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Cawyaŋ Zarma Sanni

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Lesson 1. Ni kani baani?


  1. Intro
  2. Vocabulary
  3. Greetings
  4. Grammar
  5. Exercises (workbook, lesson 1)
  6. Answers (answer book, lesson 1)

1.A. Intro

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Two man greeting esch other in a field

Musa: Fofo.

Hama: Ngoyya.

Musa: Ni kani baani?

Hama: Baani samay. Ni kani ka baan, dey?

Musa: Baani samay.


Listen and practice


1.B. Vocabulary

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Learn these words by heart.

Move the mouse to one of the underlined words and a sentence in which the word is used will appear. Click the left mouse button and a photo will appear in a popup. When you move the pointer on the screen with your mouse over the photo the translation of the Zarma sentence will show.

Zarma English Pronunciation [1]
neera to sell nee ra
kani to lie down, to rest, to go to bed ka ni
kaŋ to fall kaŋ
zuru to run, to run away zu ru
koy to go koy
day to buy day
Zarma English Pronunciation [1]
bari, bariyo horse ri, ri yo  
farkay, farka/farkayo donkey far kay
hansi, hanso dog hân si
fu, fuwo house, home fu, fu wo
yo, ywa camel, dromedary yo, ywa
musu, muso cat (usually domestic, but sometimes lion) su
haw, hawo cow (bovine, generic, not gender) hàw
wayboro, waybora woman, female way bo ro
wande, wando wife wan de
kwaara, kwaaraa village, town, compound
(of several houses)
kwaa ra
zanka, zankaa child, youngster
(size and age, not offspring)
zan ka
Adverbs, adjectives, etc.
Zarma English Pronunciation [1]
fo, afo, afa one a fo

[1]  Legend for pronunciation (see Pronunciation guide for details)
italic tone is high
  under score tone is low
  vowel with ^ long vowel, e.g., ê
  vowel with ` short vowel, e.g. è
  bold syllable on which the principle emphasis falls

1.C. Greetings (fooyaŋey)

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Greetings form an important aspect of west African languages in general and therefore also of the Zarma language. For this reason, extra attention for this aspect of the language is self evident. Like in any language some greetings are time dependent others are not. In addition the context, i.e., the circumstance of the encounter, are of importance. In the greetings below grammar is used beyond the grammar explained in this lesson.

Morning (to individuals only)

Person A: Ni kani baani?

Person B: Baani samay. Ni kani ka baan, day?

Person A: Baani samay.

Person A: (Did) you sleep well? (one must supply the question words)
Person B: Just fine. Did you sleep well?
Person A: Just fine.

Afternoon (to individuals only)

Person A: Ni foy baani?

Person B: Baani samay. Ni foy ka baan, day?

Person A: Baani samay.

Person A: You had a good day?
Person B: Just fine. Did you have a good day?
Person A: Just fine.


1.D. Grammar

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It is important to realise that Zarma grammar sometimes differs from English grammar or from grammar of other European languages likes German or French. With one respect Zarma grammar is not so different, the number of exception on rules is at least equal to the number of rules and sometimes it is not possible to discover rules at all. In such cases the only way to learn the language is to learn those thing by heart.

Subjects in this lesson:

  1. personal pronouns
  2. definite article
  3. definite plural of nouns
  4. indefinite article
  5. verb-completed action (past tense)
  6. simple questions

1.D.1. Personal pronouns

The personal pronouns are invariable in all cases; that is: whether used in nominative case or objective case, or as possessives.

Personal pronouns singular
Zarma English
ay I, me, my
ni you, you, your (singular) (thou, thee, thy)
a (nga) he, she, it; his, her, it; his, her, its

Personal pronouns plural
Zarma English
iri (ir) we, us, our
araŋ you (ye), you, your
i (ngey, ey) they, them, their

You will learn more about the use of the long forms of the third person singular (nga)' and third person plural (ngey and ey) later (a/o lesson 3.D.4 and 4.D.1). The initial 'n' of these two words is actually pronounced like the 'in' in the word 'linger'.


