Writing system and grammatical notes

Consonants and vowels

There are 21 single-letter consonants in the Cicipu alphabet (e.g. k), as well as 6 double-letter consonants (e.g. kw), making 27 altogether.

There are 6 vowels: a e i o ø u, all of which have nasal counterparts written with a tilde (~) e.g. sẽ'ẽ 'carve'ː ã ẽ ĩ õ ø̃ ũ. Note especially the pronunciation of ø.

There are four diphthongs: ai eu ei eu.

Some words ending with ãu, and ɔ̃ are pronounced with an [m] when they occur utterance-finally e.g. /kɔ̀ɓɔ̃́/ [kɔ̀ɓɔ̃́m] 'axe', written købøm. Native speakers consistently prefer to write the m in all contexts, and so this practice is followed in this dictionary.

All consonants and vowels can be lengthened e.g. yuwwo 'turn round' vs. yuwo 'fall', ìtáatú 'mat' vs. ùtátú 'straw bundle'.


Letter IPA Pronunciation Cicipu example Hausa English
a [a] a as in 'mat' ta tuwo food
ã [ã] nasal ã as in 'can' (American pronunciation) katã takalmi shoe
b [b] b as in 'bat' kabara tsoho elder
ɓ [ɓ] implosive ɓ ɓø̃m gatari axe
c [tʃ] ch as in 'church' kuciga zakara cockerel
d [d] d as in 'dog' kadaba daji bush/countryside
ɗ [ɗ] implosive ɗ uɗanga itace tree
e [e] e as in 'day' mepese ɗan tagwai twin
[ẽ] nasal s' sassaƙa carve
g [ɡ] g as in 'go' kogino gyaɗa groundnut
gw [ɡʷ] gw as in 'guava' magwãwã kurma deaf mute
h [h] h as in 'hat' kahũ hanci nose
hw [hʷ] wh as in 'which' (Scottish pronunciation) hwã'yã shekaran jiya day before yesterday
hy [hʲ] hy as in 'hue' hyã'ũ jiya yesterday
i [i] ee as in 'see' maciiji ƙwarya calabash
ĩ [ĩ] nasal ee ccĩ mesa python
j [dʒ] j as in 'jam' jjeve gwanki roan antelope
k [k] k as in 'kick' kka mace woman
kw [kʷ] kw as in 'quick' ukwã fata skin
l [l] l as in 'lie' ulenji rana sun
m [m] m as in 'mat' mannu tsuntsu bird
n [n] n as in 'name' nna saniya cow
o [o] o as in 'go' koɗo yi ƙoto peck
õ [õ] nasal õ as in 'bone' (American pronunciation) motõ miyau saliva
ø [ɔ] aw as in 'paw' køɗø yanka cut down
ø̃ [ɔ̃] nasal aw as in 'gone' (American pronunciation) køhø̃ shirwa black kite
p [p] p as in 'pot' upepi iska wind
r [ɾ] r as in 'rat' urẽi gari town
s [s] s as in 'sit' usẽi zafi pain
t [t] t as in 'table' ttøtø suruki in-law
u [u] u as in 'too' ukutu ƙota shaft
ũ [ũ] nasal u as in 'moon' (American pronunciation) kuyũyũ yashi sand
v [v] v as in 'vat' vvooto akwiya goat
w [w] v as in 'well' wømø sarki chief
y [j] y as in 'you' yyiri mayya witch
z [z] z as in 'zoo' zza mutum person
' [ʔ] ' as in 'butter' (Cockney pronunciation i.e. glottal stop) 'asu wuri place
'w [ʔʷ] glottalised w cu'wãa gobe tomorrow
'y [ʔʲ] glottalised y 'yø'yø kifi fish
Letter IPA Pronunciation Cicipu example Hausa English

Subject prefixes

Verbs take prefixes agreeing with their subjects, either in person or gender. For example in the phrase kàràkúmí kádúkwà 'the camel went' the ká- prefix on the verb dukwa agrees in gender with kàràkúmí 'camel'. Various phonological and morphosyntactic properties show that these are tightly bound to the verb stem. In the orthography they are written together with the verb, without any space or hyphen, for example kadukwa.

