Yao (African Language)

Yao (African Language)

Yao (ChiYao, Achawa, Adsawa, Adsoa, Ajawa, Ayawa, Ayo, Ayao, Djao, Haiao, Hiao, Hyao, Jao, Veiao, WaJao - SIL code [yao] ) is a Bantu language in Africa with approximately 1 million speakers in Malawi, half a million in Tanzania, and around 450,000 in Mozambique. There are also some speakers in Zambia, made up mainly of contracted labourers who live semi-nomadically. In Malawi, the main dialect is Mangoche, mostly around Lake Malawi. In Mozambique, the main dialects are Makale and Massaninga.

Though the Yao have had a history of cultural abuse at the hands of Arab, British, German and Portuguese colonists, the tribe is at last gaining recognition as having one of the most important languages in the region, and dictionaries and grammars have been written.

Phonetics and Orthography

As in English, unvoiced plosives are breathed and voiced plosives are not. The five main South and Central Bantu vowels (pure a, e, i, o, u) apply. However, there is more variation than usual in vowel length.

In each of the main three countries where Yao is spoken, the orthography differs widely. This is mainly due to the extremely low literacy rate (5%). This is partially reflected in the vast indecision about the actual spelling of the name of the language itself, though much of this is more reflective of European ignorance of the Yao people. In Tanzania, the orthography is based on that of Swahili, whereas in Malawi it is based on that of Chewa.

The Malawian form, based on the English alphabet before phonetics became a science, uses the following characters:

A,a B,b Ch,ch D,d E,e G,g I,i J,j K,k L,l Ly,ly M,m N,n Ng',ng' Ny,ny O,o P,p S,s T,t U,u W,w, Ŵ,ŵ Y,y

Note:J is sometimes written Dy.T is aspirated; P and K are not.Ny and Ly are palatal.Ng' is the phonetic [ŋ] (like 'ng' in 'ring')S is retroflex.Ŵ is the phonetic [ʋ] .

Macrons and microns can be used to prevent ambiguity that would otherwise arise due to no representation of vowel length.


Like all Bantu languages, Yao has a set form of verbal inflection and a variety of noun classes. The classes of Yao are mainly reflective of its membership in the Central 'P' group of Bantu languages.

Noun classes

These forms may be combined according to certain normal Bantu laws of vowel elision with prefixes such as 'na' (with, and).

There are also several demonstratives, which tend to come in threes ('this one', 'that one nearby', and 'that one far away').

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