Updated 15 May, 2023
This page brings together basic information about the Arabic script and its use for the Adamawa Fulfulde variant of the Fula language. It aims to provide a brief, descriptive summary of the modern, printed orthography and typographic features, and to advise how to write Fulfulde using Unicode.
The orthography described is largely reliant on Scott Clark's description for SIL in 2007,sc and relates to usage for Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and the Central African Republic.
Note: Due to the difficulty in finding lists of Fulfulde Ajamiya words that are associated with IPA pronunciations, most of the examples shown here show the equivalent Latin spelling as the transcription. In a small number of cases, IPA transcriptions were generated from that.
عِنَّمَ عَادٜىٰجِ ڢٛڢ ݠٛتِ، ندِمْطِدِ عٜ جِبِنَنْندٜ تٛ بَنْنغٜ حَکّٜىٰجِ ⸫ عٜࢡٜ نغٛودِ مِيجٛ عٜ حَکِّلَنْتَاغَلْ عٜتٜ عٜࢡٜ ݠٛتِ حُوڢٛ ندِرْدٜ عٜ ندٜرْ ࢡ عِينغُيُمَّاغُ ⸫
Fulfulde can be written in the Latin script, but also (less commonly) using the Arabic ajami script. Use of ajami tends to be restricted to Muslim contexts.
The Arabic script was introduced to Africa between the 10th to 16th centuries, and was the precursor to many Latin orthographies in pre-colonial times. Different languages have developed slightly different implementations of the Arabic script, and often the usage is not fully standardised. The Arabic language, being Semitic, is built on consonant patterns and therefore usually omits vowel diacritics and gemination marks, but African languages typically need to show all diacritics, including some additional marks to represent their full phonetics.
In 1998, at the JCMWA/MICCAO conference in Ngaoundéré, Cameroon, over 100 representatives from 14 West African countries agreed that the orthography described here would be a good standard for writing the Fulfulde language with Arabic script (called Ajamiya).sc
For information about the script in general, see the Arabic overview.
The Arabic script is commonly used as an abjad, which means that in normal use the script represents only consonant and long vowel sounds. However, since Fulfulde Ajamiya normally shows all the vowel diacritics, it actually functions as an alphabet. See the table to the right for a brief overview of features for Fulfulde using the Arabic script.
Fulfulde is written right to left in horizontal lines. Letters are joined (cursive) as is usual for the Arabic script.
The orthography for Fulfulde described here has 22 basic consonants. 8 more consonants are applied to write Arabic loan words or names from the Qur'an. ❯ consonants
Fulfulde has prenasalised consonants, but they are spelled out using normal consonant letters (as in the Latin orthography). Doubled consonants are indicated using the shadda diacritic.
Fulfulde is an alphabet where vowel sounds are written using a mixture of combining marks and letters. Unlike Semitic languages such as Arabic that build words on consonant patterns and so normally hide vowel diacritics in the Arabic script, it can be difficult to read Fulfulde text without the full vowel information, and therefore Fulfulde retains all vowel diacritics in the text. Fulfulde has more vowel sounds than Arabic, so additional diacritics are used to write those.
The way a given vowel is written depends on its joining behaviour (initial, medial, or final). In some cases a vowel is written using just a diacritic, in others it is via combinations of letters and diacritics. Most of the letters also double as consonants. 8 combining marks are used to write vowels, and 6 letters, only 1 of which is a dedicated vowel letter. ❯ vowels
Standalone vowels are written by adding vowel characters to ع, rather than the alef used for the Arabic language, apart from a small number of exceptions for Arabic loans or names from the Qur'an. ❯ standalone
Vowel absence is indicated using sukun. ❯ novowel
These are sounds for the Fula language in text written with the Fulfulde orthography.
Click on the sounds to reveal locations in this document where they are mentioned.
Phones in a lighter colour are non-native or allophones.
|stop||p b||t d||k ɡ||ʔ ʔʲ|
|affricate||t͡ʃ d͡ʒ ᶮd͡ʒ|
Fula is non tonal.
Fulfulde has 3 syllable types: CV, CVV, and CVC, where VV can be a long vowel or a diphthong.bc The long vs. short vowel distinction is phonemically important, however when a syllable with a long vowel acquires and final consonant, the vowel is shortened.
