A Semantic Implication of Gender Asymmetry of Dyads In Fulfulde Language

Citation: Sadiya Yusuf (2023). A Semantic Implication of Gender Asymmetry of Dyads in Fulfulde Language. Middle East Res J Linguist Lit, 3(1): 1-5.

A Semantic Implication of Gender Asymmetry of Dyads In Fulfulde Language

Sadiya Yusuf
Hausa Department, Kogi State College of Education Ankpa, Nigeria


This paper analysis gender asymmetry of Fulfulde language dyads. The principal aim is to examine gender discrimination in the usage of dyads. The research adopts an ethnographic method collection and critical discourse analysis as a theoretical framework. The findings reveal that there’s gender asymmetry of dyads in Fulfulde language. Dyads that involves masculine and feminine gender pairs, such as superiority, containment, importance, mismatch and sequence. Asymmetry is manifested syntagmatically as the order of the component from irreversible perspective. It also shows that contrary to the claim made by Moser (1997), there are different factors, which leads to different construction of Fulfulde language.

Keywords: Dyads, Asymmetry, Gender inequality, Fulfulde, masculine and feminine


Dyad is a pair of things standing in particular relation or set of two elements treated as one. Macionis and Gerber, (2011) “Dyads are two things of similar kind or nature or group. Dyadic communication refers to the inter-relationship between the two. In practice, this relationship refers dialogic relations face to face verbal communication between two people involving their mutual thought, behavior, ideas, likes and queries concerning life and living in nature”. According to zelealem (2011:72), Gender asymmetry refers to “gender inequality reflected in the structural system of a language”.

Similarly, asymmetry exists when the two halves of something do not match or are unequal. According to Yariv-Laor and Sovran (1998:199), a “relation is said to be asymmetric if it hold between ‘A’ and ‘ B ’ but not between ‘B’ and ‘A’. Besides, asymmetry in language is only possible when dealing with two linguistics elements, pertaining to the same form or class, placed on an identical level of linguistics analysis and connected by some link. According to Lakoff and Johnson (1980), gender asymmetry of dyads is the oppositional and collocational dyad pattern in which the first component of the pair can be characterized semantically “Plus” and the second component “minus”. Therefore, the gender asymmetry of dyads investigated in Fulfulde language are dyads construction lead by sequence, containment, mismatch, importance, and superiority.

This paper analyses gender asymmetry in Fulfulde language dyads. The aim is to examine whether there is gender discrimination in the usage of dyads in Fulfulde language. An ethnography research method and critical discourse analysis are used in collecting and analyzing the data. Gender asymmetry is the influence of gender-based differences in establishing and maintaining the imbalance of power between masculine and feminine in language structure.


The research employs ethnographic method, which is a data gathering method that focuses on obtaining information concerning societies and cultures. It is a method of data collection which uses all qualitative research method, including participant observation, in-depth interview and focus group discussion. It is a method introduced in the 1950’s by Gumperz (1972). It is primary concerned with the analysis of language use in its cultural setting. As a branch of sociolinguistics, the ethnographic method of communication aims at describing the forms and functions of verbal and non-verbal communication behavior in a particular cultural or social setting, Torabi (2012).

Theory Used

The paper adopted the critical discourse analysis theory for the successful analyses of relevant data. Its philosophical and linguistics bases are grounded on certain branches of social theory and earlier discourse analysis, text linguistics, and interactional sociolinguistics.

Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), typically studies how context features (such as the properties of language users of powerful groups), influence the ways members of dominated groups define the communicative situation. It also focuses on how discourse structures influence mental representations. The aim of CDA is to examine the relationships in more detail of how discourse is involve in dominance (Power abuse) and in the production and reproduction of social inequality (Durante and Godwin, 1992)

Fulfulde Dyads Construction Leads by Sequence

This refers to type of dyads, which their construction is based on sequential happening of time or any other thing. Therefore, sequence is the factor responsible in placing components of the dyad in this category.

A Semantic Implication of Gender Asymmetry of Dyads In Fulfulde Language

Example1: Contains the dyads jemma be naange (night and day), which in fulfulde language signifies the sequence of time that refers to all the time. But linguistically, this structure comes to be considered as merely ‘‘correct or standard’’ with the first component occupying the primary or positive slot and the second component occupying the secondary of negative slot. According to a respondent, Jemmaa (night) always come first before nầange (day), and if the second component occupies the primary slots as nầange be jemma (day and night), the structure is considered ungrammatical or incorrect by the Fulani natives, because it violets the rules of language use. It is a stereotype of Fulani natives to slot jemma (night) in the primary or positive position, and nầange (day) in the secondary or negative position. The factor leading the construction of dyads is sequence.

