Chadian Arabic

Chadian Arabic
Chadian Arabic
Spoken in Chad, Sudan, Cameroon, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Niger
Native speakers 1,140,000  (date missing)
Language family
Writing system Arabic alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3 shu

Chadian Arabic (also known as Western Sudanic Arabic, Shuwa/Shua/Suwa Arabic (French: Arabe Choa/Chowa), L'arabe du Tchad) is one of the regional colloquial Arabic languages. "Shuwa Arabic" properly refers only to its Nigerian dialects, and even then, it is a term not used by the speakers themselves. Its territory, which touches Lake Chad, is an east-to-west oval in the Sahel, about 1400 miles long (12 to 20 degrees east latitude) by 300 miles north-to-south (between 10 and 14 degrees north latitude). It is the first language for over one million people[1] in Chad, Sudan, Cameroon, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, and Niger and serves as a lingua franca in much of the region. It is spoken both by town dwellers and by cattle herding nomads. In most of its range, it is not the only local language and often not among the major local languages.


Name and origin

This language does not have a native name shared by all its speakers, beyond "Arabic". It arose as the native language of nomadic cattle herders (baggāra, Standard Arabic baqqāra, means 'cattlemen', from baqar[2]). Since the publication of a grammar of a Nigerian dialect in 1920,[3] this language has become widely cited academically as "Shuwa Arabic"; however, the term "Shuwa" is used only among non-Arabic speakers in Borno State to describe their Arabic speaking neighbors. The term "Western Sudanic Arabic" was proposed by a specialist in the language, Jonathan Owens.[4] By "Sudanic", Owens does not mean the modern country of Sudan, but the Sahel in general, which Arabs in the medieval era dubbed bilad al-sudan, 'the land of the blacks'.[5]

How this Arabic language arose is unknown. In 1994, Braukämper proposed that it arose in Chad from 1635 on by the fusion of a population of Arabic speakers with a population of Fulani nomads.[6] [2] (The Fulani are a people, or group of peoples, who originate at or near the Atlantic coast but have expanded into most of the Sahel over centuries.)


The great majority of speakers live in southern Chad (excluding the portion south of about 10 degrees north latitude). In Chad, it is the local language of the capital, N'Djamena, and its range encompasses such other major cities as Abéché, Am Timan, and Mao. It is the mother tongue of 12% of Chadians. Chadian Arabic's associated lingua franca[7] is widely spoken in Chad, so that Chadian Arabic and its lingua franca combined are spoken by somewhere between 40% and 60% of the Chadian population.[8] [9]

In Sudan, it is spoken in southern Kordofan and southern Darfur, excluding the cities of El Obeid and El Fasher. Its other regions are the northeastern corner of Nigeria (Borno State), Cameroon's Far North Region, the northern tip of the Central African Republic (in the northern half of its Vakaga Prefecture), and in Niger by an estimated 150,000 people near Lake Chad.

In Nigeria, it spoken by 10% of the population of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno,[10] and by at least 100,000 villagers elsewhere in Borno.

Early 20th century scholarship

In 1913, a French colonial administrator in Chad, Henri Carbou, wrote a grammar of the local dialect of Waddai, a region of eastern Chad on the border with Sudan.[11] In 1920, a British colonial administrator in Nigeria, Gordon James Lethem, wrote a grammar of the Borno dialect, in which he noted that the same language was spoken in Kanem and Waddai (regions of Chad on opposite sides of that French colony).[12]


It is characterized by the loss of the pharyngeals [ħ] and [ʕ], the interdental fricatives [ð], [θ] and [ðˤ], and diphthongs.[13][14] But it also has /lˤ/, /rˤ/ and /mˤ/ as extra phonemic emphatics. Some examples of minimal pairs for such emphatics are /ɡallab/ "he galloped", /ɡalˤlˤab/ "he got angry"; /karra/ "he tore", /karˤrˤa/ "he dragged"; /amm/ "uncle", /amˤmˤ/ "mother".[13] In addition, Nigerian Arabic has the feature of inserting an /a/ after gutturals (ʔ,h,x,q).[13] Another notable feature is the change of Standard Arabic Form V from tafaʕal(a) to alfaʕal; for example, the word taʔallam(a) becomes alʔallam. The first person singular of verbs is different from its formation in other Arabic dialects in that it does not have a final t. Thus, the first person singular of the verb katab is katáb, with stress on the second syllable of the word, whereas the third-person singular is kátab, with stress on the first syllable.[13]

The following is a sample vocabulary:

word meaning notes
anīna we
'alme water frozen definite article 'al
īd hand
īd festival
jidãda, jidãd chicken, (collective)chicken
šumāl north


  1. ^ Ethnologue, Chad, entry for Arabic, Chadian Spoken
  2. ^ a b Watson 1996, p. 359.
  3. ^ Gordon James Lethem, Colloquial Arabic: Shuwa dialect of Bornu, Nigeria and of the region of Lake Chad: grammar and vocabulary, with some proverbs and songs, Published for the Government of Nigeria by the Crown Agents for the Colonies
  4. ^ Owens 2003
  5. ^ In the era of British colonialism in Africa, colonial administrators too used "the Sudan" to mean the entire Sahel.
  6. ^ Owens 1993
  7. ^ the French term for lingua franca is langue véhiculaire
  8. ^ Pommerol 1997, pp. 5, 8.
  9. ^ Pommerol 1999, p. 7.
  10. ^ Owens 2007.
  11. ^ Carbou 1913.
  12. ^ Kaye 1993, p. 95.
  13. ^ a b c d Owens 2006.
  14. ^ Kaye, 1988


Further reading

  • Kaye, Alan S. 1982. Dictionary of Nigerian Arabic. Malibu: Undena. Series: Bibliotheca Afroasiatica; 1. This volume is English-Arabic. 90 pp.
  • Kaye, Alan S. 1987. Nigerian Arabic-English dictionary. Malibu: Undena. Series: Bibliotheca Afroasiatica; 2. 90 pp.
  • Owens, Jonathan. 1993. A grammar of Nigerian Arabic. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.
  • Owens, Jonathan, ed. 1994. Arabs and Arabic in the Lake Chad Region. Rüdiger Köppe Verlag. Series: SUGIA (Sprache und Geschichte in Afrika); 14.
  • Pommerol, Patrice Jullien de. 1999. J'apprends l'arabe tchadien. Karthala. 328 pp. N'Djamena dialect.
  • Woidich, Manfred. 1988. [Review of Kaye 1987] . Journal of the American Oriental Society, Oct. - Dec. 1988, 108(4): 663-665

External links

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