Nguni languages

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South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe
Linguistic classification:Niger–Congo
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South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe
Linguistic classification:Niger–Congo

The Nguni languages are a group of Bantu languages spoken in southern Africa by the Nguni people. Nguni languages include Xhosa, Zulu, Swazi, Hlubi, Phuthi and Ndebele (both Southern Transvaal Ndebele and Northern Ndebele). The appellation "Nguni" derives from the Nguni cattle type. Ngoni (see below) is an older, or a shifted, variant.

It is sometimes argued that use of Nguni as a generic label suggests a historical monolithic unity of the peoples in question, where in fact the situation may have been more complex.[2] The linguistic use of the label (referring to a subgrouping of the Bantu languages) is relatively stable.


Proportion of the population that speaks an Nguni language at home.
Density of home-language speakers of Nguni languages.

Within a subset of Southern Bantu, the label "Nguni" is used both genetically (in the linguistic sense) and typologically (quite apart from any historical significance).

The Nguni languages are closely related, and in many instances different languages are mutually intelligible; in this way, Nguni languages might better be construed as a dialect continuum than as a cluster of separate languages. On more than one occasion, proposals have been put forward to create a unified Nguni language.[3][4]

In scholarly literature on southern African languages, the linguistic classificatory category "Nguni" is traditionally considered to subsume two subgroups: "Zunda Nguni" and "Tekela Nguni."[5][6] This division is based principally on the salient phonological distinction between corresponding coronal consonants: Zunda /z/ and Tekela /t/ (thus the native form of the name Swati and the better-known Zulu form Swazi), but there is a host of additional linguistic variables that enables a relatively straightforward division into these two substreams of Nguni.

Zunda languages[edit]

Tekela languages[edit]

Maho (2009) lists several additional Tekela languages: S401 Old Mfengu†, S405 Nhlangwini, and S408 Sumayela Ndebele.

Comparative data[edit]

Compare the following sentences:

English"I like your new sticks"
ZuluNgiya zithanda izinduku ezintsha
XhosaNdi-ya-zi-thanda ii-ntonga z-akho ezin-tsha
Southern NdebeleNgi-ya-zi-thanda iin-ntonga z-akho ezi-tjha
Northern NdebeleNgi-ya-zi-thanda i-ntonga z-akho ezin-tsha
HlubiNg'ya-zi-thanda iin-duku z-akho ezin-sha
SwaziNgi-ya-ti-tsandza ti-ntfonga t-akho letin-sha
Mpapa PhuthiGi-ya-ti-tshadza ti-tfoga t-akho leti-tjha
Sigxodo PhuthiGi-ya-ti-tshadza ti-tshoga t-akho leti-tjha

Note: Xhosa tsh = Phuthi tjh = IPA [tʃʰ]; Phuthi tsh = [tsh]; Zulu sh = IPA [ʃ], but in the environment cited here /ʃ/ is "nasally permuted" to [tʃ]. Phuthi jh = breathy voiced [dʒʱ] = Xhosa, Zulu j (in the environment here following the nasal [n]). Zulu, Swazi, Hlubi ng = [ŋ].

English"I understand only a little English"
ZuluNgizwa kancane isilungu
XhosaNdi-qonda ka-ncinci nje isi-Ngesi
Northern/Southern NdebeleNgi-zwisisa ka-ncani nje isi-Ngisi
SwaziNgi-siva ka-ncane nje si-Ngisi
Mpapa PhuthiGi-visisa ka-nci të-jhë Si-kguwa
Sigxodo PhuthiGi-visisa ka-ncinci të-jhë Si-kguwa

Note: Phuthi kg = IPA [x].


Proto-Nguni is the reconstructed ancestor of the Nguni languages.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Nguni". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ Wright 1987.
  3. ^ Eric P. Louw (1992). "Language and National Unity in a Post-Apartheid South Africa". Critical Arts. 
  4. ^ Neville Alexander (1989). "Language Policy and National Unity in South Africa/Azania". 
  5. ^ Doke 1954.
  6. ^ Ownby 1985.
  7. ^ Donnelly 2009, p. 1-61.
  8. ^ Jordan 1942.
  9. ^ "Isizwe SamaHlubi: Submission to the Commission on Traditional Leadership Disputes and Claims: Draft 1". July 2004. Retrieved 28 July 2011. 


Further reading[edit]