Chadian Arabic
لهجة تشادية
Native toChad, Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria[1]
SpeakersL1: 2.3 million (2005–2023)[1]
L2: 70,000 (2013)[1]
Arabic alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3shu
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Chadian Arabic (Arabic: لهجة تشادية), also known as Shuwa Arabic,[a] 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. Most of its speakers live in central and southern Chad. Its range is an east-to-west oval in the Sahel. Nearly all of this territory is within Chad and Sudan. It is also spoken elsewhere in the vicinity of Lake Chad in the countries of Cameroon, Nigeria and Niger. Finally, it is spoken in slivers of the Central African Republic. 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.

Naming and classification

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]).

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.[5] 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).[6] Since its publication,[7] 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.[8] 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.

Based on population movements and shared genealogical histories, Sudanic and Egyptian varieties of Arabic have traditionally been classified into a larger Egypto-Sudanic grouping. However, alternative analysis of linguistic features supports the general independence of Sudanic Arabic varieties from Egyptian Arabic.[9]

Distribution and varieties

Baggara belt
Baggara belt.


Two clear subdialects of Western Sudanic Arabic are discernable:[10]

Speakers by country


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[11] 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.[12][13]


In Sudan, it is spoken in the southwest, in southern Kordofan and southern Darfur, but excluding the cities of al-Ubayyid and al-Fashir.


In Nigeria, it spoken by 10% of the population of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno,[14] and by at least 100,000 villagers elsewhere in Borno.


See also: Diffa Arabs

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.


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.[15] [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[16] 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.[17]


Labial Dental/Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
plain emph. plain emph.
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
voiceless p t k q ʔ
voiced b d ɡ
implosive ɗˤ
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ x h
voiced z
Tap/Trill r
Approximant l j w
Front Back
Close i u
Mid e o
Open a


It is characterized by the loss of the pharyngeals [ħ] and [ʕ], the interdental fricatives [ð], [θ] and [ðˤ], and diphthongs.[20][21] 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".[20] In addition, Nigerian Arabic has the feature of inserting an /a/ after gutturals (ʔ,h,x,q).[20]


A 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.[20]


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. ^ a b c Chadian Arabic at Ethnologue (27th ed., 2024) Closed access icon
  2. ^ Manfredi, Stefano; Roset, Caroline (September 2021). "Towards a Dialect History of the Baggara Belt". Languages. 6 (3): 146. doi:10.3390/languages6030146. hdl:11245.1/9d3da5f3-7f63-4424-a557-8ce609adb526. ISSN 2226-471X.
  3. ^ Ethnologue, Chad, entry for Arabic, Chadian Spoken
  4. ^ a b Watson 1996, p. 359.
  5. ^ Carbou 1954.
  6. ^ Kaye 1976, p. 95.
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ Owens 2003
  9. ^ Leddy-Cecere, Thomas A. (September 2021). "Interrogating the Egypto-Sudanic Arabic Connection". Languages. 6 (3): 123. doi:10.3390/languages6030123. ISSN 2226-471X.
  10. ^ a b not-specified (2011-05-30), "West Sudanic Arabic", Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics, Brill, doi:10.1163/1570-6699_eall_eall_com_0377, retrieved 2023-01-02
  11. ^ In French, the term for lingua franca is langue véhiculaire
  12. ^ Pommerol 1997, pp. 5, 8.
  13. ^ Pommerol 1999, p. 7.
  14. ^ Owens 2007.
  15. ^ Owens 1993
  16. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Turku". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  17. ^ Thomason, Sarah Grey (January 1997). Contact Languages: A Wider Perspective. John Benjamins. ISBN 9027252394.
  18. ^ Füstumum, Michael Peter; Ager, Simon (February 11, 2021). "Chadian Arabic Language". Omniglot.
  19. ^ Abu Absi, Samir; Sinaud, André (1968). Basic Chad Arabic: The Pre-Speech Phase (PDF). Intensive Language Training Center of Indiana University at Bloomington. pp. 1, 3.
  20. ^ a b c d Owens 2006.
  21. ^ Kaye 1987.


Further reading