The BANTU LANGUAGES (/ˈbæntuː/ ), technically the NARROW BANTU
LANGUAGES as opposed to "Wide Bantu", a loosely defined categorization
which includes other
Bantoid languages , constitute a traditional
branch of the
Niger–Congo languages . There are about 250 Bantu
languages by the criterion of mutual intelligibility , though the
distinction between language and dialect is often unclear, and
Ethnologue counts 535 languages.
Bantu languages are spoken largely
east and south of present-day
Estimates of number of speakers of most languages vary widely, due both to the lack of accurate statistics in most developing countries and the difficulty in defining exactly where the boundaries of a language lie, particularly in the presence of a dialect continuum .
The Bantu language with the largest total number of speakers is Swahili ; however, the majority of its speakers know it as a second language . According to Ethnologue, there are over 180 million L2 (second-language) speakers, but only about 2 million native speakers.
Other major languages include Zulu with 27 million speakers (15.7 million L2) and Shona with about 11 million speakers (if Manyika and Ndau are included). Ethnologue separates the largely mutually intelligible Kinyarwanda and Kirundi , which, if grouped together, have 12.4 million speakers.
* 1 Origin * 2 Classification
* 3 Language structure
* 4 By country * 5 Geographic areas * 6 Bantu words popularised in western cultures * 7 Writing systems * 8 See also * 9 References * 10 Bibliography * 11 External links
Bantu languages descend from a common
Proto-Bantu language ,
which is believed to have been spoken in what is now
The technical term Bantu, meaning "human beings" or simply "people", was first used by Wilhelm Bleek (1827–1875), as this is reflected in many of the languages of this group. A common characteristic of Bantu languages is that they use words such as muntu or mutu for "human being" or in simplistic terms "person", and the plural prefix for human nouns starting with mu- (class 1) in most languages is ba- (class 2), thus giving bantu for "people". Bleek, and later Carl Meinhof , pursued extensive studies comparing the grammatical structures of Bantu languages.
Main article: Guthrie classification of Bantu languages The approximate locations of the sixteen Guthrie Bantu zones , including the addition of a zone J around the Great Lakes . The Jarawan languages are spoken in Nigeria.
The most widely used classification is an alphanumeric coding system developed by Malcolm Guthrie in his 1948 classification of the Bantu languages. is mainly geographic. The term 'narrow Bantu' was coined by the Benue–Congo Working Group to distinguish Bantu as recognized by Guthrie, from the Bantoid languages not recognized as Bantu by Guthrie.
In recent times, the distinctiveness of Narrow Bantu as opposed to
There is no true genealogical classification of the (Narrow) Bantu languages. Until recently most attempted classifications only considered languages that happen to fall within traditional Narrow Bantu, but there seems to be a continuum with the related languages of South Bantoid .
At a broader level, the family is commonly split in two depending on the reflexes of proto-Bantu tone patterns: Many Bantuists group together parts of zones A through D (the extent depending on the author) as Northwest Bantu or Forest Bantu, and the remainder as Central Bantu or Savanna Bantu. The two groups have been described as having mirror-image tone systems: where Northwest Bantu has a high tone in a cognate, Central Bantu languages generally have a low tone, and vice versa.
Northwest Bantu is more divergent internally than Central Bantu, and perhaps less conservative due to contact with non-Bantu Niger–Congo languages; Central Bantu is likely the innovative line cladistically. Northwest Bantu is clearly not a coherent family, but even for Central Bantu the evidence is lexical, with little evidence that it is a historically valid group.
Another attempt at a detailed genetic classification to replace the Guthrie system is the 1999 "Tervuren" proposal of Bastin, Coupez, and Mann. However, it relies on lexicostatistics , which, because of its reliance on similarity rather than shared innovations , may predict spurious groups of conservative languages that are not closely related . Meanwhile, Ethnologue has added languages to the Guthrie classification which Guthrie overlooked, while removing the Mbam languages (much of zone A), and shifting some languages between groups (much of zones D and E to a new zone J, for example, and part of zone L to K, and part of M to F) in an apparent effort at a semi-genetic, or at least semi-areal, classification. This has been criticized for sowing confusion in one of the few unambiguous ways to distinguish Bantu languages. Nurse "> Glottolog has incorporated many of these into their classification.
