Xhosa language

Xhosa language

Infobox Language
name =Xhosa
nativename =isiXhosa
states=flagicon|South Africa South Africa
flagicon|Lesotho Lesotho
region=Eastern Cape Province, Western Cape Province
speakers=7.9 million
fam7=Narrow Bantu
nation= flagicon|South Africa South Africa

Xhosa (pronounced|ˈkǁʰoːsa (audio|Xhosa.ogg|Audio), "isiXhosa") is one of the official languages of South Africa. Xhosa is spoken by approximately 7.9 million people, or about 18% of the South African population. Like most Bantu languages, Xhosa is a tonal language, that is, the same sequence of consonants and vowels can have different meanings when said with a rising or falling or high or low intonation. One of the most distinctive features of the language is the prominence of click consonants; The word "Xhosa," the name of the language itself, begins with a click.

Xhosa is written using a Latin alphabet-based system. Three letters are used to indicate the basic clicks: "c" for dental clicks, "x" for lateral clicks, and "q" for palatal clicks (for a more detailed explanation, see the table of consonant phonemes, below). Tones are not indicated in the written form.

Affiliation and distribution

Xhosa is the southernmost branch of the Nguni languages, related to Swati, Northern Ndebele [http://www.websters-online-dictionary.org/definition/Xhosa-english/ Online Xhosa-English Dictionary] ] and Zulu. There is some mutual intelligibility with Swati, Northern Ndebele and Zulu, a Northern Ndebele and Xhosa share many linguistic features. Nguni languages are in turn part of a larger group of Bantu languages, and as such Xhosa is related to languages spoken across much of Africa [http://www.lmp.ucla.edu/Profile.aspx?LangID=21&menu=004 UCLA Xhosa Language Materials Project] ] .

Xhosa is the most widely distributed African language in South Africa, while the most widely spoken is Zulu. Xhosa is the second most common home language in South Africa as a whole. As of|2003 the majority of Xhosa speakers, approximately 5.3 million, live in the Eastern Cape, followed by the Western Cape (approximately 2 million), Gauteng (671,045), the Free State (246,192), KwaZulu-Natal (219,826), North West (214,461), Mpumalanga (46,553), the Northern Cape (51,228), and Limpopo (14,225) [http://www.southafrica.info/ess_info/sa_glance/demographics/census-main.htm South Africa Population grows to 44.8 Million.] ] . A minority of Xhosa speakers (18,000) exists in Quthing District, Lesotho. [http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=xho Ethnologue report for language code:xho] ]


Xhosa has several dialects, including
* Gcaleka
* Ndlambe
* Ngqika (Nqqika, considered "standard")
* Thembu
* Bomvana
* Mpondomse (Mpondomise)
* Mpondo
* Xesibe
* Rharhabe
* Bhaca
* Cele
* Hlubi- There's still a debate about the whether the Hlubis belong to the Zulu, the Xhosa or they have their own King
* Mfengu

There is some debate among scholars as to what exactly the divisions between the dialects are.


Xhosa-speaking peoples have inhabited coastal regions of southeastern Africa since before the sixteenth century. The members of the ethnic group that speaks Xhosa refer to themselves as the amaXhosa and call their language isiXhosa ("isi"- is a prefix relating to languages), while the language is most commonly known as "Xhosa" in English.

Almost all languages with clicks are Khoisan languages and the presence of clicks in Xhosa demonstrates the strong historical interaction with its Khoisan neighbours. An estimated 15% of the vocabulary is of Khoekhoe (Khoisan) origin . In the modern period, Xhosa has also borrowed from both Afrikaans and English.

Role in modern society

The role of African languages in South Africa is complex and ambiguous. Their use in education has been governed by legislation, beginning with the Bantu Education Act of 1953 .

At present, Xhosa is used as the main language of instruction in many primary schools and some secondary schools, but is largely replaced by English after the early primary grades, even in schools mainly serving Xhosa-speaking communities. The language is also studied as a subject.

The language of instruction at universities in South Africa is English or Afrikaans, and Xhosa is taught as a subject, both for native and non-native speakers.

