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Cawyaŋ Zarma Sanni

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Dictionary Zarma - English


For each Zarma word the English equivalent is or equivalents are given and additional information is provided. The general lay-out is:

Line 1
Zarma word
(origin) {other spelling} \tone&accent\symbol /pronuctiation/ (location) (additional information) [synonyms]

Line 2
(word class) English equivalent(s) (remarks); example sentence/phrase and translation

Line 3 and further
Zarma word combinations {other spelling} \tone&accent\ (word class) English equivalent(s) (location) (additional information) [synonyms]

Items, e.g. symbol, origin, other spelling, are only present if relevant. The explenation of each items is given below.

For Zarma nouns the indefinite and definite singular form are given in the dictionary (see below). For adjectives, often three forms are provided


additional information
English equivalent
origin of words
word class


A list of abbreviations used in the dictionary is given below.

abbreviation meaning
abbr. abbreviation
adj. adjective
adv. adverb
attr.adj. attributive adjective
aux. auxiliary (verbs)
card.num. cardinal number
conj. conjunction
contr. contraction
def.sin. definite singular
dem.adj. demonstrative adjective
dem.det. demonstrative determiner
dem.pron. demonstrative pronoun
det. determiner
exp. expression
ind.det. indefinite determiner
ideoph. ideophone (a sound or sounds symbolizing a complete idea or spoken word)
ind.sin. indefinite singular
interj. interjection
interrog. interrogative
lit. literally
n. noun
obj.pron. object pronoun
ord.num. ordinal number
pred.adj. predicative adjective
prep. preposition
pos.pron possessive pronoun
pron. pronoun
post. postposition
ref.pron. reflexive pronoun
rel.pron. relative pronoun
sub.pron. subject pronoun
v. verb
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In any word of two or more syllables the emphasis will usually fall on one of those syllables. Of course, also tone and vowel length will provide a certain emphasis to a part of a word. Details about the way of showing the accent in the dictionary is given here.

Information about the general pronunciation is also given.

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Additonal information

Additional information is, for example:

  • abbr. xx: xx is abbreviation of Zarma word
  • abbr. of xx: Zarma word is abbreviation of (Zarma word) xx
  • from xx: Zarma word is derrived from (Zarma word) xx
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English equivalents

Main source for the equivalents of Zarma words is the loose-leaf volume "Practical method for the study of the Zarma language" (see credits). As far as possible words are checked using the Peace Corps Dictionary. Other sources used to find (additional) meanings of words are:

  • Ardant du Picq (1933) La langue Songhay, dialect Dyerma. Paris, la Rose Editeurs .
  • J.M. Ducroz & M.C. Charles (1978) Lexique Soŋey (Songay) - Français. Parler Kaado du Gorouol. Paris, Editions L'Harmattan .
  • Sandra Bornand (2006) Parlons Zarma. Une langue du Niger. Paris, Editions L'Harmattan.
  • Heath, J. (1998a) Dictionnaire Songay - Anglais - Français. Tome I Koyra chiini. Langues d'Afrique', Editions l'Harmattan.
  • Heath, J. (1998b) Dictionnaire Songay - Anglais - Français. Tome II Djenné chiini. Langues d'Afrique', Editions l'Harmattan.
  • Heath, J. (1998c) Dictionnaire Songay - Anglais - Français. Tome III Koroboro senni. Langues d'Afrique', Editions l'Harmattan.
  • SIL Niger publications in Zarma language with translation to French.
  • http://etabetapi.com, Bible in many languages
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For most words the location within the Zarma language course is provided. The following references are used:

(Lx) the number of the lesson (x) in which the word occurs for the first time. Sometime a reference to another lesson is provided as well. Often, in those cases an additional meaning of the word is explained.

(Cw) word occurs in one of the Culture topics (w)

(Gy) word occurs in one of the Grammar topics (y)

(Mz) word occurs in one of the Music topics (z)

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Origin of words

Some words in Zarma are adopted form another language. These words are indicated with a letter between parentheses:
(A) Arabic derived word
(F) French derived word
(H) Hausa derived word

Some words are mainly used in other Songhai dialects, this is indicated in the same way:
(SDd) Songhai Dendi, northern Benin
(SKd) Songhai Kaado, Niger, east river bank (Ducroz and Charles, 1982)
(SKb) Songhai Koroboro, Mali, between Timbuktu and Niger border (Heath, 1998c)

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The pronunciation of words is provided with help of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). This indication of the pronunctiation is given in addition to the tone and accent indication.

