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The Hausa Language: Major Language of Nigeria

written by: Sonal Panse • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 1/5/2012

Hausa has a wide user base in Western Africa and is the language most commonly used in popular media within Nigeria. Learn about the language's history, dialects and basic features.

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    Hausa, the language of the Hausa people of Africa, belongs to the Chadic language group of the Adriatic language family. It is the most commonly used language of Northern Nigeria and many parts of Western Africa. Hausa is spoken by over 23 million people as a first language and by over 5.5 million as a second language.

    It is the main language in the Nigerian states of Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Zaria, Daura, Bauchi, Jigawa, Zamfara, Kebbi, Gombe, and Sokoto. It is also spoken in Benin, Burkina Faso, Congo, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Eritrea, Ghana, Niger, Sudan, and Togo.

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    Features of Hausa

    • It is a tonal language. This means word meanings can alter according to pitch differences in syllables. Tone is indicated, in the written script, with accent marks.
    • The sentence structure takes on a subject-verb-object form.
    • Nouns are modified for number and gender.
    • Adjectives agree with the gender and number of the noun they modify.
    • Hausa has many loanwords from Arabic, English, French, and other African languages.
    • Hausa has two writing systems: Bokò and Àjàmi. Bokò, introduced by the British in 1912, uses the Roman alphabet and is widely used in modern times. Àjàmi, developed by Arabic scholars in the 19th century, uses Arabic script and is more confined to religious or literary purposes.
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    Here are two main dialects - Eastern Hausa and Western Hausa. These are divided up into several subdialects.

    Eastern Hausa

    • Kano Hausa or Kananci. This is the standard Hausa dialect used in the modern writing form and in the media.
    • Zinder Hausa
    • Katagum Hausa/Gudduranci in Katagum Misau
    • Hadejiya Hausa/Borno and Hadejanci in Hadejiya
    • Bausanchi in Bauchi
    • Dauranchi in Daura

    Western Hausa

    • Sakkwatanci/Sokoto Hausa
    • Tahoua Hausa
    • Katsinanci/Katsina Hausa. Katsina is transitional between Eastern and Western dialects
    • Gobirawa Hausa
    • Adarawa Hausa/Arewanci in both Gobir and Adar
    • Kebbawa Hausa
    • Zamfarawa Hausa/ Kebbi

    There are also separate dialects in Northern Hausa, Arewar and Arawa, and Southern Hausa, Zazzaganci in Zaria. Two other separate dialects are the pidgin Barikanchi used in the army and the Gaananci Hausa dialect of Ghana.

    The dialect differences lay in pronunciation, vocabulary, gender morphology, and incorporation of loanwords from Arabic, English, French, and other African languages.

    Despite the dialect variations, Hausa-speaking people from different regions can understand each other in very much the same way as British-English speakers can understand American-English or Indian-English.

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    History & Additional Information

    • The Hausas, who are mainly Muslim, ruled in the Northern Nigeria and Northwestern Niger regions from around 500 A.D. to around 1808, at which point the Fulani of Sokoto defeated them and took over.
    • The Hausa people are agriculturalists and traders, and their travels spread the language across a wide swathe of Western Africa.
    • J.F. Schön, a German missionary, was the first Western scholar to undertake a detailed study of the Hausa language.
    • Hausa was first taught in Berlin in 1885. It is now taught at universities in Africa and around the world.
    • In 1934, Rev. G.P. Bargery published a Hausa dictionary having 40,000 entries.
    • There are Hausa language radio broadcasts over the BBC, Voice of America, Deutsche Welle, Voice of Russia, IRIB, Radio France Internationale, and China Radio International.

    The Hausa language, which is a major language of Nigeria, is an exciting language with many unique features that is spoken in many areas of the country.