Consonant clusters may occur where syllables are side by side, but not within a syllable. Gemination is, however, a distinctive feature.bc
The characters used to write a vowel depend on which joining form is being used, as well as the vowel length. The following table summarises the main vowel to character assignments. More information can be found by clicking on the characters in the list box below, or in the section vowel_mappings.
iː عِي ◌ِي ◌ِي
uː عُو ◌ُو ◌ُو
eː عٜىٰ ◌ٜىٰ ◌ٜى
oː عٛو ◌ٛو ◌ٛو
aː عَا ◌َا ◌َا
Note that the word-final eː breaks the regular pattern. Note also that this sound is written using ى, rather than ي.
This is the full set of characters needed to represent the Fulfulde vowels.
ى is the only dedicated letter used for writing vowels in Fulfulde, but it is only used in combination with other diacritics to write the sound eː.
Word initially and medially, eː is written ٜىٰ. Word-finally, the ٰ is dropped.
Fulfulde uses the following combining characters for vowels.
0670 is never used alone, and is one of 2 diacritics used to write eː (in initial and medial forms only).
The diacritics 0654 and 0655 are only used where إ and أ are decomposed. Since the latter characters are themselves only used for a few borrowed names or words, these diacritics are very rare.
Fulfulde uses the following consonant characters to write vowels in combination with diacritics.
In a standard Arabic orthography some of these characters would be regarded as matres lectionis, but since Fulfulde shows all vowel diacritics they don't have the same role here. Instead, they form part of a composite that distinguishes one vowel from another (see compositeV).
ى is actually not used as a consonant in Fulfulde, and is only used for the sound eː.
ع and sometimes ا, and rarely ء are used as vowel carriers (see standalone).
Diphthongs ending with -i follow the initial vowel diacritic with يْ.
Diphthongs ending with -u follow the initial vowel diacritic with وْ.
The 6 composite vowels listed here all indicate long versions of the vowels. The vowel diacritic is followed by a letter (and in one case another diacritic). Diphthongs and glides are not included here.
Click on the letters for examples.
Standalone vowels in Fulfulde normally use ع followed by the relevant vowel characters.
Occasionally, loan words or names from the Qur'an will use ا, أ, or إ as the vowel carrier, which are conventional ways of writing the standalone vowels in Arabic. ء may also be used.
Vowel length is indicated by adding one of the above letters after the vowel diacritic. For details, see the table at basicV.
These letters don't carry any diacritic, except for eː, where non-final positions use ىٰ.
Vowel nasalisation is not a distinctive feature of Fulfulde. (However, see also prenasalised.)
Fula does not have tones.
Tables in this section show how Fulfulde vowel sounds commonly map to characters or sequences of characters in the Arabic orthography. Positional forms are listed separately because they tend to use different character sequences. Click on the character names to see examples.
These consonants are a basic set used for the native Fulfulde orthography.
See also prenasalised.
Arabic loan words and names from the Qur'an may be written with addtional letters shown below, but they are not usually used for native Fulfulde text. In some cases, Fulfulde text may substitute basic Fulfulde letters for these.
Fulfulde uses 0652 to indicate that there is no vowel after a consonant. Vowel absence is usually marked (unlike Standard Arabic), including over the YEH or WAW that signal the final part of a diphthong, and at the end of a word.
Exceptions are letters used to lengthen vowels and nasal letters indicating prenasalisation. This provides a simple way to tell the pronunciation of the relevant sequences.
Word-initial consonant clusters are not common in Fulfulde, with the exception of those involving prenasalisation.
Fulfulde has the following prenasalised consonants. They are simply written using a sequence of letters, in both the Arabic and Latin orthographies. Note that there is no sukun over the initial nasal letter; this distinguishes the prenasalised sound from a consonant cluster.
Syllable- and word-final consonants are written as a normal consonant with 0652 above.
The syllable-final sukun also distinguishes nasal phonemes from prenasalised sounds (see prenasalised), and diphthongs from long vowels (see diphthong).
Consonant clusters are written by adding 0652, over the consonant letters that are not followed by a vowel.
Geminated consonants are indicated using ّ U+0651 ARABIC SHADDA.
Tables in this section show how Fulfulde consonant sounds commonly map to characters or sequences of characters in the Arabic orthography. Click on the character names to see examples.
ض in some Arabic loan words.
ذ in some Arabic loan words.
ث in some Arabic loan words.
خ in Arabic loans only.
ق in Arabic loan words or Qur'anic names only.
