Z is for Zulu

Zulu – or isiZulu as it is called by native speakers – is one of post-Apartheid South Africa’s 11 official languages. Linguistically, it is a language of the Nguni group, spoken in Southern Africa.  More widely it is part of the Bantu family, which includes numerous languages spoken in sub-Saharan Africa. Within that family, it is the second most widely spoken after Swahili.  There are around 10 million native Zulu speakers, mainly living in or originating from the Zululand region of South Africa, with a further 14 million South Africans speaking Zulu as a second language. Understood by over half of the population, it is the most widely spoken of the country’s official languages.

It is hard to put a date on when the Zulu language first emerged, as it was originally only a spoken language and is so close to those spoken by neighbouring peoples. The group of languages it belongs to has been spoken in Southern Africa for many centuries. However, the Zulu tribe emerged as a defined separate grouping during the 18th Century, becoming established as a major regional military and political power by the early 19th Century, so the assumption is that their dialect became a distinct language at or just before this time. It was Christian missionaries working in Southern Africa who first attempted to document and write down the Zulu language.  For this reason, like other African languages, it is written in the Latin alphabet. The first grammar book was completed in 1850 and the first book ever to be published in Zulu – a bible translation – appeared in 1883.

The most noticeable feature of Zulu, like other Southern African languages, is the existence of click sounds. This is something distinctive to the Southern part of the continent and is very rare in other regions. Zulu has a total of fifteen click sounds – five variations of the three “basic” types of click. Needless to say, these clicks are very difficult for non-native speakers to reproduce and most have to make do with an approximation of the true click effect.  Probably the most famous example of Zulu clicks can be found in Miriam Makeba’s “Click Song” .   Another very complex feature are the word classes (equivalent to genders in other languages), of which Zulu has no fewer than 16!

 Today, Zulu is taught as a first language in the province of KwaZulu Natal, and as a second language throughout South Africa (where students taking English or Afrikaans as a first language must also study an African language). There are numerous Zulu-language TV and radio stations in KwaZulu Natal and in major South African cities, Zulu newspapers and magazines, and many books and films now being released in the language.

Because it is a relatively modern language and was to a great extent suppressed by colonialists and later during the Apartheid era, very few Zulu words are used in standard English.  The only real examples are the names of African animals – for example, impala and mamba were originally Zulu words. The situation is different in South Africa itself, where numerous Zulu words and phrases are very much part of modern South African English.

One place many of us will definitely have heard genuine Zulu is in the famous song “Circle of Life” from the film “The Lion King”. While the character names in the film are mainly derived from Swahili, with other influences from Masai, the opening lines of that iconic song are Zulu:

“Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba Sithi uhm ingonyama
Nants ingonyama bagithi baba Sithi uhhmm ingonyama

Ingonyama Siyo Nqoba
Ingonyama Ingonyama nengw’ enamabala”, which means

“Here comes a lion, father Oh yes it’s a lion
Here comes a lion, father Oh yes it’s a lion, a lion
We’re going to conquer
A lion, a lion and a leopard come to this open place”

Thank you to my wonderful husband, Ian Braisby, for this post. Ian can be found at www.iabtours.com

Y is for Yiddish

Yiddish is a Germanic language, but it has influences from Hebrew and (to a lesser extent) some Slavic languages, and it is written using the Hebrew alphabet.

100 years ago Yiddish was spoken by approximately 18 million people. It began to decline as Jewish people dropped their language in an effort to be seen to integrate more with their neighbours. After the Holocaust, the language almost disappeared completely and there are now only around three million speakers. It is listed on the UNESCO endangered languages list as “definitely endangered”. The language is, however, experiencing a revival.

Related posts: X is for Xhosa   Z is for…

X is for Xhosa

xXhosa is one of the 11 official languages in South Africa, and after Zulu it is the second most common home language with about 8 million speakers. It is closely related to Zulu and the two languages are mutually intelligible.

Xhosa it is noted for its clicks, of which there are 15: 5 each of dental clicks, lateral clicks and alveolar clicks. It is written using the Latin alphabet, with c x and q representing the clicks. It also has tones like Chinese, although it is not related to Chinese.

To hear the clicks, have a look at this video of Miriam Makeba singing the Click Song.

Related posts: W is for Welsh   Y is for…

W is for Welsh

Welsh currently has 700,000 speakers and is a Celtic language, closely related to Cornish and Breton. It is believed to be one of the oldest living languages in Europe, dating back about 4000 years.

It is on the UNESCO endangered languages list with a rating of vulnerable, although efforts have been made to revive it. In Wales, Welsh has joint official status with English, and it is taught in schools up to 16.

Did you know….?

  • As well as in Wales, Welsh is also spoken in Argentina. About 2500 people in Patagonia, descendants of 19th century immigrants from Wales, speak Welsh as their first language.
  • It has 29 letters in the alphabet, compared to 26 in English. It has no k q v or z, but instead has ch dd ff ng  rh th and the famous ll
  • It may look as though it doesn’t have enough vowels, but actually it has 7: a e i o u y and w
  • The longest word in Welsh is Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch which is also the longest place name in Europe.

Related posts:  V is for Vietnamese     X is for Xhosa

V is for Vietnamese

Vietnamese has about 66 million native speakers with a further 10 million who speak it as a second language. As well as in Vietnam itself, it is also spoken in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. It belongs to the Mon-Khmer branch of the Austroasiatic language family.

Vietnamese is a tonal language like Chinese. It was originally written in Chinese characters, with lots of vocabulary and grammar borrowed from Chinese. After the French colonisation, the Latin script was adopted instead.

The language has a subject-verb-object word order, and like Chinese it has no gender and no verb suffixes to indicate tenses.

Related posts:  U is for Urdu    W is for…..