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Kanuri language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Native to
RegionLake Chad
Native speakers
(9.6 million cited 1993–2021)[2]
Arabic (Ajami)[3]
Language codes
ISO 639-1kr
ISO 639-2kau
ISO 639-3kau – inclusive code
Individual codes:
knc – Central Kanuri
kby – Manga Kanuri
krt – Tumari Kanuri
bms – Bilma Kanuri
kbl – Kanembu
txj – Old Kanembu
Linguasphere02-AAA-a (+Kanembu 02-AAA-b)
Map of the majority usage of the five major languages of the Kanuri language group.
  KRT Kanuri, Tumari
  BMS Kanuri, Bilma
  KBY Kanuri, Manga
  KNC Kanuri, Central
  KBL Kanembu

Kanuri (/kəˈnʊəri/[4]) is a Saharan dialect continuum of the Nilo–Saharan language family spoken by the Kanuri and Kanembu peoples in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, as well as by a diaspora community residing in Sudan.


At the turn of the 21st century, its two main dialects, Manga Kanuri and Yerwa Kanuri (also called Beriberi, which its speakers consider to be pejorative), were spoken by 9,700,000 people in Central Africa.[5] It belongs to the Western Saharan subphylum of Nilo-Saharan. Kanuri is the language associated with the Kanem and Bornu empires that dominated the Lake Chad region for a thousand years.

The basic word order of Kanuri sentences is subject–object–verb. It is typologically unusual in simultaneously having postpositions and post-nominal modifiers – for example, 'Bintu's pot' would be expressed as nje Bintu-be, 'pot Bintu-of'.[6]

Kanuri has three tones: high, low, and falling. It has an extensive system of consonantal lenition; for example, sa- 'they' + -buma 'have eaten' → za-wuna 'they have eaten'.[7]

Traditionally a local lingua franca, its usage has declined in recent decades. Most first-language speakers speak Hausa or Arabic as a second language.[citation needed]

Geographic distribution[edit]

Kanuri is spoken mainly in lowlands of the Chad Basin, with speakers in Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan and Libya.[8]

By country[edit]


The Kanuri region in Nigeria consists of Borno State and Yobe State. Some other states such as Jigawa, Gombe and Bauchi are also dominated by Kanuri people, but they are not included in this region. Cities and towns where Kanuri is spoken include Maiduguri, Damaturu, Hadejia, Akko, Duku, Kwami, Kano, Kaduna, Gusau, Jos and Lafia.[citation needed]

In central Nigeria, the Kanuri are usually referred to as Bare-Bari or Beriberi.[citation needed]

Central Kanuri, also known as Yerwa Kanuri, is the main language of the Kanuri people living in Borno State, Yobe State and Gombe State, and it is usually referred to as Kanuri in Nigeria.[citation needed]

Manga Kanuri, which is the main language of the Kanuri people in Yobe State, Jigawa State and Bauchi State, is usually referred to as Manga or Mangari or Mangawa, and they are distinct from the Kanuri, which is a term generally used for speakers of Central Kanuri.[citation needed]

The Kanembu language is also spoken in Borno State on the border with Chad.[citation needed]


In Niger, the Kanuri region is composed of Diffa Region and Zinder Region in the southeast. Parts of Agadez Region are also Kanuri. Cities where it is spoken include Zinder, Diffa, N'Guigmi and Bilma.[citation needed]

In Zinder region, the main dialect is Manga. In Diffa Region, the main dialect is Tumari or Kanembu; Kanembu is spoken by a minority. In Agadez Region, the main dialect is Bilma. Central Kanuri is a minority dialect, and is commonly referred to as Bare-Bari or Beriberi.[citation needed]


Ethnologue divides Kanuri into the following languages, while many linguists (e.g. Cyffer 1998) regard them as dialects of a single language. The first three are spoken by ethnic Kanuri and thought by them as dialects of their language.

The variety attested in 17th-century Qur'anic glosses is known as Old Kanembu. In the context of religious recitation and commentaries, a heavily archaizing descendant of this is still used, called Tarjumo.



