Duwai is spoken in Yobe State, Nigeria, in the area to the east and southeast of Gashua, the largest city in the northern part of Yobe State. It is one of seven languages of the Chadic family indigenous to Yobe State, the others being Bade, Bole, Karekare, Maka, Ngamo, and Ngizim. Duwai is a member of the West Branch of Chadic and is hence related to Hausa, the dominant language throughout northern Nigeria. Duwai's closest linguistic relatives are Bade, spoken to the west of Duwai in Bade (Bedde) Emirate, and Ngizim, well to the south, around Potiskum. Duwai is a geographical neighbor of Bade and has considerable linguistic interaction particularly with the Gashua dialect of Bade, but in terms of relatedness, the various dialects of Bade form a linguistic group with Ngizim, and Duwai forms its own branch of this linguistic subfamily.

Accurate census figures for the number of Duwai speakers are not available. The Ethnologue gives a figure of 11,386, which seems not unreasonable. The Duwai as an ethnolinguistic group are part of the Bade Emirate, whose headquarters is in Gashua and of which the traditional ruler is Mai Bade. Nearly all speakers of Duwai are Muslim. There are no major commercial or political centers where Duwai is the primary language. Some of the main Duwai-speaking towns are Gangawa, Rinakunu, Gadine, and Cirawa. In the mid-1970's, the easternmost Duwai speaking town was Dadigar, but even at that time, Duwai was giving way to Kanuri and only the older generation still spoke Duwai to any extent.

Not much is known about dialect variation in Duwai. There are indications that at one time Duwai covered a much larger area than it does now and that there was considerable dialect variation (for example, data collected in Dadigar in 1974 shows significant differences from the Duwai of Gangawa, which is the variety documented on this site). However, the Duwai speaking area is shrinking and the language has been or is being replaced by Kanuri from the east, by Bade from the neighboring Gashua dialect, and, like all minority languages in northern Nigeria, by Hausa. The native name for the Duwai people is @vji (the symbol "@" = IPA "barred i"), but this is also the Duwai word for "Bade". The name Duwai (with initial glottalized "d"), which is accepted by Duwai speakers, provides a way to differentiate Duwai from Bade. The origin of this term is uncertain. It first appeared in Koelle's Polyglotta Africana (1854), which includes a Duwai wordlist. The language is widely known in Yobe State as Tafirifiri (apparently a term of Bade origin describing how the language sounds to speakers of Bade), but this term is considered derogatory by speakers of Duwai.

Research on Duwai

The only published work on Duwai is a wordlist in Sigismund Koelle, Polyglotta Africana (London: Church Missionary Society, 1854) and a description of the Duwai determiner system and related constructions in Russell G. Schuh, "Bade/Ngizim determiner system," Afroasiatic Linguistics, 4(3):1-74, 1977. It is now one of the focus languages in a project funded by the US National Science Foundation entitled "Lexicon, Linguistic Structure, and Verbal Arts in Chadic Languages of Northeastern Nigeria" (award #BCS-0553222, Russell G. Schuh, Principal Investigator). The In-Country Director of the project is Dr. Alhaji Maina Gimba. The consultants for research on Duwai in the current project have been Buba Kacalla Gangawa and Alhaji Abba Daskum.

Tragically, Buba passed away in early 2008 at a young age, having just completed a university certificate course in math instruction and leaving a family. The cause of death was kidney disease, which is a chronic problem in the Gashua area because of the mineral content of the local water. The Yobe Research Languages Project team offers their sincerest condolences to Buba's survivors.

Buba Kacalla Gangawa with Russell Schuh and Alhaji Maina Gimba in 2007
Alhaji Abba, Schuh, Gimba 2009 Alhaji Abba, Gimba 2009 Alhaji Abba, Schuh 2009
Alhaji Abba 2009