Hausa language

Hausa (/ˈhsə/;[4] Harshen/Halshen Hausa) is a Chadic language spoken by the Hausa people, the largest native ethnic group in Africa, mainly within the territories of Niger and the northern half of Nigeria, and with significant minorities in Chad, Ghana, Sudan, and Cameroon.[5][6]

Harshen/Halshen Hausa, هَرْشَن هَوْسَ
Native toNiger, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Chad
RegionWest Africa
Native speakers
80 million (2015–2016)[1]
20 million as a second language (no date)[2][3]
Latin (Boko alphabet)
Arabic (Ajami)
Hausa Braille
Official status
Official language in
 Niger (national status)
 Nigeria (national status)
 Ghana (national status)
Language codes
ISO 639-1ha
ISO 639-2hau
ISO 639-3hau
Areas of Niger and Nigeria where Hausa people are based

Hausa is a member of the Afroasiatic language family and is the most widely spoken language within the Chadic branch of that family. Ethnologues estimated that it was spoken as a first language by some 47 million people and as a second language by another 25 million, bringing the total number of Hausa speakers to an estimated 72 million.[7] According to more recent estimations, Hausa would be spoken by 100–150 million people, possibly making it the most spoken indigenous, native African language.[8]

In 2017, the Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari made an announcement in Hausa, which sparked a controversy in the country.[9] In Nigeria, the Hausa-speaking film industry is known as the Kannywood.[10]


Hausa belongs to the West Chadic languages subgroup of the Chadic languages group, which in turn is part of the Afroasiatic language family.

Non-Afroasiatic influences

Hausa has many words that are not found in other Chadic languages[11] because they are loans from Adamawa, Plateau, Kainji, Nupoid, and other Benue-Congo languages acquired during its expansion across the Nigerian Middle Belt. While those languages became assimilated, many of their words had changed the lexicon of Hausa. Some likely influence from vanished Nilo-Saharan languages on Hausa has been proposed.[11]

List of Hausa words of likely Benue-Congo origin:[11]

to wash (body)wankèè
red, bright redjaa
agama lizardƙadangare
sun, dayrana
month, moonwátàà
gourd (sphincter)kondo, ƙunduu
kind, sortiri
baboongoggo, gwaggo
good, rightdede, daidai
bulrush milletmaiwa
female breastmààmáá
flat rockfā, pā
chewtauna, tamna

Geographic distribution

Native speakers of Hausa, the Hausa people, are mostly found in Niger, in Northern Nigeria, Northern Cameroon, and in Chad.[6][5] Furthermore, the language is used as a lingua franca by non-native speakers in most of Northern Nigeria and Southern Niger, and as a trade language across a much larger swathe of West Africa (Benin, Ghana, Cameroon, Togo, Chad and parts of Sudan).[5]


Hausa presents a wide uniformity wherever is spoken. However, linguists have identified dialect areas with a cluster of features characteristic of each one.[12]

Traditional dialects

Eastern Hausa dialects include Dauranci in Daura, Kananci in Kano, Bausanci in Bauchi, Gudduranci in Katagum Misau and part of Borno, and Hadejanci in Hadejiya.[13]

Western Hausa dialects include Sakkwatanci in Sokoto, Katsinanci in Katsina, Arewanci in Gobir, Adar, Kebbi, and Zamfara, and Kurhwayanci in Kurfey in Niger. Katsina is transitional between Eastern and Western dialects. Sokoto is used in a variety of classical Hausa literature, and is often known as Classical Hausa.[14]

Northern Hausa dialects include Arewa (meaning 'North') and Arewaci.

Zazzaganci in Zazzau is the major Southern dialect.

The Daura (Dauranchi) and Kano (Kananci) dialect are the standard. The BBC, Deutsche Welle, Radio France Internationale and Voice of America offer Hausa services on their international news web sites using Dauranci and Kananci. In recent language development Zazzaganci took over the innovation of writing and speaking the current Hausa language use.

