Allomorphic Variations of Fulfulde Plural Suffix Morphemes

Citation: Hussaini, U. (2024). Allomorphic Variations of Fulfulde Plural Suffix Morphemes. Dynamics in the 21st Century Hausa Prose Literature. Tasambo Journal of Language, Literature, and Culture, 3(1), 105-114. www.doi.org/10.36349/tjllc.2024.v03i01.012.

 Allomorphic Variations of Fulfulde Plural Suffix Morphemes

Umar Hussaini Ph.D
Department of Languages and Linguistics
University of Maiduguri , Nigeria


Fulfulde as a language of the Fulve is widely spoken across the Fulaphones. Its grammar, notwithstanding, has been described to an extent, including morphology, leaving a dearth of research in the morphological manifestations. Though, Hussaini (forthcoming,) presented an analysis of allomorphic variations of Fulfulde singular suffix morphemes. In view of this, we attempt to undertake this research with the hope to fill the existing gap between singular and plural suffix variations. Therefore, paper looks at the allomorphic variations of Fulfulde plural suffix morphemes by the way of suffixation method. The data are mainly drawn from Mohammed (2015) and other from native speakers intuition. The study reveals that among the six plural suffix morphemes namely; Ve, Xe, Xi, Kon, Ko, and Koy the first three (Ve, Xe and Xi) preserve allomorph suffix variations while the last three are not characterized with any allomorphs. The paper uncovered that Ve, Xe, and Xi took regular allomorph variants contrary to Mohammed (2015) study who claimed that they are plural forms independently. Therefore, the paper maintained that /-en/suffix is an allomorph of ve plural class, /-e/, /-le/, /-je/ are allomorphs of Xe plural class whereas /-i/, /-li/ and /-ji/ are allomorphs of Xi plural class form respectively, all which are in complimentary distributions.

Keywords: Morpheme, allomorph, derivation affixation, suffixation, suffixes

1.0 Introduction

According to Prasad (2019), the term ‘allomorph’ is a variant phonetic form of a morpheme, or, a unit of meaning that varies in sound and spelling without changing the meaning. He described allomorph as the realization of a phonological variation for a specific morpheme. In addition, the different allomorphs that a morpheme can become are governed by a morphophonemic rules. These phonological rules determine what phonetic form, or specific pronunciation a morpheme will take based on the phonological or morphological context in which they appear c.f. Fromkin and et. als (2018:218-220), Bamisaye, (1989: 73-74), Katamba (1993 :28-29), and Bauer (1988:13-14). An allomorph is of two or more complimentary morphemes which manifests a morpheme in its different phonological or morphological environments. In other words, an allomorph is a variant form of a morpheme that can refer to affixes, or adjacent word choices and can change the sound of the word, although the changes do not change the meaning of the word. It can denotes plural, tenses, choice of article and more. Equally, in a phonological analysis, an allomorph is a variant form of a morpheme. For example, the plural in English has three different morphs, making plural allomorph, because there are alternatives. Not all plurals are formed in the same way; they occur in English with three different allomorphs: /s/, /z/, / Ə z/ as in kicks, cats and sizes respectively c.f Fromkin and et. als (2018:218-220).

Moreover, in English for example, when we find a group of different morphs, all versions of one morpheme, we can use the prefix allo- and describe them as allomorphs of that morpheme. If we take “plural” [s], note that it can be attached to a number of lexical morphemes to produce structures like cat+ plural, bus + plural, sheep + plural and man +plural. In each of these examples, the actual forms of the morphs that result from other different morpheme ‘plural’ are different. Yet they are all allomorphs of the same morpheme. So, in addition to /s/and / Ə z/ another allomorph of “plural” in English seems to be zero morph, because the plural of sheep is actually ‘sheep + Ø. When we look at ‘man + Pl.’ we have a vowel alternation as the morph that produces irregular plural form ‘men’ c.f Fromkin and et als (2018:218-220), and Yule (2010).

Again, English past tense marker is another morpheme that has multiple morphs and is thus an allomorph. When you form past tense, you add the sound /t/, /d/, and / Ə e/ to free morphemes to put them in the past tense, such as in talked, grabbed, and wanted respectively. Therefore, allomorphs of morpheme are in complementary distribution. This implies that they cannot substitute for each other. Hence, we cannot replace one allomorph of that morpheme and change the meaning c.f Katamba (1989, 2010).

