Updated 30 November, 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.
Richard Ishida, Hausa (Warsh Kano) Orthography Notes, 30-Nov-2023, https://r12a.github.io/scripts/arab/ha
رَایُوَا بَبَّنْ رَبُو نَا | غُنْ مَسَاٻِى دُونْ شِدَیْنَا | تَرْسَشِنْ أیْكِى نَ ٻَرْنَا | فَیْ دَ ٻُویٜ سِڟَیْدَ سُنَّا | شِبِ أللَّهْ بَادَكَنْغَرَا بَا
Source: A verse from Aljiyu Namangi, Imfiraji, Part 3 (Verse 3)
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
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:
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
Because the Arabic script is 'cursive' (ie. joined-up) writing, letters tend to have different shapes depending on whether they join with adjacent letters or not (see cursive). In addition, vowels can be represented using different characters, depending on where in a word they appear.
In scripts such as Arabic, several characters have no left-joining form. In what follows we'll use the characters ي and د to illustrate shapes. The former can join on both sides, but the latter can only join on the right.
Left-joining glyphs are commonly called initial; dual-joining are called medial; and right-joining are called final. Glyphs that don't join on either side are called isolated. However, these glyph shapes can be found in various places within a single word.
Word-initial characters usually have initial glyph shapes (eg. 064A ). However, characters that only join to the right will use an isolated glyph shape (eg. 062F ). Furthermore, words beginning with a vowel are always preceded by a vowel carrier, which is normally ا (eg. 0627 06CC or 0627 064E ).
Word-medial characters will typically join on both sides (eg. 064A ) but those that only join to the right will use a final glyph (eg. 062F ). However, if either of those is preceded by another character that only joins to the right, the glyph shapes rendered will be initial (eg. 064A ) and isolated (eg. 062F ), respectively.
Word-final characters will typically use a final glyph shape (eg. 064A and 062F ). However, if the previous character joins only to the right, they will use isolated glyph shapes (eg.064A and 062F ).
In all this contextual glyph shaping the basic shapes used for a character can vary significantly in a script like Arabic. This also includes some characters that only have ijam dots in certain contexts.
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.
kʲ kʲʼ gʲ
|s z||ʃ ʒ||h|
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.
The following table summarises the main vowel to character assignments.
Each table cell shows word-initial, word-medial, and word-final forms from right to left. The glyphs shown are illustrative; alternative shapes may occur (see joining_forms). Click/tap on items to see a list of the components for that cell.
|i إِ ◌ِ ◌ِ
iː ىِٕ ◌ِى ◌ِى
|u عُ ◌ُ ◌ُ
uː عُو ◌ُو ◌ُو
|e عٜ ◌ٜ ◌ٜ
eː ىٰٜ ◌ٜىٰ ◌ٜىٰ
|o عُ ◌ُ ◌ُ
oː عُو ◌ُو ◌ُواْ
|a أَ ◌َ ◌َ
aː ? ◌َا ◌َا
In word-initial position vowels are usually attached to a consonant letter representing a glottal stop. It is shown here because it acts as a vowel carrier (see standalone). Otherwise, unlike orthographies for languages such as Arabic and Urdu, the characters used to represent a vowel are normally the same, regardless of the position within a word. The exception is the word-final oː, which breaks the regular pattern by adding an alef with sukun.
Observation: Need to check whether initial iː is written ىِٕ or whether it should be إِى. Same for eː.
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.
Hausa uses the following combining characters for vowels.
0670 is never used alone, and is one of 2 diacritics used to write eː.
The diacritics 0654 and 0655 are only used where إ and أ are decomposed, which is rare.
ى is the only dedicated letter used for writing vowels in Hausa, and it is used in combinations that represent the long vowels iː and eː.
It is not used for diphthongs.
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 multipart 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].
The 5 multipart 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.
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 iː is written ىِٕ or whether it should be إِى. Same for eː.
Long vowels are indicated using one of 0627, 0648, or 0649 after the vowel diacritic. See fig_vowelgrid.
Long vowel oː appears to also add اْ in final position, which is the only time it is distinguished from uː.
