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About the Zulu Language

Zulu (Zulu: isiZulu) is the 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. Like many other Bantu languages, it is written using the Latin alphabet.

Geographic distrubution

Zulu belongs to the South-Eastern group of Bantu languages (the Nguni group). Zulu migrant populations have taken it to adjacent regions, especially to Zimbabwe, where Zulu is called (Northern) Ndebele. Xhosa, the predominant language in the Eastern Cape, is often considered mutually intelligible with Zulu

History

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.[1] 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 This board has now been disbanded and superseded by the Pan South African Language Board that promotes the use of all eleven official languages of South Africa.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 isoLezwe, 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, 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 bakithi Baba (English: Here comes a lion, Father) and Siyo nqoba (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.

Standard vs urban Zulu

Standard Zulu as it is taught in schools, also called "deep Zulu" (isiZulu esijulile), differs in various repects from the launguage spoken by people living in cities (urban Zulu, isiZulu sasedolobheni). Standard Zulu tends to be purist, using derivations from Zulu words for new concepts, whereas speakers of urban Zulu use loan words abundantly, mainly from English.

Tone

Like the great majority of other Bantu and African languages, Zulu is tonal. It is conventionally written without any indication of tone, despite the fact that tone is distinctive in Zulu. For example, the word for priest and teacher is , but they are pronounced with a different tone depending on the meaning.

Zulu is also known for having depressor consonants, which lower a high tone in the same syllable. For example, the verbs ukuhlala "to live" and ukudlala "to play" should both contain a high tone on the penultimate syllable. However, the tone on the penultimate syllable of ukudlala is low as a result of the depressor consonant [ɮ].

Grammar

Some of the main grammatical features of Zulu are:< /br>

  • Constituent word order is Subject Verb Object.
  • Morphologically, it is an agglutinative language.
  • As in other Bantu languages, Zulu nouns are classified into fifteen morphological classes (or genders), with different prefixes for singular and plural. Various parts of speech that qualify a noun must agree with the noun according to its gender. These agreements usually reflect part of the original class that it is agreeing with. An example of this is the use of the class 'aba-':
    • Bonke abantu abaqatha basepulazini bayagawula.
    • All the strong people of the farm are felling (trees).
    Here, the various agreement that qualify the word 'abantu' (people) can be seen in effect.
  • Its verbal system shows a combination of temporal and aspectual categories in their finite paradigm. Typically verbs have two stems, one for Present-Indefinite and another for Perfect. Different prefixes can be attached to these verbal stems to specify subject agreement and various degrees of past or future tense. For example, in the word uyathandae/em> ("he loves"), the Present stem of the verb is -thanda, the prefix u- expresses third-person singular subject and -ya- is a filler used in short sentences.
  • Suffixes are also put into common use to show the causative or reciprocal forms of a verb stem.
  • Most property words (words which are encoded as adjectives in English) are represented by things called relatives, such is the sentence umuntu ubomvu ("the person is red"), the word ubomvu (root -bomvu) behaves similarly to a verb and uses the agreement prefix u-, but there are subtle differences, for example, it does not use the prefix ya-.
 

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