Example 2: contains the dyads fajjiri be kiikiɗe (morning and evening), in this dyads, the placement of fajjiri (morning) in a first or positive slot is only because of the sequence, not because that the fajjiri (morning) is more important than kiikiɗe (evening).

 Fulfulde Dyads Construction Lead by Containment

Dyads construction depends on the different factors, such as containment and any dyads with its components, that is one word named the container and other word named the contained. The container occupies primary slot and the contained remains in secondary slot.

A Semantic Implication of Gender Asymmetry of Dyads In Fulfulde Language

Example 1. Contains the dyads Unordu bȇ Gafurgal (Mortar and Pestle), in this dyad the factor which leads to the placement of unordu (mortar) is masculine in the positive slot of containment since the mortar contains the pestle before any act of crushing of spices takes place, it is considered more important than the pestle.

Example2. Contains the dyad Haako bȇ kusel (Soup and Meat), Haako (Soup), which is feminine gender occupies the first or primary semantic slot and the masculine kusel (Meat), slot in the secondary or negative semantic position. The factor leading to this is containment. Haako (Soup), is just placed in the first slot, because it contains the meat and not because it is better than the meat. This is revealed in the Fulfulde wise saying “Haako wolaa kusel nyaama taake” (soup without meat is tasteless). In this case, even though, Haako (Soup), is the container of kusel (Meat), it is not significant or valuable without kusel (meat), which is masculine. So in Fulfulde language, this shows that language is one of the powerful tool, which allows men to express their status of supremacy. And this assumption extends to the use of Fulfulde language dyads.

 Fulfulde Dyads Construction Lead by Mismatch

When components which are not likely to be place composed in a particular dyad, mismatch is the factor leading to the construction of such dyad. Example:

A Semantic Implication of Gender Asymmetry of Dyads In Fulfulde Language

Example1. Contains the dyads Ndiyam bȇ Hiite (water and fire), Ndiyam (water) is masculine and Hiite (fare), is feminine, water and fire are two different entities so combining the two together indicate disparity. Here, the factor that lead to the construction of Fulfulde dyad Ndiyam bȇ Hiite is a mismatch. Like many other Fulfulde dyads which contain masculine and feminine gender, this dyad shows gender asymmetry. Because Ndiyam (water) which is masculine is placed in the primary or positive semantic slot and Hiite (fire), which is feminine is positioned in the negative semantic slot. And changing the order of this dyad to Hiite and Ndiyam (fire and water) sound odd to native speakers of Fulfulde language.

 Fulfulde Dyads Construction Lead by Important

In this category of dyads, it contains gender fear. Plausibly, The important is the factor determines which component of the dyads be placed in positive semantic slot and negative semantic slot respectively.

A Semantic Implication of Gender Asymmetry of Dyads In Fulfulde Language

Example 1. Contains the dyad Riiga bȇ Sarlaa (Shirt and Trouser). The factor which leads to the placement of Riiga (shirt) is feminine in the positive semantic slot. As “important” because fulani’s culture, a fully grown up man can wear only Riigaa (Shirt), without the trouser and move around. But to wear only Sarlaa (trouser), and move around especially in a large family House is a taboo. Here, the obvious gender discrimination is the value attached to riiga (shirt), just because it is used by men. And there many positive attachment to Sarlaa (trouser), in fulfulde language sayings.

Example 2. Contains the dyad Gudel bȇ Riiga (Wrapper and Gown). Which refers to a type of cloth in Fulani community. The placement of the two components is based on the importance each plays in terms of person who used to wear it. According to an informant, a typical Fulani native women can wear only gudel (wrapper) and move around especially in a large family House. But it is a taboo to use only riiga (gown) and move around in Fulani community. The importance of Gudel(wrapper) in fulani’s culture is stressed in so many ways. The gender bias in use of this dyad is that feminine gender riiga( gown), is subjugated by being place in a negative semantic slot. And this shows that there is a tight fit between cultural assumptions and linguistic structures, which in most cases, in adulthood the gender assumptions embedded in the language becomes a natural and unconscious part of fluent language use (Moser, 1997).

