Zulu language

Infobox Language
states=flagicon|South Africa South Africa
flagicon|Zimbabwe Zimbabwe
flagicon|Malawi Malawi
flagicon|Mozambique Mozambique
flagicon|Swaziland Swaziland
region=Zululand, Durban, Johannesburg
speakers= First language - 10 millionSecond language - 16 million
fam4=Benue-Congo languages
fam7=Narrow Bantu
fam9=South Central Narrow Bantu languages
nation=flagicon|South Africa South Africa
agency=Zulu Language Board

Zulu (called "isiZulu" in Zulu), is a language of the Zulu people with about 10 million speakers, the vast majority (over 95%) of whom live in South Africa. Zulu is the most widely spoken home language in South Africa (24% of the population) as well as being understood by over 50% of the population (Ethnologue 2005). It became one of South Africa's eleven official languages in 1994 at the end of apartheid.

Geographical distribution

Zulu belongs to the South-Eastern group of Bantu languages (the Nguni group).

The language is widely spoken in KwaZulu-Natal (81% of the province's population are Zulu first language speakers), Mpumalanga (26%) and Gauteng (21%). It is also spoken in some other African countries, with significant Zulu-speaking populations in Lesotho and Swaziland. Ndebele, spoken in Zimbabwe, Swazi and the Nguni language formerly spoken in Malawi are all closely related to Zulu and developed from nineteenth century Zulu migrant populations. Xhosa, the predominant language in the Eastern Cape, and Zulu are also mutually intelligible.


The Zulu presence in South Africa dates from about the fourteenth century AD. Much like the Xhosa who had moved into South Africa during earlier waves of the Bantu migrations, the Zulu assimilated many sounds from the San and Khoi languages of the country's earliest inhabitants. This has resulted in the preservation of click consonants in Zulu and Xhosa, (the sounds are unique to Southern and Eastern Africa except for the Australian Aborigine Damin ceremonial language) despite the extinction of many San and Khoi languages.

Zulu, like all indigenous Southern African languages, was an oral language until contact with missionaries from Europe, who documented the language using the Latin alphabet. The first grammar book of the Zulu language was published in Norway in 1850 by the Norwegian missionary Hans Schreuder. [Rakkenes, Øystein (2003) "Himmelfolket: En Norsk Høvding i Zululand", Oslo: Cappelen Forlag, pp. 63-65 ] The first written document in Zulu was a Bible translation that appeared in 1883. In 1901, John Dube (1871-1946), a Zulu from Natal, created the Ohlange Institute, the first native educational institution in South Africa. He was also the author of "Insila kaShaka", the first novel written in isiZulu (1933). Another pioneering Zulu writer was Reginald Dhlomo, author of several historical novels of the 19th-century leaders of the Zulu nation: "U-Dingane" (1936), "U-Shaka" (1937), "U-Mpande" (1938), "U-Cetshwayo" (1952) and "U-Dinizulu" (1968). Other notable contributors to Zulu literature include Benedict Wallet Vilakazi and, more recently, Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali.

The written form of Zulu was controlled by the Zulu Language Board of KwaZulu-Natal. This board has now been disbanded and superseded by the [http://www.pansalb.org.za/ Pan South African Language Board] that promotes the use of all eleven official languages of South Africa.

Contemporary usage

English, Dutch and later Afrikaans had been the only official languages used by all South African governments before 1994. However in the Kwazulu bantustan the Zulu language was widely used. All education in the country at the high-school level was in English or Afrikaans. Since the demise of apartheid in 1994, Zulu has been enjoying a marked revival. Zulu-language television was introduced by the SABC in the early 1980s and it broadcasts news and many shows in Zulu. Zulu radio is very popular and newspapers such as [http://www.isolezwe.co.za/ isoLezwe] , [http://www.ilanganews.co.za/ Ilanga] and UmAfrika in the Zulu language are available, mainly available in Kwazulu-Natal province and in Johannesburg. Recently, the first full length feature film in Zulu (Yesterday) was nominated for an Oscar.

South African matriculation requirements no longer specify which South African language needs to be taken as a second language, and some people have made the switch to learning Zulu. However people taking Zulu at high-school level overwhelmingly take it as first language: according to recent statistics [http://www.mail-archive.com/africanlanguages@yahoogroups.com/msg00412.html] Afrikaans is still over 30 times more popular than Zulu as a "second" language. The mutual intelligibility of many Nguni languages, has increased the likelihood of Zulu becoming the lingua franca of the Eastern half of the country although the political dominance of Xhosa-speaking people on national level militates against this really happening. (The predominant language in the Western Cape and Northern Cape is Afrikaans - see the map below.

