3 Registration Authority - SIL International, 2017-07-04, Name: Fulah, (; ), is a Senegambian language spoken as a set of various dialects in a continuum that stretches across some 20 countries in West and Central Africa. Along with other related languages such as Serer and Wolof, it belongs to the Senegambian branch within the Niger–Congo languages, which does not have tones, unlike most other Niger–Congo languages. More broadly, it belongs to the Atlantic geographic grouping within Niger–Congo. It is spoken as a first language by the Fula people ("Fulani", ) from the Senegambia region and Guinea to Cameroon, Nigeria, and Sudan and by related groups such as the Toucouleur people in the Senegal River Valley. It is also spoken as a second language by various peoples in the region, such as the Kirdi of northern Cameroon and northeastern Nigeria.


Several names are applied to the language, just as to the Fula people. They call their language Pulaar or Pular in the western dialects and Fulfulde in the central and eastern dialects. Fula(h) and Fulani in English come originally from Manding (esp. Mandinka, but also Malinke and Bamana) and Hausa, respectively; Peul in French, also occasionally found in literature in English, comes from Wolof.


Fula is based on verbonominal roots, from which verbal, noun, and modifier words are derived. It uses suffixes (sometimes inaccurately called infixes, as they come between the root and the inflectional ending) to modify meaning. These suffixes often serve the same purposes in Fula that prepositions do in English.

Noun classes

The Fula or Fulfulde language is characterized by a robust noun class system, with 24 to 26 noun classes being common across the Fulfulde dialects. (Arnett 1975: 5). Noun classes in Fula are abstract categories with some classes having semantic attributes that characterize a subset of that class’ members, and others being marked by a membership too diverse to warrant any semantic categorization of the class’ members. (Paradis 1992: 25). For example, classes are for stringy, long things, and another for big things, another for liquids, a noun class for strong, rigid objects, another for human or humanoid traits etc. Gender does not have any role in the Fula noun class system and the marking of gender is done with adjectives rather than class markers.(Arnett 1975: 74). Noun classes are marked by suffixes on nouns. These suffixes are the same as the class name, though they are frequently subject to phonological processes, most frequently the dropping of the suffix’s initial consonant. (McIntosh 1984:45-46).The table below illustrates the class name, the semantic property associated with class membership, and an example of a noun with its class marker. Classes 1 and 2 can be described as personal classes, classes 3-6 as diminutive classes, classes 7-8 as augmentative classes, and classes 9-25 as neutral classes. It is formed on the basis of McIntosh’s 1984 description of Kaceccereere Fulfulde, which the author describes as "essentially the same" as Arnott’s 1970 description of the noun classes of the Gombe dialect of Fula. Thus, certain examples from Arnott also informed this table.(Arnott 1975: 5)(McIntosh 1984:44){| class="wikitable"! Number !! Class name !! Meaning !! Example| laam-ɗo ‘chief’; also loan words| laam-ɓe ‘chiefs’| loo-ngel ‘little pot’| con-al ‘small quantity of flour’| laam-ngum/laam-kum ‘worthless little chief’| ullu-kon/ullu-koy ‘small cats/kittens’| loo-nde ‘storage pot’| com-ri ‘tiredness’| ullu-ndu ‘cat’| nood-a ‘crocodile’| nagg-e ‘cow’| juu-ngo ‘hand’| ɓow-ngu ‘mosquito’| ɗem-ngal ‘tongue’| ɓog-gol ‘rope’| ɓog-gii/ɓog-gii ‘big rope’| laan-a ‘boat’| lek-ki ‘tree’| haak-o ‘soup’| ñal-ol ‘calf’, mol-ol ‘foal’| lam-ɗam ‘salt’, ndiy-am ‘water’| maw-ɗum ‘big thing’| juu-ɗe ‘hands’| na'i ‘cows’


Verbs in Fula are usually classed in three voices: active, middle, and passive.JOURNAL, Arnott, D. W., 1956, The Middle Voice in Fula, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 18, 1, 130–144, 610132, 10.1017/S0041977X00122244, Not every root is used in all voices. Some middle-voice verbs are reflexive.A common example are verbs from the root loot-:
  • lootude, to wash (something) [active voice]
  • lootaade, to wash (oneself) [middle voice]
  • looteede, to be washed [passive voice]

