Warsh Kano orthography notes

Updated 25 May, 2023

This page brings together basic information about the Arabic script and its use for the Hausa language. It aims to provide a brief, descriptive summary of the modern, printed orthography and typographic features, and to advise how to write Hausa using Unicode.

Hausa has a long tradition of writing in the Arabic script, however various styles have been developed. Two major orthographies are Warsh (a north African variant), and Hafs (much closer to the Arabic used in Egypt and the Gulf). Additionally, the Qur'an and other religious materials are written in Arabic, using the standard Arabic spellings, and these spellings often carry over to the many Arabic loan words in Hausa. On top of that, spelling is not standardised, and is often idiosynchratic to a given author.

Here we focus on the Warsh orthography used for Hausa, and with the Kano styling, although references are made from time to time to the Hafs spelling. Comprehensive sources are difficult to find, so this information reflects what information was found.

Note: Due to the difficulty in finding lists of Hausa words written in ajami that are associated with pronunciation information, most of the examples shown here are transcribed from terms in the Latin Boko orthography. It may be possible to find alternative spellings of such examples.


Select part of this sample text to show a list of characters, with links to more details. Source
Change size:   48px

رَایُوَا بَبَّنْ رَبُو نَا | غُنْ مَسَاٻِى دُونْ شِدَیْنَا | تَرْسَشِنْ أیْكِى نَ ٻَرْنَا | فَیْ دَ ٻُویٜ سِڟَیْدَ سُنَّا | شِبِ أللَّهْ بَادَكَنْغَرَا بَا

Usage & history

Hausa 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.

There is a good deal of variation in the orthography for Hausa ajami, and no official standardisation. It should be borne in mind that while this page adopts a particular set of characters based on the Warsh variants as most representative of the orthography, and describes alternative characters under the label of 'infrequent', this is not necessarily representative of the orthography used in certain regions or contexts, especially outside the area around northern Nigeria.

For information about the script in general, see the Arabic overview.u

Orthographic development & variants

Hausa has been written in ajami since at least the early 17th century.whl

There is no standard system of using ajami for Hausa, and different writers may use letters with different values.whl

There are or have been a number of variant practices for writing Hausa ajami. There are also some confusable characters. They include the following:

Basic features

The Arabic script is an abjad. This means that in normal use the script represents only consonant and long vowel sounds. However, since Hausa ajami 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 Hausa using the Arabic script.

Hausa uses two principal types of writing: Hafs (Ḥafṣ) orthography uses characters that look and behave more like Standard Arabic, whereas the Warsh (Warš) orthography changes the shape of some letters, and drops the dots associated with others in certain positions.

The Warsh orthography is typically written using a particularly African font style called Kano. ❯ writing_styles

The Warsh orthography for Hausa has 24 basic consonants plus 3 more used to express labialised and palatalised consonants. The usage of the last 3 is not fully standardised. 15 more consonants are available in the extended repertoire. ❯ consonants

Typical visual differences between the Warsh and Hafs orthographies relate to the absence of dots in some positions, and the placement of dots relative to the base. These differences are produced by using different code points.

Hausa ajami 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 Hausa text without the full vowel information, and therefore Hausa retains all vowel diacritics in the text.

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. 7 combining marks are used to write vowels, and 7 letters, only 1 of which is a dedicated vowel letter. ❯ vowels

Hausa also has more vowel sounds than Arabic, so some additional conventions are necessary to cover those. Mostly these adaptations follow the North African, magrebi approach.

Vowel absence is indicated using sukun. ❯ novowel

Character index



Basic consonants


Hafs consonants




Combining marks












To be investigated

Character lists show:


These are sounds for the Hausa language.

Click on the sounds to reveal locations in this document where they are mentioned.

Phones in a lighter colour are non-native or allophones.

Vowel sounds

Plain vowels

i u e o a


iu ui ai au

Consonant sounds

labial dental alveolar post-
retroflex palatal velar glottal
stop b
t d
        k ɡ
affricate   t͡sʼ   t͡ʃ d͡ʒ
fricative f
  s z ʃ ʒ       h
nasal m   n        
approximant w   l     j
trill/flap     ɾ   ɽ


Hausa is a tonal language. Each of its five vowels may have low tone, high tone or falling tone.whl


Hausa 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

Semivowels ʷ and ʲ may occur after an initial consonant.