The languages that share Dahl\'s Law may also form a valid group, Northeast Bantu . The infobox at right lists these together with various low-level groups that are fairly uncontroversial, though they continue to be revised. The development of a rigorous genealogical classification of many branches of Niger–Congo, not just Bantu, is hampered by insufficient data.
Guthrie reconstructed both the phonemic inventory and the vocabulary of Proto-Bantu.
The most prominent grammatical characteristic of Bantu languages is the extensive use of affixes (see Sotho grammar and Ganda noun classes for detailed discussions of these affixes). Each noun belongs to a class , and each language may have several numbered classes, somewhat like grammatical gender in European languages. The class is indicated by a prefix that is part of the noun, as well as agreement markers on verb and qualificative roots connected with the noun. Plural is indicated by a change of class, with a resulting change of prefix.
The verb has a number of prefixes, though in the western languages
these are often treated as independent words. In Swahili , for
example, Mtoto mdogo amekisoma (for comparison, Kamwana kadoko
Bantu words are typically made up of open syllables of the type CV (consonant-vowel) with most languages having syllables exclusively of this type. The Bushong language recorded by Vansina, however, has final consonants, while slurring of the final syllable (though written) is reported as common among the Tonga of Malawi. The morphological shape of Bantu words is typically CV, VCV, CVCV, VCVCV, etc.; that is, any combination of CV (with possibly a V- syllable at the start). In other words, a strong claim for this language family is that almost all words end in a vowel, precisely because closed syllables (CVC) are not permissible in most of the documented languages, as far as is understood.
This tendency to avoid consonant clusters in some positions is important when words are imported from English or other non-Bantu languages. An example from Chewa : the word "school", borrowed from English, and then transformed to fit the sound patterns of this language, is sukulu. That is, sk- has been broken up by inserting an epenthetic -u-; -u has also been added at the end of the word. Another example is buledi for "bread". Similar effects are seen in loanwords for other non-African CV languages like Japanese . However, a clustering of sounds at the beginning of a syllable can be readily observed in such languages as Shona, and the Makua languages .
Reduplication is a common morphological phenomenon in Bantu languages and is usually used to indicate frequency or intensity of the action signalled by the (unreduplicated) verb stem.
* Example: in Swahili piga means "strike", pigapiga means "strike repeatedly".
Well-known words and names that have reduplication include
Repetition emphasizes the repeated word in the context that it is used. For instance, "Mwenda pole hajikwai," while, "Pole pole ndio mwendo," has two to emphasize the consistency of slowness of the pace. The meaning of the former in translation is, "He who goes slowly doesn't trip," and that of the latter is, "A slow but steady pace wins the race." Haraka haraka would mean hurrying just for the sake of hurrying, reckless hurry, as in "Njoo! Haraka haraka" .
In contrast, there are some words in some of the languages in which reduplication has the opposite meaning. It usually denotes short durations, and or lower intensity of the action and also means a few repetitions or a little bit more.
* Example 1: In Xitsonga and Shona, famba means "walk" while famba-famba means "walk around". * Example 2: in isiZulu and SiSwati hamba means "go", hambahamba means "go a little bit, but not much". * Example 3: in both of the above languages shaya means "strike", shayashaya means "strike a few more times lightly, but not heavy strikes and not too many times". * Example 4: In Xitsonga, hasahasa means "chaos". Hasa does not have a meaning. * Example 5: In Shona kwenya means "scratch", Kwenyakwenya means "scratch excessively or a lot".
The following is a list of nominal classes in Bantu:
SINGULAR CLASSES PLURAL CLASSES TYPICAL MEANING(S)
NUMBER PREFIX NUMBER PREFIX
1 *mʊ- 2 *ba- Humans, animate
3 *mu- 4 *mi- Plants, inanimate
5 *dɪ- 6 *ma- Various; class 6 for liquids (mass nouns )
7 *ki- 8 *bɪ- Various, diminutives, manner/way/language
9 *n- 10 *n- Animals, inanimate
12 *ka- 13 *tu- Diminutives
15 *ku- Infinitives
16 *pa- Locatives (proximal, exact)
17 *ku- Locatives (distal, approximate)
18 *mu- Locatives (interior)
19 *pɪ- Diminutives
Following is an incomplete list of the principal Bantu languages of each country. Included are those languages that constitute at least 1% of the population and have at least 10% the number of speakers of the largest Bantu language in the country. An attempt at a full list of Bantu languages (with various conflations and a puzzlingly diverse nomenclature) can be found in The Bantu Languages of Africa, 1959.