Consonant mutation

Another feature of the language is initial consonant mutation between singular and plural forms of nouns and of verbs (except in Pular, no consonant mutation exists in verbs, only in nouns).A simplified schema is:
  • w ↔ b ↔ mb
  • r ↔ d ↔ nd
  • y ↔ j ↔ nj
  • w ↔ g ↔ ng
  • f ↔ p
  • s ↔ c
  • h ↔ k


Fula has inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns. The inclusive pronouns include both the speaker and those being spoken to, while the exclusive pronouns exclude the listeners.The pronoun that corresponds to a given noun is determined by the noun class. Because men and women belong to the same noun class, the English pronouns "he" and "she" are translated into Fula by the same pronoun. However, depending on the dialect, there are some 25 different noun classes, each with its own pronoun. Sometimes those pronouns have both a nominative case (i.e., used as verb subject) and an accusative or dative case (i.e., used as a verb object) as well as a possessive form. Relative pronouns generally take the same form as the nominative.


While there are numerous varieties of Fula, it is typically regarded as a single language. Wilson (1989) states that "travelers over wide distances never find communication impossible," and Ka (1991) concludes that despite its geographic span and dialect variation, Fulfulde is still fundamentally one language."...malgré son extension géographique et ses variations dialectales, le fulfulde reste une langue profondément unie." Ka, Fary. 1991. "Problématique de la standardisation linguistique: Le cas du pulaar/fulfulde." In N. Cyffer, ed., Language Standardization in Africa. Hamburg: Helmut Buske verlag. Pp. 35-38. However, Ethnologue has found that nine different translations are needed to make the Bible comprehensible for most Fula speakers, and it treats these varieties as separate languages. They are listed in the box at the beginning of this article.


Fulfulde is an official language in Senegal (Pulaar), an official lingua franca in Guinea, Senegambia, Maasina (Inner Niger Delta), North Eastern Nigeria and Northern Cameroon, precisely in Adamawa regions of the two countries (Fulfulde), where many speakers are bilingual, and a local language in many African countries, such as Mauritania, Mali, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Togo, Ghana, Benin and Niger.

Writing systems and phonology

Latin alphabet

When written using the Latin script, Fula uses the following additional special "hooked" characters to distinguish meaningfully different sounds in the language: Ɓ/É“ {{IPAblink|É“}}, ÆŠ/É— {{IPAblink|É—|É— }}, ÅŠ/Å‹ {{IPAblink|Å‹}}, Ɲ/ɲ {{IPAblink|ɲ| ɲ}}, Ƴ/Æ´ {{IPAblink|Ê”|ʔʲ}}. The letters c, j, and r, respectively represent the sounds [{{IPA|c}}], [{{IPA|ÉŸ}}], and [{{IPA|r}}]. Double vowel characters indicate that the vowels are elongated. An apostrophe (ʼ) is used as a glottal stop. It uses the five vowel system denoting vowel sounds and their lengths. In Nigeria ʼy substitutes Æ´, and in Senegal Ñ/ñ is used instead of ɲ.{{clarify|date=February 2013}}

