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Chadian Arabic

Chadian Arabic
Native to Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger
Native speakers
unknown (1.1 million cited 1973–2006)[1]
Arabic alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3 shu
Glottolog chad1249[2]

Chadian Arabic (also known as Shuwa/Shua/Suwa Arabic (French: Arabe Choa/Chowa), L'arabe du Tchad, Baggara Arabic, and, most recently, within a small scholarly milieu, Western Sudanic Arabic) is one of the regional colloquial varieties of Arabic. (The term "Shuwa Arabic", found in 20th-century Western linguistic scholarship, properly refers only to the Nigerian dialects of this particular language, and even then, "Shuwa" is not used by those speakers themselves.) It is the first language for over one million people,[3] including town dwellers and nomadic cattle herders. The majority of its speakers live in southern Chad. Its range is an east-to-west oval in the Sahel, about 1400 miles long (12 to 20 degrees east longitude) by 300 miles north-to-south (between 10 and 14 degrees north latitude). Nearly all of this territory is in the two countries of Chad and Sudan. It is also spoken elsewhere in the vicinity of Lake Chad in the countries of Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger. Finally, it is spoken in slivers of the Central African Republic and South Sudan. In addition, this language serves as a lingua franca in much of the region. In most of its range, it is one of several local languages and often not among the major ones.


  • Name and origin 1
  • Distribution 2
  • Early 20th century scholarship 3
  • Grammar 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8

Name and origin

This language does not have a native name shared by all its speakers, beyond "Arabic". It arose as the native language of nomadic cattle herders (baggāra, Standard Arabic baqqāra, means 'cattlemen', from baqar[4]). Since the publication of a grammar of a Nigerian dialect in 1920,[5] this language has become widely cited academically as "Shuwa Arabic"; however, the term "Shuwa" was in use only among non-Arabic speaking people in Borno State. Around 2000, the term "Western Sudanic Arabic" was proposed by a specialist in the language, Jonathan Owens.[6] The geographical sense of "Sudanic" invoked by Owens is not the modern country of Sudan, but the Sahel in general, a region dubbed bilad al-sudan, 'the land of the blacks', by Arabs as far back as the medieval era. In the era of British colonialism in Africa, colonial administrators too used "the Sudan" to mean the entire Sahel.

How this Arabic language arose is unknown. In 1994, Braukämper proposed that it arose in Chad starting in 1635 by the fusion of a population of Arabic speakers with a population of Fulani nomads.[7] [4] (The Fulani are a people, or group of peoples, who originate at or near the Atlantic coast but have expanded into most of the Sahel over centuries.)

During the colonial era, a form of pidgin Arabic known as Turku[8] was used as a lingua franca. There are still Arabic pidgins in Chad today, but since they have not been described, it is not known if they descend from Turku.[9]


Although not indicated on the map, the range of Chadian Arabic also includes the sliver of Niger adjacent to Nigeria and Chad.

The majority of speakers live in southern Chad between 10 and 14 degrees north latitude. In Chad, it is the local language of the national capital, N'Djamena, and its range encompasses such other major cities as Abéché, Am Timan, and Mao. It is the native language of 12% of Chadians. Chadian Arabic's associated lingua franca[10] is widely spoken in Chad, so that Chadian Arabic and its lingua franca combined are spoken by somewhere between 40% and 60% of the Chadian population.[11] [12]

In Sudan, it is spoken in the southwest, in southern Kurdufan and southern Darfur, but excluding the cities of al-Ubayyid and al-Fashir. Its range in other African countries includes a sliver of the Central African Republic, the northern half of its Vakaga Prefecture, which is adjacent to Chad and Sudan; a sliver of South Sudan at its border with Sudan; and the environs of Lake Chad spanning three other countries, namely part of Nigeria's (Borno State), Cameroon's Far North Region, and in the Diffa Department of Niger's Diffa Region. The number of speakers in Niger is estimated to be 150,000 people.

In Nigeria, it spoken by 10% of the population of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno,[13] and by at least 100,000 villagers elsewhere in Borno.

