Language Borrowing: English Loanwords in Hausa Language

Language Borrowing: English Loanwords in Hausa Language


Language borrowing is increasingly becoming an interesting topic of study in recent years. Intercultural contact, communication and globalization have led to inter language borrowings among almost all languages. This paper is restricted on Lexical borrowing of English by Hausa Language.


According to Encyclopaedia Britannica (2010), English language is one of the Indo-European language families and is therefore related to most other languages of Europe and western Asia from Iceland to India. The parent tongue, called Indo-Proto-European was spoken about 5000 years ago by nomads believed to have roamed the southeast European plains.

English language adopts (without change) or adapts (with slight changes) any word really needed to name some new object or to denote some new process.

Hausa is classified by J. H. Greenberg as a member of the Chadic group of the Afro-asiatic family of languages. It is, therefore, more closely related genetically to Arabic, Hebrew, Berber and other members of the Afro-asiatic family than are most of the rest of the languages of sub-Saharan Africa. (Introduction to Hausa , Peace Corps/Niger • April 2006:3) .Its speakers live in Northern Nigeria, Republic of Benin, Republic of Niger, in the northern part of Ghana, in Cameroon and parts of Togo, the Chad Republic and Central African Republic. Hausa as a language is spoken as a second language by many speakers of other African languages. The group includes many languages that are spoken by small numbers of people and that have no written form; among these are Angas, Kotoko, Sokoro, Mubi, Bura, Mandara, Bolewa, Karekare and the Kanakuru (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2010).

It has extensive borrowings from almost all the languages it came into contact with. The European colonization of Africa brought Hausa people in direct contact with European system of Government, Schools, European cultures and influences hitherto unknown to the people. (Onabamiro, 1983:76)


According to Encyclopedia Britannica (2010 Edition) “languages borrow freely from one another” Language borrowing usually occurs when languages come in contact either physically (English and Hausa) or through writings (English and Latin) or some new objects or institution developed for which the borrowing language has no such word in its vocabulary or the institution does not exist or evolve from the society of the borrowing language.

Borrowing is as a result of cultural contact between two language communities. Borrowing of words can go in both directions between the two languages in contact, but often there is lop-sidedness, such that more words go from one side to the other. In this case the source language community usually has some advantage of power, prestige and/or wealth that makes the objects and ideas it brings desirable and useful to the borrowing language community.

The actual process of borrowing is complex and involves many usage events (i.e. instances of use of the new word). Generally, some speakers of the borrowing language know the source language too, or at least enough of it to utilize the relevant words. They adopt them when speaking the borrowing language. If they are bilingual in the source language, which is often the case, they might pronounce the words the same or similar to the way they are pronounced in the source language. For example, English speakers adopted the word garage from French, at first with a pronunciation nearer to the French pronunciation than is now usually found. Most probably the very first speakers who used the word in English knew at least some French and heard the word used by French speakers. (Kemmer, 2009).


Geographical and Economic mobility is one of the major factors responsible for borrowing among languages of the world. As a result of trading activities of the various language groups across the world, there are so many borrowings across languages. Hausa language like English is one of the languages that borrow from almost all languages it got contact with. The language has been in contact with Arabic, Fulfulde, Kanuri, and English, etc, this accounted for large number of borrowings across Hausa and these languages into Hausa.


Arabic Hausa
Al-maut Mutuwa
Al-akhira Lahira
Sauti Sauti
Bayan Bayani


Fulfulde Hausa
Ndottijo Dattijo
Inna Inna
Nagge Nagge


Kanuri Hausa
Birni Birni
Bulaguro Balaguro



Tamajek Hausa
Takoba Takobi
Kanwa Kanwa
Takarde Takarda

(Ahmed, and Daura, 1970:11-12)

As English traders spread across the world during the seafaring centuries, thousands of words were borrowed and incorporated into English language, it borrowed from almost all European languages, Arabic, Japanese, and Chinese etc. It usually adopts and/or adapts what ever lexicon it borrowed.

There are many foreign words and phrases borrowed and assimilated into English of today e.g.