Allomorphs are also viewed as different forms of the same morpheme or basic unit of meaning. This can be different pronunciation, or different spellings. This happens when the same meaning unit like [past] for past tense or [pl] for plural has more than one sound form for example:

(Past) morpheme [-d], have three variant allomorphs namely: /-d/, /t/ and Ə d/. Equally, (Plural) morpheme [-s] have three variant allomorphs i.e : /-iz/, /-s/ and /-z/, c.f. Prasad (2019), Bamisaye, (1989: 73-74), Katamba (1993 :28-29) .

In addition to the above, Katamba (1993:25) professed that sometimes different morphs may represent the same morpheme. For instance the past tense regular verbs in English which is spelled –ed, is realized in speech by /Id/,/-d/or /–t/. He further claimed that, the phonological properties of the last segment of the verb to which it is attached determine the choice. It is therefore realized as /Id/if the verb ends in /d/or /t/ for example.


Phonetic Transcription

Orthographic Transcription











 peIntId /


Again, it is also realized as /d/after a verb ending in any voiced sound except /d/ for example:


Phonetic Transcription

Orthographic Transcription













Similarly, it is realized as /t/ after a verb ending in any voiceless consonant other than /t/ e.g.


Phonetic Transcription

Orthographic Transcription








 / mIs/





Considering the above examples Katamba (1993:27), continued that /Id/, /d/ ant /t/ are English morphs, and equally all of the three morphs are allomorphs of the past tense morpheme. He stated that the central technique used in the identification of morphs is based on the notion of distribution, i.e the total set of context in which a particular linguistic form occurs. Therefore, set of morphs are classified as allomorphs of the same morpheme if they are in complimentary distribution. Again, Katamba (op. cit) indicated that morphs are said to be in complimentary distribution if (i) they represent the same meaning or serve as the same grammatical function and (ii) they are never found in identical contexts. Thus, these three morphs /-Id/, /d/ and/t/ which represent the English regular past tense morpheme /ed / are in complimentary distribution.

1.1 Types of allomorphs

Hunar (2019) identified four types of allomorphs; (i) Zero allomorph (ii) replacive allomorphs, allomorph iii) suppletive allomorphs and iv) additive allomorphs as shown below.

1.1.1 Zero Allomorph [-Ø]

This is the easiest one to identify because there is no change in both verb and plural form. Zero allomorph deal with the situation where there is no change of shape a word though, some difference in meaning is identified, for example;

Irregular verb                       plural form               

Hurt/hurt-Ø (past tense)    sheep + s (=Ø) sheep

Fish/ fish-Ø (plural)                                    deer + s (=Ø) deer etc         


1.1.2 Replacive Allomorphs

Hunar op cit. stated that this type of allomorphs has an infix or internal change of word. The examples are obtained from irregular verbs and plural form e.g

Irregular verbs                                  plural form

Drink – drank - drunk                     tooth - teeth

Sing –sang – sung                            man- men etc

1.1.3 Suppletive allomorphs.

Suppletion is the use of two or more phonetically distinct roots for different forms of the same word, such as the adjective “bad and its supplative comparative form “worse”, or other form of adjective like “Better – best”

1.1.4 Additive Allomorphs

The allomorphs in this group consists of three sub-categories. The first set include /t/, /d/and /ed/ which attached to verbs to indicate “past time”. The second sub-category consist of /s/, /z/and /ez/ which attached to nouns making the “plural, possessive”.e.g.

/t/ as in kissed

/d/ as in killed

/ed/ as in battled

The last sub=group of allomorphs under this category include the following examples:

Like/s/,/z/,and ez/ when attached to nouns making their plural, possessive e.g

-Witches (followed by a vowel hence uses/ez/)

-Dogs (followed by a voiced sound‘s’ hence uses /z/)

Cats (followed by a voiceless sound‘t’ hence uses /s/ c.f Hunar (2019).

