Jalaa language

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bàsàrə̀n dà jàlààbè̩
Native to Nigeria
Region Loojaa settlement in Balanga Local Government Area, Bauchi State
Native speakers
unknown (200 cited 1992)[1]
moribund, probably extinct (2014)
Unclassified (language isolate per Ethnologue and Glottolog)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 cet
Glottolog cent2045[2]

Jalaa (autonym bàsàrə̀n dà jàlààbè̩), also known as Centúúm or Cen Tuum is an endangered language of northeastern Nigeria (Loojaa settlement in Balanga Local Government Area, Bauchi State), of uncertain (possibly Niger–Congo) origins.[citation needed] It is nearly extinct; the ethnic group has come to use the Bwilim dialect of Cham in daily life, and the few remaining speakers of Jalaa, all elderly, are much more fluent in Cham than in Jalaa.[citation needed]

Traditionally, the Jalabe (as the ethnic group is called) are said to have come to Loojaa from an area a few miles south within the Muri Mountains, where they had shared a settlement with Tso and Kwa clans. (The name of this settlement, Cèntûm or Cùntûm, is used as a name for the language in some sources.) Later, during the nineteenth century, the Cham arrived in the area, fleeing attacks from the larger Waja to the north; the Cham intermarried with the Jalabe, and the Jalabe began to adopt the Cham language.


The Jalaa lexicon is also strongly influenced by Cham (which it has in turn influenced); some similarities are also found with the nearby Tso. However, most of its vocabulary is extremely unusual. In Kleinewillinghöfer's words, "The major part of the lexicon seems to differ entirely from all the surrounding languages, which themselves represent different language families."

Both the Cham and the Tso traditionally avoided using names of the dead. When those names were also words of the language, as often happened, this forced them to change the word, sometimes by replacing it with a word from a neighboring language. Kleinewillinghöfer regards this as a motivation for certain cases of borrowing from Jalaa into Cham.


The numerals 1-6 in Jalaa are:

  1. násán
  2. tiyú, tə́só
  3. tətáá, bwànbí
  4. təbwár, ŋbár
  5. (tə)nó
  6. tənúkùn

Above 5, the numerals are almost identical to Cham. The numerals 2 through 5 are almost identical with Tso, while "one" has no clear cognates.


Jalaa morphology (at least in its present form) is almost identical to that of Cham. The main differences in the noun class system are two of the plural suffixes: Jalaa -ta versus Cham -te̩ and (for humans) Jalaa -bo, -ba versus Cham -b(e̩).

In popular culture

  • Jalaa language was mentioned on an episode of NCIS. It is mentioned that terrorist cells in the area where using Jalaa to communicate secretively, much in the same way that Navajo language was used during World War II. In the episode, a Marine Sergeant of Nigerian heritage served as a code translator for the United States government.

See also


  • Crozier, David H. and Roger M. Blench, editors. 1992. An index of Nigerian languages. Abuja, Nigeria and Dallas: Nigerian Language Development Centre, Department of Linguistics and Nigerian Languages, University of Ilorin, and Summer Institute of Linguistics.[1]
  • Ulrich Kleinewillinghöfer. "Jalaa – an Almost Forgotten Language of Northeastern Nigeria: a Language Isolate?" in Historical Language Contact in Africa, Derek Nurse (ed.), vol. 16/17 of "Sprache und Geschichte in Afrika", Koeppe 2001. ISSN 0170 – 5946.


  1. Jalaa at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Jalaa". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>