D. W. Arnott.
The Nominal and Verbal Systems of Fula

Oxford University Press. 1970. 427 p.

Part I. — General Introduction

Fula is the language of the Fulani, the nomadic cattle-owners of West Africa, whose unknown origins have provided a fruitful field for speculation for those so inclined, and prompted theories of relationship to peoples as diverse as the Ancient Egyptians, the biblical Phut, the Basques, and the Dravidians of India 1, Now, after centuries of gradual movement, mainly in an easterly direction, from an early habitat which seems to have been somewhere in the eastern part of what is now Senegal or the western part of present-day Mali, they are found throughout a wide band of West Africa, roughly between the 10th and 15th parallels and extending from Senegal, Gambia, and Guinea on the Atlantic, through Mali, Upper Volta, Niger, and northern Nigeria to Chad and Cameroon, while the fringes of the dispersion are to be found in southern Mauretania, northern Sierra Leone and Ghana, in Dahomey, and even as far east as the Sudan.
The names for the people and the language present some problems in view of the variety of the terms used in the language itself. The people call themselves Fulɓe (singular Pullo), and refer to their language variously as Pulaar (Senegal), Pular (Guinea), and Fulfulde (Mali and eastwards), the common denominator being the stem Ful-/Pul-. English writers have usually referred to both people and language by the Hausa term Fulani (which properly refers to the people only, a different word being used for the language). German writers use the simple stem Ful for both, the French use Peul (sometimes Peulh), and it seems best, at least for the name of the language, to use some such simple form based on the stem. The Mandinka and Susu. name Fula, used also in the Gambia, seems appropriate as well as more euphonious in English than the plain stem Ful, and it is used here, as in previous articles listed in the Bibliography. For the people, the term Fulani, though open to objection, has been retained for both singular and plural in view of its widespread use in historical and anthropological books as well as in Nigerian government publications.
Some Fulani still live the nomadic life inherited from their forebears, moving with the seasons from wet-season to dry-season grazing grounds and back; such nomadic groups normally form a relatively small proportion of the population, outnumbered by people of other ethnic groups. Others have through the years taken to a more sedentary way of life, combining agriculture to a greater or less degree with their pastoral activities.
In some places the processes of settlement and concentration began many centuries ago, and today there are areas (such as Fuuta-Jalo 2 in northern Guinea, northern Senegal, some parts of Mali and Upper Volta, Gwandu and Gombe Emirates in Nigeria, and parts of Adamawa) where the population is predominantly Fulani, and there are longestablished and fully organized Fulani communities varying in size from small villages to towns as large as Labe and Dabala, Kaedi, Matam, and Podor in the west, Djenne, Mopti, and Bandiagara, Dori and Djibo in the bend of the Niger, and Birnin Kebbi, Gombe, Yola, and jalingo, Marua and Garua in the cast. In these areas modern westerntype education now complements the Islamic learning traditionally held in high respect, and Fulani are to be found in many responsible positions, among politicians and professional men as well as in the public service, playing an important part in the progress of West Africa's newly independent states, as their ancestors once did in the history of the empires of the Western Sudan.
The establishment of settled communities has usually encouraged the continued use of the Fula language, even if somewhat modified by borrowings from neighbouring languages. But in northern Nigeria, where the Holy War of Usman dan Fodio ('Usumaanu ɓii Fooɗuye) established Fulani dynasties in the former Hausa states, the relatively small numbers of the Fulani ruling class in most cases led to their being absorbed by the Hausas both culturally and linguistically. Consequently, in many provinces of northern Nigeria Fula is spoken only by the ubiquitous pastoral Fulɓe na'i (‘cattle Fulani’) and in relatively small communities of recently settled Fulani; but in Gombe, Gwandu, Misau, and Adamawa the greater concentration of settled Fulani has so far helped the language to withstand the advance of Hausa more successfully, and it is used much more widely.
Linguistically there is no difficulty in describing the speech of the Fulani diaspora as a single language, having a common basic morphological and syntactical structure and a common lexical stock which is surprisingly large and uniform, considering the geographical spread and the variety of other linguistic groups with which the Fulani have been in close contact. Such differences as exist are mainly phonetic, phonological, and lexical (especially in the cultural vocabulary, where the tendency to borrow from neighbouring languages is strong), and to a smaller extent in the shape of some of the morphological elements. These are clearly to be regarded as no more than dialectal differences, and do not bulk large enough to justify treating the different varieties of speech as separate languages. There is a considerable degree of interintelligibility, particularly between groups living relatively near to each other, and even Fulani of Guinea or Senegal and of Nigeria have little difficulty in understanding much of each other's speech, given a certain degree of intelligence and a brief period of adjustment.
The demarcation of dialects is inevitably an arbitrary process, especially in view of the mobility of the nomadic Fulani; but for practical purposes it is convenient to distinguish six main dialect areas:

  1. Fuuta-Tooro (Senegal)
  2. Fuuta-Jalon 3 (Guinea)
  3. Maasina (Mali)
  4. Sokoto and western Niger
  5. ‘Central’ northern Nigeria (roughly Katsina, Kano, Zaria, Plateau, Bauchi, and Bornu Provinces) 4 and eastern Niger
  6. Adamawa

