Hausa (boko)

Updated 22 November, 2021

This page brings together basic information about the Latin 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.

Phonological transcriptions on this page should be treated as an approximate guide, only. Many are more phonemic than phonetic, and there may be variations depending on the source of the transcription.

In addition, Hausa has numerous dialects, each of which may pronounce letters differently. The pronunciation in this document is generally based on the phonemic transcriptions provided by Wiktionary, although in some places we describe differences with other dialects, especially Kano, with more phonetic information.

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Sample

Select part of this sample text to show a list of characters, with links to more details. Source
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[Nigeria] Abin nufi ga ilimi shi ne: ya sama wa ɗan-adam jin daɗin rayuwa da ƙarfafa kiyayewa da hakkokinsa da muhimman abubuwan da ʼyancinsa ya ƙunsa. Ya kamata ilimi ya kawo fahimtar juna da ragowa da aminci tsakanin ƙasashe da tsakanin ʼyan-adam, kome launin fatarsu da addinin da suke bi, ya kuma ƙarfafa ƙoƙarin da Majalisar Ɗinkin Duniya take yi domin a sami zaman lafiya da kwanciyar hankali a duniya.

[Niger] ... muhimman abubuwan da ƴancinsa ya ƙunsa. ... tsakanin ƙasashe da tsakanin ƴan‐adam, kome ....

Usage & history

Hausa is normally written in the Latin script, but also (less commonly) using the Arabic ajami script. The modern official orthography is called boko, and was introduced in the 1930s by the British colonial administration.

Harshe Hausa háɽ.ʃè háu.sá Hausa language

The centre of the native speaker population is in northern Nigeria and southern Niger, but Hausa is spoken across the width of the Sahel region, and mostly in mutually intelligible form. There are significant minorities in Benin, Cameroon, and Chad, and as a trade language it also reaches into Ghana, Togo, and parts of Sudan. It is estimated that there are 100-150 million speakers.

Orthographic development & variants

This orthography was introduced by the British around the beginning of the 20th century, and aligned with the Pan-Nigerian alphabet in the 1980s.wha

There are or have been a number of variant practices for writing Hausa boko. They include:

Basic features

The Latin script is an alphabet. This means that it is largely phonetic in nature, where each letter represents a basic sound. See the table to the right for a brief overview of features for the modern Hausa orthography using the Latin script.

There is one systematic difference between the orthographies used in Niger and Nigeria (see basicconsonants), but difficulties in accommodating non-ASCII characters give rise to a number of variant representations. See variants.

Hausa text runs left-to-right in horizontal lines.

Words are separated by spaces.

The orthography is bicameral.

Hausa has 21 consonant letters, one of which can be written in two different ways. There are 10 vowel letters. All this duplicated in upper- and lowercase. Some sounds are written using digraphs.

Numbers use ASCII digits.

The visual forms of letters don't usually interact.

Character index

Letters

Show

Consonants

ɓ␣ɗ␣ƙ␣ƴ␣ʼ
Ɓ␣Ɗ␣Ƙ␣Ƴ

ASCII

a␣b␣c␣d␣e␣f␣g␣h␣i␣j␣k␣l␣m␣n␣o␣p␣r␣s␣t␣u␣w␣y␣z
A␣B␣C␣D␣E␣F␣G␣H␣I␣J␣K␣L␣M␣N␣O␣P␣R␣S␣T␣U␣W␣Y␣Z

Combining marks

Show
́␣̀␣̂

Punctuation

Show
‘␣’␣“␣”

ASCII

,␣;␣:␣.␣?␣!␣(␣)

Structure

Hausa has 3 syllable types: CV, CVV, and CVC, where VV can be a long vowel or a diphthong.c 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.c

Labialisation ʷ and palatalisation ʲ may occur after an initial plosive consonant.

Character lists show:

Phonology

The following represents the repertoire of 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. Source Wikipedia.