1.2 The Fulve

The Fulve or Fulani are the cattle owners’ tribe in West Africa. They are made up of three categories according to their modes of living; there are pastoral (nomadic), semi sedentary and settled urban Ful ɓ e. Majority of them live in northern part of Nigeria. As from 1970-1978 a considerable number of the pastoral Ful ɓ e in the North have moved South into tropical forest to accommodate their big herds of cattle and flocks of sheep ( Arnott, 1970:1 and Azarya, 1978:15). The people are scattered all over West Africa from Senegambia in the West up to Nile in the East. They constitute the most widespread people in West Africa having various degrees of concentration in many countries. The Ful ɓ e in Northern Nigeria comprise of three major dialects. They are Sokoto, Central Northern Nigeria and Adamawa dialects (Arnott, 1970:3). Moreover, among these dialects, there are also family lineages formed by clans which are mutually intelligible. The Central Northern Nigeria dialect consists of several sub- dialects spoken by both rural and urban Ful ɓ e.

The Fulani call themselves Ful ɓ e (sing. Pullo), their language is Fulfulde, and it means much more than the spoken language. It includes among other things highly valued and respected cultural values, identity and solidarity. Their language is Fulfulde and their original culture is Pulaaku. They are known to other people by various names. The British and Hausa call them Fulani, in Bornu, they are called Fulata, in Senegal they are referred to as Pular, whereas in Mali and Guinea they are called Fula and the French call them Peuls (Mohammadou, 2003:1). Their greatest concentration is Northern Nigeria where millions of them live. Azarya (1978:15) observes that the other Ful ɓ e concentrations are found in Senegambia (300,000), in the Futa Djallon area in Guinea (800,000), Massina area in Mali (500,000), and northern Cameroon (400,000).

With regard to the origin of the Fulve, some scholars presented different opinions. Dellafosse (1955) claimed that Fulfulde is an arbitrarily invented children language. However, Meinhof (1912) opines that Fulfulde was a Hamitic language, a proposition accepted by Taylor (1953), who says “the generally accepted theory is that Fulani is one of the Hamitic tongues” (see Daudu, 2005:12). Meanwhile, Sultan Mohammed Bello in his book Infaa-kul mausir ascertains Fulve origin to an Arab, Ukba bn Nafi who has been sent on a mission to Africa to spread the Islamic religion. According to this tradition, Ukba bn Nafi married a Malinke Princess called Bajjo Mango at Fuuta Djallon and their descendants were said to be the Fulve who later spread into Africa.

It was in the midst of these historical and linguistic controversies (Bendor-Samuel, 1989), reclassifies Fulfulde and placed the language under the North group of Atlantic languages within Niger–Congo sub family as against Greenberg’s (1963) West-Atlantic (Daudu, 2005).

The language compares closely with Seerer lexically and grammatically. Specifically, Fulfulde, Wolof, Seerer and Joola are classified in the West Atlantic languages of the Niger Congo family by Greenberg (1963).In addition, recent studies have indicated that Fulfulde is an African language belonging to the Atlantic group of the Atlant­ic-Congo sub family in the Niger Congo family of the Niger Kordofanian phylum (Bendor-Samuel, 1989). Equally, with regards to Fulve physical appearance, they mostly differ from other Negro Africans to some extent even with their racial adulteration in many parts of Nigeria especially among the settled Fulve category. In view of this, Barth quoted in Johnson (1967), points out that those Fulani physical characteristics and their undoubted talents have given rise to all kinds of notions about their origin. The classic Fulve features include having a tall lean body, light skin, curly hair, thin noses and lips. Koelle’s Polyglotta of 1854, states that Fulfulde has a close linguistic affinity with those languages that formed the West Atlantic subdivision within the Niger Congo groups

1.3 Fulfulde Nouns

Nouns are categorized into gender in some languages, but in Fulfulde they are made up of classes. However, that does not mean Fulfulde has no gender because gender and sex are always compatible (Mukoshy 1997). Furthermore, Mukoshy (1977:2) described Fulfulde nouns as forms that are either primary forms or secondary forms. According to him, the primary forms are conventional, non-derived forms denoting a concept; though, the secondary forms are derived from the primary noun forms, or from verbal roots, by affixation process such as njaudi > njaudi-ri, and yi > yi-tere respectively. Again, primary nouns are not as complex as secondary nouns. it is possible, from their form to postulate that the reason is that the primary nouns consist of fewer sememes morphemes than secondary ones. In this regard, he present an example as hoodeas the stem of the primary noun hoode-re ‘star’ has no sememic realization; whereas the extended stem of njaudd-i of trhe noun njaudi-ri ‘ram’ means ‘wealth’. Therefore, he held that primary nouns in Fulfulde are the simplest of the nominal forms; they consist only of a stem and a class marker suffix. He With regards to word formation, McIntosh (1984) says Fulfulde is a language with highly inflectional morphology. There is no word in Fulfulde that can stand on its own without an affix. Therefore, nominal stems necessarily inflect for nominal class suffix and verbal roots necessarily inflect for voice, aspect and polarity (VAP).

