Fula language

Fula language
Fulfulde, Pulaar, Pular'Fulaare
Spoken in Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gambia, Chad, Sierra Leone, Benin, Guinea-Bissau, Sudan, Central African Republic, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Liberia, Gabon
Ethnicity Fulɓe
Native speakers 13 million  (1991)
Language family
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ff
ISO 639-2 ful
ISO 639-3 ful – Macrolanguage
individual codes:
fuc – Pulaar (Senegal)
fuf – Pular (Guinea)
ffm – Maasina Fulfulde (Mali)
fue – Borgu Fulfulde (Benin)
fuh – Western Niger
fuq – Central–Eastern Niger
fuv – Nigerian Fulfulde
fub – Adamawa (Cameroon)
fui – Bagirmi Fulfulde (Chad)

The Fula or Fulani language (Fula: Fulfulde or Pulaar or Pular ; French: Peul) is a language of West Africa. 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 peoples in various areas of the region.



 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 also uses infixes (a syllable inserted in the "middle" of a word, actually following the root and before the ending) to modify meaning. These infixes often serve the same purposes in Fula as prepositions do in English.

Noun classes

There are about 25 noun classes (the number may vary slightly in different dialects). Each noun class has a singular and plural form, and each form has a corresponding article, nominative pronoun, accusative/dative pronoun, demonstrative adjective and adjective agreement pattern (some examples provided in table below). All this along with the mere profusion of noun classes are structural similarities to the Bantu languages, but between Fula and Bantu the details are quite different. The plural forms of nouns in Fula are often highly irregular.

Noun Article Nominative pronoun Accusative/dative pronoun Demonstrative adjective Possessive adjective
debbo (woman) debbo ON (THE woman) O (SHE) MO (HER) OO debbo on (THAT woman) debbo makko (his/her woman)
gertogal (chicken) gertogal NGAL (THE chicken) NGAL (IT) NGAL (IT) NGAA gertogal ngal (THAT chicken) gertogal maggal (his/her chicken)


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 (one's self) [middle voice]
  • looteede, to be washed [passive voice]

Consonant mutation

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 dialects 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.[1] However, Bible translators estimate that at least seven different translations are needed to make it comprehensible for all Fulfulde speakers, and Ethnologue treats several of the varieties as separate languages:

East Central

Fulfulde, Western Niger (Niger)

Fulfulde, Central-Eastern Niger (Niger)

Fulfulde, Nigerian (Nigeria)

  • 1,700,000 in Nigeria (2000)
  • 750,000 speakers in Sudan scattered on the banks of the Blue Nile, Ghadrif, Madani, Obayyid, Port Sudan and Kassala.


Fulfulde, Adamawa, fub

  • 700,000 speakers in Cameroon (1993)
  • 128,000 in Chad (1993)
  • 30,000 in Sudan (2000)

Adamawa Fulfulde is also used by non-native speakers as the regional lingua franca in Far North, North and Adamawa provinces in Cameroon.

It is also used by Some Fulani in Sudan. However, it is not widely used as the rest of the other Fulfulde dialects; namely, Mallencore (dialect of Fulbe Mali). Notably, all sorts of Fulfulde dialects are spoken in Sudan.

Fulfulde, Bagirmi, fui

  • 790,000 speakers in Chad
  • 750,000 speakers in Central African Republic (1996).
  • 50,000 speakers in Sudan

West Central

Fulfulde, Maasina, ffm

  • 1300,000 speakers in Mali (1991)
  • 70000 speakers in Ghana (1991)
  • 2,000,000 speakers in Sudan

Fulfulde, Borgu, fue

  • 900,000 speakers in Benin (2002)
  • 800,000 speakers in Togo (1993)
  • 18,000,000 speakers in Nigeria


Alternative name is sometimes given as Pula-Fuuta, derived from the Fuuta-Jalon region where it is spoken.

  • 5,550,000 speakers in Guinea (1991)
  • 50,000 speakers in Mali (1991)
  • 136,000 speakers in Senegal (2002)
  • 950,000 speakers in Sierra Leone (1991)

Pular is an official regional language in Guinea, and many speakers are monolingual. The language has borrowed a lot from Arabic and French, but also from English, Portuguese, Maninka, Susu, Wolof and others.



  • Mauritania, Senegal and The Gambia

Writing systems

Latin alphabet

When written using the Latin alphabet, Fula uses the following additional special "hooked" characters to distinguish meaningfully different sounds in the language: Ɓ/ɓ, Ɗ/ɗ, Ŋ/ŋ, Ñ/ñ, Ƴ/ƴ (i.e., implosive B, implosive D, velar N [sounds like "ng" in "king'], palatal N, ejective Y). The apostrophe (ʼ) is used as a glottal stop. In Nigeria ʼy substitutes ƴ, and in Senegal ñ is used instead of ɲ.

Sample Fula alphabet

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

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.



  • Arnott, David W. (1970). The nominal and verbal systems of Fula. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Wilson, W. A. A. (1989). Atlantic. In John Bendor-Samuel (Ed.), The Niger–Congo Languages, pp. 81–104.


  1. ^ "...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

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Fula people — Infobox Ethnic group group=Fula, Fulani poptime=10 to 13 million (2005) [Ndukwe 16 (1996) gives a figure of 10 million; Gordon, Adamawa Fulfulde , says 13 million speakers of all forms of Fulfulde.] popplace=Guinea, Nigeria, Cameroon, Senegal,… …   Wikipedia

  • Fula orthographies — The Fula language is written mainly in a modified Latin alphabet today, but was and still is in some places written in a modified Arabic alphabet called Ajami script .Latin based orthographiesBackgroundThe Latin alphabet was introduced to Fula… …   Wikipedia

  • Fula jihads — The Fula or Fulani jihads, were a series of independent but loosely connected events across West Africa between the late 17th century and European colonization, in which Muslim Fulas took control of various parts of the region. It is also… …   Wikipedia

  • Fula — [fo͞o′lä΄, fo͞o′lə] n. [< native name] the Niger Congo language spoken by the Fulanis: also Fulah …   English World dictionary

  • Fula — [ fu:lə] noun the language of the Fulani people, belonging to the Benue Congo language family and widely used in West Africa as a lingua franca. Origin from Fula pulo Fula person …   English new terms dictionary

  • Fula — or Fulah noun (plural Fula or Fulas or Fulah or Fulahs) Date: 1799 1. a member of a mainly pastoral African people dispersed over savanna and desert from Senegal to eastern Sudan 2. the language of the Fula people …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Fula — Peul Frau in Mali Die Fulbe, im deutschen Sprachbereich auch unter ihrem englischen Namen Fula oder Fulani und ihrem französischen Namen Massina, Peul oder Peulh bekannt, sind ein ursprünglich nomadisierendes Volk, welches heute aber größtenteils …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • Fula — noun a) A West African people. b) A language spoken in West Africa …   Wiktionary

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