More vowel details

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.

In word-initial position vowels are attached to a consonant letter that indicates a glottal stop. Although this actually constitutes a consonant plus vowel, the appropriate letter changes depending on the vowel. The table therefore shows these maximal combinations.

i إِ‍ ◌ِ ◌ِ
ىِٕ‍ ◌ِ‍ى‍ ◌ِ‍ى
u عُ‍ ◌ُ ◌ُ
عُو ◌‍ُو ◌‍ُو
e عٜ‍ ‍◌ٜ‍ ◌ٜ
ىٰٜ‍ ◌ٜ‍ىٰ‍ ◌ٜ‍ىٰ
o عُ‍ ◌ُ ◌ُ
عُو ◌ُ‍و ◌ُ‍واْ
a أَ‍ ◌َ ◌َ
? ◌َ‍ا ◌َ‍ا
ai au
◌َ‍یْ‍◌َ‍یْ ◌َ‍وْ‍◌َ‍وْ
Hausa vowels.

Observation: Need to check whether initial is written ىِٕ‍ or whether it should be إِى‍. Same for .

Observation: It appears to be very unusual for sounds other than a or i to appear at the start of a word.

Observation: It is very difficult to find information in the sources consulted, but my conclusion is that what would be an initial form of a vowel letter in Standard Arabic is normally written in Hausa by combining the usual vowel diacritic with a carrier, such as أ [U+0623 ARABIC LETTER ALEF WITH HAMZA ABOVE] or ع [U+0639 ARABIC LETTER AIN]. Where i don't have other information, these 'initial' forms are shown using AIN in the table.

The full set of characters needed to represent the Hausa vowels is the following. This set includes the glottal stop consonants shown above. See also standalone.


Note the use of ى and ی, rather than ي U+064A ARABIC LETTER YEH.

Vowel letter, alef maksura


ى is the only dedicated letter used for writing vowels in Hausa, and it is used in combinations that represent the long vowels and .

It is not used for diphthongs.

Combining marks used for vowels

Hausa uses the following combining characters for vowels.


0670 is never used alone, and is one of 2 diacritics used to write .

The diacritics 0654 and 0655 are only used where إ and أ are decomposed, which is rare.

Consonant letters used for vowels

Hausa uses the following consonant characters to write long vowels in combination with diacritics.


In a standard Arabic orthography these characters would be regarded as matres lectionis, but since Hausa 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).


The letters just above are used as vowel carriers (see standalone) and represent the glottal stop. In general, that makes them ordinary consonants. However, given that the first 2 appear only as carriers of vowels in word-initial position, it could perhaps be argued that they are part of a composite vowel arrangement along with the following diacritic(s).


Diphthongs ending with -i follow the initial vowel diacritic with یْ [U+06CC ARABIC LETTER FARSI YEH + U+0652 ARABIC SUKUN]. Note that this is not ى [U+0649 ARABIC LETTER ALEF MAKSURA] (which indicates long vowels). Two dots below are visible in medial position but not at the end of a word, eg. compare:



Diphthongs ending with -u follow the initial vowel diacritic with وْ [U+0648 ARABIC LETTER WAW + U+0652 ARABIC SUKUN].


Composite vowels

The 5 composite vowels listed here all indicate long versions of the vowels. The vowel diacritic is followed by a letter (and in 2 cases, additional characters). Diphthongs and glides are not included here, and nor are word-initial clusters.

Click on the letters for examples.


Standalone vowels

The syllable structure described in structure requires all syllables to begin with a consonant, so there are no true standalone vowels in Hausa. The closest one gets is a word that begins with one of the following characters representing a glottal stop.


These letters are followed by the relevant vowel characters, as shown in fig_vowelgrid.



Observation: Need to check whether is written ىِٕ‍ or whether it should be إِى‍. Same for .

Vowel length

Long vowels are indicated using one of 0627, 0648, or 0649 after the vowel diacritic. See fig_vowelgrid.

Long vowel appears to also add اْ in final position, which is the only time it is distinguished from .


Nasalisation is indicated by a syllable-final -n in the Latin orthography. There is a report that the tanwin diacritics are used for this in the ajami orthography, but this needs to be confirmed.


Although Hausa is a tonal language, the tone values are not written in ajami.

