So you think you’ve heard of, or come across all the languages of the world. Well, have you ever heard about the Xhosa language? And if you have, what do you know about it? Perhaps you’ve heard it briefly in the South African National anthem if you’re lucky.
Keep reading to learn more about Xhosa, its origins, whether or not it is still spoken today and maybe we’ll even throw in some vocabulary.
The Origins of the Xhosa Language
The Xhosa Language has its roots in South Africa from an ethnic group known as the amaXhosa. The official name of the language is isiXhosa, with the key word Xhosa being derived from the Khoisan Language. In this case, Xhosa means ‘angry men’. To put the language in even more contact, it is usually customary for the majority of the African languages that are characterized by the clicking sound to originate from the indigenous Khosian people.
With this in mind, South Africa is the native land of all things Xhosa to include the language itself as well as the people. On a broader scope, Xhosa falls under the umbrella of the Bantu family of languages.
One of the outstanding characteristics of the language is the unique number of clicking sounds. These sounds are formed and made using the tongue and are represented by the letters x,c and q.
Because Xhosa falls under the umbrella of Bantu Languages just like Zulu, it is often believed that Xhosa and Zulu are one in the same. This, however, is not so. They may be quite similar but they are not the same.
Xhosa’s sound system is based on tones that help to differentiate words that would otherwise sound similar. This is a language that is quite unusual in its sound and overall makeup, yet when spoken sounds quite beautiful.
Xhosa is One of the Hardest South African Languages to Learn
If you want to learn to speak Xhosa, you might find it to be extremely difficult. There are quite a number of consonants present in this language. The sounds from Xhosa also sound aggressive based on its characteristics as opposed to having a soothing or calming sound.
You might find it interesting that there are quite a few English sounds embedded in Xhosa. The language also comprises 15 clicks, an impulsive along with a few ejectives.
The clicks are usually the hardest part to grasp. They are classified into 3 groups, namely:
Alveolar Clicks – In this group, all clicks produce sound by pressing against the hard palate (top of the mouth) in the mouth. The resulting sound is similar to a cork that’s popping out of a bottle.
Dental Clicks – As the name suggests, the sounds produced within this group are as a result of the tongue pressing against teeth. An example of the sound made is ‘tut tut’.
Lateral Clicks – Lateral clicks are produced by making the tongue press against the sides of the mouth (soft sides). The sound that is produced should sound similar to calling a horse.
How is the Xhosa Language Spoken Today?
Xhosa is not as hidden as you might want to think it is because approximately 8.2 million people speak it as their first or primary language while another 11 million people use it as a second language. When combined, Xhosa is spoken by around 19 million people or 18% of the South African population.
The regions that Xhosa is most popular in are as follows:
- Eastern Cape Province
- Cape Town
- Western Cape
You may also find it interesting that Xhosa is taught and spoken within the schools in South Africa from the primary level all the way up University. Although Xhosa is so widely spoken, English is spoken by everyone in South Africa, no matter what other languages they speak additionally. That said, even though the native tongue of many children in schools is Xhosa, they are taught in English from the early stages of their education. Interestingly, there are a number of radio stations along with one TV station that broadcasts in Xhosa. Additionally, several print media are also in Xhosa or mixed with English.
Examining the Phonetics of the Xhosa Language
Like all other languages, Xhosa has a sound system also called phonology. It is characterized by simple vowels and a densely populated and complex consonant system. The majority of syllables in Xhosa end with a Vowel with absolutely no consonant clusters.
There are 10 vowels in Xhosa. Of course, the vowel sounds or phonemes are categorized into front and back mouth sounds that are further categorized as being long sounds or short sounds with a close, mid and open classification.
The consonants of the Xhosa Language is a complex system that is inclusive of some uncommon ones. The consonants of the bantu language are divided into four categories, namely:
- Implosive consonants
- Breathy- voiced consonants
- Ejective Consonants
Xhosa Language Vocabulary
The basic grammar in Xhosa is spread across other similar other South African languages such as Zulu, Swati, and Ndebele. A great example is the word people, which is ‘abantu’ in all these Southern bantu languages.
Here are a few Xhosa native language words to start building your vocabulary along with their English equivalent.
Xhosa to English
Ewe – Yes
Hayi – No
Bhota – Hello
Nceda – Please
Ndiyabulela, enkosi – Thank you
Umntwana – Child
Utata – Father
Umama – Mother
Uxolo – Excuse me
Hamba Kakuhle – Good bye (to the person leaving)
Sala Kakuhle – Good bye (to the person staying)
1 – nye
2 – mbini
3 – ntathu
4 – ne
5 – ntlanu
6 – ntandathu
7 – xhenxe
8 – bhozo
9 – lithoba
10 – lishumi
Expanding Your Wealth in Known Languages!
If you’re a language enthusiast, then the Xhosa language is one to learn more about. You can take on the challenge of learning the language too.
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