  • Arabic: alcohol, alembic, algebra, algorithm, alkali, bedouin, emir, gazelle, giraffe, harem, hashish, lute, minaret, mosque (through Spanish), sirocco, sultan, vizier, bazaar, caravan.
  • Chinese: ginseng, japan (“varnish”), ketchup, kowtow, tea, litchee.
  • German: carouse, cobalt, feldspar, frankfurter, blitzkrieg, zeppelin, strafe, U-boat, hamburger, kindergarten.
  • Italian: artichoke, balcony, bandit, casino, alto, arsenal, broccoli, cameo, cupola, duo, fresco, fugue, gazette (via French), ghetto, gondola, grotto, macaroni, madrigal, motto, piano, opera, pantaloons, prima donna, regatta, soprano, opera, stanza, stucco, studio, tempo, torso, umbrella, viola, violin.
  • Japanese: banzai, bushido, geisha, geta, haiku, hara kiri, judo, jujitsu, kamikaze, karaoke, kimono, samurai, sumo, sushi, tsunami.
  • Russian/Slavic: glasnost, intelligentsia, mammoth, apparatchik, borscht, czar/tsar, icon, perestroika, vodka.
  • Spanish: albino, alfalfa, alligator, anchovy, armada, adobe, barricade, bravado, cannibal, canyon, coyote, desperado, embargo, guitar, marijuana, mosquito, mustang, ranch, tornado, tortilla, vigilant. (Hoffer, 2002 P 55)

Military conquest and colonization is another factor influencing language borrowing. The history of English best illustrates this. English itself was brought into Britain by Anglo-Saxons, the invaders, in the fifth century. It crowded out the native Celtic speech and Cornish. In modern times with the enrichment of English and Industrial modernization of the English world, Britain began its overseas aggression and colonization around the world. Along with it is the consistent immigration and cultural invasion. Nowadays, English has become the most prestigious language on earth and primary a donor language. Actually, the present distribution throughout the world of other languages-Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish- is the evidence of conquest and occupation, followed by adoption of the invader’s language because of the benefits accrue to speakers of the language when the dominant language has been imposed. Just as Illich (1981:34) has put it, “language has always been the consort of empire and forever shall remain its mate”.

After the Norman Conquest of 1066 AD, French language became the official language of government and the upper classes in English society. This is why almost all English words related to government and royalty are from French e.g. government, reign, country, state, baron, baroness; count, countess; duke, duchess; marquis, marquess; prince, princess, viscount, viscountess, noble, royal etc (Hoffer, 1994).

In the same vein, after the annexation of Lagos as a colony on 30th July 1861 and the conquest of Sokoto caliphate on 15th March 1903 (Onabamiro 1983 P 76) and colonial administration was set up, so many Nigerian languages borrowed extensively from the language of the conquerors. Some languages borrowed certain vocabularies wholesale while some languages have modified the spelling and pronunciations e.g. the word “Pan” was borrowed and modified by the Yoruba to “Pano” which Hausa adapted as “kwano” (Ahmed, and Daura, 1970:13)

Another important facilitator of language borrowing is Religion. All religions have language of instruction and worship which goes with it everywhere it was exported.

Christian missionaries from western world played a significant role in language borrowing especially from English to native African languages. In the same vein Islam and Arabic language, influenced Hausa language borrowing and development e g all names of the days of the week are borrowed by Hausa from Arabic.

Intellectuals and public media are facilitators in language borrowing, especially in the current world. As is known to all, most new words and loanwords first appear on the media and then accepted by the public.

Every day, millions of people are studying foreign languages or just entertain themselves through the internet, television, radio, newspapers and magazines. They come across new terms and quickly take a liking to these alien words. Then, they try to use them in daily life, and if possible, the loanwords get established. English has largely influenced and is still influencing Hausa language through public media such as BBC, VOA and Radio France International Hausa services.

Educated people and learned scholars are always vehicles in borrowing language. It is normally these people who get loanwords established. English itself got established in Britain and borrowed enormously from others also through the work of educated people like missionaries who were the only educated at time. (Ruikuo, 2005 P 52)

Meanwhile, tradesmen and fashionable young people are also enthusiastic users of loanwords, for they usually have special need to communicate with members from other communities.