Vowel sounds

Plain vowels

i iː u uː e eː o oː a aː

Diphthongs

iu ui ai au

Consonant sounds

labial dental alveolar post-
alveolar
retroflex palatal velar glottal
stop p b
ɓ
t d
ɗ
      c ɟ
k ɡ
ɡʷ

kʷʼ kʲʼ
ʔ
affricate   t͡sʼ   t͡ʃ d͡ʒ
       
fricative f
  s z ʃ ʒ       h
nasal m   n        
approximant w   l     j
 
trill/flap     ɾ   ɽ

is a semi-vowel approximant with creaky voice (laryngealisation). It is not used in many words, but many of those words are very common, such as ƴaƴa

Vowels

Click on the characters in the lists for detailed information. For a mapping of sounds to graphemes see vowel_mappings.

Vowel letters

5 vowel letters are used, each with an upper and lower case form.

i␣u␣e␣o␣a
I␣U␣E␣O␣A

Although long and short vowel sounds are phonemically distinctive, Hausa doesn't distinguish between them in writing, eg. uƙuba

There was an attempt at one point to introduce vowel doubling to indicate long vowels in Niger, but that was dropped.

Diphthongs

Hausa is usually described as having the following 4 diphthongs. These are sequences of vowel sounds that are not separated by a glottal stop.

iu␣ui␣ai␣au

Examples: laima hausa

Tones

Hausa uses 3 tones, high, low and falling. These are not indicated in normal textc, eg. ruwa fure kunne

In academic and education text the tone can be indicated using one of the following characters, representing high, low, and falling, respectively.

́␣̀␣̂

Vowel sounds mapped to characters

This section maps Hausa vowel sounds to common graphemes in the Latin orthography, grouped by lowercase ( l ) and uppercase ( u ). Click on the character names to see examples.

Plain vowels

Diphthongs

Consonants

Click on the characters in the lists for detailed information. For a mapping of sounds to graphemes see vowel_mappings.

Basic consonant letters

Stops

b␣ɓ␣t␣d␣ɗ␣k␣ƙ␣g
B␣Ɓ␣T␣D␣Ɗ␣K␣Ƙ␣G

Affricates

c␣j
C␣J

Fricatives

f␣s␣z␣h
F␣S␣Z␣H

Nasals

m␣n
M␣N

Other sonorants

w␣r␣l␣y␣ƴ␣ʼ
W␣R␣L␣Y␣Ƴ

ƴ [U+01B4 LATIN SMALL LETTER Y WITH HOOK] is used in Niger, and ʼy [U+02BC MODIFIER LETTER APOSTROPHE + U+0079 LATIN SMALL LETTER Y] is used in Nigeria.

The letter r [U+0072 LATIN SMALL LETTER R] represents 2 different sounds: ɾ and ɽ. In academic or educational texts the former is sometimes distinguished using [U+0072 LATIN SMALL LETTER R + U+0303 COMBINING TILDE].

Digraphs

A number of the consonant sounds in Hausa are written using multiple letters.

ts␣kw␣ky␣ƙw␣sh␣ʼy

The last digraph in the list above is included here because it is the standard way to write that sound in Nigeria (as opposed to the form in the previous section which is used in Niger). Other implosives and ejectives may also be written as digraphs (see ejectives).

Allophonic pronunciations

A number of sounds are pronounced differently, according to the dialect. This section highlights a few differences for velar consonants by contrasting the standard phonemic representation with the standard pronunciation in the Kano dialect.

Contexts phonemicKanoexampleKano
ki ke k cbakibàː.cíː
ku ko k kurmakʷʊ́ɽ.máː
ƙi ƙe baƙibə́.cʼíː
ƙu ƙo kʷʼ ƙugiyakʷʼúː.ɟɪ̀.jáː
gi ge g ɟ kogikʷòː.ɟíː
gu go g ɡʷ mugumúː.ɡʷùː

Ejectives & implosives

Ejectives and implosives can be represented using special characters, but may also be represented by a combination of apostrophe and the basic characterwha, or often just by the basic character itself. For example, ɗaya might be also written dʼaya or simply daya

Wikipedia uses the special character forms, but the BBC, CRI, and VOA Hausa pages just use ordinary characters for the ejectives.