In the 1994 film The Lion King, in the Circle of Life song, the phrases "Ingonyama nengw' enamabala" (English: "A lion and a leopard come to this open place"), "Nants ingonyama nagithi Baba" (English: "Here comes a lion, Father") and "Siyonqoba" (English: "We will conquer") were used. In some movie songs, like "This Land", the voice says "Busa Le Lizwe bo" ("Rule this land") and "Busa ngothando bo" ("Rule with love") were used too.



Click consonants

One of the most distinctive features of Zulu is the use of click consonants. This feature is shared with several other languages of Southern Africa, but is almost entirely confined to this region. There are three basic clicks in Zulu:
* c - dental (comparable to a sucking of teeth)
* q - alveolar (comparable to a bottle top 'pop')
* x - lateral (comparable to a click one may do for a walking horse)These can have several variants such as being voiced, aspirated or nasalised so that there are a total of about 15 different click sounds in Zulu. The same sounds occur in Xhosa, where they are used more frequently than in Zulu.

1 umu- replaces um- before monosyllabic stems, e.g. umuntu (person).

2 ab- and im- replace aba- and imi- respectively before stems beginning in a vowel, e.g. abongameli (president).

3 abe- occurs only in rare cases, e.g. in abeSuthu (the Sotho) or abeLungu (the Whites, the Europeans).

4 ame- occurs only in one instance, namely amehlo (eyes) the plural of iso (eye; originally: ihlo).

5 is- and iz- replace isi- and izi- respectively before stems beginning with a vowel, e.g. isandla/izandla (hand/hands).

6 The placeholder N in the prefixes iN- and iziN- for m, n or no letter at all, i.e. in classes 9 and 10 there are three different prefixes, though only one per noun stem. Examples:

iN- = i-: iMali (money) iN- = im-: impela (truth) iN- = in-: inhlanzi (fish)

7 Rare, see above.


In contrast to the noun, the Zulu verb has a variable number of components, which are arranged in sequence according to a defined set of rules. Examples of these include:

* a subject prefix (SP), which agrees with the subject of the sentence
* a temporal morpheme, which indicates the tense of the verb
* an object prefix (OP), which agrees with the object of the sentence
* the verb stem (VS), which carries the underlying meaning of the verb
* a suffix, which can signify various aspects of the verb (e.g. tense or modality)

The verb stem and the suffix are always present, but the other parts are optional, i.e. their presence depends on the function of the verb in the sentence.

Simple verb stems

Simple verb stems are ones to which no suffixes are attached that would alter the basic meaning of the verb. Examples include:

There is a unique subject prefix for each grammatical person and each noun class.

The non-initial subject prefixes (SP-) are used when a further prefix is attached to the SP, for example in the negative of certain tenses.

Object prefixes

In Zulu, the object prefix is used to designate the direct object or indirect object of a verb (formal Zulu does not distinguish between these two cases). Just like the subject prefixes, object prefixes cannot stand independently, but must be attached to a verb stem. Independent personal pronouns can be used in conjunction with object prefixes as well, serving, again, to shift the emphases of the sentences.

Examples with the OP -m- (him/her/it) and the personal pronoun yena (him/her/it):

The only exception to this is the common verb stem -z-, "to come", whose singular and plural imperative forms are woza and wozani respectively.


Note: Furthermore, the suffixe -a will be found with verb stems which end in w, never -i; e.g.: uku-nga-w-"a".

The present

Formation of the present tense:

:Aff.: SP - (ya) - (OP) - VS - a:Neg.: a - SP- - (OP) - VS - i

The form -ya- is found when:

* the verb is the last word in the sentence
* the verb contains an object prefix, and the object follows the verb
* the speaker wants to emphasise the factuality of the statement.


The perfect

The perfect tense describes the recent, although what is meant by 'recent' depends on the speaker. In the colloquial language, the perfect is often preferred to the preterite.

Formation of the perfect:

:Aff.: SP - (OP) - VS - e/ile:Neg.: a - SP- - (OP) - VS - anga

The long form in -ile is found when the verb is the last word in the sentence or clause, otherwise the short form in -e is used, with the -e- accented.


1 This is a unique case, namely the irregular passive -bulaw- from -bulal-.

The preterite

The preterite is used to indicate the distant past, the past preceding the perfect, and as a narrative perfect.