The Fula of other areas approximates more or less to one or more of the above six dialects, that of Upper Volta, for instance, combining features of Masina and Sokoto, while the varieties spoken in Portuguese Guinea, Mauretania, and Dahomey resemble the Fula of Guinea, Senegal, and Sokoto respectively, while at the same time having some idiosyncratic features of their own 5.
As can be seen from the selected Bibliography on p. 421 ff., classified roughly on a dialect basis, Fula has been the subject of a considerable number of grammatical works in English, French, and German, the first published well over a century ago. Of the earlier grammars, the majority deal with the two most westerly dialects-those of Fuuta-Toro and Fuuta-Jalon—and that of Adamawa. Written by linguistically gifted explorers, missionaries, military administrators, educationists, and others, these are mostly on traditional lines, but contain much that is still of value, especially in view of the dialectal variations they reveal. More recently the series of articles, on phonology and various aspects of the nominal system, by the late August Klingenheben, following in Westermann's steps, have brought a scholarly precision and thoroughness as well as a breadth of coverage to the study of Fula. His work in this field culminated in his grammar of the Adamawa dialect, Die Sprache der Ful (1963), where the nominal system in particular receives exhaustive treatment. Labouret's La Langue des Peuls on Foulbé (1952) is also a useful work, less detailed in some respects, but of wider scope, its notes on dialectal variations being particularly valuable. The only recent grammars written in English are the 1953 reprint, with some revision, of Taylor's 1921 grammar of the Adamawa dialect, and Lloyd Swift's recent pedagogic Basic Course (on the Gambia variety, 1965) 6. There is a place, therefore, for a reference grammar in English, dealing more particularly with the whole scope of the nominal and verbal systems as they appear in the light of recent research, and based on the dialect of 'central' northern Nigeria-a dialect which, apart from the series of articles listed in the Bibliography, has hitherto received little attention.
The present study deals with the variety of Fula spoken in Gombe Division, the most easterly Division of Bauchi Province in the northern region of Nigeria 4. Though in vocabulary it is fairly close to the Adamawa dialect, its eastern neighbour, it is in many respects typical of the ‘central’ Nigerian dialect just mentioned. And in fact its morphology is much more typical of Fula as a whole (especially the varieties spoken in Mali, Upper Volta, and Niger) than is the Adamawa dialect, with which a number of the previous studies have been concerned. For the present purpose Gombe Fula is treated as a unity, although there are some relatively minor differences within the area (e.g. between the Fula of Dukku and that of Nafada or Kumo or Ako). These differences are chiefly phonetic and lexical, and are only marginally relevant here.
This study is based on detailed investigation of the speech of Malam Jalo Gombe (now Alhaji Ibrahim Jalo, Wazirin Gombe) and Malam Ibrahim Abubakar, followed by field work with many Fulani in Gombe Division in 1955, and subsequent conversation and research with other Gombe Fulani in London and elsewhere. Where generalizations are made about the relative frequency of various forms, and about'common' or 'normal' patterns, they are based on texts supplied by my first two informants and on personal observations of the speech habits of Gombe Fulani in many different contexts in Nigeria and elsewhere.
The complicated morphology of the nominal and verbal systems, with which this book is concerned, is the most conspicuous feature of Fula; and the two systems together affect a very large proportion of any stretch of the spoken language, since the great majority of words belong to one or other system, or to both. The nominal class system, with its twenty-five or so classes marked by distinctive morphological elements—the exact number of classes varying to some extent according to dialect—covers not only nouns but also pronouns and pronominal elements of various types, adjectives, demonstratives, interrogatives, and even numerals. All of these undergo various morphological changes according to the class of the noun to which they refer. The verbal system comprises not only fifteen different ‘tenses’ marked by different verbal suffixes and by various other morphological features, but also three distinct ‘voices’ or series of tenses—Active, Middle, and Passive—each containing a complete or almost complete set of tenses. It also includes a series of nineteen radical extensions (similar in general function, though not in detail, to Bantu radical extensions), which can occur singly and in combination. These nominal and verbal systems overlap in so far as, firstly, subject and object elements occur within the compass of the verbal ‘complex’ (see Chapter 28), but are at the same time integral parts of the nominal system; and secondly, infinitives and participles (here together termed verbo-nominals) are hybrid forms, each having two suffixes, one belonging to the verbal system and one to the nominal system.
The morphological systems referred to above, however, cannot be fully described without reference to various morphophonemic patterns which play an important part in both nominal and verbal systems, and to the underlying phonological features of the language. Included in the latter are certain aspects of sentence intonation patterns (Fula not being a ‘tone language’ in the sense in which that phrase is normally used); for some intonation features play a significant if subsidiary role in the verbal system, and to a smaller extent in the nominal system also. The bulk of the book (viz. most of Parts IV, V, and VI) is therefore concerned with the analysis of the various types of nominal, verbal, and verbo-nominal forms and their constituent parts, and the various permutations and combinations which occur, with greater or less regularity, in the two systems. This analysis is preceded by an outline of the basic phonological features of consonants and vowels and the morphophonemic patterns in which they are involved, together with a brief account of the pausal feature here called ‘final glottality’ and of the relevant aspects of sentence intonation patterns (Part III).
But these phonological and morphological features, fundamental though they are, are no more than the dry bones of the systems. Of equal importance in a full description is the way in which the systems operate in the everyday use of the language, and the roles that the various nominal and verbal forms play in this process.
To some extent these roles can be described in formal terms by reference to the positions that nominals, verbals, and verbo-nominals of various categories can occupy in various types of sentence. Accordingly the grammatical introduction (Part II) contains, besides a summary of the main features of the two systems and of the various syntactic categories and form-classes found in the language, an account of the way in which nominals and verbonominals can combine in nominal and adverbial groups, an analysis of the structure of various types of sentence, and an indication in general terms of the positions which nominals, verbo-nominals, and verbals can occupy in these structures. This general account is supplemented later by paragraphs in the relevant chapters in Parts IV-VI, giving more specific indications of the positions in sentence structure occupied by individual types of nominals and verbonominals (Chapters 2z-7 and 6o), of the syntactical behaviour of the three voices (Chapter 45) and the various tenses (Chapters 46-56), and of the syntactical implications of certain radical extensions (Chapters 57-8).
Language, however, is essentially a means of communication, at least of self-expression; and, given a variety of possible forms of various categories, the actual use of one form rather than another depends only partly on strictly grammatical factors. Very often the choice is determined by the meaning which the speaker intends to convey. The meanings of individual forms, of course, normally belong to the lexicon; but where generalizations can be made about the meanings associated with particular formal categories, such generalizations have a place in a description of the grammar of the language. Formal characteristics are, of course, of primary importance, and the grammatical categories must be based essentially on formal, not semantic, criteria. But to limit the description, in this instance the description of the nominal and verbal systems of Fula, to an account of their formal characteristics only, without a complementary account of the regular semantic associations, would be to give only a partial picture of the systems as they operate in the living language.
Accordingly some account is here given, at appropriate points, of the meanings associated with various categories of nominals and verbo-nominals (Chapters 22-5 and 6o), and with individual nominal classes (Chapters 13, 16). And the description of the verbal system in Part V includes an indication of the meanings associated with the three voices (Chapter 45), and a fairly full account of the meanings both of the various tenses (Chapters 46-56) and of the individual radical extensions (Chapters 57-8).
The Appendices contain a certain amount of relevant but supplementary material which would be out of place in the body of the work. Some deal with certain phonetic, phonological, and semantic details which are of indirect rather than direct relevance to the main theme, while others contain lists of other forms referred to—such as adverbials, and prepositions—or a more detailed breakdown of certain categories of nominals and some types of nominal stems than is necessary in the main study. Others again consist of tables summarizing features discussed in several different chapters, or containing representative examples of verbal complexes and verbal radicals of various types.
Finally, I would like to express my appreciation of all the help and encouragement I have received from a great many people—particularly my colleagues in the Department of Africa at the School of Oriental and African Studies, with whom many points have been discussed as they arose, and the various Fulani who have so patiently and understandingly collaborated with me at various stages, especially Alhaji Ibrahim Jalo, Wazirin Gombe, Malam Ibrahim Abubakar, Alhaji Muhammadu el-Nafaty, and the late Malam Salihu Kumo. They have not only provided the essential raw material on which this book is based, but have helped me to an appreciation of the beauties of a wonderfully rich language.