Example 3. Contains the dyad Nyiiri bȇ Hầako (Tuwṓ and Soup), this dyad refers to a particular food in fulani’s culture and the factor that lead to the construction of the dyads as Nyiiri bȇ Hầako (Tuwṓ and Soup), is the importance given to Nyiiri (Tuwṓ) in fulani’s culture. In this dyad, Nyiiri (Tuwṓ) which is masculine gender is placed on the primary slot, and Hầako (Soup), which is feminine gender is placed in the negative semantic slot. And this shows there is gender discrimination in the dyad. Because it become a stereotype to Fulani native speakers to use this dyad in this order. And whoever use the dyad in a reverse order as Hầako bȇ Nyiiri (Soup and Tuwṓ), is considered a none native speaker of Fulani language. This is in line with what Wareing’ (2004, p76), argued that “Sexist language represent women and men unequally, as if members of the other sex”

Example 4. Contains the dyad Hoore bȇ Kosɗe (Head and Leg). This dyad signifies the parts of the body and the factor, which leads to it formation as Hoore bȇ Kosɗe is ‘importance’. As part of the body one can live as a cripple without legs. But there’s no way for someone to live without head. Because once some ones head is cut, that person must die. So Hoore, (head) which is masculine gender is favored over Kosɗe (Leg) which is feminine gender in many fulfulde language saying such “Jaumo Sầare” (Head of the House). On the Other hand, Kosɗe (leg), is negatively represented example, ‘Kosɗe Jigaawaal’ (leg of vulture) meaning (Sabotage). ‘Kosɗe jamdii’ (iron leg), meaning ‘Calamity’ these examples reveals the sensitivity of the whole process of conceptualization in the use of fulfulde language dyads.This culturally dependent facts comply perfectly with the examples showing the priority of the first element.

 Fulfulde Dyads Construction Lead by Superiority

In this category, superiority is considered as factor which leads to the placement of one component in primary or positive semantic and other component in secondary or negative semantic position. Example:

A Semantic Implication of Gender Asymmetry of Dyads In Fulfulde Language

Example 1. Contains the dyads Gorko bȇ Debbo (Husband and wife), in the culture and religion of the fulani’s, only those who are legally married are called, Gorko bȇ Debbo (Husband and wife), therefore, the dyads remains name of couples. In Fulani cultural context, people are named in order to differentiate, recognize, and to know Chamo (2012), and superiority remains the factor, which leads to the placement of masculine component in the first, or primary slot while the feminine in the second or secondary slot. According to an informant, in the culture of native speakers of fulfulde language, if the structure changes to Debbo bȇ Gorko (wife and husband), there is an extension of meaning into a negative connotation. A home which is lead by female, (wife) and this contradict a normal way of leadership of the family. So there is a semantic extension as linguistic feature in the usage of fulfulde dyad. Moreover, a husband is expected to dictate the affairs of his wife in all aspect.

Example 2. Contains the Fulfulde dyad Hijju bȇ Ummrah (Pilgrimage & Lesser hajj). The word ‘Haji’ (Pilgrimage) is a masculine and favored over Ummrah (Lesser Hajj). Which is feminine by been placed in the positive semantic slot. The dyad refers to specific religion activities performed by been Muslims. According to one informant, Fulanis consider Ummra bȇ hijju (Lesser hajj and Pilgrimage) as incorrect. And any person who says it will be considered a non-native speaker of fulfulde language. Because it does not follow the linguistic norms. And the linguistic feature here is stereotyped. Moreover, the factor that lead to the construction of this dyad as Hijju bȇ Ummrah (Pilgrimage & Lesser hajj) is superiority. And even in Islam, which is the religious followed by most of the Fulfulde native speakers, Hajj is compulsory for those who can afford. But it is not for Ummrah. Therefore, Hujju is considered more superior than Ummra and this idea triggers the construction of this dyad as Hijju bȇ Ummrah (Pilgrimage & Lesser hajj).

Example3. Contains the Fulfulde dyad Worɓe bȇ Rewɓe (Male and Female), the word Worɓe (males), which is a masculine gender occupies positive semantic slot. And this shows that it is favoured over the word Rewɓe (female), which is a feminine gender. The factor that lead to this is ‘superiority’. Because in fulanis culture, there is general belief that males superior to females. Chamo (2015, p. 274), Opens that in Hausa, Fulani and Yoruba cultures, a woman is expected greet a man before he greet her. Because there cultural assumptions of inequality. Another informant mentioned that, in the culture of native speakers of fulfulde language, masculine gender is considered to have a great role in establishing the social norms, which causes the inequality in the treatment of masculine and feminine gender through language use.


The paper shows that there’s a gender discrimination in the usage of fulfulde language dyads. This is expressed in positive and negative semantic slot. There also high level of cultural influence on linguistic structures in the expression of dyads fulfulde languages. Another important finding is that repositioning of words in fulfulde language dyads that contained gender pairs result to semantic extension, odd expression and stereotyping. It finally finds that fulfulde dyads that contained gender pairs are common nouns. As such dyads asymmetry is manifested syntagmatically as the order of the components is irreversible.


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