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Review of  Hausa

Reviewer: Uwe Seibert
Book Title: Hausa
Book Author: Philip J. Jaggar
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): Hausa
Issue Number: 13.664

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Jaggar, Philip J. (2001) Hausa. John Benjamins Publishing
Company, xxxiv+754pp, hardback ISBN 1-58811-030-3 (US & Canada),
90-272-3807-3 (ROW), USD 182.00, EUR 200.00, London Oriental and
African Language Library 7
Announcement at

Uwe Seibert, Visiting scholar, Dept. of Linguistics, University
of Colorado at Boulder

In the introduction to this book, we are informed of the
fact that Hausa "is one of the best documented and most
extensively researched of all sub-Saharan African
languages, and has been the subject of serious study for
150 years" (p. 3).

And indeed, the number of monographs and articles written
on Hausa, the largest Chadic language, could easily
outweigh the number of articles and monographs written on
all the other 150+ Chadic languages put together.

As Hausa is one of the most widely taught African languages
in universities worldwide, there are already a number of
pedagogical grammars, dictionaries and readers available in
several languages. In recent years, two major reference
grammars have been produced, one in German (Wolff 1993) and
one in English (Newman 2000).

The benefit of this latest reference grammar of Hausa by
Philip J. Jaggar, a long-time lecturer of Hausa at the
School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London,
to me lies not so much in presenting new facts about Hausa,
but rather in displaying the structural and functional
characteristics of Hausa in a comprehensive and instructive
manner, using theory-neutral terms.

Like most other works on Hausa before, it describes the
Kano dialect, which is considered to be the "standard"
Hausa and is the variety used in the media and taught in
Hausa courses. Features of the other dialects are mentioned
at different points however.

The outline of the book is as follows:

1. Introduction
2. Phonology
3. Classification of Nouns
4. Simple Nouns and Adjectives: Gender and Number
5. Nominal and Adjectival Derivation
6. Tense, Aspect, Mood (TAM) System
7. Verb Grades
8. Verbal Nouns, Deverbal Nouns and Infinitives
9. Noun Phrase Syntax
10. Personal Non-Subject Pronouns
11. The Syntax of Simplex Clauses
12. Focus, Questions, Relativization and Topicalization
13. Clausal Complements
14. Clausal Coordination and Subordination
15. Adverbial Functions: Adverb Phrases, Prepositional
Phrases, Noun Phrases
16. Selected Texts

A very detailed table of contents (20 pages) and a large
index (15 pages) allow the reader to find the topics s/he
is interested in at a glance. At the end of the book is a
24-page bibliography which not only lists all the major
works and articles on Hausa, but also unpublished M.A. and
Ph.D. theses and articles in less readily available

Throughout the book, Jaggar provides plenty of examples
taken from a variety of oral and written sources,
reflecting contemporary Hausa usage. These examples are
written in the standard Hausa orthography; tone, length and
the difference between the two Hausa "r" sounds is marked
in addition. Interlinear glosses are given where they are
needed to clarify the structure in question, but not
throughout, in order to save space and avoid redundancy.
Someone who doesn't know Hausa may prefer more glosses, but
this would have largely increased the size of the book,
which already is more than 700 pages!

A few comments on some of the chapters:

Chapter 4 offers an excellent description of the intricate
system of forming noun plurals in Hausa. Jaggar
demonstrates how about 40 different plural formations can
be reduced to 14 major classes, some of them having
subclasses according to syllable weight and other
phonological features.

In chapter 6, Jaggar describes the formation of tense,
aspect and mood not only in terms of their structural
paradigms and their basic function and meanings, but also
in terms of their distribution in discourse, an issue that
has received little attention in Hausa studies so far.

In chapter 7, he treats the complex system of forming
derived verbal stems by adding suffixes to a basic verb,
noun, or adjective. "Verb grades" in Hausa are shown to
code directionality (ventive-centrifugal and
"efferential"), transitive and intransitive, totality, and
partitive. Their behavior in different syntactic
environments -- very puzzling for a Hausa learner -- is
described in a very helpful way.

In chapter 9, among other things, Jaggar describes
indefinite and definite determiners and their discourse
function and illustrates how demonstratives code a four way
contrast between "near me the speaker", "near you the
hearer", "distant from me & you", and "remote-distal from
me & you".

Chapter 13 contains a very detailed typology of clausal
complements based on Givón (1980) and Schuh (1998). Jaggar
distinguishes between aspectual, causative, permissive and
prohibitive verbs, verbs of emotion, intention, attempt and
control, verbs of cognition and perception, modal
complement taking expressions, direct and indirect speech,
and cognate complements.

Chapter 16 offers just a very tiny sample of written Hausa
texts: a 19th century letter and a tale both in Arabic
letters and the Standard Hausa Orthography, and a modern
newspaper article and poem in the Standard Hausa
Orthography, all with interlinear gloss and free
translation. But this is perfectly o.k., since a number of
Hausa readers already exist.

Jaggar gives references to the major sources whenever a new
topic is treated. This allows the reader to go deeper into
the history of Hausa description and to compare Jaggar's
treatment of, e.g. the Hausa TAM system, noun plurals, verb
grades, etc. with other scholars' findings and treatments.

The book is well-designed and very readable. It may be a
bit too advanced for a beginning student of Hausa, but
intermediate and advanced students and anyone who wants to
get a thorough knowledge of Hausa will find it extremely
helpful and worth buying, despite its high price.

Scholars (like me) working on other Chadic languages will
find it very helpful, too, as a model for their own
description of closely related languages. We all know how
far we lag behind compared to the depth of Hausa studies,
so let's get on with it and produce works of a similar

Givón, Talmy. 1980. The binding hierarchy and the typology
of complements. Studies in Language 4(3): 333-77.

Newman, Paul. 2000. The Hausa Language: An Encyclopedic
Reference Grammar. New Haven and London: Yale University

Schuh, Russell G. 1998. A Grammar of Miya. (University of
California Publications in Linguistics, 130.) Berkeley and
Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Wolff, H. Ekkehard. 1993. Referenzgrammatik des Hausa
(Hamburger Beiträge zur Afrikanistik, 2.). Münster and
Hamburg: LIT.

Uwe Seibert became interested in Hausa and other Chadic
languages while studying African languages at the
University of Marburg (Germany). Between 1989 and 1996, he
went to Central Nigeria several times to study languages of
the Ron group of Chadic. He received his PhD from the
Department of African Linguistics of the University of
Frankfurt in 1997, his thesis was a description of the
morphology, syntax and discourse features of the Daffo
variety of Ron. From 1998-2000 he worked as a Research
Fellow at the Department of Linguistics of the University
of Jos, Nigeria. Presently, he is a visiting scholar at the
Department of Linguistics of the University of Colorado at
Boulder and works on a comparative study of "verbal
extensions in Chadic".