Sociolinguistic Investigation Of Some Hausa Proverbs

Project and Seminar Material for Linguistics and Communication

Sociolinguistic Investigation Of Some Hausa Proverbs


This research work is on Sociolinguistic Investigation of Some Hausa Proverbs. The Hausa term for proverb is Karin Magana and they are one of the oldest and most important types of myth, which form part and parcel of the Hausa culture. These wise sayings form a very crucial phase of the ways of life of the people who use them. They vary in meaning, depending on the way the speakers and listeners understand them. The consequence of proverbs on the general public depends on the context in which they are employed. Hausa proverbs maintain conformity to cultural values and accepted pattern of behavior. Thus, proverbs are filled with hints on several aspects of life. Proverbs are employed in different kinds of situations in Hausa society to control numerous activities without the use of force or harsh language. There are many proverbs that relate to situation of courage, despair, hope and others. They are also used to caution, advise, educate and control. This research work viewed some of these Hausa proverbs from sociolinguistic standpoint, usingthe Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. It came to the conclusion that proverbs foster unity, peace, understanding and a deep sense of belonging among the Hausa people.

Chapter One


1.1 Background to the Study

People commonly use different forms of expressions which are peculiar to their societies to express their views and for effective communication. These expressions can be verbal and non-verbal, including signs and symbols among others. The verbal forms and include forms such as songs, riddles, poems and adages. Whatever forms of expressions used in any society, they aim at expressing values, ideas, emotions, and desires, which are used to educate, caution and enlighten such society. Just like most African societies, the Hausa people of Northern Nigeria make use of proverbs known as “Karin Magana” to indicate subjects of interest. Proverbs are of great practical values and are used to portray social conditions, express feelings, admire, detest, warn and encourage people.

A proverb is a saying popularly used to express simple and concrete truth based on common sense and the experience of people. According to Bascom, “Proverbs which are the most important type of aphorism in Africa have a deeper meaning than is stated literally; a meaning which can be understood only through the analysis of the social situations to which they are appropriate” (438). Hausa proverbs (Karin Magana) are said to be the oldest and the most important genre of folklore which are used by the people in many contexts. Hausa proverbs give answers to recurrent problems; they are also used to revive history, develop language, entertain and educate. The proverbs touch on almost every aspect of the people’s life. Akporobaro rightly observes that “Proverbs in Hausa language manifest the same wide range of topical interest and close attentiveness to the facts of human life, as do the proverbs from other major social ethnic groups” (89). In addition, Hausa proverbs reflect the religious temper and heritage of the Hausa people. Hausa proverbs are used to express social approval and disapproval, praise, criticize, warn and advise. Karin Magana is very valuable to preliterate people, for whom words cannot be read, they are more valued when heard. In many African societies, the instinct for language for imagery and for the expression of abstract ideas through concise and allusive phraseology can be seen particularly in proverbs. Karin Magana can be seen to have an immense value to speakers and orators.

The term “proverb” has been defined or described by various people and all the definitions point at a particular focus. One interesting definition is the one in Encyclopedia Britanica, volume 9 and it states, “Proverbs are succinct and pithy sayings in general use, expressing commonly held ideals and beliefs’ (749). They are part of everyday language and are related to such other forms of folk literature as riddles and fables that have originated in oral tradition.

According to Chamber’s English Dictionary, proverbs are defined as “short familiar sentences expressing a supposed truth or moral lessons and requires explanations” (1177). No matter which part of the world proverbs are found, it is discovered that the same kernel of wisdom may be gleaned under different cultural conditions and languages.
Proverbial sayings are very important part of folktale. They are not limited to only a particular set of people in society, but to both people of high cultures as well as the uncivilized. It is therefore impossible for a man to be considered a good orator unless he makes ample use of proverbs in his everyday speech. In societies where moral behavior of people is governed by social norms, proverbs are very effective checks on people’s behavior. Proverbs censor defaulters or praise those who conform to the ethics of the tribe. Societies also use proverbs to rebuke the young ones who err in such societies.

Proverbs have significant impacts on the lives of the people of the communities that use them, and they occur in different categories depending on the context and situation. Proverbs also go a long way to enhance the social relationships of the members of particular societies. However, in this generation, a lot of people, especially the youths, have neglected the use of proverbs and consequently, the significance and impact they have on them (youths) and the society at large. They believe that proverbs are meant for only the old ones. These beliefs have gone a long way to reduce cultural heritage in many societies today. It is against this background therefore, that we shall take a look at some Hausa proverbs, their significance and impact on the lives of the members of the community and restore certain heritage that is fast fading because of the nonchalant attitude of the people.