Bilabial Labio-
Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive (p) b td kɡ ʔ
Affricate t͡ʃd͡ʒ
Fricative (ɸβ) f sz ʃ (ɣ) h
Nasal m n (ŋ)
Lateral l (ɭ)
Trill r
Approximant w j
  • There may also exist prenasalized voiced stop consonant sounds /mb, nd, ŋɡ/, although it is not known whether they are considered phonemic.
  • The sound /p/ occurs mainly as an allophone of /b/, when following another voiceless plosive. It also may be in free alteration with /f/; however, it is still represented in the standard Kanuri orthography.[9]
  • A voiceless fricative [ɸ] occurs as an allophone of /f/ when preceding back vowels /o, u/. A voiced fricative [β] occurs as an allophone of /b/, when occurring in intervocalic positions. A voiced fricative [ɣ] occurs as an allophone of /ɡ/, when occurring intervocalically between central vowels.
  • A retroflex lateral sound [ɭ] is heard when /l/ is followed by /i/.
  • [ŋ] occurs as an allophone of /n/ when preceding velar stop consonants. Often, the stop sounds are deleted or misheard, so just the nasal sound [ŋ] is mainly heard.[10]


Front Central Back
Close i (ɨ) u
Close-mid e ə o
Open-mid ʌ
Open a
  • [ɨ] is heard as an allophone of /ə/.

Written Kanuri[edit]

Kanuri has been written using the Ajami Arabic script, mainly in religious or court contexts, for at least four hundred years.[11] More recently, it is also sometimes written in a modified Latin script. The Gospel of John published in 1965 was produced in Roman and Arabic script.


A standardized romanized orthography (known as the Standard Kanuri Orthography in Nigeria) was developed by the Kanuri Research Unit and the Kanuri Language Board. Its elaboration, based on the dialect of Maiduguri, was carried out by the Orthography Committee of the Kanuri Language Board, under the Chairmanship of Abba Sadiq, Waziri of Borno. It was officially approved by the Kanuri Language Board in Maiduguri, Nigeria, in 1975.[12]

Letters used : a b c d e ǝ f g h i j k l m n ny o p r ɍ s sh t u w y z.[13]

Pronouns in Kanuri
Singular Plural
1st person wú, ú àndí
2nd person nàndí, nàyí
3rd person tàndí, tàyí


Sample text in Kanuri (Universal Declaration of Human Rights)[edit]

Hakkiwa-a nambe a suro Wowur abəden dəganadə ndu-a nduana-aso kartaa, gayirtə futubibema baaro, gayirta alama jiilibeso, kadigəbeso, alagəbeso, təlambeso, adinbeso, siyasabeso au rayiwu, lardə gade au kaduwu gade, kənganti, tambo au awowa laa gade anyiga samunzəna. Anyibe ngawoman nduma kəla siyasaben, kal kəntəwoben kal au daraja dunyalabe sawawuro kal kərye au lardə kamdə dəganabe sawawuro gayirtinba. Lardə shi gultənama adə kərmai kəlanzəben karga, amanaro musko lardə gadeben karga, kəlanzəlangənyi karga au sədiya kaidawa kəntəwobe laan karga yaye kal.


Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under and other limitation of sovereingty.

(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

See also[edit]


  • Norbert Cyffer & John P. Hutchison (eds.) Dictionary of the Kanuri Language (Publications in African languages and linguistics, 13). Foris Publications 1990. ISBN 90-6765-412-4.
  • Norbert Cyffer, We Learn Kanuri (book and 2 audio cassettes), ISBN 3-927620-01-7, Rüdiger Köppe Verlag: Köln 1993.
  • Norbert Cyffer, English-Kanuri Dictionary, ISBN 3-927620-44-0, Rüdiger Köppe Verlag: Köln 1994.
  • Norbert Cyffer, A Sketch of Kanuri. Rüdiger Köppe Verlag: Köln 1998.
  • Documentation for ISO 639 identifier: kau


