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The Eastern and Western dialects of Hausa enjoy a high degree of mutual intelligibility. The bulk of the variation within these dialects is confined to differences in pronunciation, vocabulary, and to a lesser extent, morphology. As an example of morphological variation, some Southern Hausa dialects (i.e. Zaria and Bauchi Hausa) do not mark gender in the morphology (apart from the pronominal system). In contrast, gender is grammatically encoded in most other Hausa dialects. The primary difference between the Northern and Southern Hausa dialects concerns loanwords. Whereas Northern Hausa dialects incorporate a substantial amount of French loanwords, Southern dialects borrow extensively from English.
Hausa makes use of two writing systems. The official Hausa orthography is a modified Roman alphabet known as Bokò. It was introduced by the British at the turn of the twentieth century and is presently used in all forms of media. The second Hausa script is a minor modification of the Arabic alphabet, referred to as Àjàmi. This writing system is the product of Arabic-speaking Hausa scholars who developed the orthography in the early nineteenth century. Currently, Àjàmi is used in religious writing, by traditionalists such as poets, and by those who lack a Western education.
The Bokò script makes use of 23 consonant graphemes and 5 vowel graphemes. Of the 28 graphemes that comprise the alphabet, five letters are innovations. The symbol ’ represents the glottal stop and appears with the letter y as a grapheme distinct from y. In addition to these innovations, there are three “hooked” symbols that represent glottalized versions of b, d, and k. A number of digraphs are employed in the orthography, for example, ts, gw, gy, fy, and kw. Neither vowel length nor tone are represented orthographically.
The Hausa phoneme inventory consists of 32 consonants, 5 vowels, and 2 diphthongs, depending on the analysis. A notable aspect of the Hausa consonant system is that it does not contrast the phonemes /f/ and /p/. For example, depending on the dialect or phonological environment, /f/ is realized as either [f], [p], or [h]. Two distinct r phonemes are attested in the language (e.g. the apical tap and the retroflex flap), although they are not represented in the orthography. Certain sounds are highly restricted in the language. For example, glides/semivowels occur only in the onset of a syllable or when they form the first part of a geminate sequence. Likewise, geminates can only occur inter-vocalically, that is, between two vowels. All five Hausa vowels have long and short counterparts. As such, vowel length can be used to minimally contrast two words built from the same phonemes (e.g. daga: ‘charm bangle’ vs. da:ga: ‘battle line’, where V: indicates a long vowel and V represents the short counterpart). Hausa is a tone language and as such, makes use of two level tones (High and Low) and one contour tone (Falling). The distribution of Falling tones is limited (e.g. Falling tones only appear on metrically heavy syllables). The syllable structure of Hausa is CV(V)(C). As such, syllables must begin with a consonant and contain a vowel, though diphthongs and syllable codas (i.e. consonants that appear after vowel nuclei) are optional. Regarding syllable codas, only a small number of consonants may appear in this position (excluding geminates).
Syntactically, Hausa is a strict SVO language. This word order obtains in both main and embedded clauses, but can be altered in cases of topic and focus. Hausa scholars describe the basic syntax of the clause as consisting of a) the subject, followed by b) the so-called pre-verbal “person-aspect complex” which includes tense/aspect information and subject agreement morphology, and lastly c) the verb phrase. If the underlying subject is a simple personal pronoun, it is obligatorily unpronounced. The person and number features of the deleted subject are recoverable via the agreement morphology present in the person-aspect complex. In this way, Hausa is a “pro-drop” language. The word order of Hausa is that of a head-initial language. For example, verbs precede their objects/complements, prepositions are attested, nouns/determiners are initial in noun/determiner phrases, and relative clauses follow the nouns they modify.
Relatively speaking, the morphology of Hausa is fairly simple. Nouns inflect for gender and number, but not for Case. Adjectives contain a linking morpheme and agree in number and gender with the noun they modify. Many verbs contain a –CV suffix that is semantically empty, yet morphologically integral. Hausa scholars regard these suffixes as historical remnants. Tense, aspect, and mood are components of a single conjugational system in the language, and as such are generally instantiated by a single morpheme. Reduplication is widely attested in the language and serves both a derivational role (e.g. formation of verbs, adjectives, and participles) and an inflectional role (e.g. pluralization).