Country Listing

Chad Table of Contents



There are about thirty different dialects of Arabic in Chad. The Arabs divide themselves into three major "tribes": the Juhayna, the Hassuna, and the Awlad Sulayman. In this context, tribe refers to a group claiming descent from a common ancestor. The Juhayna, who began arriving from Sudan in the fourteenth century, are by far the most important. The Hassuna, who migrated to Chad from Libya, live in Kanem Prefecture. The Awlad Sulayman also hail from Libya, but they arrived in the nineteenth century, well after the others. Most of the Arabs are herders or farmers.

Among Arabic herdsmen, life-styles vary considerably. The different needs of camels, cattle, goats, and sheep result in different patterns of settlement and movement. In addition to herding, many Arabic speakers earn their livelihoods as small and middle-level merchants. In N'Djamena and in towns such as Sarh and Moundou, Arabic speakers dominated local commerce up until the 1970s; however, because of the anti-Muslim violence in the south in the late 1970s, many moved to central or nothern Chad.

Despite the diversity of dialects and the scattered distribution of Arabic-speaking populations, the language has had a major impact on Chad. In the Sahel, Arab herdsmen and their wives frequent local markets to exchange their animals, butter, and milk for agricultural products, cloth, and crafts. Itinerant Arab traders and settled merchants in the towns play major roles in local and regional economies. As a result, Chadian Arabic (or Turku) has became a lingua franca, or trade language. Arabic also has been important because it is the language of Islam and of the Quran, its holy book. Quranic education has stimulated the spread of the language and enhanced its stature among the non-Arab Muslims of Chad.

Not all Arabic speakers are of Arab descent. The assimilation of local peoples (both free and slave) into Arabic groups has affected both the dialects and the customs of Arabic speakers in Chad. Non-Arabs also have adopted the language. To cite two examples, the Yalna and the Bandala are of Hajerai and Ouadda´an origin, respectively, and were probably originally slaves who adopted the Arabic language of their masters. Among the Runga, who were not slaves, Arabic is also widely spoken.

Data as of December 1988