Hausa language

Afro-Asiatic language of northern Nigeria and southern Niger.

Hausa, which is spoken by some 31 million people, belongs to the Chadic branch of Afro-Asiatic. Outside of Hausaland, communities of Hausa merchants have stimulated the use of Hausa as a lingua franca by tens of millions more across a broad area of the African Sahel and savanna region. Hausa is now customarily written in the Latin alphabet, introduced in the early 20th century, though writing in an adaptation of the Arabic alphabet, attested about a century earlier, continues in Qurʾānic schools and some other contexts.

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 the most important indigenous lingua franca in West and Central Africa, spoken as a first or second language by about 40–50 million people. It belongs to the Western subdivision of the Chadic language (Chadic languages) superfamily within the Afro-Asiatic language (Afro-Asiatic languages) phylum.

      The home territories of the Hausa people (Hausa) lie on both sides of the border between Niger, where about one-half of the population speaks Hausa as a first language, and Nigeria, where about one-fifth of the population speaks it as a first language. The Hausa are predominantly Muslim. Their tradition of long-distance commerce and pilgrimages to the Holy Cities of Islam has carried their language to almost all major cities in West, North, Central, and Northeast Africa.

      The basic word order is subject–verb–object (SVO). Hausa is a tone language (tone), a classification in which syllable-based pitch differences add as much to the meaning of a word as do consonants and vowels. In transcriptions of Hausa, accent marks indicate tone, which may be high or rising (acute), low or falling (grave), or even (unaccented).

      Hausa morphology is characterized by complex alternations of sound and tone sequences. Like other Afro-Asiatic languages, Hausa has a rich “root and pattern (root and pattern system)” system in which “patterns” of vowels are interlaced with and provide specific meanings for consonantal “roots” (denoted by the √ symbol) that indicate a general concept. In the interaction of roots and patterns, certain consonants “weaken” or change under some circumstances. Variations in tone, vocalic, and consonantal forms are illustrated by the constructions associated with the root for ‘bush cow,' *√ {b hook}kn (the asterisk * denotes a reconstructed term). In the singular form, {b hook}áunáa, the /k/ of the root weakens to become the vowel /u/. However, it remains as /k/ in the complex plural form {b hook}ák-àa-n-ée, which includes the infix -aa- between the final and prefinal consonants, plus the suffix -ee-. In these examples, the singular form has the tone pattern High-High (H-H), while the complex plural form has the tone pattern High-Low-High (H-L-H), which always occurs with this plural formation type.

      Nouns are marked for both number (singular or plural) and gender (masculine or feminine, which are marked only in the singular). New words can be created from both nouns and verbs through a process known as derivation. For instance, the verb stem haif- ‘to procreate, beget, give birth' can yield the formation of agentive and locative nouns by means of a prefix má-, different vocalic endings, and diagnostic tone patterns. Contrast má-hàif-íi ‘father' with má-háif-ìyáa ‘mother,' má-hàif-áa ‘parents,' and má-háif-áa ‘birthplace, womb.' Note that the words for ‘parents' and ‘womb' only differ in the tone melody across the word: H-L-H versus H-H-H.

      The many different forms of the Hausa verb are created through both derivation and inflection. Derivational extensions modify the meaning of the verb root. Thus *yank- ‘to cut' derives extended stems (in traditional Hausa scholarship called “verbal grades”) such as yánkàa ‘to cut up' (grade 1), yànkáa ‘to cut piece off' (grade 2), yánkèe ‘to cut all off' (grade 4), yánkóo ‘to cut and bring hither' (grade 6), and yànkú ‘to be well cut up' (grade 7). These verb stems may further change their form according to syntactic environment; for instance, the grade-2 verb yànkáa ‘to cut piece off' occurs in four different “forms” (usually referred to as A-, B-, C-, and D-forms) depending on whether and which type of an object follows. The A-form, yànkáa, is used when no object follows the verb: náa yánkàa ‘I have cut off.' When a pronominal object follows, the B-form yànkée is used: náa yànkée shì ‘I have cut him off.' With a nominal object following, the C-form, yànkí, is used: náa yànkí náamàn ‘I have cut the piece of meat off.' Finally, with an indirect object following, the D-form, yánkàa, is used: náa yánkàa másà náamàn ‘I have cut off the piece of meat for him.'

      Hausa has long been written by using a modified Arabic alphabet in a script called ajami. Since about 1912, Hausa has also been written in a standardized orthography (boko, from English ‘book') that is based on the Latin alphabet (with the addition of modified letters that represent glottalized consonants (consonant)) and that is used for formal educational purposes.

      Hausa is recognized as an indigenous national language in the constitutions of both Nigeria and Niger. So-called Standard Hausa is based on the pan-dialectal koine of Kano (Nigeria), which is the biggest commercial centre in Hausaland. There are two major dialect areas: the northwestern area, comprising most of the dialects spoken in Niger (Kurfeyanci around Filinguey, Aderanci around Tahoua, Arewanci around Dogondouchi, Tibiranci around Maradi, and Damagaranci around Zinder) plus those of Sokoto (Sakkwatanci) and Katsina (Katsinanci) in Nigeria; and the eastern area, with Kano (Kananci), Zaria (Zazzanci), and Bauchi (Guddiranci) as prominent urban agglomerations with their own dialectal variants. Dialectal variation, however, does not impede mutual intelligibility across the whole of Hausaland.

      Serious linguistic research on the language began in the mid-19th century with the works of the German missionary J.F. Schön. Hausa has been taught outside Africa since 1885, when the first course was offered in Berlin. Today, Hausa is taught on a regular basis throughout the world, mainly at universities that have a department specializing in African languages. An early milestone in Hausa studies was the 1934 publication of a dictionary compiled by the Rev. G.P. Bargery; it had about 40,000 entries and demonstrated the remarkable number of loanwords from Arabic (Arabic language), Kanuri (a Nilo-Saharan language), Tamajaq (the Amazigh (Amazigh languages) language spoken by the Tuareg), and Mande (Mande languages) (a branch of Niger-Congo languages). Since the colonial period, English (English language) (in Nigeria) and French (French language) (in Niger) have competed with Arabic as major sources of Hausa lexical innovation.

H. Ekkehard Wolff

Additional Reading
There is a good record of grammatical and lexicographic work on Hausa, beginning with Jakob Friedrich Schön, Grammar of the Hausa Language (1862), written by a German missionary.Additional information may be found in Sergio Baldi, Systematic Hausa Bibliography (1977); and Nicholas Awde, “A Hausa Language and Linguistics Bibliography,” in Graham Furniss and Philip J. Jaggar (eds.), Studies in Hausa Language and Linguistics, in Honour of F.W. Parsons (1988).Three recent comprehensive reference grammars are available for Hausa: Philip J. Jaggar, Hausa (2001); Paul Newman, The Hausa Language: An Encyclopedic Reference Grammar (2000); and Ekkehard Wolff, Referenzgrammatik des Hausa (1993), the first reference grammar to replace the outdated but reliable standard work Roy Clive Abraham, The Language of the Hausa People (1959). Another important reference work is F.W. Parsons, Writings on Hausa Grammar, ed. by G.L. Furniss, 2 vol. (1981).

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Universalium. 2010.

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