Object markers

Object markers follow the verb and are used instead of full NPs. Unlike the subject prefixes their tone is independent of the verb and their vowels do not harmonise with those of the verb. They are written as separate words in the orthography (e.g. ùmátà rè 'she gave birth to them' is written umata re).

The third person singular object marker vì causes the final vowel of the verb to change to i. So for example ùmátà + vì 'she gave birth to him' → ùmátì vì. This is written as it sounds (e.g. umati vi).

In some environments (especially before the negator cé) the singular object markers appear in compressed form. Compare the following tables:

Object clitics
Object Phonological Orthographical English translation Hausa translation
1s wǐndà mù Winda mu. He saw me. Ya gan ni.
2s wǐndà vù Winda vu. He saw you(s.). Ya gan ka.
3s wǐndà vì Winda vi. He saw him. Ya gan shi.
Reduced object clitics (negated clauses)
Object Phonological Orthographical English translation Hausa translation
n/a wǐndà cé Winda ce. He didn't see. Bai gani ba.
1s wǐndàn cé Windan ce. He didn't see me. Bai gan ni ba.
2s wǐndà ccé Winda cce. He didn't see you(s.). Bai gan ka ba.
3s wǐndì ccé Windi cce. He didn't see him. Bai gan shi ba.

Other clitics

The associative proclitic is used to express possession and various other relationships between two noun phrases, for example kàgíiwá kó=↓móní 'hippo', literally 'elephant of-water'. In this dictionary a hyphen is placed between the associative marker and the second noun phrase (e.g. kagiiwa komoni).

The conjunction ìn 'and/with' is realised as a proclitic n- before vowel-initial words, for example n-ùlénjí 'in the afternoon', literally 'with-sun'. Again this proclitic is written with a hyphen in the dictionary (e.g. n-ulenji).

The locative proclitic á- (á=↓kákáasùwà 'in the market') is also written with a hyphen (a-kakaasuwa). If the word to which the clitic attaches begins with a vowel then the first vowel lengthens (e.g. á- + ùtáarí 'at the stony place' → úu↓táarí). In this case no hyphen is used (e.g. uutaari).

The negator cé is also arguably an enclitic but is always written as a separate word e.g. udukwa ce 'he didn't go'.


Cicipu has two tones H L as well as a falling tone HL. Two words may differ only by tone and yet have completely different meanings, for example káayà 'bean' vs. káayá 'hut'. Tonal 'minimal pairs' like this are actually very rare in Cicipu, and so lexical tone is not generally marked in the orthography. For this reason tone marks have been omitted from the headwords and examples in this dictionary. Language learners who want to know how to pronounce the word can use the tones in the phonetic field (which are actually phonological indicators) as a guide.

Although lexical tone has a low functional load, grammatical tone is very important in Cicipu and is sometimes the only indicator of important grammatical categories. Therefore in two cases tone-marking is used to distinguish between potentially ambiguous constructions.

Firstly, for most person/number combinations the realis verb form differs only by tone from the irrealis form (compare ùdúkwà 'he went' vs. údùkwà 'he should go'). In the writing system the realis forms are left unmarked e.g. udukwa 'he went', waaya 'he came', while the irrealis forms are represented with an acute accent above the first vowel e.g. údukwa 'he should go', wáaya 'he should come'.

Secondly, the plural imperative suffix -nà is distinguished only by tone from the ventive suffix -na. The plural imperative suffix is always low tone, while the ventive suffix takes its town from the overall verbal melody. So in the imperative there is a tonal contrast between kàbàná 'bringǃ' and kàbánà 'you (pl.) take'. The plural imperative suffix is always written orthographically with a grave accent e.g. kabanà 'you (pl.) take'.