Monday, May 27, 2013

Language Profile: Hausa

After months of language profiles, we've finally reached a truly African language! This week's language profile is on Hausa, a Chadic language of the Afro-Asiatic language family. It is officially recognized as a national language of Niger and a major language of Nigeria. It's also used as a lingua franca across much of West Africa, including the countries of Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Sudan, and Togo.

Hausa has more native speakers than any African language and is the language of the Hausa people, one of the largest ethnic groups in West Africa. A majority of the Hausa are Muslims, so the language has also come to be used as a lingua franca of Muslims in non-Hausa regions. 

Abuja National Mosque in Nigeria's capital city, Abuja.
Hausa is also the most commonly spoken language in Nigeria, and is used as the language of instruction in primary schools in the northern part of the country. It can also be heard on radio and television broadcasts throughout Nigeria and Niger.

There are several dialects of Hausa to be found across West Africa, mainly because of the large geographic area the language has spread across. The Ghanaian dialect that is spoken in Ghana, Togo, and the Ivory Coast is fairly isolated from other dialects of Hausa, which has caused it to be more distinctive than other dialects. 

Non-native speakers also tend to use a significantly different pronunciation from native speakers. This is true with many languages, but it is especially common in Hausa due to the sounds it uses. Many difficult to pronounce consonants are changed by non-native speakers into phonemes they are familiar with, which often leads to confusion and difficulty distinguishing between words. Hausa is also a tonal language, which means that each vowel (a, e, i, o, u) can have either a low, high, or falling tone. However, most non-native speakers simply omit this linguistic characteristic!

The official writing system of Hausa is the Latin-based Boko alphabet, which was forced on the people by British colonizers in the 1930s. However, the language can also be written using Ajami, an Arabic-based alphabet that has been in use since the early 17th century. It is not commonly used since it has no standard system, but it is occasionally used by Muslims for religious purposes.