Early 20th century scholarship

In 1913, a French colonial administrator in Chad, Henri Carbou, wrote a grammar of the local dialect of the Ouaddaï highlands, a region of eastern Chad on the border with Sudan.[14] In 1920, a British colonial administrator in Nigeria, Gordon James Lethem, wrote a grammar of the Borno dialect, in which he noted that the same language was spoken in Kanem (in western Chad) and Ouaddaï (in eastern Chad).[15]


It is characterized by the loss of the pharyngeals [ħ] and [ʕ], the interdental fricatives [ð], [θ] and [ðˤ], and diphthongs.[16][17] But it also has /lˤ/, /rˤ/ and /mˤ/ as extra phonemic emphatics. Some examples of minimal pairs for such emphatics are /ɡallab/ "he galloped", /ɡalˤlˤab/ "he got angry"; /karra/ "he tore", /karˤrˤa/ "he dragged"; /amm/ "uncle", /amˤmˤ/ "mother".[16] In addition, Nigerian Arabic has the feature of inserting an /a/ after gutturals (ʔ,h,x,q).[16] Another notable feature is the change of Standard Arabic Form V from tafaʕʕal(a) to alfaʕʕal; for example, the word taʔallam(a) becomes alʔallam. The first person singular of verbs is different from its formation in other Arabic dialects in that it does not have a final t. Thus, the first person singular of the verb katab is katáb, with stress on the second syllable of the word, whereas the third-person singular is kátab, with stress on the first syllable.[16]

The following is a sample vocabulary:
word meaning notes
anīna we
'alme water frozen definite article 'al
īd hand
īd festival
jidãda, jidãd chicken, (collective)chicken
šumāl north

The two meanings of īd stem from formerly different words: *ʔīd "hand" < Classical yad vs. *ʕīd "festival" < Classical ʕīd.

In Classical Arabic, chicken (singular) is dajaja, and collectively dajaj.


  1. ^ Chadian Arabic at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Chadian Arabic". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Ethnologue, Chad, entry for Arabic, Chadian Spoken
  4. ^ a b Watson 1996, p. 359.
  5. ^ Gordon James Lethem, Colloquial Arabic: Shuwa dialect of Bornu, Nigeria and of the region of Lake Chad: grammar and vocabulary, with some proverbs and songs, Published for the Government of Nigeria by the Crown Agents for the Colonies
  6. ^ Owens 2003
  7. ^ Owens 1993
  8. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Turku". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ In French, the term for lingua franca is langue véhiculaire
  11. ^ Pommerol 1997, pp. 5, 8.
  12. ^ Pommerol 1999, p. 7.
  13. ^ Owens 2007.
  14. ^ Carbou 1913.
  15. ^ Kaye 1993, p. 95.
  16. ^ a b c d Owens 2006.
  17. ^ Kaye, 1988


  • Carbou, Henri. 1954 [1913]. Méthode pratique pour l'étude de l'arabe parlé au Ouaday et à l'est du Tchad. [Practical method for studying the Arabic spoken in Waddai and the east of Chad]. Paris: Librairie orientaliste Geuthner. This Web page has a link to the full text. This 1954 printing contains the 1913 edition, including the original title page.
  • Fox, Andrew (October 1988). "Nigerian Arabic–English Dictionary by Alan S. Kaye, Book Review". Language (Language, Vol. 64, No. 4) 64 (4): 836.  
  • Kaye, Alan S. 1976. Chadian And Sudanese Arabic In The Light Of Comparative Arabic Dialectology. Mouton.
  • Owens, Jonathan (2007). "Close Encounters of a Different Kind: Two types of insertion in Nigerian Arabic code switching". In Miller, Catherine G. Arabic in the city: issues in dialect contact and language variation. London: Routledge.  
  • Owens, Jonathan. 2003. Arabic dialect history and historical linguistic mythology. Journal of the American Oriental Society.
  • Owens, Jonathan. 2006. A Linguistic History of Arabic. Oxford University Press.
  • Pommerol, Patrice Jullien de. 1997. L'arabe tchadien: émergence d'une langue véhiculaire. Karthala. 174 pp.
  • Pommerol, Patrice Jullien de. 1999. Grammaire pratique de l'arabe tchadien. Karthala. 280 pp. N'Djamena dialect.
  • Watson, JCE. 1996. [Review of Owens 1994] . Bulletin of Oriental and African Studies, 59: 359-360.

Further reading

  • Kaye, Alan S. 1982. Dictionary of Nigerian Arabic. Malibu: Undena. Series: Bibliotheca Afroasiatica; 1. This volume is English-Arabic. 90 pp.
  • Kaye, Alan S. 1987. Nigerian Arabic-English dictionary. Malibu: Undena. Series: Bibliotheca Afroasiatica; 2. 90 pp.
  • Owens, Jonathan. 1993. A grammar of Nigerian Arabic. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.
  • Owens, Jonathan, ed. 1994. Arabs and Arabic in the Lake Chad Region. Rüdiger Köppe Verlag. Series: SUGIA (Sprache und Geschichte in Afrika); 14.
  • Pommerol, Patrice Jullien de. 1999. J'apprends l'arabe tchadien. Karthala. 328 pp. N'Djamena dialect.
  • Woidich, Manfred. 1988. [Review of Kaye 1987] . Journal of the American Oriental Society, Oct. - Dec. 1988, 108(4): 663-665

External links

  • Chadian Arabic videos
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