Northernmost dialects and loss of tonality

The western to eastern Hausa dialects of Kurhwayanci, Damagaram and Aderawa, represent the traditional northernmost limit of native Hausa communities. These are spoken in the northernmost sahel and mid-Saharan regions in west and central Niger in the Tillaberi, Tahoua, Dosso, Maradi, Agadez and Zinder regions. While mutually comprehensible with other dialects (especially Sakkwatanci, and to a lesser extent Gaananci), the northernmost dialects have slight grammatical and lexical differences owing to frequent contact with the Zarma, Fula, and Tuareg groups and cultural changes owing to the geographical differences between the grassland and desert zones. These dialects also have the quality of bordering on non-tonal pitch accent dialects.

This link between non-tonality and geographic location is not limited to Hausa alone, but is exhibited in other northern dialects of neighbouring languages; such as differences within the Songhay language (between the non-tonal northernmost dialects of Koyra Chiini in Timbuktu and Koyraboro Senni in Gao; and the tonal southern Zarma dialect, spoken from western Niger to northern Ghana), and within the Soninke language (between the non-tonal northernmost dialects of Imraguen and Nemadi spoken in east-central Mauritania; and the tonal southern dialects of Senegal, Mali and the Sahel).

Ghanaian Hausa dialect

The Ghanaian Hausa dialect (Gaananci), spoken in Ghana and Togo, is a distinct western native Hausa dialect-bloc with adequate linguistic and media resources available. Separate smaller Hausa dialects are spoken by an unknown number of Hausa further west in parts of Burkina Faso, and in the Haoussa Foulane, Badji Haoussa, Guezou Haoussa, and Ansongo districts of northeastern Mali (where it is designated as a minority language by the Malian government), but there are very little linguistic resources and research done on these particular dialects at this time.

Gaananci forms a separate group from other Western Hausa dialects, as it now falls outside the contiguous Hausa-dominant area, and is usually identified by the use of c for ky, and j for gy. This is attributed to the fact that Ghana's Hausa population descend from Hausa-Fulani traders settled in the zongo districts of major trade-towns up and down the previous Asante, Gonja and Dagomba kingdoms stretching from the sahel to coastal regions, in particular the cities of Tamale, Salaga, Bawku, Bolgatanga, Achimota, Nima and Kumasi.

Gaananci exhibits noted inflected influences from Zarma, Gur, Jula-Bambara, Akan, and Soninke, as Ghana is the westernmost area in which the Hausa language is a major lingua-franca among sahelian/Muslim West Africans, including both Ghanaian and non-Ghanaian zango migrants primarily from the northern regions, or Mali and Burkina Faso. Ghana also marks the westernmost boundary in which the Hausa people inhabit in any considerable number. Immediately west and north of Ghana (in Cote d'Ivoire, and Burkina Faso), Hausa is abruptly replaced with DioulaBambara as the main sahelian/Muslim lingua-franca of what become predominantly Manding areas, and native Hausa-speakers plummet to a very small urban minority.

Because of this, and the presence of surrounding Akan, Gbe, Gur and Mande languages, Gaananci was historically isolated from the other Hausa dialects.[15] Despite this difference, grammatical similarities between Sakkwatanci and Ghanaian Hausa determine that the dialect, and the origin of the Ghanaian Hausa people themselves, are derived from the northwestern Hausa area surrounding Sokoto.[16]

Hausa is also widely spoken by non-native Gur, and Mandé Ghanaian Muslims, but differs from Gaananci, and rather has features consistent with non-native Hausa dialects.

Other native dialects

Hausa is also spoken in various parts of Cameroon and Chad, which combined the mixed dialects of Northern Nigeria and Niger. In addition, Arabic has had a great influence in the way Hausa is spoken by the native Hausa speakers in these areas.