Most languages are best known in English without the class prefix
(Swahili, Tswana, Ndebele), but are sometimes seen with the
(language-specific) prefix (Kiswahili, Setswana, Sindebele). In a few
cases prefixes are used to distinguish languages with the same root in
their name, such as Tshiluba and Kiluba (both Luba),
Kimbundu (both Mbundu). The bare (prefixless) form typically does not
occur in the language itself, but is the basis for other words based
on the ethnicity. So, in the country of
* Swahili (Kiswahili) (350,000; tens of millions as L2)
* South Mbundu (Umbundu) (4 million) * North Mbundu (Kimbundu) (3 million) * Ovambo (Ambo) (Oshiwambo) (500,000) * Luvale (Chiluvale) (500,000) * Chokwe (Chichokwe) (500,000)
* Tswana (Setswana) (1 million) * Kalanga (Ikalanga) (150,000)
* Kirundi (8.5 - 10.5 million)
* Beti (1.7 million: 900,000 Bulu , 600,000 Ewondo , 120,000 Fang , 60,000 Eton , 30,000 Bebele) * Basaa (230,000) * Duala (350,000)
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
* Mbati (60,000)
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
* Lingala (Ngala) (2 million; 7 million with L2 speakers) * Luba-Kasai (Tshiluba) (6.5 million) * Kituba (4.5 million), a Bantu creole * Kongo (Kikongo) (3.5 million) * Luba-Katanga (Kiluba) (1.5+ million) * Songe (Lusonge) (1+ million) * Nande (Orundandi) (1 million) * Tetela (Otetela) (800,000) * Yaka (Iyaka) (700,000+) * Shi (700,000) * Yombe (Kiyombe) (670,000)
* Beti (Fang ) (300,000) * Bube (40,000)
* Baka * Barama * Bekwel * Benga * Bubi * Bwisi * Duma * Fang (500,000) * Kendell * Kanin * Sake * Sangu * Seki * Sighu * Simba * Sira * Northern Teke * Western Teke * Tsaangi * Tsogo * Vili (3,600) * Vumbu * Wandji * Wumbvu * Yangho * Yasa
KENYA Swahili and English are national languages
* Gikuyu (7 million) * Luhya (5.4 million) * Kamba (4 million) * Meru (Kimeru) (2.7 million) * Gusii (2 million) * Mijikenda * Taita
* Sotho (Sesotho) (1.8 million) * Zulu (Isizulu) (300,000)
* Chewa (Nyanja) (Chichewa) (7 million) * Tumbuka (1 million) * Yao (1 million)
* Makhuwa (3 million; 5.5 million all Makua ) * Tsonga (Xitsonga) (3.1 million) * Shona (Ndau) (1.6 million) * Lomwe (1.5 million) * Sena (1.3 million) * Tswa (1.2 million) * Chuwabu (1.0 million) * Chopi (800,000) * Ronga (700,000) * Chewa (Nyanja) (Chichewa) (600,000) * Yao (Chiyao) (500,000) * Nyungwe (Cinyungwe/Nhungue)(400,000) * Tonga (400,000) * Makonde (400,000)
* Ovambo (Ambo, Oshiwambo) (1 500,000) * Herero (200,000)
REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO (CONGO-BRAZZAVILLE)
* Kinyarwanda (Kinyarwanda) (10 - 12 million)
SOUTH AFRICA According to the South African National Census of 2011
* Zulu (Isizulu) (11,587,374 ) * Xhosa (Isixhosa) (8,154,258 ) * Northern Sotho (Sesotho sa Leboa) (4,618,576 ) * Tswana (Setswana) (4,067,248 ) * Sotho (Sesotho) (3,849,563 ) * Tsonga (Xitsonga) (2,277,148 ) * Swazi (Siswati) (1,297,046 ) * Venda (Tshivenda) (1,209,388 ) * Ndebele (Isindebele) (1,090,223 )
TOTAL Nguni : 22,406,O49 (61.98%) TOTAL Sotho-Tswana : 13,744,775 (38.02%) TOTAL OFFICIAL INDIGENOUS LANGUAGE SPEAKERS: 36,150,824 (69.83% )
* Swazi (Siswati) (1 million)
TANZANIA Swahili is the national language
* Sukuma (5.5 million) * Gogo (1.5 million) * Haya (Kihaya) (1.3 million) * Chaga (Kichaga) (1.2+ million : 600,000 Mochi, 300,000+ Machame, 300,000+ Vunjo) * Nyamwezi (1.0 million) * Makonde (1.0 million) * Ha (1.0 million) * Nyakyusa (800,000) * Hehe (800,000) * Luguru (700,000) * Bena (600,000) * Shambala (650,000) * Nyaturu (600,000)