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.
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.
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.
0649 0650 0655
0639 064F 0648
065C 0649 0670
065C 0649 0670
0649 0670 065C
Omniglot shows the following for eː: ـٰٕ/ىٰٕ
064F same as u.
064F same as u.
0639 064F same as u.
064F 0648 0627 652 different from ulppuwa.
مُوتَا same as u.
0639 064F 0648 same as u.
064E 06CC 0652
064E 06CC 0652
0623 064E 06CC 0652
064E 0648 0652
064E 0648 0652
The right-hand column shows 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. They are not used for the Warsh orthography.
For additional details see consonant_mappings.
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.
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.
SIL's Alkalami font description@SIL,https://software.sil.org/alkalami/features/ includes a character used for ng which hasn't appeared in other resources. It is represented using 0763.
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 ࣃ [U+08C3 ARABIC LETTER GHAIN WITH THREE DOTS ABOVE] for ɡʷ/ɡʲ and ࣄ [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.
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.
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.)
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.
Consonant clusters are not particularly common, but they are written by adding a sukun over the non-final consonant sounds.
Geminated consonants are indicated using ّ [U+0651 ARABIC SHADDA].
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.
See the notes in the section consonantSummary about variations in usage that apply here.
0751 according to Evans & Warren-Rothlinlpp and SIL@SIL,https://software.sil.org/alkalami/features/, is the Warsh character, and they assign to the Hafs style the character that most sources associate this sound, which is 067B. Bondarevdbs says that it is written as 067E in modern text. One of the 'alternate' shapes used for this sound is 0628.
Typically written with 0637, this is sometimes written using 062F.
Evans & Warren-Rothlinlpp associate this sound with 08BC for the Warsh variant, as do others, but Warren-Rothlinaww lists what appears to be 06A7 for this sound (although it could be an incorrect attribution, given that the former has a dot over initial/medial forms).
The Warsh orthography uses 08BB for this sound, and the Hafs uses 0641. Sometimes, 067E is used as one of the 'alternative' shapes. Warren-Rothlinaww also lists what appears to be 06A2 for this sound, although it could again be an incorrect attribution, given that 08BB has a dot below initial/medial forms.
Normally, this would be written using 0633, but 0635 is also used, mainly in Arabic loan words.aww
Normally written using 0632, however there are 2 'alternate' letters, 0630, and 0638.
062C (same as d͡ʒ)
The usual form is 062D. For Quranic names, 0647 is generally used, but both can sometimes also be used interchangeably, eg. حَوْسَا or هَوْسَا.aww
The Warsh form is 08BD and Hafs is 0646. Warren-Rothlinaww however indicates what appears to be 0646 rather than 08BD in Evans & Warren-Rothlinlpp and SIL@SIL,https://software.sil.org/alkalami/features/.
0644 in the normal orthography, however an 'alternate' form used sometimes is 0636.
Warren-Rothlinaww indicates that this uses 06D1 for the Warsh orthography, rather than the 063F indicated by Evans & Warren-Rothlinlpp and SIL@SIL,https://software.sil.org/alkalami/features/. The IPA notation for this sound is somewhat ambiguous, including ƒ, ʔʲ, and j̰ . I settled for the last of these, though not for any convincing reason.
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.
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 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.
bidi_class properties for characters in the Hausa orthography described here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Words are separated by spaces.
Hausa uses a mixture of ASCII and Arabic punctuation.
. [U+002E FULL STOP]
Hausa commonly uses ASCII parentheses to insert parenthetical information into text.
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.
|initial||» [U+00BB RIGHT-POINTING DOUBLE ANGLE QUOTATION MARK]|
|nested||› [U+203A SINGLE RIGHT-POINTING ANGLE QUOTATION MARK]|
See the Arabic overview.
Show (default) line-breaking properties for characters in the Hausa orthography described here.
This section looks at ways in which spacing is applied between characters over and above that which is introduced during justification.
Hausa ajami uses the so-called 'alphabetic' baseline, which is the same as for Latin and many other scripts.
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.