Vowel sounds to characters

Tables in this section show how Hausa vowel sounds commonly map to characters or sequences of characters in the Arabic orthography. i indicates word-initial, m medial, and f final forms. Click on the character names to see examples.

Plain vowels

Per the rules for syllable structure in Hausa, vowels are always preceded by a consonant, and where no consonant is written before a vowel in the Boko orthography that consonant is an unwritten glottal stop.



Basic set (Warsh orthography)

These characters are a basic set used for the Warsh orthography. See also labpal.


ب, د, and ک may be used for glottalised sounds as well as normal sounds.

Labialised & palatalised consonants


Three consonant sounds in syllable initial position can be labialised ʷ or palatalised ʲ. They depend on an initial base consonant with a 3-dot diacritic, which may or may not be followed by و [U+0648 ARABIC LETTER WAW] or ی [U+06CC ARABIC LETTER FARSI YEH].

One base character was encoded in Unicode 4.1: ݣ [U+0763 ARABIC LETTER KEHEH WITH THREE DOTS ABOVE], used for combinations with the sound k. Unicode code points for the other two were encoded in Unicode v13. They are [U+08C3 ARABIC LETTER GHAIN WITH THREE DOTS ABOVE] for ɡʷ/ɡʲ and [U+08C4 ARABIC LETTER AFRICAN QAF WITH THREE DOTS ABOVE]for ƙʷ/ƙʲ. (Take care not to confuse these with ڠ [U+06A0 ARABIC LETTER AIN WITH THREE DOTS ABOVE] and ڨ [U+06A8 ARABIC LETTER QAF WITH THREE DOTS ABOVE], neither of which are used for Hausa.)

There is little information available about how these characters are used, and some ambiguity in what there is.

Warren-Rothlinaww says the following about these characters.

The labialized and palatalized velars /ɡʷ/ and /ɡʲ/, /kʷ/ and /kʲ/, and /ƙʷ/ and /ƙʲ/ are usually not written, e.g. کْي ⟨k⁰y⟩ and کْو⟨k⁰w⟩, as one might expect, but کِي ⟨kiy⟩ or کُو ⟨kuw⟩, and even with the following vowel sound intervening (e.g. کَو⟨kaw⟩ for /kwa/). As noted above for other distinctive Hausa sounds, three dots usually smaller than standard nuqaṭ may be added above for labialization and below for palatalization (e.g. ⟨k₃aw⁰taʾ⟩ kyauta).

Rather than provide characters with triple dots above and others with triple dots below, Unicode is standardising on above.

Looking at the samples in the Unicode proposallpp, there seem to be two different forms for each. It isn't clearly indicated (especially since the boko transcription doesn't indicate vowel length), but I find myself wondering whether they reflect the difference between long and short vowels. Here are some examples. Compare the top and bottom items for each bullet.

Universität Wien's document also shows it being used alone, eg. ݣَاشٜىٰ

  See a list of words (in the Boko orthography) using ʷ or using ʲ.

Other consonants

The following are additional characters that may be used to write Hausa ajami, including some used for the Hafs orthography, and others used in borrowed words, or text written by speakers who don't make the phonemic distinctions in the table above.


Dot variants

A typical feature of the Warsh orthography is that a character has dots in initial or medial positions, but none in final or isolate. Another is that the dots appear on the other side of the base in some characters from the side they would appear in the Hafs orthography. These differences are represented in Unicode by the use of different characters. They include the following.

The other two characters have a triple-dot addition which is associated with glottalised consonants in the Warsh orthography. (They don't appear to have glyphs in the webfont used.)

Vowel absence


Hausa uses ْ [U+0652 ARABIC SUKUN] 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.



Onset consonants


Final consonants


Consonant clusters

Consonant clusters are not particularly common, but they are written by adding a sukun over the non-final consonant sounds.



Consonant length


Geminated consonants are indicated using ّ   [U+0651 ARABIC SHADDA].



Consonant sounds to characters

Tables in this section show how Hausa consonant sounds commonly map to characters or sequences of characters in the Arabic orthography. Click on the character names to see examples.

There is no official standard for how to write African languages in ajami, and there has been a good deal of variation over the history of the writing.dbs In addition, dialects of Hausa have different phonemic repertoires, which are reflected in their writing. So there is some variation as to which characters are mapped to which sounds, and the sets described here are a synthesis of sources describing modern usage.

