Fula language

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Fulani, Peul
Fulfulde, Pulaar, Pular
Native to West Africa
Region The Sahel
Ethnicity Fulɓe
Native speakers
25 million  (2007)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ff
ISO 639-2 ful
ISO 639-3 fulinclusive code
Individual codes:
fuc – Pulaar (Senegambia, Mauritania)
fuf – Pular (Guinea, Sierra Leone)
ffm – Maasina Fulfulde (Mali)
fue – Borgu Fulfulde (Benin, Togo)
fuh – Western Niger (Burkina, Niger)
fuq – Central–Eastern Niger (Niger)
fuv – Nigerian Fulfulde (Nigeria)
fub – Adamawa Fulfulde (Cameroon, Chad, Sudan)
fui – Bagirmi Fulfulde (CAR)
Glottolog fula1264[2]

The Fula /ˈflə/[3] language, also known as Fulani /fʊˈlɑːn/[3] (Fula: Fulfulde, Pulaar, Pular; French: Peul) is a non-tonal language spoken as various closely related dialects, in a continuum that stretches across some 20 countries of West and Central Africa. Like other related languages such as Serer and Wolof, it belongs to the Atlantic branch of the Niger–Congo language family. It is spoken as a first language by the Fulɓe (Fula or Fulani people) and related groups (such as the Tukulor in the Senegal River Valley) from Senegambia and Guinea to Cameroon and Sudan. It is also spoken as a second language by various peoples in the region, such as the Kirdi of Northern Cameroon and North-Eastern Nigeria.


Person Pullo
People Fulɓe
Language Fulfulde

There are several names applied to the language, just as there are to the Fula people. They call their language Pulaar or Pular in the western dialects and Fulfulde in the central and eastern dialects. Fula(h) and Fulani in English come originally from Manding (esp. Mandinka, but also Malinke and Bamana) and Hausa, respectively; Peul in French, also occasionally found in literature in English, comes from Wolof.


Fula is based on verbo-nominal roots, from which verbal, noun and modifier words are derived. It uses suffixes (sometimes inaccurately called infixes, as they come between the root and the inflectional ending) to modify meaning. These suffixes often serve the same purposes in Fula that prepositions do in English.

Noun classes[edit]

Fula languages are characterized by a robust noun class system, with 25 noun classes being common across most of the Fula dialects (Arnett 1975: 5). Noun classes in Fula are abstract categories with some classes having semantic attributes that characterize a subset of that class’ members, and others being marked by a membership too diverse to warrant any semantic categorization of the class’ members (Paradis 1992: 25). For example, there are classes for stringy long things, and another for big things, another for liquids, a noun class for strong rigid objects, another for human or humanoid traits etc. Gender does not have any role in the Fula noun class system and the marking of gender is done with adjectives rather than class markers (Arnett 1975: 74). Noun classes are marked by suffixes on nouns. These suffixes are the same as the class name though they are frequently subject to phonological processes, most frequently the dropping of the suffix’s initial consonant (McIntosh 1984:45-46).

The table below illustrates the class name, the semantic property associated with class membership, and an example of a noun with its class marker. Classes 1 and 2 can be described as personal classes, classes 3-6 as diminutive classes, classes 7-8 as augmentative classes, and classes 9-25 as neutral classes. It is formed on the basis of McIntosh’s 1984 description of Kaceccereere Fulfulde, which the author describes as “essentially the same” as Arnott’s 1970 description of the noun classes of the Gombe dialect of Fula. Thus, certain examples from Arnott also informed this table (Arnett 1975: 5), (McIntosh 1984:44).

Number Class Name Meaning Example
o Person Singular laam-ɗo ‘chief’
ɓe Person Plural laam-ɓe ‘chiefs’
ŋgel Diminutive Singular loo-ŋgel ‘little pot’
kal Diminutive Quantities cɔn-al ‘small quantity of flour’
ŋgum Diminutive Pejorative laam-ŋgum ‘worthless little chief’
kon Diminutive Plural ullu-ko ‘small cats/kittens’
ŋga Augmentative Singular ɗem-ŋga ‘big tongue’
ko Augmentative Plural ɗem-ko ‘big tongues’
nde Various, including globular objects, places, times loo-nde ‘storage pot’
ndi Various, including uncountables shom-ri ‘tiredness’
ndu Various ullu-ndu ‘cat’
ŋga Various, including some large animals nood-a ‘crocodile’
ŋge 'Cow,' 'fire,' 'sun' 'hunger,' nagg-e ‘cow’
ŋgo Various nyor-go ‘cover mat’
ŋgu Various ɓow-ŋge ‘mosquito’
ŋgal Various ɗem-ŋgal ‘tongue’
ŋgol Various, often long things taddor-gol ‘girdle’
ka Various mannd-a ‘salt’
ki Various daŋ-ki ‘temporary shelter’
ko Various haak-o ‘soup’
kol 'Calf' nyal-ol ‘calf’
ɗam Liquids tu’y-am ‘nose-bleed’
ɗum Neutral maw-ɗum ‘big thing’
ɗe Non-human Plural daŋ-ɗe ‘shelters’
ɗi Non-human Plural njaayrii-ji ‘open spaces’


Verbs in Fula are usually classed in 3 "voices": active, middle, and passive. Not every root is used in all voices. Some middle voice verbs are reflexive.