Non-native Hausa

In West Africa, Hausa's use as a lingua franca has given rise to a non-native pronunciation that differs vastly from native pronunciation by way of key omissions of implosive and ejective consonants present in native Hausa dialects, such as ɗ, ɓ and kʼ/ƙ, which are pronounced by non-native speakers as d, b and k respectively. This creates confusion among non-native and native Hausa speakers, as non-native pronunciation does not distinguish words like daidai ("correct") and ɗaiɗai ("one-by-one"). Another difference between native and non-native Hausa is the omission of vowel length in words and change in the standard tone of native Hausa dialects (ranging from native Fulani and Tuareg Hausa-speakers omitting tone altogether, to Hausa speakers with Gur or Yoruba mother tongues using additional tonal structures similar to those used in their native languages). Use of masculine and feminine gender nouns and sentence structure are usually omitted or interchanged, and many native Hausa nouns and verbs are substituted with non-native terms from local languages.

Non-native speakers of Hausa numbered more than 25 million and, in some areas, live close to native Hausa. It has replaced many other languages especially in the north-central and north-eastern part of Nigeria and continues to gain popularity in other parts of Africa as a result of Hausa movies and music which spread out throughout the region.

Hausa-based pidgins

There are several pidgin forms of Hausa. Barikanchi was formerly used in the colonial army of Nigeria. Gibanawa is currently in widespread use in Jega in northwestern Nigeria, south of the native Hausa area.[17]



Hausa has between 23 and 25 consonant phonemes depending on the speaker.

Consonant phonemes
Bilabial Alveolar Post-
Dorsal Glottal
front plain round
Nasal m n
implosive ɓ ɗ
voiced b d (d)ʒ ɟ ɡ ɡʷ
tenuis t c k ʔ
ejective (t) (tʃʼ) kʷʼ
Fricative voiced z
tenuis ɸ s ʃ h
Approximant l j; w
Rhotic r ɽ

The three-way contrast between palatalized velars /c ɟ cʼ/, plain velars /k ɡ kʼ/, and labialized velars /kʷ ɡʷ kʷʼ/ is found only before long and short /a/, e.g. /cʼaːɽa/ ('grass'), /kʼaːɽaː/ ('to increase'), /kʷʼaːɽaː/ ('shea-nuts'). Before front vowels, only palatalized and labialized velars occur, e.g. /ciːʃiː/ ('jealousy') vs. /kʷiːɓiː/ ('side of body'). Before rounded vowels, only labialized velars occur, e.g. /kʷoːɽaː/ ('ringworm').[18] Other analysis suggest the presence of the three additional phonemes /kj ɡj kjʼ/.[19]

Glottalic consonants

Hausa has glottalic consonants (implosives and ejectives) at four or five places of articulation (depending on the dialect). They require movement of the glottis during pronunciation and have a staccato sound.

They are written with modified versions of Latin letters. They can also be denoted with an apostrophe, either before or after depending on the letter, as shown below.

  • ɓ / b', an implosive consonant, [ɓ], sometimes [ʔb];
  • ɗ / d', an implosive [ɗ], sometimes [dʔ];
  • ts', an ejective consonant, [tsʼ] or [sʼ], according to the dialect;
  • ch', an ejective [tʃʼ] (does not occur in Kano dialect)
  • ƙ / k', an ejective [kʼ]; [kʲʼ] and [kʷʼ] are separate consonants;
  • ƴ / 'y is a palatal approximant with creaky voice, [j̰],[20] found in only a small number of high-frequency words (e.g. /j̰áːj̰áː/ "children", /j̰áː/ "daughter"). Historically it developed from palatalized [ɗ].[21]


Hausa vowel chart, from Schuh & Yalwa (1999:91). The short vowels /i, u, a/ have a much wider range of allophones than what is presented on the chart.

Hausa has five phonetic vowel sounds, which can be either short or long, giving a total of 10 monophthongs. In addition, there are four joint vowels (diphthongs), giving a total number of 14 vowel phonemes.

Short (single) vowels: /i, u, e, o, a/.
Long vowels: /iː, uː, eː, oː, aː/.

In comparison with the long vowels, the short /i, u/ can be similar in quality to the long vowels, mid-centralized to [ɪ, ʊ] or centralized to [ɨ, ʉ].[22]

Medial /i, u/ can be neutralized to [ɨ ~ ʉ], with the rounding depending on the environment.[23]

Medial /e, o/ are neutralized with /a/.[23]

The short /a/ can be either similar in quality to the long /aː/, or it can be as high as [ə], with possible intermediate pronunciations ([ɐ ~ ɜ]).[22]

/ai, au, iu, ui/.