Literary works, including prose and poetry, are available in Xhosa, as are newspapers and magazines. The first Bible translation was in 1859, produced in part by Henry Hare Dugmore . The South African Broadcasting Corporation broadcasts in Xhosa on both radio (on Umhlobo Wenene FM) and television, and films, plays and music are also produced in the language. The best-known performer of Xhosa songs outside South Africa is Miriam Makeba, whose "Click Song #1" ("Qongqothwane" in Xhosa) and "Click Song #2" ("Baxabene Oxamu") are known for their large number of click sounds.

As of|1996|alt=In 1996, the literacy rate for first-language Xhosa speakers was estimated at 50%, though this may have changed dramatically in the years since the abolition of apartheid.

Linguistic features

Xhosa is an agglutinative language featuring an array of prefixes and suffixes that are attached to root words. As in other Bantu languages, Xhosa nouns are classified into fifteen morphological classes (or genders), with different prefixes for singular and plural. Various parts of speech that qualify a noun must agree with the noun according to its gender. These agreements usually reflect part of the original class that it is agreeing with. Constituent word order is Subject Verb Object.

Verbs are modified by affixes that mark subject, object, tense, aspect, and mood. The various parts of the sentence must agree in class and number .


: ukudlala - to play: ukubona - to see

: umntwana - a child : abantwana - children

: umntwana uyadlala - the child plays: abantwana bayadlala - the children play

: indoda - a man: amadoda - men

: indoda iya"m"bona "um"ntwana - the man sees the child: amadoda aya"ba"bona "aba"ntwana - the men see the children: Zonke zinto ezilungile zivela kuThixo - all things that are good proceed from God.


Xhosa has an inventory of ten vowels: IPA| [a] , IPA| [ɛ] , IPA| [i] , IPA| [ɔ] and IPA| [u] , both long and short, written "a", "e", "i", "o" and "u".


Xhosa is a tone language with two inherent tones: low and high. Tones are frequently not marked in the written language, but when they are, they are "a" [à] , "á" [á] , "â" [áà] , "ä" [àá] . Long vowels are phonemic, but are usually not written, except for "â" and "ä".


Xhosa is rich in uncommon consonants. Besides pulmonic egressive sounds, as in English, it has fifteen clicks (by way of comparison, the Juǀʼhoan language, spoken by roughly 10,000 people in Botswana and Namibia has 48 clicks, while the ǃXóõ language, with roughly 4,000 speakers in Botswana, has 83 click sounds, the largest consonant inventory of any known language), plus ejectives and an implosive. The same sounds occur in Zulu, but are used less frequently than in Xhosa.

The five dental clicks (represented by the letter "c") are made with the tongue on the back of the teeth, and are similar to the sound represented in English by "tut-tut" or "tsk-tsk" to reprimand someone. The second five are lateral (represented by the letter "x"), made by the tongue at the sides of the mouth, and are similar to the sound used to call horses. The remaining five are alveolar (represented by the letter "q"), made with the tip of the tongue at the roof of the mouth, and sound something like a cork pulled from a bottle.

The following table lists the consonant phonemes of the language, giving the pronunciation in IPA on the left, and the orthography on the right:

Two additional consonants, IPA| [r] and IPA| [r̤] , are found in borrowings. Both are spelled "r".

Two additional consonants, IPA| [ʒ] and IPA| [ʒ̈] , are found in borrowings. Both are spelled "zh".

Two additional consonants, IPA| [ʣ] and IPA| [ʣ̤] , are found in loans. Both are spelled "dz".

An additional consonant, IPA| [ŋ̈] is found in loans. It is spelled "ngh".

In addition to the ejective affricate IPA| [ʧʼ] , the spelling "tsh" may also be used for either of the aspirated affricates IPA| [ʦʰ] and IPA| [ʧʰ] .

The breathy voiced glottal fricative IPA| [ɦ̤] is sometimes spelled "h".

The "breathy voiced" clicks, plosives, and affricates are actually plain voiced, but the following vowel is murmured. That is, "da" is pronounced IPA| [da̤] .

Consonant changes with prenasalization

When consonants are prenasalized, their pronunciation and spelling may change. Murmur no longer shifts to the following vowel. Fricatives become affricates, and if voiceless, become ejectives as well, at least with some speakers: "mf" is pronounced IPA| [ɱp̪f’] ; "ndl" is pronounced IPA| [ndɮ] ;"n+hl" becomes "ntl" IPA| [ntɬʼ] ; "n+z" becomes "ndz" IPA| [ndz] , "etc." The orthographic "b" in "mb" is a voiced plosive, IPA| [mb] .