* Ganda (Luganda) (7.5 million) * Nkore-Kiga (3.5 million : 2.3 million Nyankore , 1.2 million Kiga (Chiga)) * Soga (Lusoga) (2 million) * Masaba (Lumasaba) (1.1 million) * Nyoro -Tooro (1.1 million) * Kinyarwanda (Kinyarwanda) (750,000) * Konjo (600,000) * Gwere (400,000)
* Bemba (3.3 million) * Tonga (1.0 million) * Chewa (Nyanja) (Chichewa) (800,000) * Lozi (Silozi) (600,000) * Lala-Bisa (600,000) * Nsenga (550,000) * Tumbuka (Chitumbuka) (500,000) * Lunda (450,000) * Nyiha (400,000+) * Mambwe-Lungu (400,000)
* Shona languages (12 million incl. Karanga, Zezuru, Korekore, Ndau, Manyika) * Ndebele (2 million) * Tonga * Venda * Kalanga
BANTU WORDS POPULARISED IN WESTERN CULTURES
A case has been made out for borrowings of many place-names and even misremembered rhymes – chiefly from one of the Luba varieties – in the USA.
Some words from various Bantu languages have been borrowed into western languages. These include:
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Mwangwego alphabet is an abugida that is used to write the
Chewa language and other languages of
* ^ A B Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin;
Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Narrow Bantu".
Glottolog 2.7 . Jena:
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
* ^ "Bantu". Random House Webster\'s Unabridged Dictionary .
* ^ Derek Nurse, 2006, "Bantu Languages", in the Encyclopedia of
Language and Linguistics
Ethnologue report for Southern Bantoid. The figure of 535
includes the 13
Mbam languages considered Bantu in Guthrie's
classification and thus counted by Nurse (2006)
* ^ Stanford 2013 .
* ^ "Ethnologue: Zulu". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2017-03-05.
* ^ "Ethnologue: Shona". Retrieved 2017-03-06.
* ^ "Statistical Summaries". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2012-06-29.
* ^ A B Philip J. Adler, Randall L. Pouwels, World Civilizations:
To 1700 Volume 1 of World Civilizations, (Cengage Learning: 2007),
* ^ Gemma Berniell-Lee et al Genetic and Demographic Implications
of the Bantu Expansion: Insights from Human Paternal Lineages.
* ^ Toyin Falola, Aribidesi Adisa Usman, Movements, borders, and
identities in Africa, (University Rochester Press: 2009), p.4.
* ^ The Guthrie, Tervuren, and SIL lists are compared side by side
in Maho 2002.
* ^ Derek Nurse, 2008. Tense and aspect in Bantu, p 70 (fn). In
many of the Zone A, including Mbam , the verbs are clearly analytic.
* ^ Vansina, J. Esquisse de Grammaire Bushong. Commission de
Linguistique Africaine, Tervuren, Belgique, 1959.
* ^ Turner, Rev. Wm. Y., Tumbuka–Tonga$1–$2 $3ictionEnglish
Dictionary Hetherwick Press, Blantyre,
* Biddulph, Joseph, Bantu Byways Pontypridd 2001. ISBN
* Finck, Franz Nikolaus (1908). Die Verwandtschaftsverhältnisse der
Bantusprachen. Vandenhoek und Ruprecht. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
* Guthrie, Malcolm . 1948. The classification of the Bantu
languages. London: Oxford University Press for the International
* Guthrie, Malcolm. 1971. Comparative Bantu, Vol 2. Farnborough:
* Heine, Bernd . 1973. Zur genetische Gliederung der Bantu-Sprachen.
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* Maho, Jouni F. 2001. The Bantu area: (towards clearing up) a mess.
* Arte da lingua de Angola: oeferecida