bàsàrə̀n dà jàlààbè̩
Native toNigeria
RegionLoojaa settlement in Balanga Local Government Area, Gombe State
Extinctseveral elders remembered words from their forefathers in 1992, likely none by 2010[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3cet

Jalaa (autonym: bàsàrə̀n dà jàlààbè̩), also known as Cèntûm,[2] Centúúm or Cen Tuum, is an extinct language of northeastern Nigeria (Loojaa settlement in Balanga Local Government Area, Gombe State), of uncertain origins, apparently a language isolate. The Jalabe (as descendants of speakers of the language are called) speak the Bwilim dialect of the Dikaka language. It is possible (but unconfirmed) that some remembered words have been retained for religious ceremonies, but in 1992 only a few elders remember words that their parents had used, and by 2010 there may not even remain any such rememberers.[1]

The Jalabe are said to have come to Loojaa from an area a few miles south within the Muri Mountains, where they had shared a settlement with Tso and Kwa clans. (The name of this settlement, Cèntûm or Cùntûm, is used as a name for the language in some sources. Jalaa elders differ in whether they believe Jalaa or Centum/Cuntum was their original name for themselves.) Later, during the nineteenth century, the Dikaka arrived in the area, fleeing attacks from the larger Waja to the north; the Cham intermarried with the Jalabe, and the Jalabe began to adopt the Dikaka language.


The phonology of Jalaa is as follows.[2]

Labial Alveolar Postalveolar/
Velar Labial-velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
voiceless p t t͡ʃ k kp
voiced b d d͡ʒ g
Fricative f s h
Approximant l j w
Trill r
Front Central Back
Close i u
Near-close ɪ ʊ
Close-mid e ə o
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a


The Jalaa lexicon is also strongly influenced by Dikaka (which it has in turn influenced); some similarities are also found with the nearby Tso. However, most of its vocabulary is extremely unusual. In Kleinewillinghöfer's words, "The major part of the lexicon seems to differ entirely from all the surrounding languages, which themselves represent different language families."

Both Dikaka and the Tso traditionally avoided using names of the dead. When those names were also words of the language, as often happened, this forced them to change the word, sometimes by replacing it with a word from a neighboring language. Kleinewillinghöfer regards this as a motivation for certain cases of borrowing from Jalaa into Dikaka.


The numerals 1-6 in Jalaa are:

  1. násán
  2. tiyú, tə́só
  3. tətáá, bwànbí
  4. təbwár, ŋbár
  5. (tə)nó
  6. tənúkùn

Above 5, the numerals are almost identical to Dikaka. The numerals 2 through 5 are almost identical with Tso, while "one" has no clear cognates.


Jalaa morphology (at least in its present form) is almost identical to that of Cham. The main differences in the noun class system are two of the plural suffixes: Jalaa -ta versus Cham -te̩ and (for humans) Jalaa -bo, -ba versus Cham -b(e̩).

Noun morphology is similar to that of Cham, but with some differences. Some sample singular and plural noun sets in Jalaa and Cham:[3]

Gloss Jalaa, sg. Jalaa, pl. Cham, sg. Cham, pl.
mouth bɔɔ bɔɔní ɲii ɲiini
tree gwììràŋ gwììtɛ̀ riyaŋ riitɛ
meat lìbò lìbòté nàm nàmtɛ
hole suroŋ suroŋte
nose yamər yaməta ʤʊ̀r ʤʊ̀tɛ
leg kobər kobta
fish fui fuuta
wife ʧùwì ʧùùbó
person nətâ nətaaba nii nə̀b
crocodile kùlɔŋ kùlɔ̀ŋtɛ
knot fúbər fúbtɛ
dog ʤɔil ʤɔɔtɛ
stranger (nii) fui fùbɛ

See also



  1. ^ a b Kleinewillinghöfer, Ulrich (December 2010). Jalaa, the last member of an extinct language family. Workshop Language Isolates in Africa. Lyon, France; which in words of the author is a revised edition of Kleinewillinghöfer, Ulrich (2001). "Jalaa - An almost forgotten language of NE Nigeria: A language isolate". In Nurse, Derek (ed.). Historical Language Contact in Africa. SUGIA Sprache und Geschichte in Afrika. Vol. 16/17. Cologne, Germany: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag. pp. 239–271. ISBN 978-3-89645-091-3.
  2. ^ a b Blench, Roger (30 June 2014). "African language isolates: Circulation draft" (PDF). Cambridge, UK. p. 9.
  3. ^ Blench, Roger (2017). "African Language Isolates". In Campbell, Lyle (ed.). Language Isolates. Routledge Language Family. Routledge. doi:10.4324/9781315750026. ISBN 9781138821057.