The typical orthography is based on Warsh (Warš) forms, which incorporate Maghribi characteristics, and are often written with Kano style glyphs (as here). Some sources describe an alternative Hafs (Ḥafṣ) orthography, used with hand-written adaptations for the newspaper Al-Fijir.

Additional alternative shapes also occur, typically used for borrowed words, or because sounds are not differentiated in some regions. These are preceded by an asterisk in the table. (Warren-Rothlinaww lists a handful of other, less commonly attested shapes, but they are not listed here.)

In some cases the triple dot (known as wagaf) may be written by some below the base and by others above the base, but Unicode is standardising on glyphs that show it above.



ݑ [U+0751 ARABIC LETTER BEH WITH DOT BELOW AND THREE DOTS ABOVE] according to Evans & Warren-Rothlinlpp and SIL@SIL,, is the Warsh character, and they assign to the Hafs style the character that most sources associate this sound, which is ٻ [U+067B ARABIC LETTER BEEH]. Bondarevdbs says that it is written as پ [U+067E ARABIC LETTER PEH] in modern text. One of the 'alternate' shapes used for this sound is ب [U+0628 ARABIC LETTER BEH].


Typically written with ط [U+0637 ARABIC LETTER TAH], this is sometimes written using د [U+062F ARABIC LETTER DAL].


ك [U+0643 ARABIC LETTER KAF] and ک [U+06A9 ARABIC LETTER KEHEH] look the same in the Kano webfont used for this page, but represent different underlying characters. In a non-Kano font, the difference is in the shape of the final position glyph, ـك vs. ـک, respectively.

Evans & Warren-Rothlinlpp associate this sound with [U+08BC ARABIC LETTER AFRICAN QAF] for the Warsh variant, as do others, but Warren-Rothlinaww lists what appears to be ڧ [U+06A7 ARABIC LETTER QAF WITH DOT ABOVE] for this sound (although it could be an incorrect attribution, given that the former has a dot over initial/medial forms).


ك [U+0643 ARABIC LETTER KAF] and ک [U+06A9 ARABIC LETTER KEHEH] look the same in the Kano webfont used for this page, but represent different underlying characters. In a non-Kano font, the difference is in the shape of the final position glyph, ـك vs. ـک, respectively.



f ɸ

The Warsh orthography uses [U+08BB ARABIC LETTER AFRICAN FEH] for this sound, and the Hafs uses ف [U+0641 ARABIC LETTER FEH] . Sometimes, پ [U+067E ARABIC LETTER PEH] is used as one of the 'alternative' shapes. Warren-Rothlinaww also lists what appears to be ڢ [U+06A2 ARABIC LETTER FEH WITH DOT MOVED BELOW] for this sound, although it could again be an incorrect attribution, given that [U+08BB ARABIC LETTER AFRICAN FEH] has a dot below initial/medial forms.


Normally, this would be written using س [U+0633 ARABIC LETTER SEEN], but ص [U+0635 ARABIC LETTER SAD] is also used, mainly in Arabic loan words.aww


Normally written using ز [U+0632 ARABIC LETTER ZAIN], however there are 2 'alternate' letters, ذ [U+0630 ARABIC LETTER THAL], and ظ [U+0638 ARABIC LETTER ZAH].


ج [U+062C ARABIC LETTER JEEM] (same as d͡ʒ)


The usual form is ح [U+062D ARABIC LETTER HAH]. For Quranic names, ه [U+0647 ARABIC LETTER HEH] is generally used, but both can sometimes also be used interchangeably, eg. حَوْسَا or هَوْسَا.aww



The Warsh form is [U+08BD ARABIC LETTER AFRICAN NOON] and Hafs is ن [U+0646 ARABIC LETTER NOON]. Warren-Rothlinaww however indicates what appears to be ن [U+0646 ARABIC LETTER NOON] rather than [U+08BD ARABIC LETTER AFRICAN NOON] in Evans & Warren-Rothlinlpp.



ل [U+0644 ARABIC LETTER LAM] in the normal orthography, however an 'alternate' form used sometimes is ض [U+0636 ARABIC LETTER DAD].