1.D.2. Definite article

The idea of a definite article (the) is expressed by either the vowel 'a' or 'o' on the end of the noun in the singular. As a general rule:

  • nouns ending in 'a' add an 'a'; however, till 1999 the rule was that these nouns did not change for the definite, and therefore, in many texts you will need the context to decide whether the noun is singular or definite plural. The 'aa' at the end is accentuated when you pronounce it.
  • nouns ending in 'o' either change to 'a' or add an 'a'. Exception are words ending on 'ko, in that case the 'ko' changes to 'kwa'
  • nouns ending in 'e', 'i', 'u' or a consonant (l, r, y, etc.) change to 'o' or add an 'o'.
  • nouns with an ay-ending are a special case, for most words the 'ay' changes in 'a', buts sometimes the follow the above rule for consonant and add an 'o'.
Singular definite articles in Zarma, examples
  Zarma indefinite Zarma definite English indefinite English definite
a zanka zankaa a child the child
o/a wayboro waybora a woman the woman
o/a yo ywa a camel the camel
ko/kwa darbayko darbaykwa a fisherman the fisherman
e/o wande wando a wife the wife
i/o hansi hanso a dog the dog
i/o bari bariyo a horse the horse
u/o buru buro a bread the bread
u/o fu fuwo a house the house
con./o farkay farka a donkey the donkey
con./o lettr lettro a letter the letter

As there does not seem to be any rule for whether to add or change this definite indicator, the indefinite and the definite singular of all nouns are given in the vocabularies. You must learn them, as you learned whether it was feminine of masculine with each French noun.


1.D.3. Definite plural of nouns

By replacing the final vowel of the definite singular of a noun with the definite plural ending 'ey' , the definite plural is derived.

A special case is nouns with ay-endings, the definite plural is formed by either change the a-ending of the definite singular to ey or to change the o-ending of the alterative definitive form to ey.

Plural of definite articles in Zarma, examples
Zarma English
indefinite singular definite singular definite plural indefinite singular definite singular definite plural
zanka zanka zankey a child the child the children
hansi hanso hansey a dog the dog the dogs
bari bariyo bariyey a horse the horse the horses
fu fuwo fuwey a house the house the houses
haw hawo hawey a cow the cow the cows
farkay farka
a donkey the donkey the donkeys


1.D.4. Indefinite article

Strictly speaking, the indefinite article 'a' or 'an', as we have it in English, does not exist in Zarma. In translating, you will often have to supply it where there is nothing in Zarma. If there is a need to particularise, or to specify number, the numeral adjective fo (one) is placed after the noun. One way to figure whether to use the fo in Zarma is to ask yourself how you can substitute the "a" or 'an' in English. If you can substitute 'a' or 'an' which is in your mind by "any" then do not use the fo in this case. If you can substitute them with 'a certain' or 'a single' or 'one' then use the fo.

Indefinite article in Zarma, examples
Zarma English
musu a cat
musu fo a (certain) cat, one cat
bari a horse
bari fo a (certain) horse, one horse


1.D.5. Verb-completed action (past tense)

In Zarma there are no conjugation verb endings, the verb itself never changes, either for person or number.

A Zarma verb, without any auxiliaries, is in the past tense or, to be more precise in the completed tense (or state of being).

Verb-completed action in Zarma, examples
Zarma English
ay neera I sold
ni neera you sold (singular)
a neera he/she sold
iri neera we sold
araŋ neera you sold (plural)
i neera they sold
ay day I bought
iri day we bought
zankaa kani the child went to bed
zankey kani the cildren went to bed

It has been pointed out in the introduction, and we repeat it here: do not expect English or French grammatical ideas to fit Zarma at all points. Our ideas of tense in a verb and their ways of looking at time do not really coincide.

In the indicative mood, a Zarma verb really can show just one of two things: whether an action is completed or not. An uncompleted action can be something that was happening, that is happening, that happens regularly, that is about to happen, or that will happen.

Actual time elements will quite often be gotten from the context rather than from the verb, though if a verb has auxiliaries, they can give some clues.


1.D.6. Simple questions

There a two way to ask a simple question:

a) Add wala at the end of the sentence. The English translation in the 'past tense' will begin with "Did ....?" This form is roughly equivalent to the French "n'est-ce pas?"

Simple questions in Zarma with wala, examples
Zarma English
Araŋ kani, wala? Did you go to bed?
I zuru, wala? Did they run away?
A kaŋ, wala? Did it fall?

b) One may also merely raise the tone of the voice, as we do in English.

Simple questions in Zarma by raising tone, examples
Zarma English
Araŋ kani? You went to bed? (plural)
I zuru? They ran away?
A kaŋ? He fell?


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Last updated: 20 Januari, 2016