Formation of the preterite:

:Aff.: SP + a - (OP) - VS - a:Neg.: a - SP- - (OP) - VS - anga ("cf." the perfect tense)

In the affirmative, because of the merger of the SP with a following a in the spoken language, the following subject prefixes result for the preterite:

The future I

Formation of the future tense I:

:Aff.: SP - zo - (OP) - (ku) - VS - a:Neg.: a - SP- - zu - (ku)- (OP) - VS - a

The marker of the future tense is the prefix zo- in the affirmative and the corresponding zu- in the negative. The form is constructed from the auxiliary verb uku-za (or with the auxiliary uku-ya) and the infinitive of the verb. So, ngiza ukusiza ("I am coming to help") = ngizosiza ("I will help"), or, alternatively ngiya ukusiza ("I am going to help") = ngiyosiza ("I will help") - English (as well as French and others) has had a similar development, whereby the verb to go has become the marker of the future tense. To form the negative, the auxiliary verb is negated and then merged with the following verb, thus angizi ukusiza = angizusiza. In the case of monosyllabic verb stems, as well as those that begin with vowels, the prefix -ku- is added to the stem – this becomes -k- before o and -kw- in front of other vowels.


Some prefer to call Zulu isiZulu in English as per the Zulu name for the language.Fact|date=July 2007 This is similar to the practice of calling Swahili Kiswahili, but many languages are not called by their native names in English, like German (which is Deutsch in German) and Japanese (which is Nihongo in Japanese).

Zulu words in South African English

South African English has absorbed many words from the Zulu language. Others, such as the names of local animals ("impala" and "mamba" are both Zulu names) have made their way into standard English. A few examples of Zulu words used in South African English:

* Muti (from "umuthi") - medicine
* Donga (from "udonga") - ditch (udonga actually means 'wall' in Zulu)
* Indaba - conference (it means 'an item of news' in Zulu)
* inDuna - chief or leader
* Shongololo (from "ishongololo") - millipede
* Ubuntu - compassion/humanity


ee also

* Zulu (the ethnic group)
* Shaka Zulu
* List of Zulu first names
* Nguni culture
* Bantu language
* Tsotsitaal - a Zulu-based creole language spoken in Soweto
* Swadesh list of Zulu words
* UCLA Language Materials Project


* [http://www.lmp.ucla.edu/ UCLA Language Materials Project] - [http://www.lmp.ucla.edu/Profile.aspx?LangID=23&menu=004 Zulu]


* Dent, G.R. and Nyembezi, C.L.S. (1959) "Compact Zulu Dictionary". Pietermaritzburg: Shuter & Shooter. ISBN 0-7960-0760-8
* Dent, G.R. and Nyembezi, C.L.S. (1969) "Scholar's Zulu Dictionary". Pietermaritzburg: Shuter & Shooter. ISBN 0-7960-0718-7
* Doke, C.M. (1947) "Text-book of Zulu grammar". London: Longmans, Green and Co.
* Doke, C.M. (1953) "Zulu-English Dictionary". Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press. ISBN 1-86814-160-8
* Doke, C.M. (1958) "Zulu-English Vocabulary". Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press. ISBN 0-85494-009-X
* Nyembezi, C.L.S. (1957) "Learn Zulu". Pietermaritzburg: Shuter & Shooter. ISBN 0-7960-0237-1
* Nyembezi, C.L.S. (1970) "Learn More Zulu". Pietermaritzburg: Shuter & Shooter. ISBN 0-7960-0278-9
* Wilkes, Arnett, "Teach Yourself Zulu". ISBN 0-07-143442-9

External links

* [http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=zul Ethnologue report on Zulu]
* [http://salanguages.com/isizulu/ South African Languages -- IsiZulu]
* [http://zipangz.homestead.com/untitled4.html A short English - isiZulu - Japanese phraselist] incl. sound file


* [http://www.newt.clara.co.uk/isizulu/ Sifunda isiZulu!]
* [http://www.geocities.com/funda_manje/ Funda Manje!]


* [http://isizulu.net/ isiZulu.net Zulu - English Online Dictionary]
* [http://www.websters-online-dictionary.org/definition/Zulu-english/ Zulu - English Dictionary]


* [http://www.isolezwe.co.za/ Isolezwe]


* [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 Zulu
* [http://translate.org.za/ Translate.org.za] Project to translate Free and Open Source Software into all the official languages of South Africa including Zulu
* [http://www.panafril10n.org/wikidoc/pmwiki.php/PanAfrLoc/Zulu PanAfrican L10n wiki page on Zulu]

Literature and culture

* [http://literature.kzn.org.za/lit/index.html KwaZulu-Natal Literary Map]

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