Fula language

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Fulani, Peul
Fulfulde, Pulaar, Pular
Native to West Africa
Region The Sahel
Ethnicity Fulɓe
Native speakers
24 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]

The Fula or Fulfulde language is characterized by a robust noun class system, with 24 to 26 noun classes being common across the Fulfulde 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 (Arnott 1975: 5), (McIntosh 1984:44).

Number Class Name Meaning Example
o Person Singular laam-ɗo ‘chief’
ɓe Person Plural laam-ɓe ‘chiefs’
ngel Diminutive Singular loo-ngel ‘little pot’
kal Diminutive Quantities con-al ‘small quantity of flour’
ngum/kum Diminutive Pejorative laam-ngum/laam-kum ‘worthless little chief’
kon/koy Diminutive Plural ullu-kon/ullu-koy ‘small cats/kittens’
nde Various, including globular objects, places, times loo-nde ‘storage pot’
ndi Various, including uncountable nouns com-ri ‘tiredness’
ndu Various ullu-ndu ‘cat’
nga Various, including some large animals nood-a ‘crocodile’
nge mainly for 'Cow,' 'fire,' 'sun' 'hunger,' nagg-e ‘cow’
ngo Various juu-ngo ‘hand’
ngu Various ɓow-ngu ‘mosquito’
ngal Various including Augmentative Singular ɗem-ngal ‘tongue’
ngol Various, often long things ɓog-gol ‘rope’
ngii/ngil Various including Augmentative Singular ɓog-gii/ɓog-gii ‘big rope’
ka Various laan-a ‘boat’
ki Various lek-ki ‘tree’
ko Various haak-o ‘soup’
kol 'Calf' 'Western type of School' ñal-ol ‘calf’, lekkol ‘school’
ɗam mainly for Liquids lam-ɗam ‘salt’, ndiy-am ‘water’
ɗum Neutral maw-ɗum ‘big thing’
ɗe Non-human Plural juu-ɗe ‘hands’
ɗi Non-human Plural na'i ‘cows’
man all classes nagge man, na'i man ‘cows’


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 inclusive pronouns include both the speaker and those being spoken to, while the exclusive pronouns exclude the listeners.

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) as well as a possessive form. Relative pronouns generally take the same form as the nominative.


While there are numerous varieties of Fula, it is typically regarded as a single language. Wilson (1989) states that "travelers 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], Ɲ/ɲ [ ɲ], Ƴ/ƴ [ʔʲ]. The apostrophe (ʼ) is used as a glottal stop. In Nigeria ʼy substitutes ƴ, and in Senegal Ñ/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, ɲ (ny or ñ), 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, but it is also only used for loan words.

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.

Invented Fula scripts[edit]

In the 1960s Mali and Senegal each invented their own scripts to write Fula; in the 1970s Nigeria invented its own script too. During the late 1980s, more than 20 Guineans invented new different types of scripts (including two brothers Ibrahima Barry and Abdoulaye Barry) in order to represent the Fula language, but since the 1966 Bamako convention the UNESCO script has remained the only alphabet recognized as standard for Fula by all institutions in and outside the African continent including the African Union and UNESCO.

Below are some websites from different countries that are using the standard alphabet of Fula: Mauritania: Pulaar.org Mauritania: Pulaagu.com Guinea: Jowlol.org Guinea: Tabaldefouta.org Guinea: Misiide.net Guinea: Webpulaaku.net Sierra Leone: Peeral.com



  • 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.

External links[edit]

"To inform and entertain the Fulfulde-speaking population (more than 65 million)...to promote cultural exchanges between the various groups of Fulfulde-speaking populations." This site, founded by two Sierra Leoneans, features news on current affairs and culture; plus links. Articles are written in all major Fulfulde dialects. Particular attention has been paid to the fact that all texts are edited and adjusted in a way comprehensible to the majority of visitors, whatever their original dialect might be. The site also includes three glossary-style dictionaries by Oumar Bah (University of Vienna, Austria): --Saggitorde = Lexique pular-français