Warren-Rothlinaww indicates that this uses ۑ [U+06D1 ARABIC LETTER YEH WITH THREE DOTS BELOW] for the Warsh orthography, rather than the ؿ [U+063F ARABIC LETTER FARSI YEH WITH THREE DOTS ABOVE] indicated by Evans & Warren-Rothlinlpp. The IPA notation for this sound is somewhat ambiguous, including ƒ, ʔʲ, and . I settled for the last of these, though not for any convincing reason.

Sources: Wikipedia, and Google Translate.

Other features

Formatting characters

The Arabic script uses a large number of Unicode characters that affect the way that other characters are rendered. Many of those have no visible form of their own.

Modern Arabic-script text makes use of a relatively large set of invisible formatting characters, especially in plain text, many of which are used to manage text direction. For more details, see the Arabic overview.

Numbers, dates, currency, etc

Need to confirm whether Hausa uses the following digit forms.


Not clear whether Hausa uses ٫ [U+066B ARABIC DECIMAL SEPARATOR] and ٬ [U+066C ARABIC THOUSANDS SEPARATOR].

Text direction

Text is normally written horizontally, right to left, however numbers and non-Arabic script text run left to right.

See the Arabic overview for more details, especially related to sequences of items and numbers.

Show default bidi_class properties for characters in the Hausa orthography described here.

Glyph shaping & positioning

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 Hausa ajami character app.

The orthography has no case distinction, and no special transforms are needed to convert between characters.

See the Arabic overview for more details.

Writing styles

The kano writing style is a common way of writing Hausa, especially in Northern Nigeria, in the ajami script, and like other East African writing it is based on Warsh (Warš) forms, which incorporate Maghribi characteristics. Text written in the Kano style will include glyphs for a number of African characters that may not be available in the average naskh font.

رَایُوَا بَبَّنْ رَبُو نَا | غُنْ مَسَاٻِى دُونْ شِدَیْنَا | تَرْسَشِنْ أیْكِى نَ ٻَرْنَا | فَیْ دَ ٻُویٜ سِڟَیْدَ سُنَّا | شِبِ أللَّهْ بَادَكَنْغَرَا بَا
Hausa may be written in the Kano style.
رَایُوَا بَبَّنْ رَبُو نَا | غُنْ مَسَاٻِى دُونْ شِدَیْنَا | تَرْسَشِنْ أیْكِى نَ ٻَرْنَا | فَیْ دَ ٻُویٜ سِڟَیْدَ سُنَّا | شِبِ أللَّهْ بَادَكَنْغَرَا بَا
The same text, written in a standard naskh writing style.

Another orthography, that looks much closer to naskh, is used with hand-written adaptations for the newspaper Al-Fijir, and is based on the Hafs orthography, but when writing in that orthography you need to use different code points from those used for the Kano style.

Font styling & weight


Observation: Panels of text in a Tamil newspaper that uses oblique fonts, but all the body text of the panel uses that font. Other fonts used for the body text in other articles tended to also have a slight lean, though not as much. The verticals in headings tend to be upright.


Grapheme clusters


Punctuation & inline features

Word boundaries

Words are separated by spaces.

Phrase & section boundaries


Hausa uses a mixture of ASCII and Arabic punctuation.




. [U+002E FULL STOP]



Bracketed text


Hausa commonly uses ASCII parentheses to insert parenthetical information into text.

  start end



Quotations & citations


Hausa texts typically use guillemets around quotations, but some texts may use quotation marks instead. Of course, due to keyboard design, quotations may also be surrounded by ASCII double and single quote marks. Note, however, that the order of use is different from that in LTR text, because they are not automatically mirrored.

  start end







Abbreviation, ellipsis & repetition


Inline notes & annotations


Other punctuation


Other inline text decoration


Line & paragraph layout

Line breaking & hyphenation


See the Arabic overview.

Show (default) line-breaking properties for characters in the Hausa orthography described here.

Text alignment & justification


Text spacing


This section looks at ways in which spacing is applied between characters over and above that which is introduced during justification.

Baselines, line height, etc.


Hausa ajami uses the so-called 'alphabetic' baseline, which is the same as for Latin and many other scripts.

Counters, lists, etc.


Styling initials


Page & book layout

This section is for any features that are specific to thisScript and that relate to the following topics: general page layout & progression; grids & tables; notes, footnotes, etc; forms & user interaction; page numbering, running headers, etc.