In the 20th century, Globalization has contributed to language borrowing. Words now freely pass from one language to another in an astounding scale. Advancement in transport, information and communication technology has made the world one single global village. Everyday new inventions are made and exported to all parts of the world. This has made the vocabulary of modern science and technology largely international.


Loanwords are words adopted by the speakers of one language from a different language (the source language).

Languages are always on the change, and loans must be considered as those words which were not in the vocabulary at one period and are in it at a subsequent one, without having been made up from the existing lexical stock of the language or invented as entirely new creations (Robins 2000).

A loanword can also be called a borrowing. The abstract noun borrowing refers to the process of speakers adopting and/or adapting words from a source language into their native language. “Loan” and “borrowing” are of course metaphors, because there is no literal lending process. There is no transfer from one language to another, and no “returning” words to the source language. They simply come to be used by a speech community that speaks a different language from the one they originated in.

However, in time more speakers can become familiar with a new foreign word. The community of users can grow to the point where even people who know little or nothing of the source language understand, and even use the novel word themselves. The new word becomes conventionalized. At this point we call it a borrowing or loanword. (Not all foreign words do become loanwords; if they fall out of use before they become widespread, they do not reach the loanword stage.)

Conventionalization is a gradual process in which a word progressively permeates a larger and larger speech community. As part of its becoming more familiar to more people, with conventionalization, a newly borrowed word gradually adopts sound and other characteristics of the borrowing language. In time, people in the borrowing community do not perceive the word as a loanword at all. Generally, the longer a borrowed word has been in the language, and the more frequently it is used, the more it resembles the native words of the language. (Hoffer, 2002:53)

Loanwords always enlarge the lexical stock of the borrowing language. Borrowing is one of the most frequent ways of acquiring new words, and speakers of all languages do it (Trask 2000).English has borrowed up to 500 thousand words from other languages, including 1,488 Chinese loanwords. Between 5,000 and 10,000 Chinese characters are used in Japanese while Chinese borrowed more than 1,000 neologies from Japan in return. (Ruikuo, 2005: 57)

There are uncountable numbers of words borrowed by Hausa language from the English language. As earlier stated, after the colonial conquest, the Hausa language came in contact with a system of Government and administration which was unknown to the people and the language, therefore it was inevitable for it to borrow from the language that came with the system.


Hausa has a literary tradition extending back several centuries before contact with Western culture. Hausa was first written in an Arabic script known as Ajami (Bawa 2007) this representation of the language is largely restricted to Muslim scholars, diviners (malamai) and their Qur’anic schools.

After the colonial conquest of Africa and establishment of colonial administration, there was a shift to Roman script (Kossman; 2007).This shift made it easier for the language to adopt and adapt English loanwords.

It is part of the cultural history of Hausa speakers that they have always adopted loanwords from the languages of whatever cultures they have come in contact with, and there has never been any academy in any Hausa speaking country to attempt to restrict new loanwords. As one of the sub-Saharan most prominent languages, its history is interesting for many reasons, including its flexibility in borrowing from other languages, a flexibility that has enriched its vocabulary over the centuries, including English, among others.

Thereafter, once these loanwords get established, they will undoubtedly be pronounced according to English phonetic rules although there is variation in spelling and the articulation changes, in most cases the semantic meaning seldom shifts.


English Hausa
Minister Minista
Captain Kyaftin
Garage Gareji


It is common knowledge that language and culture are inseparable twins; this is largely true to all intents and purposes. As earlier stated, the colonial administration came to Hausa land with a system completely different to what obtained there prior to colonialism. Hausa language had no option than to borrow words from the English language since its vocabulary did not have such. This paper has limited itself to only lexical borrowing; the paper would look at loanwords from the following categories;


Government Gwamnati
Governor Gwamna
Councilor Kansila
Office Ofis
Messenger Masinja
Minister Minista
Secretary Sakatare
Democracy Damokaradiyya
Diplomacy Diplomassiyya
Commissioner Kwamishina
Resident Razdan
Report Rahoto
Campaign Kamfe/kemfen