1.2 The Hausa language and people- A Brief Historical Outline

Hausa belongs to the West Chadic subgroup of the Chadic languages group, which in turn is part of the Afro-Asiatic language family. The Hausa people are mostly found in the Niger Republic and in northern Nigeria, but, according to Wikipedia, “the language is widely used as a lingua franca (similar to Swahili in East Africa) in a much larger swathe of West Africa (Accra, Abidjan, Dakar, Lomé, Cotonou, Bamako, Conakry, Ouagadougou, etc.) and Central Africa (Douala, Yaoundé, Maroua, Garoua, N’djaména, Bangui, Libreville, etc.), particularly amongst Muslims. Radio stations like the BBC, Radio France Internationale, China Radio International, Voice of Russia, Voice of America, Deutsche Welle, and IRIB broadcast in Hausa. It is taught at universities in Africa and around the world”. Hausa has different varieties spoken in different Hausa regions. Eastern Hausa dialects include Kananci, which is spoken in Kano, Bausanchiin Bauchi, Dauranchiin Daura, Gudduranciin Katagum, Misau and part of Borno and Hadejanci in Hadejiya. Western Hausa dialects include Sakkwatancispoken in Sokoto, Katsinanciin Katsina, Arewanciin both Gobir and Adar, Kebbi, Zamfara and Kurhwayanci in Kurfey of Niger Republic. Katsina is transitional between Eastern and Western dialects. Northern Hausa dialects include Arewa and Arawa, while Zazzaganciin Zaria is the major Southern dialect. The Kano dialect is the ‘standard’ variety of Hausa. The BBC, Deutsche Welle and Voice of America offer Hausa Services on their international news web site using Kananci as the standard. Hausa’s modern official orthography is a Latin-based alphabet called boko, which was introduced in the 1930s by the British colonial administration. Hausa has also been written in ajami, a variant of the Arabic script, since the early 17th century. There is no standard system of using ajami, and different writers may use letters with different values.

1.3 Statement of the Problem

Many African societies are suffering from sharp decline in their oral tradition partly because of negligence. This has for some time now been a serious problem to contend with, especially among the Hausa speaking people of Northern Nigeria who regard oral tradition with high esteem. The people, especially the young ones do not see any need of using proverbs to spice their everyday speech. They are mostly of the opinion that proverbs are meant exclusively for the old ones. They also think that using proverbs is a rural affair and that the residents of the urban areas have no need of them. For these reasons, they do not really see any need for the proverbs within the Hausa domain. This study will therefore go a long way to correct this misconception by making the people, especially the youth, to see the significant linguistic and cultural role proverbs play among the Hausa.

1.4 Aim and Objectives

The aim of the study is to find out what proverbs are, their uses, impact and significance on individual / community and the possible lessons to learn for the future. The objectives include:

  1. Discover the true meaning of proverbs.
  2. Identify the uses of proverbs.
  3. Ascertain the significance and impact of Hausa proverbs on Hausa people.

1.5 Purpose and Significance of the Study

This sociolinguistic study of Hausa proverbs is meant to enlighten the Hausa people on the need to use proverbs in their domain. It will help to find out the circumstances surrounding the use of proverbs as a medium of expression.

This study will also help to bring to light the specific group of people that use proverbs in the Hausa society and how proverbial expressions will restore their oral tradition. Finally, it will contribute to existing body of knowledge and serve as important reference document in libraries for scholars.

1.6 Research Questions

The research questions are:

  1. What are proverbs?
  2. What are the uses of proverbs in the Hausa society?
  3. How significant are proverbs and what impact do they have on the Hausa people?

1.7 Scope / Delimitation

So many works have been written on proverbs in general and with reference to different parts of Africa. This work however, delves into studying only Hausa proverbs, so as to impress on the Hausas the importance of using their traditional oral expressions in order to enhance their culture. Kano Hausa, which is the main Hausa, is selected for the purpose of collecting data for this study.

Chapter Five

5.0 Summary, Conclusion and Recommendation

5.1 Summary

This work has made ample effort in finding out more about the Hausa people. It paved way into knowing the culture, the ways of life of the people, the way they use proverbs and how these proverbs affect their lives. Chapter two revealed much about proverbs and the contexts of usage by looking at related works.In data collection, consultation of textbooks, library materials and the oral interviews using audio recording were in place. This was consequently followed by the analysis of the data collected. This project work therefore has helped to highlight the Hausa way of life especially with regard to the use proverbs.

5.2 Recommendations

In this study, we have established that proverbs are legacies left behind by the ancients to enable the youth have a better focus in life. It is therefore very necessary for a change in the present attitude of the people, especially the youths towards the use of proverbs. The youths should be enlightened by the elders on the importance of using proverbs. This will help restore proverbs as a cultural heritage. The educated ones should embrace proverbs by writing books, journals, articles and pamphlets on proverbs. They should also carry out more research into Hausa proverbs. These will be made possible if the wealthy sons of the society render their assistance financially.

Radio and television programs on Hausa proverbs should be introduced and encouraged by giving enough time for proverbs and their meanings. Hausa proverbs should also be introduced into the school curriculum as part of the Hausa language as a subject. On the whole, there is the need to educate the entire Hausa people on the fact that proverbs are very significant and will go a long way to making them know more about each other and their way of life.

5.3 Conclusion

Based on this work, it is necessary to conclude that the importance of proverbs cannot be over emphasized. They are kola nuts with which words are eaten and proverbs reflect the culture of a people and their general way of life. Therefore, in considering a good Hausa person, he or she must have a good command of proverbs in his daily utterances. Through proverbs, unity, peace, understanding and a deep sense of belonging exist among the Hausa people.

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