Kanuri is a dialect continuum spoken by some four million people, as of 1987, in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, as well as small minorities in southern Libya and by a diaspora in Sudan. It belongs to the Western Saharan subphylum of Nilo-Saharan. Kanuri is the language associated with the Kanem and Bornu empires which dominated the Lake Chad region for a thousand years.
The basic word order of Kanuri sentences is Subject Object Verb. It is typologically unusual in simultaneously having postpositions and post-nominal modifiers - for example, "Bintu's pot" would be expressed as nje Bintu-be, "pot Bintu-of".
Kanuri has three tones: high, low, and falling. It has an extensive system of consonant weakening (for example, sa- "they" + -buna "have eaten" > za-wuna "they have eaten".
Traditionally a local lingua franca, its usage has declined in recent decades. Most first-language speakers speak Hausa or Arabic as a second language.
Kanuri is spoken mainly in lowlands of the Lake Chad basin, with speakers in Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Sudan.
Ethnologue divides Kanuri into the following languages, while many linguists (eg Cyffer 1998) regard them as dialects of a single language. The first three are spoken by ethnic Kanuri and thought by them as dialects of their language.
Kanuri has been written using the Ajami Arabic script, mainly in religious or court contexts, for at least four hundred years. More recently, it is also sometimes written in a modified Latin script.
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