Sample Fula alphabet

a, aa, b, mb (or nb), ɓ, c, d, nd, ɗ, e, ee, f, g, ng, h, i, ii, j, nj, k, l, m, n, ŋ, ɲ (ny or ñ), o, oo, p, r, s, t, u, uu, w, y, ƴ or 'y, 'The letters q, v, x, z are used in some cases for loan words. The two sounds c and j, may also be realized as affricate sounds [{{IPA|tʃ}}] and [{{IPA|dʒ}}]. Short i, e, o, u vowel sounds can be realized as [{{IPA|ɪ ɛ ɔ ʊ}}]. In the Pular of Guinea an additional letter, ɠ [{{IPA|ɠ}}], is also part of the orthography, but it is also only used for loan words.{| class="wikitable" style=text-align:center! colspan="33" |Fula Alphabets|A|BMb (digraph)>Mb|Ɓ|C |D Nd (digraph)>Nd|Ɗ|E|F|G|ƓNg (digraph)>Ng|H|I|JNj (digraph)>Nj|K|L|M|NEng (letter)>Ŋ|Ɲ|O|P|R|S|T|U|W|Y|ƳApostrophe>'! colspan="33" |Lowercase|a|b|mb|ɓ|c|d|nd|ɗ|e|f|g|ɠ|ng|h|i|j|nj|k|l|m|n|ŋ|ɲ|o|p|r|s|t|u|w|y|ƴ|'! colspan="33" |Phonetic valuea}}b}}mb}}ɓ}}c}}~{{IPA link|tʃ}}d}}nd}}ɗ}}ɛ}}~{{IPA link|e}}f}}g}}ɠ}}ŋɡ}}h}}ɪ}}~{{IPA link|i}}ɟ}}~{{IPA link|dʒ}}nɟ}}~{{IPA|ndʒ}}k}}l}}m}}n}}ŋ}}ɲ}}ɔ}}~{{IPA link|o}}p}}r}}s}}t}}ʊ}}~{{IPA link|u}}w}}j}}ʔʲ}}ʔ}}Long vowels are written doubled: The standard Fulfulde alphabet adopted during the UNESCO-sponsored expert meeting in Bamako in March 1966 is as follows:"B. Peul. Alphabet et Inventaire des sons réprésentés," page 8 du Rapport Final de la Réunion d'un groupe d'experts pour l'unification des alphabets des langues nationales, Bamako, 1966. (Presented on, b, mb, ɓ, c, d, nd, ɗ, e, f, g, ng, h, i, j, nj, k, l, m, n, ŋ, ny (later ɲ or ñ), o, p, r, s, t, u, w, y, ƴ, '.

Arabic script

Fula has also been written in the Arabic script or Ajami since before colonization by many scholars and learned people including Usman dan Fodio and the early emirs of the northern Nigeria emirates. This continues to a certain degree and notably in some areas like Guinea and Cameroon.{{fact|date=July 2019}}In fact, Fula retains many Arabic loanwords.

Adlam script

There were unsuccessful efforts in the 1950s and ’60s to create a unique script to write Fulfulde. In the 1990s, two teenage brothers, Ibrahima and Abdoulaye Barry from the Nzérékoré Region of Guinea, created the adlam script, which accurately represents all the sounds of Fulani. The script is written from right to left and includes 28 letters with 5 vowels and 23 consonants.The Alphabet That Will Save a People From Disappearing, Kaveh Waddell, Nov 16, 2016, The AtlanticWEB, Hasson, Randall, The ADLaM Story – How Alphabet Changes Culture,weblink The Randall M. Hasson Blog, 4 April 2018,

See also



  • Arnott, D.W. The Nominal and Verbal Systems of Fula. London: Oxford University Press, 1970. Print.
  • Arnott, D. W. 'Fula'. In International Encyclopedia of Linguistics, vol. 2. W. Frawley (ed). Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • McIntosh, Mary. Fulfude Syntax and Verbal Morphology. London: St Edmundsbury Press Lt, 1984. Print.
  • Paradis, Carole. Lexical Phonology and Morphology: The Nominal Classes in Fula. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc, 1992. Print.
  • Shehu, Ahmadu. Stress Placement Rules in Fulfulde: A Review. Bayero University, Kano, 2014.
  • Wilson, W. A. A. (1989). Atlantic. In John Bendor-Samuel (Ed.), The Niger–Congo Languages, pp. 81–104.
  • BOOK, Grammar of the Fulde Language: With an Appendix of Some Original Traditions and Portions of Scripture Translated Into Fulde: Together with Eight Chapters of the Book of Genesis,weblink 1876, Church Missionary House,
  • BOOK, Grammar of the Fulde Language: With an Appendix of Some Original Traditions and Portions of Scripture Translated Into Fulde: Together with Eight Chapters of the Book of Genesis,weblink 1876, Church Missionary House,



External links


Fula on the web
Below are some websites from different countries that use the Latin alphabet of Fula/Fulfulde:
  • Nigeria: {{URLweblink}}
  • Nigeria: {{URL|}}
  • Mauritania: {{URL|}}
  • Mauritania: {{URL|}}
  • Guinea: {{URL|}}
  • Guinea: {{URL|}}
  • Guinea: {{URL|}}
  • Guinea: {{URL|}}
  • Sierra Leone: {{URL|}}
  • Fuuta Tooro: {{URL|}}
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