Communicative Function of Nonverbal Cues in Hausa Prose Fiction

Cite this article as: Adamu, A.U. & Maimota, A.S. (2023). Communicative Function of Nonverbal Cues in Hausa Prose Fiction. Tasambo Journal of Language, Literature, and Culture, (2)2, 39-44. www.doi.org/10.36349/tjllc.2023.v02i02.005.

Dr Aisha Umar Adamu
Aminu Kano College of Islamic and Legal Studies, Kano


Aishatu Shehu Maimota
Aminu Kano College of Islamic and Legal Studies, Kano


Fictional writing is goal oriented and those goals can only be achieved through effective communication. In literary communication, the text is the foundation upon which the writer establishes or rather constructs meaning. But, meaning can only be achieved through the skilful use of verbal and nonverbal forms of communication as shown by many scholars (Knapp, Hall & Horgan 2014), (Kendon 1990), (Band ull 2012). Therefore, the use of gestures, postures touch, time, space and distance to define characters and what they do is essential in any fictional writing. This paper studies the communicative impact of nonverbal signals in Hausa prose fiction, with data drawn from the novel Mafarkin Khadija. The data was interpreted based on context. The study shows the ubiquitous nature of nonverbal signals in meaning-making, establishing the fact that, the significance of communication is not in words alone, but rather, in the overall process through the use of verbal and nonverbal repertoire.

Keywords: Hausa, communication, Hausa Prose fiction, nonverbal communication


Nonverbal communication plays a significant role in the interpretation and understanding of literary texts. Henry James, in his book "The Art of Fiction" in 1884, emphasized the importance of nonverbal communication in triggering communication in alert and perceptive readers. According to Payatos (1977), language, paralanguage, and kinesics cannot be separated in fiction writing, because they are appreciated by the readers, above all others in fictional characters. This paper aims to answer the question of how the two forms of communication - verbal and nonverbal - relate to each other in expressing meaning in literary texts, specifically Hausa prose fiction. The objective is to demonstrate that nonverbal cues are an indispensable means of communication in fictional writings, as they establish interconnectivity between characters, themes, and other social vices crucial to understanding the entire message.

Hausa Prose Fiction

Hausa prose fiction is a unique literary form that covers various themes such as morality, feminism, pragmatics, and romance. The modern Hausa prose fiction movement was born in the early 1980s, when young men started their publishing industry, making the Hausa language the fastest-growing literary language on the African continent. This movement also created a readership, some of whom became writers in their own right, leading to an increase in the number of Hausa women publishing their works. Presently, the majority of Hausa prose fiction writers are women, and the readership is also mostly women (Maimota 2021). This could be due to women writers using this form of writing to express their true feelings about love, marriage, and life in a society where women are often discouraged from doing so. This paper focuses on the novel Mafarkin Khadija written by a woman, as women are known to be perceptive in the use of nonverbal cues. The storyline of Mafarkin Khadija, which involves love, self-pity, and revenge, provides an appropriate context for the analysis of nonverbal communication.

The book Mafarkin Khadija is about Khadija a village girl, a young girl from a village, who fell in love with Sanusi a village school teacher. Sanusi got Khadija pregnant. She gave birth to the child and the child was killed by her brothers. Sanusi who is from a wealthy family arranged a secret marriage with Khadija and her parents consented to it. Life was good at first because Sanusi was able to make Khadija live comfortably. But problems started as a result of the series of abortions Sanusi forced Khadija into. Khadija did not want to continue with such kind of dreadful act, as a result of a dream she had. Khadija was able to hide her pregnancy state from Sanusi and refused to abort the child. With the help of her neighbour Mal Musa and his wife, she gave birth to the child and Sanusi accused Malam Musa of fathering the child. Sanusi divorced Khadija he took her to court. Kahdija met a female lawyer at the court who vowed to see justice done to her.

Nonverbal Signals in Hausa Prose Fiction

Nonverbal communication is a way of sending information through nonverbal means such as gestures, postures, eye contact, way of dressing, time, space and so on. It describes all the wordless messages that people exchange either intentionally or unintentionally. Nonverbal communication is classified into different categories such as gestures, proxemics, heptics, paralanguage, chronemics, dress and appearance, and olfacticsIn this paper we selected only four forms of nonverbal communication, namely: gestures, use of space, use of time and emotional expression, so that we can analyse how the author was able to make meaning out of them.