There is no any Fulfulde dialect that has less than 24 nominal classes. As mentioned earlier, Fulfulde is a class language; the basis nominal class system is the pattern of agreement, or concord which operates between nominal or verbo nominals having the same referent. Nominal stems inflect for nominal class, in other words, they must be accompanied by a nominal class suffix. McIntosh (1984:56) shows that VAP suffix may also inflect for other categories too, e.g. tense, mood, completive/ in completive aspect

Some languages use ‘gender’ or ‘classes in order to distinguish between feminine and masculine, as the case in Arabic and Hausa languages that have gender distinction. Gender distinction is a feature of many languages, moreover, in addition to masculine and feminine and neuter as the case in English and German languages. Fulfulde and Bantu languages go beyond that (Mukoshy, (1984).The nominal classes serve as demonstratives, anaphoric pronouns, as well as definite articles in Fulfulde. Equally, these nominal classes exhibit agreement between the nominal and noun related grammatical features like demonstrative and independent pronouns and third person and subject (Arnott, 1970, Klingenheben, 1963, and Stennis, 1967 in Girei 2009:25).

1.4 Derivation

The process of forming new word by adding affixes to word base or stem is known as derivation. The affixes added to words when derivation takes place are called derivational affixes. The derivational affixes are divided into prefix and suffixes. In other words, derivational process is concerned with how words are formed by transformation of an existing one in a language (c.f Matthews, 1974, Spencer, 1991and Katamba, 1993). In addition, Tomori, (1977:34) states that “derived word is one that consists of one root and a number of bound or free morphemes”. However, in this essence, affixation process is the productive means for the analysis of Fulfulde plural suffix forms allomorph variations.

1.5 Morphological Process

Morphology is a branch of linguistics that deals with words. Their internal structures, and how they are formed. Aronoff and Fudeman (2005:1-2), The addition of independent formative and an internal change involving one or more morphemes can be described collectively as morphological process (Matthews 1993:130). A morphological process is any of the formal process or operations by which the forms of words are derived from stems/roots Matthews (1993:232). In this regard, morpheme is central in word formation, a morpheme is a unit of grammar smaller than word is added to a stem. A stem is a form from which a word or series of words is derived by the addition of more affixes is a process known as affixation.

1.5.1 Affixation

Affixation is a morphological process in by which bound morphemes are attached to roots or stems to mark changes in meaning, part of speech, or grammatical relationship. Affixes take on different forms and serve different functions in different languages. In English for example, many words are formed by the addition of affixation that is by addition of affixes (prefixes and suffixes) to existing words which are referred to base or stems. Two types of affixation are, therefore used in the formation of words in English language. They are Prefixation, which refers to adding of a morpheme (free or bound) at word initial position in order to derive new word and suffixation where a morpheme is added word finally see Abubakar (2001:1).

Morphologically, Fulfulde is characterized with nominal class system as the case with Bantu languages. A word in Fulfulde is made up of nominal stem plus nominal class suffix, or verbal root plus appendage morphemes that inflect for voice, aspect and polarity. Furthermore, McIntosh (1984:193) categorized Fulfulde voice, aspect and polarity suffix morphemes into completive category, in completive aspect, negative and vague continuative imperative. All the categories are characterized by basic and modified affixes in the active, middle and passive voice categorical paradigm. Arnott (1970) identifies twenty five nominal classes that cover not only nouns but also pronouns, and pronominal elements of various types of adjectives, demonstratives, interrogatives and even numerals. These undergo various morphological changes according to the class of the noun to which they refer. Therefore, in Fulfulde there are no words that are indivisible. See Arnott (1970) and Mcintosh (1984) A word in Fulfulde therefore, consists of a nominal stem, or verbal root which inflects for nominal class and also for voice aspect and polarity. This is the features of all inflectional languages. No Fulfulde word can therefore stand on its own without an affix except in case of ideophones adverbials, particles or pronominals.

