Fula language

Fula /ˈflə/,[1] also known as Fulani /fʊˈlɑːn/[1] or Fulah[2][3][4] (Fula: Fulfulde 𞤊𞤵𞤤𞤬𞤵𞤤𞤣𞤫, Pulaar 𞤆𞤵𞤤𞤢𞥄𞤪, Pular 𞤆𞤵𞤤𞤢𞤪; French: Peul), 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 by more than 65 million people. Along with other related languages such as Serer and Wolof, it belongs to the Senegambian branch within the Niger–Congo family, 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", Fula: Fulɓe) 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.

Fulani, Fulah, Peul
Fulfulde 𞤊𞤵𞤤𞤬𞤵𞤤𞤣𞤫
Pulaar 𞤆𞤵𞤤𞤢𞥄𞤪
Pular 𞤆𞤵𞤤𞤢𞤪
Native toWestern Africa
RegionThe Sahel
Arabic (Ajami)
Language codes
ISO 639-1ff – Fulah
ISO 639-2ful – Fulah
ISO 639-3ful – inclusive code – Fulah
Individual codes:
fuc  Pulaar (Senegambia, Mauritania)
fuf  Pular (Guinea, Sierra Leone)
ffm  Maasina Fulfulde (Mali, Ghana)
fue  Borgu Fulfulde (Benin, Togo)
fuh  Western Niger (Burkina, Niger)
fuq  Central–Eastern Niger (Niger)
fuv  Nigerian Fulfulde (Nigeria)
fub  Adamawa Fulfulde (Cameroon, Chad, Sudan)
fui  Bagirmi Fulfulde (CAR)
Core and peripheral Fula speaking regions.



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, Fulah 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 verbonomial 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. [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. [6] 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.[7] 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. [8]

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 David Arnott's 1970 description of the noun classes of the Gombe dialect of Fula. Thus, certain examples from Arnott also informed this table.[9][10]

NumberClass nameMeaningExample
o 𞤮Person singularlaam-ɗo ‘chief’; also loan words
ɓe 𞤩𞤫Person plurallaam-ɓe ‘chiefs’
ngel 𞤽𞤫𞤤Diminutive singularloo-ngel ‘little pot’
kal 𞤳𞤢𞤤Diminutive quantitiescon-al ‘small quantity of flour’
ngum/kum 𞤽𞤵𞤥/𞤳𞤵𞤥Diminutive pejorativelaam-ngum/laam-kum ‘worthless little chief’
kon/koy 𞤳𞤮𞤲/𞤳𞤮𞤴Diminutive pluralullu-kon/ullu-koy ‘small cats/kittens’
nde 𞤲𞥋𞤣𞤫Various, including globular objects, places, timesloo-nde ‘storage pot’
ndi 𞤲𞥋𞤣𞤭Various, including uncountable nounscom-ri ‘tiredness’
ndu 𞤲𞥋𞤣𞤵Variousullu-ndu ‘cat’
nga 𞤽𞤢Various, including some large animalsnood-a ‘crocodile’
nge 𞤽𞤫mainly for 'cow,' 'fire,' 'sun' 'hunger,'nagg-e ‘cow’
ngo 𞤽𞤮Variousjuu-ngo ‘hand’
ngu 𞤽𞤵Variousɓow-ngu ‘mosquito’
ngal 𞤽𞤢𞤤Various including augmentative singularɗem-ngal ‘tongue’
ngol 𞤽𞤮𞤤Various, often long thingsɓog-gol ‘rope’
ngii/ngil 𞤽𞤭𞥅/𞤽𞤭𞤤Various including augmentative singularɓog-gii/ɓog-gii ‘big rope’
ka 𞤳𞤢Variouslaan-a ‘boat’
ki 𞤳𞤭Variouslek-ki ‘tree’
ko 𞤳𞤮Varioushaak-o ‘soup’
kol 𞤳𞤮𞤤'Calf' 'foal'ñal-ol ‘calf’, mol-ol ‘foal’
ɗam 𞤯𞤢𞤥mainly for liquidslam-ɗam ‘salt’, ndiy-am ‘water’
ɗum 𞤯𞤵𞤥Neutralmaw-ɗum ‘big thing’
ɗe 𞤯𞤫Nonhuman pluraljuu-ɗe ‘hands’
ɗi 𞤯𞤭Nonhuman pluralna'i ‘cows’


Verbs in Fula are usually classed in three voices: active, middle, and passive.[11] 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.[12] 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.



Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
plain pal.
Plosive plain p t c ~ t͡ʃ k ʔ ʔʲ
voiced b d ɟ ~ d͡ʒ ɡ
prenasal ᵐb ⁿd ᶮɟ ~ ᶮd͡ʒ ᵑɡ
Implosive ɓ ɗ
Fricative f s h
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Trill r
Lateral l
Approximant j w

The two sounds /c/ and /ɟ/, may be realized as affricate sounds [] and [].


Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e o
Open a

Short /i e o u/ vowel sounds can also be realized as [ɪ ɛ ɔ ʊ]. Long vowel sounds can occur as /iː eː aː oː uː/.

Writing systems

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/ɓ [ɓ], Ɗ/ɗ [ɗ], Ŋ/ŋ [ŋ], Ɲ/ɲ [ɲ], Ƴ/ƴ [ʔʲ]. The letters c, j, and r, respectively represent the sounds [c ~ tʃ], [ɟ ~ dʒ], and [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 ƴ, and in Senegal Ñ/ñ is used instead of ɲ.

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.

Fula Alphabets
A B Mb Ɓ C D Nd Ɗ E F G Ng H I J Nj K L M N Ŋ Ɲ O P R S T U W Y Ƴ '
a b mb ɓ c d nd ɗ e f g ng h i j nj k l m n ŋ ɲ o p r s t u w y ƴ '
Phonetic value
a b ᵐb ɓ c~t͡ʃ d ⁿd ɗ ɛ~e f g ᵑɡ h ɪ~i ɟ~d͡ʒ ᶮɟ~
k l m n ŋ ɲ ɔ~o p r s t ʊ~u w j ʔʲ ʔ

Long vowels are written doubled: <aa, ee, ii, oo, uu> The standard Fulfulde alphabet adopted during the UNESCO-sponsored expert meeting in Bamako in March 1966 is as follows:[13] a, 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.

In fact, Fula retains many Arabic loanwords.

Adlam script

Adlam Pular
𞤀𞤣𞤤𞤢𞤥 𞤆𞤵𞤤𞤢𞤪
Time period
Invented 1989
ISO 15924Adlm, 166
Unicode alias

There were unsuccessful efforts in the 1950s and 1960s to create a unique script to write Fulfulde. In the late 1980s and early 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.[14][15][16]

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.
  • 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. Church Missionary House. 1876.
  • 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. Church Missionary House. 1876.


  1. Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  2. "Fulah". Ethnologue (19 ed.). 2016.
  3. "Documentation for ISO 639 identifier: ful". ISO 639-2 Registration Authority - Library of Congress. Retrieved 2017-07-04. Name: Fulah
  4. "Documentation for ISO 639 identifier: ful". ISO 639-3 Registration Authority - SIL International. Retrieved 2017-07-04. Name: Fulah
  5. (Arnett 1975: 5).
  6. (Paradis 1992: 25).
  7. (Arnett 1975: 74).
  8. (McIntosh 1984:45-46).
  9. (Arnott 1975: 5)
  10. (McIntosh 1984:44)
  11. Arnott, D. W. (1956). "The Middle Voice in Fula". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. 18 (1): 130–144. doi:10.1017/S0041977X00122244. JSTOR 610132.
  12. "...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.
  13. "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 Bisharat.net)
  14. The Alphabet That Will Save a People From Disappearing, Kaveh Waddell, Nov 16, 2016, The Atlantic
  15. Hasson, Randall. "The ADLaM Story – How Alphabet Changes Culture". The Randall M. Hasson Blog. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  16. Bach, Deborah (29 July 2019). "Ibrahima & Abdoulaye Barry — How a new alphabet is helping an ancient people write its own future". Story Labs. Microsoft. Retrieved 25 December 2019.
Fula on the web

Below are some websites from different countries that use the Latin alphabet of Fula/Fulfulde:

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