Kanuri - Kanouri

1.  Classification / Classification

"Kanuri is a Western Saharan language of the Saharan branch of the Nilo-Saharan family..." (Hutchison, personal communication, 1985). (Webbook)

Ethnologue gives the classification as: Nilo-Saharan, Saharan, Western, Kanuri.

2.  Where Spoken / Localisation géographique

"[It] is spoken in Nigeria (in parts of Sokoto, Gongola, Kaduna, Kano, Bauchi states and most predominantly in Bornu State), in Niger (in the eastern prefectures of Zinder and Diffa, with some speakers also found in the Bilma arrondissement of the Agadez prefecture), and in Cameroon. Its sister language Kanembu is spoken in Chad around the northern, eastern and southern shores of the disappearing Lake Chad" (Hutchison, personal communication, 1985).

3.  Number of Speakers / Nombre de locuteurs

According to information compiled from Ethnologue, speakers include:

  • Kanuri, Bilma: 20,000 in Niger
  • Kanuri, Central: 3,000,000 in Nigeria; 195,000 in Sudan (1993 Johnstone); 93,638 in Chad (1993 census); 80,000 in Niger (1998); 56,500 in Cameroon (1982 SIL); Total=3,425,138
  • Kanuri, Manga: 280,000 in Niger (1998); 200,000 in Nigeria (1993); Total=480,000.
  • Kanuri, Tamari 40,000 in Niger (1998)
  • Kanembu: 389,028 in Chad (1993 census).
  • Total for all variations of Kanuri: 3,965,138; including Kanembu: 4,354,166

Ethnologue notes 500,000 second-language speakers of "Central Kanuri." (Not clear if this is included in the above total.)

4.  Dialect Survey / Enquête de dialecte

Cyffer (personal communication, 1985) gives the following breakdown of Kanuri dialects:

  • (A) Nigeria (Maiduguri, Sugurti, Mobar, and Manga);
  • (B) Niger (Kanembu dialects, Mobar, and Manga); and
  • (C) Chad (Kanembu dialects). (Webbook)

Hutchison (personal communication, 1985) reports: "The major dialects of Kanuri spoken in Nigeria and Niger are Bilma, Dagera, Fashi, Manga, Mobar, and Yerwa. A wide range of dialects of Kanembu are spoken in Chad, and certain of the westernmost dialects, a very few of which are spoken on the former shores of Lake Chad in eastern Niger (Kuburi, Suwurti, and Tumari) are mutually intelligible with the Mobar dialect of Kanuri. The Kogono dialect of Kanembu spoken in the Kanem region north of Lake Chad is also mutually intelligible with the Mobar dialect and is the dialect that has traditionally been used to broadcast Kanembu in Chad. In Nigeria, the dialect emerging as most important is Yerwa of Maiduguri, owing to the city's historical and present day political importance. The Yerwa dialect closely resembles that spoken by the Mobar (or Mowar) dialect. Its population straddles the Nigeria-Niger border area. In Niger, more than half of the Kanuri-speaking population is for the most part Manga and partially Dagera speaking. The Manga and Dagera dialects are fully mutually intelligible, though significantly different from the Mobar and Yerwa dialects." (Webbook)

SIL International considers Kanuri as a "macrolanguage" with Manga Kanuri, Central Kanuri, and Tumari Kanuri listed under it. Information compiled from Ethnologue on these three plus Bilma Kanuri and Kanembu, and their respective (sub)dialects follows:

  • Kanuri, Bilma (Niger)
    • Bilma
    • Fachi
  • Kanuri, Central (Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria) [All can understand the Maiduguri dialect. Closest to Manga Kanuri and Kanembu]
    • Kaga (Kagama)
    • Lare (Lere)
    • Kwayam [Lukas says Kwayam is not understood by other Kanuri]
    • Njesko
    • Kabari (Kuvuri)
    • Ngazar
    • Guvja
    • Mao
    • Temageri
    • Fadawa
    • Yerwa [Yerwa is the central dialect]
  • Kanuri, Manga (Niger, Nigeria)
    • Manga
    • Dagara [Dagara may be a separate language]
  • Kanuri, Tamari (Niger) [Closest to Manga Kanuri]
    • Tumari
    • Sugurti (Suwurti)
    • Kubari (Kuwuri)
  • Kanembu (Chad) [There is a gradual differentiation between Kanembu in Chad and Kanuri dialects]
    • Karkawu
    • Mando
    • Nguri

5.  Usage / Utilisation

Hutchison (personal communication, 1985) reports "Kanuri is one of the major national languages in Nigeria and of Niger. It is one of the twelve languages selected for implementation in the Universal Primary Education Program (Nigeria, in the 1970s) and in Niger it is one of five national languages being implemented in the primary program of educational reform." (Webbook)

[NB- Educational reform with respect to national languages such as Kanuri in Niger has not progressed far in the last two decades. Ethnologue reports only two bilingual Kanuri (Manga) & French schools in Niger.]