1.5.2 Suffixation

Suffixation is a morphological process that involve the addition of a bound morpheme at the end of a word stem. The morpheme added at the end of the stem is known as suffix. Suffixation is one of word formation processes found in many languages. It is achieved by the attachment of a bound morphemes to word stems/roots. In Fulfulde, Plural forms are formed by attachment of plural class morpheme to word stem as the same with the formation of singular forms also. There are six plural class forms namely: ɓ e, kon,,ko, ɗ e, ɗ i and koy.

i. Ve. This is a personal plural class. It is used to derive plural of human beings.

ii. Kon. The diminutive plural class used in the formation of certain plural forms.

iii. Ko. The augmentative plural class used in forming certain plural forms.

iv. Xe. This is plural class of many lexical items.

vi. Xi. This is a plural class which contains various collective nouns.

iv. Koy. This is a plural class form for many diminutive and affectionate plural formations.

 The plural class forms are free morpheme affixes attached to nominal stems or verbal roots to derive plurality derivatives. They also serve as demonstratives, pronominals and determiners depending on the context they appear. Mohammed (2015) presents a morphophonological study of Fulfulde noun plurals. According to him, /en/,/?e/, /je/, /le/, /?i/, ji/ and /li/ affixes are noun plural forms. His assumption cannot be accounted and justified as plural class suffix morphemes because these plural forms cannot be accounted in the syntax and grammar because they cannot take the NP position. Again, morphologically they cannot be presented as free morphemes as the remaining plural suffixes can be analyzed as determiners or pronominal morphemes. In view of this, this paper analyzes these plural suffix forms as allomorphs because they are different realization of plural suffix class morphemes and they are in complimentary distribution.

1.6 Scope of the Paper

This paper is confined to the central northern Nigerian Fulfulde dialect spoken in the entire northwest and some parts of the north east. It is concerned with the allomorphic variations of Fulfulde plural class forms namely: ɓ e, ɗ e, and ɗ i. only. The remaining ko, kon and koy do not have allomorph suffix variants according to our observations.

2.0 Discussion

There are six plural forms identified so far, however in this section, we are concerned with three only. These are Ve, Xe and Xi. According to our observations, these plural forms are characterized with allomorph suffix variants, while the remaining three i.e Kon, Ko and Koy do not possess any allomorph suffix variations. The allomorphs are in complimentary distribution and cannot be regarded as free morphemes because they cannot be accounted in the syntax and grammar as independent class markers.

2.1 Ve Personal plural class allomorphs

This is a personal plural class suffix morpheme, however, this paper observed that it comprise of /-en/ allomorph plural suffix variant as discussed below.

2.1.1 /-en/ plural suffix allomorph

This is an allomorph element of ve plural class morpheme attached to noun stems in the derivation of plural form denoting two individuals or more group of human beings. It is attached noun stems having CVCCV, CVVCV, CVCCV or CVCV, CVCVCV syllable pattern. The /-en/ allomorph is used in deriving lexical items denoting people. Here are few examples.






aged men



Kanuri people



Kilba people



Young men






Bororo people


Considering the data given above, we claimed that /-en/, suffix is an allomorph of -ve personal plural class morpheme

2.2 Xi Plural class marker morpheme

This is a plural class that consists of various collective nouns. Xi is used in the derivation of certain nouns and verbo-nominals from simple verb root base. However, Xi plural form have the following allomorphs /‘i/, /li/ and /ji/.

2.2.1 /-’i/ plural suffix allomorph

This is an allomorph suffix attached to noun stems having CV, CVC, and CVV C syllable structure. Used in deriving names of animals and other nouns. The derivatives in this category are disyllabic and carry open syllable takes pattern as shown in the following examples.



