When voiceless clicks "c, x, q" are prenasalized, a silent letter "k" is added – "nkc, nkx, nkq" – so as to prevent confusion with the nasal clicks "nc, nx, nq".

ample text

"Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" is part of the national anthem of South Africa, national anthem of Tanzania and Zambia, and the former anthem of Zimbabwe and Namibia. It is a Xhosa hymn written by Enoch Sontonga in 1897. The first chorus is:

: "Nkosi, sikelel' iAfrika;": "Malupakam'upondo lwayo;": "Yiva imithandazo yethu": "Usisikelele."

: Lord, bless Africa;: May her horn rise high up;: Hear Thou our prayers And bless us.

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

: "Bonke abantu bazalwa bekhululekile belingana ngesidima nangokweemfanelo. Bonke abantu banesiphiwo sesazela nesizathu sokwenza isenzo ongathanda ukuba senziwe kumzalwane wakho."

: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of fellowship.

"Qongqothwane" ("The Knock-Knock Beetle," known in English as "The Click Song") is a Xhosa wedding song best known as performed by Miriam Makeba. Note the frequent occurrence of palatal clicks:

: "Igqira lendlela nguqongqothwane" : "Igqira lendlela kuthwa nguqongqothwane" : "Sebeqabele gqithapha bathi nguqongqothwane" : "Sebeqabele gqithapha bathi nguqongqothwane."

: The diviner of the roadways is the knock-knock beetle: The diviner of the roadways is said to be the knock-knock beetle: It has passed up the steep hill, the knock-knock beetle: It has passed up the steep hill, the knock-knock beetle

Common words and phrases

: Molo - hello (to one person): Molweni - hello (to more than one person): Unjani? - how are you? (one person): Ninjani? - how are you? (more than one person): Ndiphilile - I am well: Siphilile - we are well: Ngubani igama lakho? - What is your name?: Unangaphi? - How old are you?: Malini na? - How much money?: Yintoni le? - What is this? : Ngubani xesha? - What is the time?: Kuyabanda ngaphandle! - It is cold outside!: Enkosi - thank you: Uxolo - excuse me : Ngxesi - sorry: Nceda - please: Andiqondi/Andikuva - I don't understand: Andiyazi - I don't know: Ndithetha isiXhosa kancinci nje - I only speak a little Xhosa: Ndiyagoduka ngoku - I am going home now : Intwasahlobo ifikile - Spring has arrived: Ndihamba ngebhasi - I go by bus : Ndilahlekile - I am lost: Ndingakwenzela ntoni? - What can i do for you? : Vula iincwadi zakho - Open your books (to one person): Vulani iincwadi zenu - Open your books (to more than one person)

ee also

* Xhosa calendar
* Henry Hare Dugmore, the first translator of the Scriptures into Xhosa
* U-Carmen eKhayelitsha, a 2005 Xhosa film adaptation of Bizet's Carmen
* UCLA Language Materials Project, an online project for teaching languages, including Xhosa.


External links

* [http://www.lmp.ucla.edu/Profile.aspx?LangID=21&menu=004 Xhosa language profile ] [http://www.lmp.ucla.edu/ (at UCLA Language Materials Project)]
* [http://www.ethnologue.org/show_language.asp?code=xho Ethnologue report for Xhosa] "
* [http://www.xhosadictionary.com Xhosa-English Dictionary]
* [http://www.websters-online-dictionary.org/definition/Xhosa-english/ A very short Xhosa -> English dictionary]
* [http://www.learnxhosa.com Encouraging awareness of Xhosa culture and language]
* [http://www.panafril10n.org/wikidoc/pmwiki.php/PanAfrLoc/Xhosa PanAfrican L10n page on Xhosa]
* [http://www.google.com/intl/xh/ Google in Xhosa]
* [http://www.uwfm.co.za/portal/site/umhlobowenenefm/ Umholobo Wenene FM]
* [http://forum.learnxhosa.com/index.php? Xhosa learning resources]


* [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 Xhosa
* [http://translate.org.za/ Translate.org.za] Project to translate Free and Open Source Software into all the official languages of South Africa including Xhosa

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