Tsonga language

Tsonga language

states=flagicon|Mozambique Mozambique flagicon|South Africa South Africa flagicon|Swaziland Swaziland flagicon|Zimbabwe Zimbabwe
region=Limpopo, Mpumalanga
fam7=Narrow Bantu
nation=flagicon|South Africa South Africa

The Tsonga or Xitsonga language is spoken in southern Africa by the Tsonga people, also known as the Shangaan.


Tsonga belongs to the Bantu branch of the Niger-Congo languages. Speakers are sometimes called Shangaans, which according to them (Tsongas) is wrong as they use that denominator for Tsongas who live in Mozambique. Most of the Tsongas now live in Nkowankowa, Giyani and Malamulele places in Limpopo province in South Africa.

As I edit this page, I refer to myself as a Shangaan person who speaks Xitsonga. All the Shangaan people living in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and anywhere else in Southern Africa, the recorded history shows that they came from Gaza Province of Mozambique. The wars and other indigenous reasons are some of the reasons why people find themselves with different dialects different from others. Every language of the world is, in one way or the other affected by this. Take a simple example of American and British English. However one may justify that American English is in its own, the fact remains, England has the origin of the language. Therefore, Gaza Mozambique reflects the true origin of every Shangaan person all over Southern Africa, dialects were/are the results of the geographical dominance. -(I live in the Limpopo Province of South Africa, my father was born in 1929 (was the last born in family of 5) and my grandfather (died in 1972) was born in 1889 in Gaza Mozambique. One may argue that Giyani never existed in 1889 and those who argue may need to review their ancestral clan or read what was recorded by "missionaries". It's a pride to know where you come from. -- Vongani Leonard Nkwinika

Geographic distribution

Tsonga is spoken by about 1,646,000 people in South Africa's Limpopo province as well as Gauteng Province and Mpumalanga Province, as well as 1.5 million people in Mozambique, and 19,000 people in Swaziland. There are also 100,000 speakers in Zimbabwe.

Official status

Tsonga is an official language in South Africa.


Various dialects of Tsonga are spoken as far north as the Save River in Zimbabwe and as far south as KwaZulu/Natal. While most dialects are mutually intelligible, they do have distinct differences that are geographical as well as based on influence of the colonial era. Tsonga also has two very close relatives: Xironga, which is spoken in and about Maputo, Mozambique, and Xitswa, which is spoken around Inhambane and has a Chihlengwe dialect extending into Zimbabwe.

These dialects and relatives differ in pronunciation. For example, in South African Tsonga the use of the prefix "xi" is pronounced "shi" in Xikwembu (God). In Zimbabwe this prefix is pronounced "chi", as in "Chikwembu" (God). South African Tsonga also uses consonant combinations like "nk", "mp", "ns" as in nkhensa (thank), nyimpi (war), and nsiha (vein). In Zimbabwe the equivalents are khesa, nyipi, and siha.

All dialects have been influenced to different degrees by Zulu and, in Zimbabwe, by Ndebele, and so Tsonga now contains click consonants. These words are not indigenous to the language but are understood when used. Unlike the case in Zulu and Ndebele, where there are distinct clicks, in Tsonga one need only make a clicking sound for any click word adopted. Examples of imported click words are:ngqondo (mind), gqoka (wear/dress), ncingo (phone), qamba (compose) Mugqivela (Saturday).

Tsonga has been characterized by some linguists as a "whistling language" similar to Shona in that it contains certain sounds such as "sw/sv", tsw/tsv", "dzw/dzv", sounds which occur throughout the language.

Tsonga classes

Tsonga has several classes, much like other Bantu languages, which are learned through memorization mostly. These are:

E.g. "tana haleno" - come here


All verbs have the prefix "ku" and end with an 'a' in the infinitive, with a couple of exceptions.