In trying to express meaning, writers make use of gestures which could be used independently or alongside verbal messages. The assumption that the two share a kind of symbiotic relationship drew the attention of scholars like Ekman & Friesen (1969, 2004) to study the relationship between verbal and nonverbal communication. They were able to propose six ways in which verbal and nonverbal communication relate to meaning-making. They suggest that nonverbal communication can substitute for verbal messages, as well as repeat, contradict, complement, accent, and regulate verbal communication or may not relate to the verbal message. Based on our data we realise synchronous use of both gestures and speech directly impacting the meaning of the text. In other words, once the nonverbal cues are absent the text will lose its grandeur and the effect can never be the same. Let us analyse some examples:

 When Khadija decided to let the cat out of the bag, by explaining to the judge the dire situation she finds herself in living with her husband Sanusi, the series of sufferings and incarcerations she was subject to, due to numerous abortions because of the secrete marriage she finds herself in, Sanusi did this:

Ya nuna ƙirjinsa da yatsa. Khadija ni za ki tona wa asiri ki wulaƙanta? Wannan shi ne sakamakon sadaukarwar da ɗinbin soyayyar da nake miki..?

                                                                                                 Beli (2014:21)

                 He used his finger to point at his chest, Khadija is it me you want to expose and humiliate? Is this what you can do to me in exchange for all the love and sacrifice I have made for you...?

Looking at the above text, we can see how Sanusi made use of nonverbal cues to express meaning. Sanusi used the pointing gesture first, and then the verbal message followed. Pointing is called núuni in Hausa. It is a type of illustrative gesture which is closely linked to speech. What a pointing gesture does is elaborate a verbal message (Bull 2012). That is why it is normally found to accompany spoken words. The gesture is used to point at oneself, a place or another interlocutor. In Hausa, we, have different types of pointing gestures, but their meaning depends on the direction or location of the pointing and the body part used in making the pointing Adamu (2018). Pointing towards one’s self with a cupped hand or a finger means the gesture is referring to himself as in the excerpt above, is a way of emphasizing the spoken content. Therefore, Sanusi pointing at himself means he is reiterating the word ni, or rather ‘me of all people’ and in the same vain threatening Khadija who knows him better than others. He in the same vein wants to maker to believe that he will surely deal with her on his own.

But how Khadija reacted to Sanusi’s downpour is also an instance of a nonva verbal message substituting a verbal message. Because when she is supposed to respond verbally, she refused and instead made use of nonverbal signals such as:

Khadija took some steps backwards to reduce the distance between them and responded by crying and shaking her head.

Khadija ta ɗan yi baya kaɗan ta rage tazarar da ke tsakaninsu, ta amsa tana girgiza kai tare da hawaye

Even the writer acknowledged the fact that the nonverbal signals used by Khadija are a substitute for speech as she mentions:

 ..Ta amsa tana girgiza kai tare da hawaye

..She responded by shedding tears and shaking her head.

She was also crying and nodding her head without uttering a word. Head nodding in Hausa is a gesture used by all and its meaning is usually unambiguous. Nodding from side to side means no and upward and downward movement of the head mean yen. Although the writer did not mention which type but we will assume that it is the latter. This is in line with Adamu (2019) that gestures are understood according to context. Because Khadij was also crying at the same time, we can understand that a cluster of nonverbal cues was used here, a proxemic cue, a gesture and an expression, purposely to aid in expressing meaning.

2.1.2 Use of Space

This is also called proxemics and it refers to one’s physical space and how he uses it. Space is a primary means through which cultures express values and shape patterns of interaction. Different cultures have different norms for how much space people need and how closely they interact. Man's use of space, according to Hall (1963), has a bearing on his ability to relate to other people, and to sense them as being close or far away. According to Hall & Hall (1990), quoted in Samovar, E. Porter & McDaniels (2009), each person has around him an invisible bubble of space which expands and contracts depending on his relationship with those around him, his emotional state, his cultural background, and the activity he is performing. Few people are allowed to penetrate this bit of mobile territory, and then only for short periods. Let’s study some examples of how the use of space contributes to meaning-making:

Akan idon Barr. Maimuna Sa’idu a harabar kotun Sanusi ya cimma Khadija tana ficewa ita kadai cikin hawaye. A fusace ya sha  gabanta kamar mai shirin banketa da mari.....

Barr Maimuna Sa’idu was watching at the court premises when Khadija was leaving alone in tears. He angrily invaded her space as though he has the intention of slapping her

When Khadija was going out of the court premises, Sanusi invaded Khadija’s privacy, that is to stop her from walking so that he can shower all his anger and frustration on her. That is the only possible way to stop her. When your space is invaded, you react in a variety of ways. You may retreat, stand your ground even as your hands become moist from nervousness, or sometimes even react violently (Samovar, E. Porter & McDaniels 2009). How Khadija reacted was neither of the options outlined here, rather.

