Northern Ndebele language

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Northern Ndebele
Native to  Zimbabwe
 South Africa
Region Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South in Zimbabwe; North-East District in Botswana
Native speakers 1,558,000  (date missing)
Language family
Language codes
ISO 639-1 nd
ISO 639-2 nde
ISO 639-3 nde

Northern Ndebele (Northern Ndebele: isiNdebele, commonly called Sindebele) is an African language. It is categorized as part of the Nguni group of Bantu languages. It is spoken by the Ndebele and Matabele people of Zimbabwe.

Sindebele is related to the Zulu language spoken in South Africa. The Ndebele people of Zimbabwe are descended from followers of the Zulu leader Mzilikazi. Mzilikazi and his people left kwaZulu in the early 1800s during the Mfecane.

The Northern Ndebele language and the Southern Ndebele language are not two variations of the same language. Both are Bantu languages, but Northern Ndebele is pretty much a dialect of Zulu. The Southern Ndebele language is much older and seems to be the first Nguni language to reach Southern Africa.

Pronunciation[change | change source]

Title page of one of the earliest Sindebele phrase books

It is relatively easy to pronounce Ndebele words because the vowel sounds are constant. (That is, each vowel has basically one sound.) The accent is usually on the second-to-last syllable.

Vowels[change | change source]

The vowels are a, e, i, o, and u. They are pronounced like so:

Vowel Pronunciation Example
a a in father abantwana (children)
e e in bed emoyeni (in the air)
i ee in see siza (help)
o o in bone okhokho (ancestors)
u oo in soon umuntu (person)

Click sounds[change | change source]

In Ndebele there are three click sounds. They are shown with the letters c, q and x.

c is made by placing the tip of the tongue against the front upper teeth and gums, the centre of the tongue is pressed down and the tip of the tongue is moved backwards. The resulting sound is like the sound used in English to express annoyance, called a "clucking sound."[1] Some words with this sound are cina (end), and cela (ask)

The q sound is made by raising the back of the tongue to touch the soft palate and touching the gums with the sides and tip of the tongue. The centre of the tongue is pressed down and the tip moved quickly away from the gum. The resulting sound is like the "pop" heard when quickly removing a cork from a bottle.[1] Some words with this sound are qalisa (start) and qeda (finish).

The x sound is made by placing the tongue so that the back of the tongue touches the soft palate and the sides and tip of the tongue touch the gums. One side of the tongue is quickly pulled away from the gums.[1] Some words with this sound are xoxa (discuss) and ixoxo (frog).

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Shenk, J.R. A New Ndebele Grammar

Other websites[change | change source]