Kinyarwanda, also known as Rwanda (Ruanda) or Rwandan, is the official language of Rwanda and a dialect of the Rwanda-Rundi language spoken by 12 million people in Burundi and adjacent parts of southern Uganda. (The Kirundi dialect is the official language of neighboring Burundi.) Speakers of Kinyarwanda are subdivided into three ethnic groups, the Hutu (84%), Tutsi (15%), and Twa (1%), a pygmy people.
Kinyarwanda is one of the three official languages of Rwanda (along with English and French), and is spoken by almost all of the native population. This contrasts with most modern African states, whose borders were drawn by colonial powers and did not correspond to ethnic boundaries or pre-colonial kingdoms.
Except in a few morphological contexts, the sequences 'ki' and 'ke' may be pronounced interchangeably as [ki] and [ke] or [ci] and [ce] according to speaker's preference.
The letters 'a', 'e', or 'i' at the end of a word followed by a word starting with a vowel often follows a pattern of omission (observed in the following excerpt of the Rwandan anthem) in common speech, though the orthography remains the same. For example, Reka tukurate tukuvuge ibigwi wowe utubumbiye hamwe twese Abanyarwanda uko watubyaye berwa, sugira, singizwa iteka. would be pronounced as "Reka tukurate tukuvug' ibigwi wow' utubumiye hamwe twes' abanyarwand' uko watubyaye berwa, sugira singizw' iteka."
In the colloquial language, there are some discrepancies from orthographic Cw and Cy. Specifically, rw (as in Rwanda) is often pronounced /ɾɡw/. The most obvious differences are the following:
Note that these are all sequences; /bɡ/, for example, is not labio-velar[ɡ͡b]. Even when Rwanda is pronounced /ɾwanda/, the onset is a sequence, not a labialized[ɾʷ].
Kinyarwanda uses 16 of the Bantunoun classes. Sometimes these are grouped into 10 pairs so that most singular and plural forms of the same word are included in the same class. The table below shows the 16 noun classes and how they are paired in two commonly used systems.
umuntu – person
abantu – people
trees, shrubs and things that extend
umusozi – hill
imisozi – hills
things in quantities, liquids
iryinyo – tooth
plural (also substances)
amenyo – teeth
generic, large, or abnormal things
ikintu – thing
ibintu – things
some plants, animals and household implements
inka – cow
inka – cows
mixture, body parts
urugo – home
diminutive forms of other nouns
akantu – little thing
utuntu – little things
abstract nouns, qualities or states
ubuntu – generosity
actions, verbal nouns and gerunds
ukuntu – means
ahantu – place
All Kinyarwanda verb infinitives begin with gu- or ku- (morphed into kw- before vowels). To conjugate, the infinitive prefix is removed and replaced with a prefix agreeing with the subject. Then a tenseinfix can be inserted.
singular before vowels
plural before vowels
The prefixes for pronouns are as follows:
'I' = n-
'you' (sing.) = u-
'he/she' = y-/a- (i.e. the singular Class I prefix above)
'we' = tu-
'you' (pl.) = mu-
'they' (human) = ba- (i.e. the plural Class I prefix above)
Tense markers include the following.
Present ('I do'): - (no infix)
Present progressive ('I am doing'): -ra- (morphs to -da- when preceded by n)
Future ('I will do'): -za-
Continuous progressive ('I'm still doing'): -racya-
Do you speak English?
I will come tomorrow
The past tense can be formed by using the present and present progressive infixes and modifying the aspect marker suffix.
Kinyarwanda employs the use of periphrastic causatives, in addition to morphological causatives.
The periphrastic causatives use the verbs -teer- and -tum-, which mean cause. With -teer-, the original subject becomes the object of the main clause, leaving the original verb in the infinitive (just like in English)::160–1
"The children left."
"The man caused the children to go.
In this construction, the original S can be deleted.:161
"To travel causes to see."
With -túm-, the original S remains in the embedded clause and the original verb is still marked for person and tense::161–2
"I wrote many letters.
"The girl caused me to write many letters."
Derivational causatives use the instrumental marker -iish-. The construction is the same, but it is instrumental when the subject is inanimate and it is causative when the subject is animate::164
"The man is making the man write a letter."
"The man is writing a letter with the pen."
This morpheme can be applied to intransitives (3) or transitives (4)::164
"The children are sleeping."
"The woman is putting the children to sleep."
"The children are reading the books."
"The man is making the children read the books."
However, there can only be one animate direct object. If a sentence has two, one or both is deleted and understood from context.:165–166
The suffix -iish- implies an indirect causation (similar to English have in "I had him write a paper), while other causatives imply a direct causation (similar to English make in "I made him write a paper").:166
One of these more direct causation devices is the deletion of what is called a "neutral" morpheme -ik-, which indicates state or potentiality. Stems with the -ik- removed can take -iish, but the causation is less direct::166
"have (something) broken"
"have (something) cut"
Another direct causation maker is -y- which is used for some verbs::167