ه, rare, and mostly used for Arabic words.
Fulfulde uses the following Arabic digits.
Fulfulde Ajamiya text is written horizontally and right to left in the main but, as in most right-to-left scripts, numbers and embedded text in other scripts are written left to right (producing 'bidirectional' text).
The Unicode Bidirectional Algorithm automatically takes care of the ordering for all the text in fig_bidi, as long as the 'base direction' is set to RTL. In HTML this can be set using the
dir attribute, or in plain text using formatting controls.
If the base direction is not set appropriately, the directional runs will be ordered incorrectly as shown in fig_bidi_no_base_direction, making it very difficult to get the meaning.
bidi_class properties for characters in the Fulfulde language.
For other aspects of dealing with right-to-left writing systems see the following sections:
See also the section Expressions & sequences in the description of the Arabic language orthography.
For more information about how directionality and base direction work, see Unicode Bidirectional Algorithm basics. For information about plain text formatting characters see How to use Unicode controls for bidi text. And for working with markup in HTML, see Creating HTML Pages in Arabic, Hebrew and Other Right-to-left Scripts.
When authoring HTML pages, one of the most important things to remember is to use
<html dir="rtl" … > at the top of the page. Also, use markup to manage direction, and do not use CSS styling.
Unicode provides a set of 10 formatting characters that can be used to control the direction of text when displayed. These characters have no visual form in the rendered text, however text editing applications may have a way to show their location.
U+202B RIGHT-TO-LEFT EMBEDDING ( RLE), U+202A LEFT-TO-RIGHT EMBEDDING ( LRE), and U+202C POP DIRECTIONAL FORMATTING ( PDF) are in widespread use to set the base direction of a range of characters. RLE/LRE comes at the start, and PDF at the end of a range of characters for which the base direction is to be set.
In Unicode 6.1, the Unicode Standard added a set of characters which do the same thing but also isolate the content from surrounding characters, in order to avoid spillover effects. They are U+2067 RIGHT-TO-LEFT ISOLATE ( RLI), U+2066 LEFT-TO-RIGHT ISOLATE ( LRI), and U+2069 POP DIRECTIONAL ISOLATE ( PDI). The Unicode Standard recommends that these be used instead.
There is also U+2068 FIRST STRONG ISOLATE ( FSI), used initially to set the base direction according to the first recognised strongly-directional character.
U+061C ARABIC LETTER MARK ( ALM) is used to produce correct sequencing of numeric data. Follow the link and see expressions for details.
U+200F RIGHT-TO-LEFT MARK ( RLM) and U+200E LEFT-TO-RIGHT MARK ( LRM) are invisible characters with strong directional properties that are also sometimes used to produce the correct ordering of text.
For more information about how to use these formatting characters see How to use Unicode controls for bidi text. Note, however, that when writing HTML you should generally use markup rather than these control codes. For information about that, see Creating HTML Pages in Arabic, Hebrew and Other Right-to-left Scripts.
This section brings together information about the following topics: writing styles; cursive text; context-based shaping; context-based positioning; baselines, line height, etc.; font styles; case & other character transforms.
You can experiment with examples using the Fulfulde ajami character app.
The orthography has no case distinction, and no special transforms are needed to convert between characters.
See type samples.
Arabic script is always cursive, ie. letters in a word are joined up. Fonts need to produce the appropriate joining form for a letter, according to its visual context, but the code point used doesn't change. This results in four different shapes for most letters (including an isolated shape). Ligated forms also join with characters alongside them.
The highlights in the example below show the same letter, ع U+0639 ARABIC LETTER AIN, with three different joining forms.
Most Arabic script letters join on both sides. A few only join on the right-hand side: this involves 4 basic shapes for Fulfulde Ajamiya.
ء U+0621 ARABIC LETTER HAMZA doesn't join on either side.
Most dual-joining characters add or become a swash when they don't join to the left. A number of characters, however, undergo additional shape changes across the joining forms. fig_joining_forms and fig_right_joining_forms show the basic shapes in Modern Standard Arabic and what their joining forms look like. Significant variations are highlighted.
U+200D ZERO WIDTH JOINER ( ZWJ) and U+200C ZERO WIDTH NON-JOINER ( ZWNJ) are used to control the joining behaviour of cursive glyphs. They are particularly useful in educational contexts, but also have real world applications.
