Hausa Language Variation and Dialects

Throughout the areas where Hausa is spoken, it is remarkably uniformin pronunciation, vocabulary, and structure. Indeed, the varieties of Hausaare at least as mutually comprehensible as the varieties of English. Basedon examples of linguistic variation and uniformity available from otherparts of Africa and the world, one can surmise that the Hausa language hasspread rather rapidly and rather recently in order for it to have coveredsuch a large area with such a large number of speakers.

Despite the basic uniformity of Hausa wherever it is spoken, one can identifya number of dialect areas. Below are some of the main dialects of Hausa.As would be expected in a dynamic language with a large number of speakers,these “dialects” themselves show internal variation, but eachhas a feature or cluster of features which are characteristic of that variety.

“Kano Hausa”

Major city: Kano

The Hausa spoken in Kano, the largest city in the contiguous Hausa-speakingarea, and the surrounding regions is usually referred to as “Standard”Hausa. This variety of Hausa is the one used in nearly all printed materialsin Hausa, including the Hausa language newspapers of Nigeria. It is alsothe variety of Hausa most heard in broadcast media, including both Nigerianradio and television and international Hausa broadcasting, such as the BBC, Deutsche Welle, The Voice of America, and others.

  • Pronunciation: A major feature of pronunciation characterizing this dialect is seen in words such as sauka ‘descend’ or zauna ‘sit down’, where a “u” appears before another consonant rather than a “b”, an “f”, or an “m” in other dialects (see comments on “Western Hausa” below).
  • Grammar: The Kano dialect consistently distinguishes between masculine and feminine gender of all nouns, for example, suna ne ‘it’s a name’ (where ne “it’s…” marks masculine) vs. giwa ce ‘it’s an elephant’ (where ce “it’s…” marks feminine).

“Western Hausa”

Major cities: Sokoto (Sakkwato), Tahoua (Tawa)

The Hausa spoken roughly between Sokoto (Sakkwato in Hausa) and Gusau in Nigeria, and north to Birnin Konni (Birnin K’wanni) andTahoua (Tawa) in Niger comprises “Western Hausa”. One mightconsider this variety “Classical” Hausa for several reasons. First,it has proved quite conservative in terms of retaining features which canbe identified as belonging to more ancient stages of the language. Second,this was the variety of Hausa spoken by Shehu Usman D’an Hodiyo and hisfollowers, who carried out a jihad of Islamic reform in the early 19th Century.Part of this reform movement involved the composition of Islamic poetry,which comprises the oldest extensive written documentation of Hausa andnearly all of which is in the Western dialect. Finally, the majority oftraditional Hausa praise singers, who might be considered purveyors of “Classical”Hausa music, are from the Western dialect area, and their music remainspopular among all Hausa speakers.

  • Pronunciation: Speakers of Western Hausa still pronounce “b”, “f”, and “m” when they come before other consonants. Thus, Western Hausa speakers say sabka ‘descend’ and zamna ‘sit down’. Compare the pronunciations of these words in Kano Hausa.
  • Grammar: Western Hausa consistently distinguishes between masculine and feminine nouns, as does the Kano dialect, but instead of masculine ne “it’s…”, feminine ce “it’s…”, as in most of the rest of the Hausa-speaking area, Western Hausa uses na and ta respectively, e.g. suna na ‘it’s a name’ (masculine noun), giwa ta ‘it’s an elephant’ (feminine noun).

“Northern Hausa”

Major cities: Katsina, Maradi, Zinder

The Hausa spoken along the Nigeria-Niger border and into Niger comprises”Northern” Hausa. Some major cities in this area are Katsina inNigeria and Marad’i and Zinder in Niger.

  • Pronunciation: In pronunciation, Northern dialects have in common with the Western dialects the fact that they still pronounce “b”, “f”, and “m” when they come before other consonants. Thus, Northern Hausa speakers say sabka ‘descend’ and zamna ‘sit down’. Compare the pronunciations of these words in Kano Hausa.
  • Grammar: In marking gender of nouns, Northern Hausa has in common with Kano Hausa the words ne ‘it’s…’ for masculine nouns (suna ne ‘it’s a name’) and ce ‘it’s…’ for feminine nouns (giwa ce ‘it’s an elephant’). In a sense, Northern Hausa is an “intermediate” dialect between the more conservative Western area and the more innovative Kano area.