The following table lists some single characters that may be written using a normal letter and apostrophe. Note how the order of the character and apostrophe is reversed in the final example.

Single letter Digraph example alt. form
ɓ [U+0253 LATIN SMALL LETTER B WITH HOOK] [U+0062 LATIN SMALL LETTER B + U+02BC MODIFIER LETTER APOSTROPHE]  raɓa rabʼa
ɗ [U+0257 LATIN SMALL LETTER D WITH HOOK] [U+0064 LATIN SMALL LETTER D + U+02BC MODIFIER LETTER APOSTROPHE] ɗaya dʼaya
ƙ [U+0199 LATIN SMALL LETTER K WITH HOOK] [U+006B LATIN SMALL LETTER K + U+02BC MODIFIER LETTER APOSTROPHE] ƙashi kʼashi
ƴ [U+01B4 LATIN SMALL LETTER Y WITH HOOK] ʼy [U+02BC MODIFIER LETTER APOSTROPHE + U+0079 LATIN SMALL LETTER Y] ƴa ʼya

The digraph ts [U+0074 LATIN SMALL LETTER T + U+0073 LATIN SMALL LETTER S] represents an ejective sound without the use of a special character or apostrophe. The associated sound can be either or t͡sʼ.

Apostrophe

On its own, the apostrophe represents a glottal stop, eg. jamaʼa It is not written in initial position to represent a glottal stop.

It is also used in some cases to spell certain sounds as described in ejectives.

The apostrophe shown here is ʼ [U+02BC MODIFIER LETTER APOSTROPHE], but the BBC, CRI, and Wikipedia texts use ' [U+0027 APOSTROPHE] instead. Sometimes texts (including VOA) use [U+2019 RIGHT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK].

Consonant sounds to characters

This section maps Hausa consonant sounds to common graphemes, grouped by lowercase ( l ) and uppercase ( u ). Click on the character names to see examples.

Initials

Numbers, dates, currency, etc

European digits are used.

Text direction

Hausa boko text runs left to right in horizontal lines.

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 (boko) character app.

No special shaping or positioning is needed.

Font styles

tbd

Transforming characters

Hausa is bicameral, and applications may need to enable transforms to allow the user to switch between cases.

Punctuation & inline features

Grapheme boundaries

tbd

Word boundaries

Words are separated by spaces.

Words can also be hyphenated. This is especially, but not solely, true for words that repeat the same sound, eg. wuƙi-wuƙi dushi-dushi atone-janar

Phrase & section boundaries

,␣;␣:␣.␣?␣!
phrase

, [U+002C COMMA]

; [U+003B SEMICOLON]

: [U+003A COLON]

sentence

. [U+002E FULL STOP]

? [U+003F QUESTION MARK]

! [U+0021 EXCLAMATION MARK]

Parentheses & brackets

(␣)
  start end
standard

( [U+0028 LEFT PARENTHESIS]

) [U+0029 RIGHT PARENTHESIS]

Quotations

“␣”␣‘␣’
  start end
initial

[U+201C LEFT DOUBLE QUOTATION MARK]

[U+201D RIGHT DOUBLE QUOTATION MARK]
nested

[U+2018 LEFT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK]

[U+2019 RIGHT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK]

Emphasis

tbd

Abbreviation, ellipsis & repetition

tbd

Inline notes & annotations

tbd

Other inline

tbd

Other punctuation

tbd

Line & paragraph layout

Line breaking & hyphenation

Lines are generally broken between words.

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

Text alignment & justification

tbd

Letter spacing

Does the script create emphasis or other effects by spacing out the words, letters or syllables in a word? (For justification related spacing, see above.).

Counters, lists, etc.

Are there list or other counter styles in use? If so, what is the format used? Do counters need to be upright in vertical text? Are there other aspects related to counters and lists that need to be addressed?

Styling initials

tbd

Page & book layout

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

Online resources

  1. Wikipedia
  2. BBC News
  3. Voice of America
  4. CRI Online
  5. Deutsche Welle

References