Chadian Arabic
لهجة تشادية
Native toChad, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Sudan, South Sudan, Nigeria, Niger
Native speakers
1.6 million (2015)[1]
Arabic alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3shu
Árabe chadiano.png
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Chadian Arabic (Arabic: لهجة تشادية), also known as Shuwa Arabic,[a] Baggara Arabic, Western Sudanic Arabic, or West Sudanic Arabic (WSA),[2] is a variety of Arabic and the first language of 1.6 million people,[3] both 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 1,400 miles (2,300 km) long (12 to 20 degrees east longitude) by 300 miles (480 km) north-to-south (between 10 and 14 degrees north latitude). Nearly all of this territory is within Chad or 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

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 بَقَّارَة, 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-Arab people in Borno State, Nigeria. 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]


Further information: Diffa Arabs

Baggara belt.
Baggara belt.

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 perfect tense 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.

See also


  1. ^ The term "Shuwa Arabic" in a strict meaning only refers to the Nigerian dialects of this particular language, but is not used by those speakers themselves.
  1. ^ Chadian Arabic at Ethnologue (20th ed., 2017)
  2. ^ Manfredi, Stefano; Roset, Caroline (September 2021). "Towards a Dialect History of the Baggara Belt". Languages. 6 (3): 146. doi:10.3390/languages6030146. ISSN 2226-471X.
  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. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Turku". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  9. ^ Thomason, Sarah Grey (January 1997). Contact Languages: A Wider Perspective. ISBN 9027252394.
  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 1954.
  15. ^ Kaye 1993, p. 95.
  16. ^ a b c d Owens 2006.
  17. ^ Kaye 1988.


Further reading