BARKA GA NDAKO
SHAFI BO PIKKA!

[WELCOME TO THE BOLE LANGUAGE PAGE!]

BOLE is a language spoken in Yobe and Gombe States of northeastern Nigeria. About 250-300,000 people speak BOLE, making it among the largest languages in the region, perhaps surpassed only by its linguistic cousin HAUSA, the dominant language of all northern Nigeria and the sub-Saharan language with the most native speakers, and KANURI, the historically dominant language of northeastern Nigeria over the past few centuries. BOLE is a member of the Chadic Language family. Along with Hausa, Bole is a member of the West Branch of Chadic, but Bole and Hausa are not particularly closely related. The languages share a number typological features (similar consonant inventories, a two-tone system with downdrift, grammatical gender--though this has nearly disappeared as an active system in Bole, and similarities in sentence and phrasal word order), but they probably do not share more than 30% cognates in basic vocabulary.

The BOLE PEOPLE have played a prominent role in the pre-colonial, colonial, and post-independence periods of Nigeria. The EMIR OF FIKA (MOI PIKKA), the paramount figure in the traditional Bole ruling hierarchy, has, for a long period, occupied one of the preeminent traditional royal positions of northern Nigeria. Many individuals from the Bole community have risen to prominent positions in Nigerian politics, commerce, education, and media.

Alhaji Mohammadu Ibn Idrissa
Moi Pikka, 1922-1976
(Nigeria Magazine, Dec. 1963)
Alhaji Abali Ibn Muhammadu
Moi Pikka, 1976-2009
Alhaji Mohammed Ibn Abali Idris
Moi Pikka, 2009-

The source of the name "BOLE" is uncertain. This is not the term the people use for themselves or their language. One suggestion is that the term comes from the Bole phrase, "Bo le?", which in Bole could mean either "Why?" (literally, "Because-of what?") or "What language?" (literally, "Mouth-of what?")--the word bo can mean either 'because' or 'mouth' and le means 'what?'. It is not uncommon for a people or their language to get their "mainstream" name from a phrase that recurs in the language and that non-speakers hear and apply as an ethnic name without having any idea what it means. For example, Kanakuru is the widely used name for a group in northeastern Nigeria who call themselves "Dera". "Kanakuru" in Dera means, "Good morning"! The table below shows the name of the Bole people and their language in Bole as well as Hausa and Kanuri, the dominant regional languages. As the table shows, both Hausa and Kanuri base their terms on the mysterious "Bole" root.

    BOLE HAUSA KANURI
People am Pikka (m), ani Pikka (f)
anim Pikka = biya Pikka (pl)
'one(s) of Fika'
Babole (m), Baboliya (f)
Bolawa (pl)
Bolea
Language bo Pikka
'mouth/language [of] Fika'
Bolanci Bolea

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Research on Bole

The intention of this web site is to draw attention to an interesting and important language of Nigeria which is probably unknown to most people other than specialists. Information on this site derives from three grants from the US National Science Foundation:

"Bole Language: Grammar, Dictionary, and Texts" (08/01/1999-07/31/2001, #BCS9905180, Russell G. Schuh, Principal Investigator)

"The Chadic Languages of Yobe State, Nigeria" (12/01/2001-11/30/2004 with no-cost extension to 11/30/2005, #BCS0111289, Russell G. Schuh, Principal Investigator, Alhaji Maina Gimba, In-Country Director)

"Lexicon, Linguistic Structure, and Verbal Arts in Chadic Languages of Northeastern Nigeria" (08/15/2006-07/31/2009, #BCS0553222, Russell G. Schuh, Principal Investigator, Alhaji Maina Gimba, In-Country Director)

Directors of the project under the latter two grants are Russell G. Schuh, the Principal Investigator, and Alhaji Maina Gimba, the In-Country Director. Members of the Bole team are Malam Baba Ali and Madu Bah. Thanks go to HRH Moi Pikka, Alhaji Abali ibn Muhammadu, to members of the Fika Emirate Council, to the Fika Local Government Authority, to the Potiskum Local Government Authority, to the Fika Development Association (FIDA) for logistic, moral, and material support during summer 2000, and especially to Madu Liman and his family for indispensable logistic support.

Malam Baba Ali, 2009 Madu Bah, 2009 Alhaji Maina Gimba, 2009
Madu, Malam Baba Ali, Gimba 2009 Gimba, Madu, Schuh, Malam Baba Ali, 2009

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Note on the name "Bole"

C.K. Meek (Tribal Studies in Northern Nigeria, Volume 2, page 288, Kegan Paul, 1931) suggests that the word Bole "would seem to embody a root bola = penis, or male, and the tribal name would thus, as so often in Africa, stand for 'The Men'". THIS IS COMPLETE NONSENSE, based on non-sequiturs such as noting that the Hausa word for 'penis' is "bura" (a word without known cognates in other Chadic languages) and that there is a northern Nigerian tribe called the Bura. One might just as well note the resemblance between Hausa "bura" and English "bear" in the sense of 'give birth'! It is true that the autonyms for many African groups is "people" in the respective languages (though probably never "males" or "men"), but no African group, as far as I know, identifies the word for "penis" with the word for "male, man", much less "person" in general. The nonsensical nature of Meek's suggestion is compounded by the fact "Bole" is NOT the autonym of the Bole people!

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