Cipu language

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Western Acipa
Native toNigeria
RegionKebbi State, Niger State
Native speakers
(20,000 cited 1995)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3awc
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Cipu (Cicipu), or Western Acipa, is a Kainji language spoken by about 20,000 people in northwest Nigeria. The people call themselves Acipu, and are called Acipawa in Hausa.[2]

Like most Benue–Congo languages, Cipu has a complex noun class system.[3] It has a fairly complex phonology with lexical and grammatical tone, vowel harmony and nasalisation.

Virtually all Cipu speakers speak the lingua franca Hausa. Many also speak other nearby languages.


Cipu is part of the Kambari branch of the Niger–Congo languages.

The most recent published classification[4] has Cipu as part of the Kamuku group of West Kainji along with Eastern Acipa. However more detailed studies[5][6] have shown this to be unlikely.

Alternative names[edit]

The Ethnologue currently lists Cipu as 'Western Acipa'. However the name 'Western Acipa' is no longer used outside the Ethnologue, and a request has been made to change the entry.[7] In Hausa, the language is referred to as Acipanci and the people as Acipawa.

Geographic distribution[edit]

Cicipu is spoken in Nigeria by approximately 20,000 people,[8] split between Sakaba Local Government Area, Kebbi State and Kontagora Local Government Area, Niger State.


The Acipu themselves recognise seven distinct varieties of Cicipu. The dialect names are as follows (with the corresponding Hausa names in parentheses):

  • Tirisino (Karishen)
  • Tidipo (Kadonho)
  • Tizoriyo (Mazarko)
  • Tidodimo (Kadedan)
  • Tikula (Maburya)
  • Ticuhun (Kakihum)
  • Tikumbasi (Kumbashi)


The most common syllable type in Cicipu is CV, although there are fairly strong arguments for N and CVN. A small number of noun and verb roots begin with a V syllable. Lexical tone contrasts are found in nouns e.g. káayá ‘house’ and káayà ‘bean’, but not in verbs (although grammatical tone is important for verbs).


Vowel chart of the Tirisino dialect of Cipu[9]

Cicipu has an asymmetric six-vowel system. All vowels can be long or short, and all have nasalised counterparts. There are four diphthongs: /ei/, /eu/, /ai/ and /au/.

Monophthongs Front Central Back
Close i, iː   u, uː
Close-mid e, eː   o, oː
Open-mid     ɔ, ɔː
Open   a, aː  


Consonant length is contrastive in Cicipu, e.g. yuwo 'fall' vs. yuwwo 'turn around'. Any consonant may be lengthened.

Consonant phonemes
  Labial Dental or
or palatal
Velar Glottal
Plain Labialized Palatalized Plain Labialized
Voiceless p t k ʔʲ ʔ ʔʷ
Voiced b d ɡ ɡʷ
Implosive ɓ ɗ
Fricatives Voiceless s h
Voiced v z
Nasals m n
Rhotic ɾ
Approximants l j w


A large number of Cicipu words are borrowings from the lingua franca Hausa. The pronunciation of many of these loanwords has changed to fit in with Cicipu phonology, in particular with respect to vowel harmony.

Writing system[edit]

Cicipu is not currently written, although a preliminary orthography proposal has been made, and a small number of trial books has been circulated.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cipu at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Blench, Roger. The Kamuku languages.
  3. ^ McGill, Stuart. 2007. The Cipu noun class system. Journal of West African Languages, 34(2), 51-90.
  4. ^ Williamson, Kay and Roger M. Blench. 2000. Niger–Congo in African languages: an introduction, 11-42. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  5. ^ Dettweiler, Steve and Sonia Dettweiler. 2002. Sociolinguistic survey (level one) of the Kamuku language cluster [Originally written in 1992]..
  6. ^ McGill, Stuart. 2007. The classification of Cicipu. Unpublished manuscript. Archived 2008-11-19 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ The name of the Cicipu language Archived 2011-07-25 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ CAPRO Research Office. 1995. Kingdoms at war. Jos: CAPRO Media.
  9. ^ McGill, Stuart (2014), "Cicipu", Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 44 (3): 308, doi:10.1017/S002510031400022X
  10. ^ McGill, Stuart (ined). Some orthographic challenges for Cicipu. West Kainji Language Workshop, Safara Motel, Kontagora, 10 -12 March 2008, pp. 2-3.

External links[edit]