Khadija ta ɗan yi baya kaɗan ta rage tazarar da ke tsakaninsu, ta amsa tana girgiza kai tare da hawaye

Khadija moved backwards a little to reduce the distance between them, replying while crying and nodding her head

Khadija moved backwards, vying for a proxemic means to convey her message. In doing so, she tried to reduce the space invaded by Sanusi earlier on before he spoke to her. Khadija’s attempt to reduce the space between them by stepping backwards signifies total rejection and disapproval.

Express Emotions

Emotions, according to Ekman (2018), are "reactions to matters that seem to be very important to our welfare". Emotional expression involves communicating one's internal affective state through verbal or nonverbal means and can include both voluntary and involuntary signals that provide important information to others. Human beings experience a range of emotions, from anger and happiness to sadness and joy, and these emotions play a crucial role in managing interactions and relationships. In literary writing, the way that a writer represents or manages the emotions of the characters can directly impact the plot, storyline, and overall message of the story. Let us find out how emotional expressions were showcased in Beli (2014):                                                                                    

Ya kafe babur ɗin ya zo gabana ya durƙusa cikin murmushi da ƙura min ido.Wa ya faɗa miki sai da dalili so ke samun muhalli a zuciya?

                                                                                                           Beli (2014:60)

He packed his bike and knelt in front of me while smiling and giving me an extended stare. Who told you that there has to be a reason for love to settle in one’s heart?

The excerpt above signifies love and show of affection through the emotional gestures displayed by Sanusi. The writer showed how Sanusi parked his bike and went in front of her. Even though she is someone of low status compared to him. He could have summoned her. But he instead went to her and knelt in front of her. He smiled which is a gesture that expresses love and acceptance. He smiled at her while looking deeply into her eyes. We can only explain this direct gaze as an expression of love. There are different kinds of oculesic signals, as well as ‘gaze-related norms’ in Hausa culture, such as, not to gaze directly at the opposite sex or -in-laws. An act that shows if a person has or lacks kunya (bashfulness), which is a code of behaviour Adamu (2018).

Another example is:

Ya wuce fuuu ya nufi motarsa ya buɗe ya shiga, a guje ya fizge ta ya fice daga kotun

                                                                                                           Beli (2014:22)

He passed angrily to his car, he opened the car entered it and drove off speedily out of the court premises

In this example, the writer expresses anger emotion. She skilfully showcased Sanusi’s anger through some emotional signals. She mentioned that he passed fuu which in this instance means that he passed without taking to account the people there and it also donates fastness. He was so fast because he was angry at the turn of events in the court. The manner he drives also signifies anger.

Another instance is,

Tuntuni malam Musa ya saki akin mamaki jin almara, amma cikin zuciyarsa wuta ce ke ta faman balbala kamar ta je ta kone Sanusi da kabarinsa ƙurmus

                                                                                                      Beli (2014:37)

 Malam Musa is no longer surprised at this fiction, but fire is boiling in his heart, he feels as though he should go and burn Sanusi and his grave to dust. 

The writer tries to describe how Malam Musa displayed two emotions in succession. He initially felt bewildered upon hearing the news, but he later let go of that emotion He was bewildered upon hearing the news, but he suddenly replaced that emotion with the emotion of anger. Though he didn’t express the first emotion nonverbally, he expressed the anger emotion with h feeling boiling in the heart as the writer exclaimed, which can be seemingly showcased through putting one’s hand on the chest as though a person is having a heart attack. This truly shows that emotions can be voluntary or involuntary.

The Use of Time

The use of time as it affects nonverbal communication is referred to as Chronemics. It is essentially the way one values time, structures time and perceives time which communicates a lot about oneself. According to Andersen (1999:65-66) t, it can be classified into different categories, including biological, personal, and physical. Biological time refers to the rhythms of living things. Human beings have a time cycle that influences when we eat, sleep, and wake. When that time is tempered it may affect the way we communicate. Personal time is the way individuals experience time which depends on some factors such as mood, interest level etc. Physical time refers to the fixed cycles of days, years, and seasons. They can also affect our mood and psychological states thereby influencing communication. Cultural time refers to how a large group of people view time. We examined how the author uses time as a nonverbal phenomenon to express meaning as in the following examples:

……cikin tsakiyar talatainin dare wanda tsananin duhunsa zai sa kai tsaye a kintaci kwanan wata ba tare da an ɗaga kai sama ba

                                                                                                  (Beli 2014:3)