Hausa is a tonal language. Each of its five vowels may have low tone, high tone or falling tone. In standard written Hausa, tone is not marked. In recent linguistic and pedagogical materials, tone is marked by means of diacritics.

à è ì ò ù – low tone: grave accent (`)
â ê î ô û – falling tone: circumflex (ˆ)

An acute accent (´) may be used for high tone, but the usual practice is to leave high tone unmarked.


Except for the Zaria and Bauchi dialects spoken south of Kano, Hausa distinguishes between masculine and feminine genders.[14]

Hausa, like the rest of the Chadic languages, is known for its complex, irregular pluralization of nouns. Noun plurals in Hausa are derived using a variety of morphological processes, such as suffixation, infixation, reduplication, or a combination of any of these processes. There are 20 plural classes proposed by Newman (2000).[24]

ClassAffixSingular (ex.)Plural (ex.)Gloss (ex.)
1 a-asirdìsiràda‘saddle’
2 a-egulbigulàbe‘stream’
3 a-ukurmìkuràmu‘grove’
4 -aCewuriwuràre‘place’
5 -aimalàmmalàmai‘teacher’
6 -anniwatàwàtànni‘moon’
7 -awatalàkàtalakawa‘commoner’
8 -ayezomozomàye‘hare’
9 -Catabòtabba‘scar’
10 -Caitudùtùddai‘high ground’
11 -ce2ciwòcìwàce-cìwàce‘illness’
12 -Cunacikìcikkunà‘belly’
13 -e2camfìcàmfe-càmfe‘superstition’
14 -itàuraròtàuràri‘star’
15 -oCitagàtagogi‘window’
16 -ukujèrakùjèru‘chair’
17 u-acokàlicok‘spoon’
18 -ukalayòlayukà‘lane’
19 -unarìgarigunà‘grown’
20 X2àkàwuàkàwu-àkàwu‘clerk’

Writing systems

Boko (Latin)

Hausa's modern official orthography is a Latin-based alphabet called boko, which was introduced in the 1930s by the British colonial administration.

A aB bƁ ɓC cD dƊ ɗE eF fG gH hI iJ jK kƘ ƙL l
M mN nO oR r(R̃ r̃)S sSh shT tTs tsU uW wY y(Ƴ ƴ)Z zʼ

The letter ƴ (y with a right hook) is used only in Niger; in Nigeria it is written ʼy.

Tone and vowel length are not marked in writing. So, for example, /daɡa/ "from" and /daːɡaː/ "battle" are both written daga. The distinction between /r/ and /ɽ/ (which does not exist for all speakers) is not always marked.

Ajami (Arabic)

Hausa has also been written in ajami, an Arabic alphabet, since the early 17th century. The first known work to be written in Hausa is Riwayar Nabi Musa by Abdullahi Suka in the 17th century. There is no standard system of using ajami, and different writers may use letters with different values. Short vowels are written regularly with the help of vowel marks, which are seldom used in Arabic texts other than the Quran. Many medieval Hausa manuscripts in ajami, similar to the Timbuktu Manuscripts, have been discovered recently; some of them even describe constellations and calendars.[25]

In the following table, short and long e are shown along with the Arabic letter for t (ت).

LatinIPAArabic ajami
a/a/  ـَ
a//  ـَا
b/b/  ب
ɓ/ɓ/  ب (same as b), ٻ (not used in Arabic)
c//  ث
d/d/  د
ɗ/ɗ/  د (same as d), ط (also used for ts)
e/e/  تٜ (not used in Arabic)
e//  تٰٜ (not used in Arabic)
f/ɸ/  ف
g/ɡ/  غ
h/h/  ه
i/i/  ـِ
i//  ـِى
j/(d)ʒ/  ج
k/k/  ك
ƙ//  ك (same as k), ق
l/l/  ل
m/m/  م
n/n/  ن
o/o/  ـُ  (same as u)
o//  ـُو  (same as u)
r/r/, /ɽ/  ر
s/s/  س
sh/ʃ/  ش
t/t/  ت
ts/(t)sʼ/  ط (also used for ɗ), ڟ (not used in Arabic)
u/u/  ـُ  (same as o)
u//  ـُو  (same as o)
w/w/  و
y/j/  ی
z/z/  ز     ذ
ʼ/ʔ/  ع

Other systems

Hausa is one of three indigenous languages of Nigeria which has been rendered in braille.