Literacy rate of speakers of Kanuri Manga (according to Ethnologue):

  • L1: ?
  • L2: 20%

6.  Orthography / Orthographe

6.1  Status / Statut

"A standardized Romanized orthography (known in Nigeria as the Standard Kanuri Orthography) was developed and officially approved by the Kanuri Language Board in Maiduguri, Nigeria, in 1975. The Borno Local Authority established a committee for the development of an official Ajami (Arabic script) orthography of Kanuri, but the work was never completed. (Kanuri was one of the languages whose alphabet was discussed at the 1966 UNESCO Bamako meeting.)

"The Republic of Niger is presently developing its own standardized orthography of Kanuri. Since there is far greater dialect diversity in Niger than in Nigeria, this task is far more difficult, as will be the task of attempting to harmonize this orthography with Nigeria's Standard Kanuri orthography" (Hutchison, personal communication, 1985). (Webbook) [NB- The latest standardization of national language alphabets in Niger was made in 1999]

The Latin (Romanized) orthography uses extended characters.

Ajami was used for the language in the past. Ethnologue reports it is used currently for Central Kanuri.

6.2  Sample Alphabet / Alphabet exemple

Kanuri in Niger:

Small sample text on the "Language Museum" site: http://www.language-museum.com/k/kanuri.htm

7.  Use in ICT / Utilisation dans les TIC

7.1  Fonts / Polices

Unicode fonts with extended Latin ranges would be necessary.

7.2  Keyboards / Claviers

a) Keyboard Layouts / Dispositions de clavier

The CNRS/LLACAN "AFRO" Tavultesoft Keyman keyboard (for AZERTY) is intended to support this language: http://www.tavultesoft.com/keyman/downloads/keyboards/details.php?KeyboardID=377&FromKeyman=0

b) Physical Keyboards

Lancor's "KỌNYIN" keyboard for Windows includes all needed characters for Kanuri (at least the Nigerian orthography) - http://www.konyin.com/

7.3  Content on computers & internet / Contenu en informatique et sur l'Internet

Hakkiwa Adamganabe Dunya Ngaro Wowurtəgənama (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Kanuri Yerwa Version ) http://www.unhchr.ch/udhr/lang/kph.htm [is this in the formal orthography?]

Wikipedia in Kanuri (closed as of 9/2007 or earlier) http://kr.wikipedia.org/

7.4  Localized software / Logiciels localisés

Not aware of any.

7.5  Language codes / Codes de langue

Kanuri [SIL, the RA for ISO-639-3, groups knc, kby, krt under the "macrolanguage" kau]

  • ISO 639-1: kr
  • ISO 639-2: kau
  • ISO 639-3: kau

Kanuri, Central [Yerwa]

  • ISO 639-3: knc

Kanuri, Manga

  • ISO 639-3: kby

Kanuri, Tumari

  • ISO 639-3: krt

Kanuri, Bilma

  • ISO 639-3: bms


  • ISO 639-3: kbl

7.6  Other / Autre

The RIFAL project has been involved with INDRAP in Niger in converting Kanuri text in legacy 8-bit fonts to Unicode fonts.

8.  Localisation resources / Ressources pour localisation

8.1  Individuals (experts) / Individuelles (experts)

  • Norbert Cyffer, University of Vienna
  • John Hutchison, Boston University (emeritus)

8.2  Institutions / Institutions

Governmental agencies:

International agencies:


  • Lancor Technologies, Ikeja, Lagos State, Nigeria

8.3  On the internet / Sur la toile

9.  Comments / Remarques

10.  References / Références

Dwyer, David (1997), Webbook of African Languages, http://www.isp.msu.edu/AfrLang/hiermenu.html (page on "Kanuri," http://www.isp.msu.edu/AfrLang/Kanuri_root.html )

Hartell, Rhonda L., ed. (1993), The Alphabets of Africa. Dakar: UNESCO and SIL. (The French edition, published the same year, is entitled Alphabets de Langues Africaines).

SIL International, Ethnologue: Languages of the World, "Kanuri, Bilma," http://www.ethnologue.com/language/bms

______, "Kanuri, Central [Yerwa]," http://www.ethnologue.com/language/knc

______, "Kanuri, Manga," http://www.ethnologue.com/language/kby

______, "Kanuri, Tumari," http://www.ethnologue.com/language/krt

______, "Kanembu," http://www.ethnologue.com/language/kbl

SIL International, "Documentation for ISO 639 identifier: kau," http://www-01.sil.org/iso639-3/documentation.asp?id=kau

______, "ISO 639 Code Tables," http://www-01.sil.org/iso639-3/codes.asp

______, "ISO 639-3 Macrolanguage Mappings," http://www-01.sil.org/iso639-3/macrolanguages.asp

U.S. Library of Congress, "ISO 639.2: Codes for the Representation of Names of Languages: Alpha-3 codes arranged alphabetically by the English name of language," http://www.loc.gov/standards/iso639-2/php/English_list.php

Wikipedia, "Kanembu language," https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanembu_language

______, "Kanuri language," https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanuri_language

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