1. L. Homburger. “Les représentants de quelques hiéroglyphes égyptiens en peul” Bull. de la Société linguistique de Paris, 1930
“Eléments dravidiens en peul”, Journ. Soc. Afric. 18, 2 (1948),135-43
M. D. W. Jeffreys, “Speculative origins of the Fula language” Africa 17, 1947, 47-54
F. W. Taylor, A first grammar of the Adamawa dialect of the Fulani language, O.U.P., 1921
H. G. Mukarovsky, Die Grundlagen des Ful und das Mauretanische, Vienna, Herder, 1963.
2. See n. 3 on p. 3.
3. Fuuta-Jaloo is the authentic local form of the name, so Alfa Ibrahim Sow confirms, although the French spelling is normally Fouta-Diallon or Dialon, anglicized as Fuuta-Jalon or in various other ways. Since long vowels are not normally marked in English the spelling Fuuta-Jalon has here been used in the English text.
4. Under the reorganization of 1967, Katsina and Zaria Provinces together form North-Central State, Kano Province is now Kano State, Bauchi, Bornu, and Adamawa Provinces together form North-Eastern State, while Plateau Province is part of Benue-Plateau State.
5. This tentative classification is suggested on the basis of a pilot survey carried out in 1955-6 during a year's tour of Fulophone areas from Nigeria, through Niger, Dahomey, Upper Volta, and Mali, to Senegal, Gambia, and Guinea, as well as on the basis of the available literature. Each of the dialects could well be further subdivided.
6. See also Leslie H. Stennes's A reference grammar of Adamawa Fulani, African Language Monograph, No. 8, African Studies Center, Michigan State University, 1967, which appeared when the present work was in the press.