THE FULA LANGUAGE
In the world
If Fula spreads only in Africa, it streches across some 20 countries from West to Central Africa. Also, it reaches more than 65 million speakers. Thus, we can find it from Guinea to Sudan, passing by Senegal, Cameroon and Nigeria.
Also, Fula refers to the name of the people who speak it. But many other peoples also speak it as a second language, such as the Kirdi in North Cameroon and North East Nigeria. As a result, Fula itself gathers many dialects even if linguists regard it as a single language.
Fula uses verbo nominal roots from which derive verbal, noun, and modifier words. To modify the meaning, it uses suffixes, sometimes wrongly called infixes as they come between the root and the ending.
Fula has a robust noun class system, with 24 to 26 noun classes shared between all Fula dialects. They are quite abstract and some have semantic attributes to mark a subset while others allow to mark what we are talking about. For instance, there are classes for stringy and long things, for big things, for liquids, as well as strong and rigid objects, another for human traits, etc.
Also, gender does not have any role in the Fula noun class system. Then, we mark gender with adjectives rather than class markers.
As for noun classes, we mark them by suffixes on nouns. The latter are the same as the class name, though they are often subject to phonological processes. And mainly to the dropping of the suffix's initial consonant.
Fula has inclusive and exclusive first person plural pronouns. While the inclusive pronouns include both the speaker and those being spoken to, the exclusive ones exclude the listeners.
The noun class determines the pronoun that refers to a given noun. In Fula, he and she belongs to the same noun class. So, we use the same pronoun for both.
In order to write the Fula language, we can use the Latin script, but also the Arabic one.
First, with the Latin script, Fula adds these special "hooked" letters to distinguish sounds : Ɓ/ɓ [ɓ], Ɗ/ɗ [ɗ], Ŋ/ŋ [ŋ], Ɲ/ɲ [ɲ], Ƴ/ƴ [ʔʲ]. Also, double vowel signs tell that we elongate the vowels. To that, we put an apostrophe (ʼ) as a glottal stop. It uses the five vowel system denoting vowel sounds and their lengths. In Nigeria, people use ʼy instead of ƴ. And in Senegal, we use Ñ/ñ instead of ɲ. Also, we double vowels if they are long: aa, ee, ii, oo, uu. Plus, for French speaking people, the letter c is pronounced [tch] and j like [di].
Second, many scholars, learned people and emirs of the northern Nigeria emirates used the Arabic script before the colonial period. Since then, some parts of Guinea and Cameroon mainly still use it at a certain degree. In fact, the Fula language has kept many Arabic words.
Third, it would be a mistake to not mention the Adlam script. The latter is very recent as it dates back the early 1990s. Two brothers, from Guinea, built it. It has the advantage to accurately represents all the sounds of Fula. With 28 letters, 5 vowels and 23 consonants, we write it from right to left. We teach and use it mainly in West Africa but also in the Fulani diaspora living abroad.