2.2.2 /-li/plural suffix allomorph

This is the third allomorph of xi plural class marker suffix. /it is used in deriving names of some birds, animals, abstract nouns and other items. The noun stems of other derived lexical items have CVC, and CVV syllable pattern while that of the derived verbonominals is CVCVV, CVVCV; and CVCCVV syllable pattern as presented below;
























Young Donkeys



Brown Cows




                                        Derived Verbonominals

Arnott (1970:371) described verbonominals as lexical forms having some nominal and some verbal features. Verbonominal forms, therefore, consist of a verbal stem or root plus a nominal class suffix morpheme. Morphologically, verbonominals are made up of a root plus a nominal class suffix and they enter into agreement with nominal of other types. In addition, verbonominals are found to follow the nominal pattern of initial consonant alternation. Again, Arnott (1970:65) states that verbonominals are characterized with final glottality and salient initial syllable. Furthermore, a verbonominal stem can be related to the verbal system of voices and tenses, the radical can be simple, complex or extended structure. The derived verbonominal forms in this category are trisyllabic in nature, the verb roots having CVVCVV, CVCVV, and CVCCVV syllable structure. Here are some examples;


Verbonominal Items







Water Shrinks



Hot Summer pl.






Thunder Sounds



Covering Instruments


Choo ɗ aali

White Bulls






Reserved Bulls



Bambara Nuts

2.2.3 /ji/ Plural allomorph

This is the third allomorph of xi plural class marker. The derived lexical items under this category are disyllabic and trisyllabic pattern. The noun stem is characterized with CVV, CVCVV, CVVCVV, CVVCVC, CVCVV syllable structure. Consider the following examples.














Ƴ i ƴ amji

Blood pl.








Fa ɗ eeji

Foot wears



Fifth pl.



Dark spotted cattle










  Again, - ji allomorph is also used in reference to the Fulve (Fulani) clan groups based on the type of cattle they possess c.f Lukas (1985:102) in Ahmed (2015:145). Here are some examples.


Clan Name




Cattle of Gaya origin



Cattle of Kargi origin



Cattle of Fika origin



Cattle of Kofa origin

Moreover, Girei (2003:12) analyses /-ji/ suffix as affectionate morph for the derivation of Fulve names from proper name base as shown in the following examples.


Proper Name Base














From the examples given above, we state that /-i/, /-li/ and /-ji/ suffix elements served as allomorph variants of xi plural class morpheme from the morphological stand point and are in complimentary distribution.

2.3 Xe Non personal Plural class

This is a non-personal plural class suffix morpheme attached to nominal stem or verb root to derive nouns or verbonominals. However, xe plural class suffix is found to have these allomorph variants namely. /e/, le/ and /je/.

2.3.1 /?e/ Suffix Allomorph

This is an allomorph used in the derivation o certain plurals that are disyllabic. The noun stems of the derivatives contain CVV, CVC, CVVC and CVCC syllable structure. Here are some few examples.

























  2.3.2 /le/ Plural Allomorph

This is the second allomorph of /xe/ non-personal plural class suffix.it is used in deriving various noun plurals. The derived items are also disyllabic and the noun stem base have CVC syllable pattern. Here are some examples.






Kind of vegetables












Bush fowls



deserted compounds



Urine (pl.)


2.3.3. /je/ plural allomorph

This is the third allomorph of xe plural form. It is used in the derivation of certain lexical items comprising nouns and verbonominals. The derivatives are trisyllabic having CVV CVV, CV CVV syllable pattern. Consider these examples.






Kind of wild fruit









Plain rocks



Shea nut Trees



locust bean cake trees



negative nicknames






White Items


Bo ɗ eeje

Red materials



Green materials



Yellow materials



Clay pots



Aero planes








From the examples given above, this paper show that /e/and /le/ allomorphs are is constrained to nouns that are disyllabic in nature, while the last allomorph /je/ is regulated to lexical items that are trisyllabic or polysyllabic in nature. Lastly, the paper uphold that they are allomorphs of xe plural class morpheme which are all in complimentary distribution.


We have so far examined allomorphic variations of the three Fulfulde plural suffix forms i.e ve, xe and xi plural morphemes. The other two three ko, kon and koy do not have any allomorph variations. The presentation provide a hint and clear picture of the allomorphs of the plural forms contrary to the earlier claim by Mohammed (2015­) who analyzed them amongst plural forms independently even though, they cannot be accounted in the syntax because they cannot occupy NP position anywhere in Fulfulde grammar. While, /e/,/je/,and /le/ are allomorphs variants of xe, /i/, /li/ and /ji/ are allomorph variants of xi plural suffix morpheme which are all in complimentary distribution.


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