……in the middle of a bewitching night that is so dark that one can guess the day of the lunar calendar without looking up

The story began with a night scene. The author tried her best to paint how dark and ………the night was. Night time in Hausa society is usually a time for rest after a day full of activities as she exclaimed in (Beli 2014:12),

An ce dare mahutar bawa, amma banda bayin da ke cikin gidan nan, su biyar da suka tare a ɗaki ɗaya

The night is a time of rest but not for the five people in the same room in this house

The author effectively utilized the chronemic cue by choosing the middle of the night, which is typically quiet and still as most people have retired to bed. This time of day provides an opportunity for all kinds of nefarious activities and schemes, such as the one depicted in the story. The author chose this odd time for the sake of secrecy. The main character, Khadija, became pregnant out of wedlock, and her siblings plotted to kill and dispose of the baby to avoid shame and loss of reputation, known as "cabin kunya" in their culture. As in the following words:

Tun talatainin dare na fito gida zuwa bakin kogi dan na yar da gawar

                                                                           Beli (2014:12)

I was out since the middle part of the night to discard the corpse

The main reason for doing that at that hour was the fact that she doesn’t want to be seen by people.

Da hantsin ranar, yara masu sarin tattasai kusa da gonar da Kubra ta yasar da matacciyar jaririyarta suka tsinto gawar…….

                                                                              (Beli 2014:13)

In the late morning, hawkers coming to a farm close to the one Kubra discarded the corpse to buy pepper, saw the corpse……

The author mentioned late morning in the above example because it is usually a time when the farmers are on their farms harvesting their crops and generally people are up and doing and the sun is shining and not too hot. A perfect time to look around as the brightness can easily reveal things around.  

Sai dab da magariba musun ya ƙare……..

                            (Beli 2014:82)

We were arguing until close to the time of Magrib

The author mentioned that they were arguing until close to the time of Maghrib, which is the evening prayer observed by the Hausa people. Typically, once the prayer is called, all activities are terminated. However, in this instance, the prayer had not been called yet, and the author used this timing to end the argument for two reasons. Firstly, it is believed that sometime before Maghrib, the evil spirits are let loose, and it is best for people, especially children, to stay in one place. Ending the argument then allowed them to prepare to pray on time and avoid any potential harm.


Nonverbal communication is an indispensable means of sending and receiving messages. When people speak, the spoken messages are without doubt aligned in some meaningful way with nonverbal signals. Gestures, for instance, have been argued to share an underlying conceptual message with speech and to collaborate as two mechanisms for communicating this message (McNeill 1992). Arguably, the use of body signals in literature is highly significant according to (Korte 1997), as it is integral to the text's artistic design since it lends vividness and drama to an episode which aids in unveiling the mind of the writer and could even be thought-provoking.     


1.       Adamu, A. U. (2018) “Study of Nonverbal Communication in Hausa” PhD Thesis, Department of Linguistics, Bayero University, Kano.

2.       Adamu, A. U. (2019). Coordination of Speech and Gestures in (Dr.) Mamman Shata’s Performance of Umaru Xan Xanduna na Gwandu. S. M. Gusau, S. Mustapha et al. Studies in The Songs of DDrMamman Shata Katsina. Department of Nigerian Languages. Umaru Musa Yar’adua  University Katsina.

3.       Adamu, A.U (2018). The Study of Oculesics in Hausa Nonverbal Communication’, Bayero Journal of Linguistics, Vol 6 No 1

4.       Azare, M.A (2014). Facial Communication in the Context of Hausa Culture and Metaphorical Expressions. Bayero Journal of Linguistics. 1(1), 140-150.

5.       Bull, P. (2012). “Gestures”. In V. Ramachandran (Ed). Encyclopedia Of Human Behaviour. Oxford: Elsevier. Pp 248-254

6.       Ekman, P. (2004). Emotional and Conversational Nonverbal Signals. In Larrazabal, M. And Miranda, L., (eds) Language, Knowledge and Representation. Pp. 39-50. Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

7.       Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. V. (1969). The Repertoire of Nonverbal Behavior: Categories, Origins, Usage, and Coding. Semiotica, 1 pp. 49–98.

8.       Korte, B. (1997). Body Language in Literatures. Canada: University of Toronto Press.

9.       Maimota, A. S (2021) Kwatanta wasu littattafan kagaggun labaran Hausa da wasu kagaggun labaran Hausa na shafukan sada zumunta. Ph.D thesis, Kano: Bayero University

10.    Samovar, A. L., Porter, E. R., McDaniel, R. E. (2010). Communication Between Cultures. Boston: Wadsworth. 

Post a Comment