Updated 6 January, 2023
This page brings together basic information about the Latin script and its use for the Fula languages and dialects. It aims to provide a brief, descriptive summary of the modern, printed orthography and typographic features, and to advise how to write Fula using Unicode.
Fula is term for a family that includes numerous dialects and languages, however they are largely mutually comprehensible, and the orthography only varies slightly. The examples in this document may be drawn from any of the Fula local languages.
Innama aadeeji fof poti, ndimɗidi e jibinannde to bannge hakkeeji. Eɓe ngoodi miijo e hakkilantaagal ete eɓe poti huufo ndirde e nder ɓ iynguyummaagu.
Fula is normally written in the Latin script, but also the Adlam script is growing in use, and historically but still occasionally it is written using the Arabic ajami script. The Fula languages and dialects are spread across some 20 countries in the Sahel and Central Africa, extending from the coast of West Africa to Sudan, and encompassing around 40 million speakers.
Fula is referred to using several names, including Fulani, Fulah, and in the east, Fulfulde. Individual Fulah languages also have their own names, such as Pular, Pulaar, Maasina Fulfulde, Adamawa Fulfulde, etc.
Fula ˈfuːlə Fula language
Use of the Latin script began with the colonisation of Africa. Prior to the 1966 Bamako expert meeting organised by UNESCO, there was wide variation in the letters used to represent sounds in the various regions, and greater use of digraphs rather than phonetic symbols. The 1966 meeting established a basic set of spelling conventions, but some regions didn't adopt all the changes straight away. For example, the move from ny to ɲ or ñ commonly occurred later. There was another conference in Niamey in 1978. Nevertheless, orthographies for the language and its variants are determined at the country level, so while Fula writing uses basically the same character sets and rules across the region, there are some minor variations.wfl
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 Fula orthography using the Latin script.
A small number of spelling differences occur in some of the regions where Fula is written, but generally spelling remains consistent.
Fula text runs left-to-right in horizontal lines.
Words are separated by spaces.
The orthography is bicameral.
Fula has 23 consonant letters, three of which can be written in two different ways. Loan words use 4 more consonant letters (though they are rare). There are 5 vowel letters. All this duplicated in upper- and lowercase.
Some sounds, in particular a set of 4 pre-nasalised consonants, are written using digraphs (which are counted as letters of the alphabet). Vowel length and consonant gemination are indicated by doubling letters.
Numbers use ASCII digits.
The visual forms of letters don't usually interact.
Line-breaking and justification are primarily based on inter-word spaces.
The Fula alphabet varies slightly from country to country. A small number of sounds are written differently from one region to the next, and there are small differences sometimes in the order of the items in the alphabet. Wikipedia has a list of Alphabets by country, Here we show a superset of alphabetic items and tease them apart below the table.
ᵐb is written mb in all regions except Guinea, which uses nb.
ɠ is only used in Guinea.
ɲ is written ɲ in Guinea, Mali, and Burkina Faso, ñ in Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, and Liberia, and ny in Niger, Cameroon, Chad, CAR, and Nigeria.
ʔʲ is written ʼy in Nigeria, but ƴ everywhere else.
The following represents the general repertoire of the Fula languages and dialects.
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.
Resources describing Fula in the Latin orthography typically describe 5 vowels and list e and o as standard, but short i e o u vowel sounds can also be realized phonetically as ɪ ɛ ɔ ʊ.wfl The examples on this page are generally phonemic in nature, unless more detailed phonetic information is provided by the source, and we will assume e and o as the default transcriptions.
Observation: There is a lack of clarity about the quality of the vowels, especially the short vowels. Unlike resources describing the Latin-based Fula sounds, those describing the Adlam orthography generally list ɛ ɔ as standard vowels with e o as allophones. And in fact Adlam spells the sounds differently (see the Adlam notes).
|stop||p b||t d||c ɟ||k ɡ||ʔ ʔʲ|
|affricate||t͡ʃ d͡ʒ ᶮd͡ʒ|
The two sounds c and ɟ, may be realized as affricate sounds t͡ʃ and d͡ʒ.
Observation: A few sources mention a letter that represents the sound ɠ, found in Guinea, and written with the same symbol (though previously written using q). No examples of this sound have been encountered in my research.
This section maps Fula vowel sounds to common graphemes in the Latin orthography. Uppercase is not shown. Click on a grapheme to find other mentions on this page (links appear at the bottom of the page). Click on the character name to see examples and for detailed descriptions of the character(s) shown.
5 vowel letters are used, each with an upper and lower case form.
Languages in the Atlantic group of the Niger-Congo family, of which Fula is one, are unusual in that they are not tonal.