ZWJ permits a letter to form a cursive connection without a visible neighbour. For example, the marker for hijri dates is an initial form of heh, even though it doesn't join to the left, ie. ه. For this, use ZWJ immediately after the heh, eg. الاثنين 10 رجب 1415 ه..
ZWNJ prevents two adjacent letters forming a cursive connection with each other when rendered. For example, it is used in Persian for plural suffixes, some proper names, and Ottoman Turkish vowels. Ignoring or removing the ZWNJ will result in text with a different meaning or meaningless text, eg, تنها is the plural of body, whereas تنها is the adjective alone.2 The only difference is the presence or absence of ZWNJ after noon.
U+034F COMBINING GRAPHEME JOINER is used in Arabic to produce special ordering of diacritics. The name is a misnomer, as it is generally used to break the normal sequence of diacritics.
In addition to the cursive shaping, Arabic script glyphs also require context-dependent shaping and positioning. For more information, see the Arabic language orthography notes.
The usual mandatory ligature applies for لا.
Words are separated by spaces.
A number of small words, such as pronouns, may be attached to a following word in the ajamiya orthography (whereas they are separate in the Latin orthography).
Fulfulde uses a mixture of ASCII and Arabic punctuation.
Fulfulde commonly uses ASCII parentheses to insert parenthetical information into text.
The words 'left' and 'right' in the Unicode names for parentheses, brackets, and other paired characters should be ignored. LEFT should be read as if it said START, and RIGHT as END. The direction in which the glyphs point will be automatically determined according to the base direction of the text.
The number of characters that are mirrored in this way is around 550, most of which are mathematical symbols. Some are single characters, rather than pairs. The following are some of the more common ones used in Arabic orthographies.
Fulfulde texts typically use guillemets around quotations. Like brackets, these characters are automatically mirrored (see mirrored_characters).
|initial||» U+00BB RIGHT-POINTING DOUBLE ANGLE QUOTATION MARK|
Lines are normally broken at word boundaries.
They are not broken at the small gaps that appear where a character doesn't join on the left.
As in almost all writing systems, certain punctuation characters should not appear at the end or the start of a line. The Unicode line-break properties help applications decide whether a character should appear at the start or end of a line.
Show default line-breaking properties for characters in the Fulfulde language.
The following list gives examples of typical behaviours for characters used in Fulfulde. Context may affect the behaviour of some of these and other characters.
Click on the characters to show what they are.
When a line break occurs in the middle of an embedded left-to-right sequence, the items in that sequence need to be rearranged visually so that it isn't necessary to read lines from top to bottom.
latin-line-breaks shows how two Latin words are apparently reordered in the flow of text to accommodate this rule. Of course, the rearragement is only that of the visual glyphs: nothing affects the order of the characters in memory.
This section looks at ways in which spacing is applied between characters over and above that which is introduced during justification.
Fulfulde ajami uses the so-called 'alphabetic' baseline, which is the same as for Latin and many other scripts.
Fulfulde characters have ascenders and descenders, and combining marks appear above and below the lettters. These stretch beyond the ascenders and descenders of Latin text.
To give an approximate idea, fig_baselines compares Latin and Fulfulde glyphs from Noto fonts. The basic height of Fulfulde letters is typically around the Latin x-height, however extenders and combining marks reach well beyond the Latin ascenders and descenders, creating a need for larger line spacing.
fig_baselines_other shows similar comparisons for the Scheherazade font.
This section is for any features that are specific to Arabic and that relate to the following topics: general page layout & progression; grids & tables; notes, footnotes, etc; forms & user interaction; page numbering, running headers, etc.
Arabic script books, magazines, etc., are bound on the right-hand side, and pages progress from right to left.
Columns are vertical but run right-to-left across the page.
Tables, grids, and other 2-dimensional arrangements progress from right to left across a page.
Form controls should display Arabic text from right to left, starting at the right side of the input field. Form controls should also usually be arranged from right to left.
fig_form shows some form fields from an Arabic language web page. Note the position of the labels relative to the input fields and the checkbox, mirror-imaging a similar page in English. Note also that the input text in the first field appears to the right of the box.
The position of a scrollbar should depend on the user's environment, not on the content of a page. A non-Arab user viewing a web page in Arabic shouldn't have to look for the scroll bar on the left side of the window. In a system that is set up for an Arab user, however, the scrollbar can appear on the left.