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Fula (or Fulani)
Fulfulde, Pulaar, Pular
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
Total speakers 10–16 million
Language family Niger-Congo
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ff
ISO 639-2 ful
ISO 639-3 variously:
ful – Fulah (generic)
fub – Adamawa Fulfulde
fui – Bagirmi Fulfulde
fue – Borgu Fulfulde
fuq – Central-Eastern Niger Fulfulde
ffm – Maasina Fulfulde
fuv – Nigerian Fulfulde
fuc – Pulaar
fuf – Pular language
fuh – Western Niger Fulfulde

The Fula language is a language of West Africa, spoken by the Fulɓe (Fula or Fulani people) from Senegambia and Guinea to Cameroon and Sudan. It is also spoken as the first language by the Tukulor in the Senegal River Valley and as a second language by peoples in other areas.

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 and Hausa, respectively; Peul in French comes from Wolof.



Fula belongs to the Atlantic branch of the Niger-Congo language family.


Fula has the reputation of being complex but very regular in the construction of verbs, with few exceptions or "irregular" forms. The plural forms of nouns, however, are highly irregular and often do not resemble their singular form.



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.

Noun classes

There are about 25 noun classes (the number may vary slightly in different dialects).


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


Fula has inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns.


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 it geographic span and dialect variation, Fulfulde is still fundamentally one language.[1] However, Bible translators estimate that at least 7 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)


Fulfulde, Adamawa, fub

  • 700.000 speakers in Cameroon (1993)
  • 128.000 in Chad (1993)
  • 90.000 in Sudan (1982)

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

Fulfulde, Bagirmi, fui

  • 24000 speakers in Chad
  • 156.000 speakers in Central African Republic (1996).

West Central

Fulfulde, Maasina, ffm

  • 900.000 speakers in Mali (1991)
  • 7000 speakers in Ghana (1991)

Fulfulde, Borgu, fub

  • 280.000 speakers in Benin (2002)
  • 48.000 speakers in Togo (1993)
  • also spoken in Nigeria


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

  • 2.550.000 speakers in Guinea (1991)
  • 50.000 speakers in Mali (1991)
  • 136.000 speakers in Senegal (2002)
  • 178.000 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, Ɲ/ɲ, 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.

See also



  • 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

Fula language edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


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