Long vowel sounds are written by doubling the relevant vowels, eg. buguuru
Long and short vowel sounds are phonemically distinctive, although minimal pairs are relatively uncommonfsi,8, eg. jango jaango
This section maps Fula consonant sounds to common graphemes in the Latin orthography. Uppercase is not shown. Click on a grapheme to find other mentions on this page (links appear at the bottom of the page). Click on the character name to see examples and for detailed descriptions of the character(s) shown.
Sounds listed as 'infrequent' are allophones, or sounds used for foreign words, etc.
ɲ [U+0272 LATIN SMALL LETTER N WITH LEFT HOOK] in Guinea, Mali, and Burkina Faso.
ñ [U+00F1 LATIN SMALL LETTER N WITH TILDE] in Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, and Liberia.
In this page we write the apostrophe using ʼ [U+02BC MODIFIER LETTER APOSTROPHE], but it is more common to find ' [U+0027 APOSTROPHE].
ƴ [U+01B4 LATIN SMALL LETTER Y WITH HOOK] is written in Nigeria as ʼy [U+02BC MODIFIER LETTER APOSTROPHE + U+0079 LATIN SMALL LETTER Y] or 'y [U+0027 APOSTROPHE + U+0079 LATIN SMALL LETTER Y].
ɲ [U+0272 LATIN SMALL LETTER N WITH LEFT HOOK] is used in Guinea, Mali, and Burkina Faso, ñ [U+00F1 LATIN SMALL LETTER N WITH TILDE] in Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, and Liberia, and ny [U+006E LATIN SMALL LETTER N + U+0079 LATIN SMALL LETTER Y] in Niger, Cameroon, Chad, CAR, and Nigeria.
Pre-nasalised sounds are written using digraphs, and frequently occur word-initially. The digraphs are considered to be letters in the alphabet, eg. mbeewa ngayuuri njoyo
nb [U+006E LATIN SMALL LETTER N + U+0062 LATIN SMALL LETTER B] is reportedly used in Guineawfa, whereas mb [U+006D LATIN SMALL LETTER M + U+0062 LATIN SMALL LETTER B] is used everywhere else.
Word-medially, the orthography doesn't clearly distinguish between syllable-final nasals and syllables beginning with a pre-nasal sound. For example, hindu could mean it (hi.ndu) or ancient (hin.du). (The Adlam script does allow this distinction to be clearly made.)
Observation: It seems that ᵑɡ can also be written ŋg [U+014B LATIN SMALL LETTER ENG + U+0067 LATIN SMALL LETTER G], eg. ɗemŋgal koŋŋgol
Consonant gemination is common and is distinctive in Fula. Gemination is written by doubling the consonant, eg. tutogol tuttogol
The following are sometimes used for foriegn sounds in loan words or transcriptions, particularly from Arabic, and are rare.
Prior to the 1966 Bamako expert meeting organised by UNESCO, there was wider variation in the letters used to represent sounds in the various regions, and greater use of digraphs rather than phonetic symbols. The 1966 meeting established a basic set of spelling conventions, but some regions didn't adopt all the changes straight away. For example, the move from ny to ɲ or ñ commonly occurred later.
The following table shows standard modern spelling variants and non-standard spellings which may date from prior to the UNESCO reforms, or may arise because people don't have access to non-ASCII characters on their keyboard, etc.
|Standard modern spelling(s)||Non-standard spelling(s)|
|j||dy | di|
|ɲ | ñ||ny|
|ƴ | ʼy||yh|
ASCII digits are used.
Fula text runs left to right in horizontal lines.
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 Fula character app.
No special shaping or positioning is needed.
Fula is bicameral, and applications may need to enable transforms to allow the user to switch between cases.
Words are separated by spaces.
Fula uses ASCII punctuation.
, [U+002C COMMA]
; [U+003B SEMICOLON]
: [U+003A COLON]
. [U+002E FULL STOP]
Fula commonly uses ASCII parentheses to insert parenthetical information into text.
Fula texts may use quotation marks around quotations. Of course, due to keyboard design, quotations may also be surrounded by ASCII double and single quote marks.
|initial||” [U+201D RIGHT DOUBLE QUOTATION MARK]|
|nested||’ [U+2019 RIGHT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK]|
Lines are generally broken between words.
Show (default) line-breaking properties for characters in the Fula orthography described here.
This section looks at ways in which spacing is applied between characters over and above that which is introduced during justification.
Fula uses the 'alphabetic' baseline.
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?
This section is for any features that are specific to Fula and that relate to the following topics: general page layout & progression; grids & tables; notes, footnotes, etc; forms & user interaction; page numbering, running headers, etc.