  1. ^ Bondarev, Dmitry and Dobronravin, Nikolay. "Standardisation Tendencies in Kanuri and Hausa Ajami Writings". Creating Standards: Interactions with Arabic script in 12 manuscript cultures, edited by Dmitry Bondarev, Alessandro Gori and Lameen Souag, Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, 2019, pp. 237-270. DOI: 10.1515/9783110639063-010
  2. ^ Kanuri at Ethnologue (27th ed., 2024) Closed access icon
    Central Kanuri at Ethnologue (27th ed., 2024) Closed access icon
    Manga Kanuri at Ethnologue (27th ed., 2024) Closed access icon
    Tumari Kanuri at Ethnologue (27th ed., 2024) Closed access icon
    Bilma Kanuri at Ethnologue (27th ed., 2024) Closed access icon
    Kanembu at Ethnologue (27th ed., 2024) Closed access icon
    Old Kanembu at Ethnologue (27th ed., 2024) Closed access icon
  3. ^ "Kanuri Studies Association". 2004. Archived from the original on November 8, 2006.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  4. ^ Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  5. ^ "Kanuri language". Encyclopedia Britannica.
  6. ^ Pulse, Pulse (2021-11-15). "Kanuri: Bornu's most dominant culture". Pulse Nigeria. Retrieved 2022-06-01.
  7. ^ School, Live Lingua-Online Language. "Learn Kanuri Free: 2 Online Kanuri Courses". Live Lingua. Retrieved 2022-06-01.
  8. ^ Hutchinson, Josh Priestly; Skinner, A. neil (1981). A Reference Grammar of the Kanuri Language. University of Wisconsin, Madison African Center.
  9. ^ Hutchison, John P. (1981). The Kanuri Language: A Reference Grammar. .: University of Wisconsin.
  10. ^ Cyffer, Norbert (1998). A sketch of Kanuri. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.
  11. ^ "Kanuri Studies Association". 2004. Archived from the original on November 8, 2006.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  12. ^ Dictionary of the Kanuri language. Norbert Cyffer, John P. Hutchison, 1990. ISBN 90-6765-412-4
  13. ^ According to alphabet kanuri — arrété 213-99 de la République du Niger Archived 2009-06-27 at the Wayback Machine (Chantal Enguehard – Université de Nantes) the letter schwa used in Kanuri is encoded in Unicode with U+01DD instead of U+0259, and its uppercase is Ǝ U+018E instead of Ə U+018F.
  14. ^ "Microsoft Word - Manga dictionary Unicode.doc" (PDF). Retrieved 2021-03-08.


  • Barth, Heinrich 1854. Schreiben an Prof. Lepsius uber die Beziehung der Kanori- und Teda-Sprachen. Zeitschrift für Erdkunde, 2: 372–74, 384–87.
  • Bulakarima, S. Umara 1997. Survey of Kanuri dialects. in Advances in Kanuri Scholarship, ed. N. Cyffer and T. Geider. Pp. 67–75. Cologne: Rudiger Koppe.
  • Chonai, Hassan 1998. Gruppa teda-kanuri (centraľnosaxarskaja sem’ja jazykov) i ee genetičeskie vzaimootnošenija (ėtimologičeskij i fonologičeskij aspekt). Moskva: PhD. Dissertation (Rossijskij gosudarstvennyj gumanitarnyj universitet).
  • Hutchison, John P. 1981. The Kanuri Language. A Reference Grammar. Madison: University of Wisconsin.
  • Koelle, Sigismund Wilhelm 1854. Grammar of the Bornu or Kanuri Language. London: Church Missionary Society.
  • Lange, Dierk 1972. Un vocabulaire kanuri de la fin du XVIIe siècle. Cahiers d'Études africaines, 12(46): 277–290.
  • Lukas, Johannes 1937. A Study of the Kanuri Language. Grammar and Vocabulary. London: Oxford University Press.

External links[edit]