At least three other writing systems for Hausa have been proposed or "discovered". None of these are in active use beyond perhaps some individuals.

  • A Hausa alphabet supposedly of ancient origin and in use in north of Maradi, Niger.[26]
  • A script that apparently originated with the writing/publishing group Raina Kama in the 1980s.[27]
  • A script called "Tafi" proposed in the 1970s(?)[28]

See also


  1. Hausa at Ethnologue (21st ed., 2018)
  2. Hausa language at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  3. Hausa language at Ethnologue (20th ed., 2017)
  4. Bauer (2007), p. ?.
  5. Wolff, H. Ekkehard. "Hausa language". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-10-14.
  6. "Spread of the Hausa Language". Worldmapper. Retrieved 2020-10-14.
  7. "Hausa language". Ethnologue.
  8. "Full List: Hausa Is World's 11th Most Spoken Language". The Herald. 2018-02-04. Retrieved 2020-04-29.
  9. "Nigerian president's Eid speech in Hausa criticised". BBC News. 2017-06-26. Retrieved 2020-10-29.
  10. "Nigerian actress Rahama Sadau banned after on-screen hug". BBC News. 2016-10-03. Retrieved 2020-10-29.
  11. Blench, Roger. 2011. Benue-Congo (and some Nilo-Saharan) etymologies for Hausa words?
  12. "Hausa Language Variation and Dialects". African Languages at UCLA. Retrieved 2020-10-14.
  13. "The Hausa Language — Department of African Studies". Retrieved 2020-10-14.
  14. Caron, Bernard (2011). Hausa Grammatical Sketch. Paris: LLACAN.
  17. Gibanawa at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  18. Schuh & Yalwa (1999), p. 91.
  19. Newman, Paul (1996). "Hausa Phonology". In Kaye, Alan S.; Daniels, Peter T. (eds.). Phonologies of Asia and Africa (PDF). Eisenbrauns. pp. 537–552.
  20. Hausa ejectives and laryngealized consonants. Sound files hosted by the University of California at Los Angeles, from: Ladefoged, Peter: A Course in Phonetics. 5th ed. Thomson/Wadsworth.
  21. Newman, Paul (1937/2000) The Hausa Language: an encyclopedic reference grammar. Yale University Press. p. 397.
  22. Schuh & Yalwa (1999), pp. 90–91.
  23. Schuh & Yalwa (1999), p. 90.
  24. Guzmán Naranjo, Matías; Becker, Laura (April 2017). Quantitative methods in African Linguistics - Predicting plurals in Hausa (PDF). ACAL 48. Indiana, USA.
  25. Verde, Tom (October 2011). "From Africa, in Ajami". Saudi Aramco World. Archived from the original on 2014-11-30. Retrieved 2014-05-25.
  26. "Hausa alphabet"
  27. "Hausa alphabet from a 1993 publication". Retrieved 2018-04-20.
  28. "Hausa alphabet from a 1993 publication". Retrieved 2018-04-20.


  • Bauer, Laurie (2007). The Linguistics Student’s Handbook. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 978-0-7486-2758-5.
  • Schuh, Russell G.; Yalwa, Lawan D. (1999). "Hausa". Handbook of the International Phonetic Association. Cambridge University Press. pp. 90–95. ISBN 0-521-63751-1.
  • Charles Henry Robinson; William Henry Brooks; Hausa Association, London (1899). Dictionary of the Hausa Language: Hausa–English. The Oxford University Press.
  • Schön, James Frederick (Rev.) (1882). Grammar of the Hausa language. London: Church Missionary House. p. 270. Archived from the original on October 19, 2018. Retrieved Oct 19, 2018. (Now in the public domain).
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