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Kanuri language

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Title: Kanuri language  
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Kanuri language

Native to Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon
Region Lake Chad
Ethnicity Kanuri (Yerwa Kanuri etc.), Kanembu
Native speakers
unknown (4.4 million cited 1985–2006)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-1 kr
ISO 639-2 kau
ISO 639-3 kauinclusive code
Individual codes:
knc – Central Kanuri
kby – Manga Kanuri
krt – Tumari Kanuri
bms – Bilma Kanuri
kbl – Kanembu
Glottolog kanu1279[2]
Linguasphere 02-AAA-a (+Kanembu 02-AAA-b)
Map of the majority usage of the five major languages of the Kanuri language group.
  • BMS Kanuri, Bilma
  • KNC Kanuri, Central
  • KBY Kanuri, Manga
  • KRT Kanuri, Tumari
  • KBL Kanembu

Kanuri [3] is a dialect continuum spoken by some four million people, as of 1987, in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, as well as small minorities in southern Libya and by a diaspora in Sudan. It belongs to the Western Saharan subphylum of Nilo-Saharan. Kanuri is the language associated with the Kanem and Bornu empires which dominated the Lake Chad region for a thousand years.

The basic word order of Kanuri sentences is subject–object–verb. It is typologically unusual in simultaneously having postpositions and post-nominal modifiers – for example, "Bintu's pot" would be expressed as nje Bintu-be, "pot Bintu-of".

Kanuri has three tones: high, low, and falling. It has an extensive system of consonant weakening (for example, sa- "they" + -buna "have eaten" → za-wuna "they have eaten".

Traditionally a local lingua franca, its usage has declined in recent decades. Most first-language speakers speak Hausa or Arabic as a second language.

Geographic distribution

Kanuri is spoken mainly in lowlands of the Lake Chad basin, with speakers in Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Sudan.


Ethnologue divides Kanuri into the following languages, while many linguists (e.g. Cyffer 1998) regard them as dialects of a single language. The first three are spoken by ethnic Kanuri and thought by them as dialects of their language.

Written Kanuri

Kanuri has been written using the Ajami Arabic script, mainly in religious or court contexts, for at least four hundred years.[4] More recently, it is also sometimes written in a modified Latin script.


A standardized romanized orthography (known as the Standard Kanuri Orthography in Nigeria) was developed by the Kanuri Research Unit and the Kanuri Language Board. Its elaboration, based on the dialect of Maiduguri, was carried out by the Orthography Committee of the Kanuri Language Board, under the Chairmanship of Abba Sadiq, Waziri of Borno. It was officially approved by the Kanuri Language Board in Maiduguri, Nigeria, in 1975.[5]

Letters used : a b c d e ǝ f g h i j k l m n ny o p r ɍ s sh t u w y z.[6]


  • Norbert Cyffer & John P. Hutchinson (eds.) Dictionary of the Kanuri Language (Publications in African languages and linguistics, 13). Foris Publications 1990. ISBN 90-6765-412-4.
  • Norbert Cyffer, We Learn Kanuri (book and 2 audio cassettes), ISBN 3-927620-01-7, Rüdiger Köppe Verlag: Köln 1993.
  • Norbert Cyffer, English-Kanuri Dictionary, ISBN 3-927620-44-0, Rüdiger Köppe Verlag: Köln 1994.
  • Norbert Cyffer, A Sketch of Kanuri. Rüdiger Köppe Verlag: Köln 1998.
  • Documentation for ISO 639 identifier: kau


  1. ^ Kanuri at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
    Central Kanuri at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
    Manga Kanuri at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
    Tumari Kanuri at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
    Bilma Kanuri at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
    [1]Kanembu] at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Kanuri". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  4. ^
  5. ^ Dictionary of the Kanuri language. Norbert Cyffer, John P. Hutchison, 1990. ISBN 90-6765-412-4]
  6. ^ According to alphabet kanuri — arrété 213-99 de la République du Niger (Chantal Enguehard – Université de Nantes) the letter schwa used in Kanuri is encoded in Unicode with U+01DD instead of U+0259, and its uppercase is Ǝ U+018E instead of Ə U+018F.


Barth, Heinrich 1854. Schreiben an Prof. Lepsius uber die Beziehung der Kanori- und Teda-Sprachen. Zeitschrift fur Erdkunde, 2: 372-74, 384-87.

Bulakarima, S. Umara 1997. Survey of Kanuri dialects. in Advances in Kanuri Scholarship, ed. N. Cyffer and T. Geider. Pp. 67–75. Cologne: Rudiger Koppe.

Chonai, Hassan 1998. Gruppa teda-kanuri (centraľnosaxarskaja sem’ja jazykov) i ee genetičeskie vzaimootnošenija (ėtimologičeskij i fonologičeskij aspekt). Moskva: PhD. Dissertation (Rossijskij gosudarstvennyj gumanitarnyj universitet).

Hutchison, John P. 1981. The Kanuri Language. A Reference Grammar. Madison: University of Wisconsin.

Koelle, Sigismund Wilhelm 1854. Grammar of the Bornu or Kanuri Language. London: Church Missionary Society.

Lange, Dierk 1972. Un vocabulaire kanuri de la fin du XVIIe siècle. Cahiers d'Études africaines, 12(46): 277-290.

Lukas, Johannes 1937. A Study of the Kanuri Language. Grammar and Vocabulary. London: Oxford University Press.

External links

  • Map of Central Kanuri language from the LL-Map project
  • Kanuri Vocabulary List (from the World Loanword Database)
  • PanAfrican L10n page on Kanuri
  • Alphabet Kanuri
  • Dictionary of Manga Kanuri
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