Headquarter Hedikwata
Bugle Bigila
Soldier Soja
Private Farabiti
Lance Corporal Las kofur
Corporal Kofur
Sergeant Saja
Sergeant Major Samanja
Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) Arsan
Lieutenant Laftana
Captain Kyaftin
Major Manjo
Lieutenant Colonel Laftanar Kanar
Colonel Kanar
Brigadier Birgediya
Major General Manjo Janar
General Janar
Belt Bel
Charge office Caji Ofis
Barracks Bariki
Inspector Sufeto



Motor Mota/mato
Bicycle Basukur
Trampoline Tamfal
Tyre Taya
Steering Sitari
Mercedes Marsandi
Brake Burki
Machine (motor bike) Mashin
Petrol Fetur
Tractor Tarikito
Grader Gireda
Coal tar Kwalta
Tank Tanki
Jerry Can Jarka
Station Tasha
Engine Injin
Radiator Lagireto
Carburetor Kafireto
Mudguard Mustagadi
Silencer Salansa
Driver Direba
Gear Giya
Throttle Totur
Clutch Kuloci
Garage Gareji
Number Lamba
Spanner Sufana
Pliers Filaya



Cabbage Kabeji
Sugar Sukari
Mango Mangoro
Guava Gwaba/Gwaiba
Carrot Karas
Lemon Lemu
Lettuce Latas
Tomato Tumatir
Bread Burodi
Chocolate Cakula



Biro Biro
Table Tebur
Pencil Fensir
Headmaster Hedimasta
English Ingilishi



Radio Rediyo
Cassettes Kaset
Fridge Firjin
Thermos Tamas
Television Talebijin
Fan Fanka
Recorder Rakoda



Telephone Tarho
Telegram Tangaraho
Satellite Satalayit



Tailor Tela
Yard Yadi
Singlet Singileti
Jumper Jamfa
Blouse Bulawus
Zip Zi
Slippers Silifa
Pin Hini



Bank Banki
Counter Kanta
Accountant Akanta
Manager Manaja
Company Kamfani
Canteen Kanti



Cup Kofi
Cage Keji
Wire Waya
Torchlight Tocila
Screwdriver Sukurdireba
Leather Leda
Candle Kyandir
Card Kati



Court Kotu
Bail Beli
Remand Riman
Charge Chaji
Summons Sammaci



Hospital Assibiti
Doctor Likita



Father (Reverend) Fada
Catholic Katolika
Baptism Baftisma
Church Choci



Language borrowing should be encouraged as this would largely aid dissemination of knowledge and would also lead to development and expansion of the vocabulary of the borrowing language. It certainly keeps languages alive and responsive to new developments, challenges of inventions and interchange of ideas and trends.


This paper has been able to establish how Language borrowing is usually the natural outcome of language contact and a significant part of language promotion. The races, cultures and languages that are brought into historical contact tend to assimilate in the long run. Therefore, language borrowing can be assumed to be a contact-induced, culture-oriented activity carried out by speakers of different languages. It is normally influenced, as has been discussed above, by external factors such as geographical mobility, national policy, economic power, military conquest, colonization and immigration, religious spread, trade, tourism, cultural and personnel exchanges, and especially public media. It virtually constitutes an important means of culture diffusion and language promotion. Meanwhile, language borrowing is also restricted by some internal factors because it is a socio-linguistic phenomenon in language development and it cannot exclude itself from the laws of language. Therefore, internal linguistic aspects such as writing style, phonological pattern and grammatical rules of different languages will inevitably influence the process and consequence of lexical borrowing, though secondary compared with extra-linguistic factors.

Loanwords normally undergo a process of being assimilated so that they can become permanent members of the borrowing language family. The assimilation degree of different loanwords varies from one to another, and the vitality also differs.

Finally, paper has been able to identify English loanwords in Hausa language, the borrowing has cut across various spheres of human endeavors although the identified words are by no means exhaustive. There is room for further research in this area.


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Ling/Engl 215 course information
Rice University

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Edited by Matras, Yaron; Sakel, Jeanette
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A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of the School of Foreign Studies, Anhui University in Partial fulfilment of the Requirements for The degree of Master of Arts under the Supervision of Prof. Zhang Ming English Department School of Foreign Studies, Anhui University April 30, 2005.

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