A common example are verbs from the root loot-:

  • lootude, to wash (something) [active voice]
  • lootaade, to wash (oneself) [middle voice]
  • looteede, to be washed [passive voice]

Consonant mutation[edit]

Another feature of the language is initial consonant mutation between singular and plural forms of nouns and of verbs (except in Pular, there is no consonant mutation in verbs, only in nouns).

A simplified schema is as follows:

  • w ↔ b ↔ mb
  • r ↔ d ↔ nd
  • y ↔ j ↔ nj
  • w ↔ g ↔ ng
  • f ↔ p
  • s ↔ c
  • h ↔ k


Fula has inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns.

The pronoun that corresponds to a given noun is determined by the noun class. Because men and women belong to the same noun class, the English pronouns "he" and "she" are translated into Fula by the same pronoun. However, depending on the dialect, there are some 25 different noun classes, each with its own pronoun. Sometimes those pronouns have both a nominative case (i.e., used as verb subject) and an accusative or dative case (i.e., used as a verb object).


While there are numerous varieties of Fula, it is typically regarded as a single language. Wilson (1989) states that "travellers over wide distances never find communication impossible," and Ka (1991) concludes that despite its geographic span and dialect variation, Fulfulde is still fundamentally one language.[4] However, Ethnologue has found that nine different translations are needed to make the Bible comprehensible for all Fula speakers, and it treats these varieties as separate languages. They are listed in the box at the beginning of this article.


Fulani is an official language in Senegal (Pulaar) and Nigeria (Fulfulde), an official regional language in Guinea (Pular), where many speakers are monolingual, and a national language of Mali (Maasina) and Niger (Fulfulde).

Writing systems[edit]

Main article: Fula orthographies

Latin alphabet[edit]

When written using the Latin script, Fula uses the following additional special "hooked" characters to distinguish meaningfully different sounds in the language: Ɓ/ɓ [ɓ], Ɗ/ɗ [ɗ ], Ŋ/ŋ [ŋ], Ñ/ñ [ ɲ], Ƴ/ƴ [ʔʲ]. The apostrophe (ʼ) is used as a glottal stop. In Nigeria ʼy substitutes ƴ, and in Senegal ñ is used instead of ɲ.[clarification needed]

Sample Fula alphabet[edit]

a, aa, b, mb, ɓ, c, d, nd, ɗ, e, ee, f, g, ng, h, i, ii, j, nj, k, l, m, n, ŋ, ny (or ñ or ɲ), o, oo, p, r, s, t, u, uu, w, y, ƴ

The letters q, x, z are used in some cases for loan words. In the Pular of Guinea an additional letter, ɠ, is also part of the orthography.

Arabic script[edit]

Fula has also been written in the Arabic script or Ajami since before colonization. This continues to a certain degree and notably in some areas like Guinea.

Adlam script[edit]

During the late 1980s an alphabetic script was devised by the brothers Ibrahima Barry and Abdoulaye Barry, in order to represent the Fulani language. After several years of development it started to be adopted among some Fulani communities, and is currently taught in Guinea, Nigeria, Liberia and other nearby countries. The name Adlam is an anagram of the first four letters of the alphabet (A, D, L, M), standing for Alkule Danndayɗe Lenyol am Mul`de ("the alphabet which protects My tribe from vanishing"). The Adlam script has been proposed for encoding in Unicode.[5]



  • Arnott, D. W. The Nominal and Verbal Systems of Fula. London: Oxford University Press, 1970. Print.
  • McIntosh, Mary. Fulfude Syntax and Verbal Morphology. London: St Edmundsbury Press Lt, 1984. Print.
  • Paradis, Carole. Lexical Phonology and Morphology: The Nominal Classes in Fula. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc, 1992. Print.
  • Wilson, W. A. A. (1989). Atlantic. In John Bendor-Samuel (Ed.), The Niger–Congo Languages, pp. 81–104.


  1. ^ Mikael Parkvall, "Världens 100 största språk 2007" (The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007), in Nationalencyklopedin
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Fula". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ a b Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  4. ^ "...malgré son extension géographique et ses variations dialectales, le fulfulde reste une langue profondément unie." Ka, Fary. 1991. "Problématique de la standardisation linguistique: Le cas du pulaar/fulfulde." In N. Cyffer, ed., Language Standardization in Africa. Hamburg: Helmut Buske verlag. Pp. 35-38.
  5. ^ Everson, Michael (23 September 2014). "Proposal for encoding the Adlam script in the SMP of the UCS" (PDF). 

External links[edit]