“Southern Hausa”

Major cities: Zaria, Bauci

“Southern” Hausa extends from the city of Zaria and environs(the region call Zazzau in Hausa) to the Bauci area. Southern Hausa(as well as Eastern Hausa)are really subdialects of the larger “Kano” or “Standard”Hausa dialect group.

  • Pronunciation: Southern Hausa shares with Kano Hausa the pronunciation of “u” in words such as sauka ‘descend’ or zauna ‘sit down’.
  • Grammar: The distinctive feature of Southern Hausa is the loss of a grammatical gender distinction in basically all nouns except those referring to humans and some domestic animals. The feminine word ce ‘it’s…’ is not used at all in Southern Hausa, e.g. Southern Hausa speakers would say yaro ne ‘it’s a boy’ and yarinya ne ‘it’s a girl’. Compare this to Kano Hausa yarinya ce ‘it’s a girl’). For humans, a gender distinction for humans does show up in pronoun agreement, however, e.g. yaro ya zo ‘the boy came’ (with ya showing masculine agreement) but yarinya ta zo ‘the girl came’ (with ta showing feminine agreement).

“Eastern Hausa”

Major cities: Had’eja, Azare, Katagum

The area of “Eastern Hausa”, also called “Guddiri”Hausa, includes the cities of Had’eja, Katagum, Azare, Potiskum, and othertowns in the general vicinity. Like Southern Hausa, Eastern Hausa is really a subdialect of the larger “Kano”variety of Hausa.

  • Pronunciation: Eastern and Southern Hausa are alike in the features of pronunciation of “u” in words like sauka ‘descend’ or zauna ‘sit down’.
  • Grammar: Eastern Hausa has the same characteristics with respect to grammatical gender as Southern Hausa.
  • Distinguishing features of Eastern Hausa: The features distinctive to Eastern Hausa involve somewhat technical aspects of grammar and morphology. One feature distinguishing this dialect from others is the placement of indirect objects after direct objects, e.g. na tura yaro a Sarki ‘I sent a boy (yaro) to the Chief (Sarki)’. In all other dialects, the indirect object would come first, e.g. Kano Hausa na tura wa Sarki yaro.

“Ghanian Hausa”

As the term implies, “Ghanaian” Hausa is the variety of Hausatypical of native Hausa speakers in Ghana. Because Ghana is outside thecontiguous native speaking Hausa area, it may not be possible to separatespecific features of “native” Hausa in Ghana from “non-native”features typical of Ghanaian Hausa speakers who speak other languages (see”Non-native Hausa” below). One feature typical of Ghanaian Hausabut not of any native varieties in Niger and Nigeria is the the use of thesounds “ch” and “j” where Nigerien/Nigerian varietieswould have “ky” and “gy” respectively, e.g. cau (“chow”) ‘beauty’ (rather thankyau) and jara‘repair’ (for gyara).

“Non-native Hausa”

Hausa is the main lingua franca throughout Niger and the northern two-thirdsof Nigeria. It is also widely used as a lingua franca by Muslim populationsin other countries west of Nigeria, e.g. Benin, Togo, and Ghana. Thoughthere is not a unified “non-native Hausa dialect”, certain featurestypically distinguish non-native from native speakers of Hausa.

  • No distinction between glottalized consonants and the non-glottalized counterparts: ALL native Hausa speakers would distinguish karu ‘be protected’ (with a “plain” “k”) from k’aru ‘be increased’ (with an ejective “k'”) or daidai ‘correct’ (with “plain” “d”s) from d’aid’ai ‘one at a time’ (with implosive “d'”s). Non-native speakers would typically pronounce both members of these pairs identically, i.e. using only the “plain” consonants. The reason for this is that most West African languages lack a set of glottalized sounds (exceptions being Hausa’s linguistic relatives in the Chadic family and Fula, which has implosive”b'” and “d'”).
  • Grammatical gender: ALL native speakers of Hausa would say yaro ya tafi ‘the boy left’ (with masculine singular agreement ya) but yarinya ta tafi ‘the girl left’ (with feminine singular agreement ta). Non-native speakers would typically use the “masculine” agreement ya for both of these. The reason for this is that most West African languages do not have grammatical gender (exceptions being some–but by no means all–Hausa’s linguistic relatives in the Chadic family and Tamazhaq, a Berber language to the north of Hausa).

Further resources on Hausa language and culture, including an online Hausa course:

Hausar Baka Online Course

Hausa online grammar

Hausa Poetry and Songs

Hausa-English-German online dictionary

Hausa printed resources

Relevant links for studying Hausa

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