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There are three main types of remarks:

  • Additional information to explain the meaning of the Zarma word;
  • An indication of the pronunciation of the word in case that the word has two or more ways to be pronounced, and each has a different meaning.
  • Source of translation in case not the main source is used (see English equivalents)
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Zarma is mainly an oral language. The spelling of the Zarma language has been fixed relatively recently (1999). Therefore, in many publications, even after 1999, you wil find spelling of words that differ fomr the one given in this dictionary. However, spellings more or less frequently used by others is provided as well between {}.

Points of attention when searching for words are:

  • use of single or doubled vowel, for example in baba / baaba and hiji / hiiji
  • use of letter e or a in words, for example, in ending ~taray / ~tarey and ~andi / ~endi
  • use of letter combination 'an' or 'oŋ', for example, in ending ~yan / ~yoŋ
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Overview of symbols
Symbol Significance
# Verb that take the direct object afterwards are indicated with a "#", see Lesson 2.C.1 & 3.D.5 or open the Grammar Help and select "irregular verbs".
* Three forms of adjective; the predicate adjective, the indefinite singular attributive adjective, and the definite singular adjective also. The first two forms are frequently identical, see Lesson 5.D.2.
indicates that spelling of a word and its pronunciation differ (see here)
$ accent and/or tone may be different, perhaps related to region and/or dialect (no consistency between sources)


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For some words synonyms are provided. There are several types of what is called synonym here.

real synonym: a Zarma word with same or similar denotation.

dialect: a word used by Zarma, but originates from Dendi or other Songhay dialect.

language: a word used by Zarma, but originating from another language, usually Hausa or Arabic.

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There are some words in Zarma that can only be distinguished by the proper tone when pronouncing them. Some words said in isolation have a different one from what they have in sentences. The indications used in this Zarma course and dictionary are given here.

Information about the general pronunciation is also given.

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Word class

There are nine different word classes distinguished in this dictionary: adjectives (adj.), adverbs (adv.), conjunctions (conj.), determiners (det.), interjections (interj.), nouns (n.), pre- and postpositions (prep., post.), pronouns (pron.), and verbs (v.). In the dictionary interjections consisting of more than one word are also included.

In some cases Zarma words may have more than one function, i.e. belong to different word classes. In those case the different classes are given, each class with there English equivalent(s). In other cases the function is limited within a word class, for example, some adjectives may only be used as predicative adjective. This will be indicated in the dictionary.

1. Adjectives (adj.)

Adjectives are words that directly modify nouns or noun phrases. Three forms are provide in the dictionary: the predicate adjective (pred. adj.), the indefinite singular attributive adjective (attr.adj.), and the definite singular attributive adjective. As far as relevant and available all three forms are given in the dictionary and indicated by an asterix (*), see symbols.

Some adjectives can only be used as predicate adjective while others can only be used as attributive adjective.

The ending of an attributive adjective depends on the form of the noun. Therefore, there are four types of endings: indefinite singular, definite singular, indefinite plural and definite plural. If the form of the first two is known, the form of the last tow can easily be derrived from the first.

2. Adverbs (adv.)

Adverbs are words that change or qualify the meaning of a verb, adjective, other adverb, clause, sentence or any other word or phrase, except that they do not include the adjectives and determiners that directly modify nouns.

3. Conjunction (conj.)

A conjunction is a part of speech that connects two words, sentences, phrases or clauses together.

4. Determiners (det.)

Determiners are words, phrases or affixes that occurs together with a noun or noun phrase and serves to express the reference of that noun or noun phrase in the context. Determiners are limited here to demonstratives (dem.det.) and quantifiers. Quantifiers such as cardinal number (card.num) and ordinal number (ord.num.) are specified seperately.

5. Interjections (interj.)

Interjections or exclamations are words used to express an emotion or sentiment on the part of the speaker.

6. Nouns (n.)

Nouns have two main singular forms, indefinite (ind.sin.) and definite singular (def.sin.). 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 (see Lesson 1.D.2. 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, as far as known.

7. Pre- and postposition (prep. / post.)

In Zarma prepositions often placed after its complement and are in that case indicates as postposition.

8. Pronouns (pron.)

The following pronouns are distinguished in this dictionary: personal pronouns (per.pron.), reflexive pronoun (ref.pron.), and possessive pronouns (pos.pron.).

Personal pronouns are here subdivided in subject pronoun (sub.pron.) and object pronoun (obj.pron.).

9. Verbs (v.)

Verbs that take the direct object afterwards are indicated with a number sign (#), see symbols.

Verbs in Zarma may go together with auxiliaries (aux.), helping elements, that in Zarma indicate tense and/of mood of the verb.

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      Dico Fraters, the Netherlands © 2004-2016      
Last updated: 20 Januari, 2016