XiTsonga, like many other African languages, have been influenced by various European colonial languages. XiTsonga includes words borrowed from English, Afrikaans, and Portuguese. Also, because of the influence of other more dominant neighbouring languages, XiTsonga has taken some words, especially click words, from isiZulu.

Words Borrowed from English:
* Thelevhixini - Television
* Rhediyo - Radio
* xitulu - Chair(Stool)
* Wachi - watch(to tell time)
* Movha - car(automobil)
* Sokisi - socks
* Gilazi - glass
* tliloki - clock
* mhasipala - municipal
* makhiya - keys

Words Borrowed from Afrikaans
* lekere - sweets(lekkers)
* fasitere - window(venster)
* lepula - spoon(lepel)
* kereke - church(kerk)
* buruku - trousers(broek)
* dhomu - idiot(dom)
* tafula - table(tafel)
* xipuku - ghost(spook)

Words Borrowed from Zulu:
* (ri)nqingo - phone
* kuqonda - to head towards
* ku gcina - to end
* kuzama - to try

Writing system

Tsonga uses the Latin alphabet. However, certain sounds are spelled using a combination of letter, which either do not exist in the European colonial language, or may be meant to distinguish the language somewhat.

An example of this is the letter "x" which is pronounced as the English "sh". Therefore the following words, -shusha, shikolo, shilo, are written in Tsonga as -xuxa, xikolo, and xilo. This may be from the Portuguese influence in Mozambique where a majority of Tsonga speakers live. In Portuguese the "x" is pronounced the same way in words such as "caixa"(box) and "baixo"(under)

Other spelling differences include the letter "c" which equates to the sound of the English "ch". However, where the emphasis of a word is on the following vowel the letter is hardened by adding "h" this the Tsonga word -chava(fear)

A sound equivalent to the Welsh "ll" is written "hl" in Tsonga,e.g. -hlangana(meet), -hlasela(attack), -hleka(laugh)

A whistling sound common in the language is written "sw" or "sv" in Zimbabwean chishona. This sound actually belongs to the "x-sw" class within the language. E.g.:
* xilo(thing) - swilo(things)
* xikolo(school) - swikolo(schools)
* Xikwembu(God) - swikwembu(gods)

Another whistling sound is spelled "dy" but has no English equivalent, the closest being the "dr" sound in the English word "drive"

An important note is that Tsonga has been standardized as a written language. However, due to the fairly recent nature of that standardization there still exist many dialects within the language that may not pronounce words as written. For example, the Tsonga bible uses the word "byela"(tell), pronounced bwe-la, however a large group of speakers would say "dzvela/dyela" instead.

The Lord's Prayer as written in the xiTsonga Bible (Bibele)

Tata wa hina la nge tilweni,vito ra wena a ri hlawuleke;a ku te ku fuma ka wena;ku rhandza ka wena a ku endliwemisaveni, tanihi loko ku endliwa tilweniu hi nyika namuntlha vuswa bya hinabya siku rin'wana ni rin'wana;u hi rivalela swidyoho swa hina,tanihi loko na hina hi rivalela lava hi dyohelaka;u nga hi yisi emiringwenikambe u hi ponisa eka Lowo biha, [hikuva ku fuma, ni matimba, no ku twala i swa wenahi masiku ni masiku. Amen]

External links

* [http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=tso Ethnologue on Tsonga]

oftware & localization

* [http://translate.org.za/content/view/1610/54/ Spell checker for OpenOffice.org and Mozilla] , [http://translate.org.za/content/view/17/32/ OpenOffice.org] , [http://translate.org.za/content/view/1611/54/ Mozilla Firefox web-browser] , and [http://translate.org.za/content/view/1612/54/ Mozilla Thunderbird email program] in Tsonga
* [http://translate.org.za/ Translate.org.za] Project to translate Free and Open Source Software into all the official languages of South Africa including Tsonga
* [http://www.panafril10n.org/wikidoc/pmwiki.php/PanAfrLoc/Tsonga PanAfriL10n page on Tsonga]

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