The world speaks 7,099 languages and almost all movies use some of the most dominant languages to reach more audiences worldwide. Some countries produce films in their own language, which then use dubbing or subtitling for international audiences.
In the Black Panther movie that hit the big screen a few days ago, moviegoers will be treated to something new, the lengthier use of an indigenous South African language – Xhosa. Because the film is a major American franchise, the predominant language is English, but the main character, the Black Panther, who is the new king of Wakanda and all the characters in the fictional kingdom will be speaking Xhosa.
In Hollywood, some film franchises that have several sequels, such as Star Wars and the Marvel Superheroes and multi-season TV series such as Star Trek and Game of Thrones, which later developed cult following have languages other than English. They have different languages that are spoken by the other characters in the series. Many of these are constructed languages, created especially for a particular film or TV show.
Constructed language (conglang) is a consciously created language that resembles human or human-like conversation. A conglang has vocabulary, grammar and phonology that are the same as a natural language. Others call constructed language as invented, planned or artificial language.
J.R.R.Tolkien for example has constructed various languages since 1910, such as Quenya, Sindarin and Taliska among the many Elven and Middle Earth languages for his Legendarium, including ”The Lord of the Rings.”
You might be familiar with some of the other popular constructed languages that were used in specific movies, as follows:
- Star Wars – Galactic Basic, Aurabesh, Droidspeak, Ewokese, Huttese, Jawaese, Mando’a, Sith, Shyriiwook, Tusken Raiders, Ubese
- Star Trek – Klingon, Vulcan
- Game of Thrones – Dothraki, Valyrian languages
- Avatar – Na’vi
- Lilo & Stitch – Tantalog
- Alien Nation – Tenctonese
- Land of the Lost – Pakuni
- Harry Potter – Parseltongue (language of the snakes)
The trend of developing a constructed language has extended to video games as well, as some of these languages have been refined and modernized by the users. Star Trek started in 1996 and to this day many die-hard fans of the series are known to speak Klingon and Vulcan.
Some of the constructed languages are based on naturally developed languages. The languages could still be in use, extinct, endangered, obscure or regional dialects spoken by small communities and tribes, such as those in Africa.
Where does all this lead to?
The Black Panther movie
The discussion leads to the latest offering from the Marvel Superhero series, “Black Panther” that hit the big screen just a few days ago. In the film, the main character, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), returned to his homeland to take his position as king of the fictional nation of Wakanda in East Africa after the death of T’Chaka, his father.
The first appearance of the Black Panther was in “Captain America: Civil War.” In most of the scenes in the film, Black Panther spoke English. However, there were some short scenes where T’Challa and his father T’Chaka spoke in their own language. It has recently been revealed by Joe Russo, the film’s co-director that they were speaking in Xhosa, one of the official languages of South Africa. The elder actor, John Kani, an award-winning South African actor, who portrayed T’Chaka, actually spoke Xhosa. He taught Chadwick Boseman how to speak the language. He served as the language consultant in the movie Captain America: Civil War.
For his portrayal of T’Challa, Chadwick Boseman did extensive research into the culture of South African tribes to get into the character. He likewise used a regional accent while speaking Xhosa based on the supposed location of the fictional kingdom of Wakanda. According to the map shown in Captain America: Civil War, Wakanda is somewhere near Lake Turkana’s northern end, a fictional area that borders Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia.
South African languages
- Northern Sotho
English and Afrikaans are West Germanic languages. Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele and Swazi belong to the Southern Bantu languages, Nguni language branch while Tswana, Southern Sotho and Northern Sotho belong to the Sotho-Tswana languages. Tsonga on the other hand is a Twsa-Ronga language.
What is Xhosa?
Xhosa, which is also known as Xosa or Koosa, is a clicking language. Its speakers and people belonging to the group are called isiXhosa. In South Africa, 19.1 million speak the language, with 8.1 million speaking it as their first language. People who speak Xhosa as their second language number about 11 million. Around the world 19.2 million people speak Xhosa. Nelson Mandela spoke Xhosa fluently.
South Africa has a population of 57.1 million (2018), which means that about 33.5% of the population speaks Xhosa.
Most of the speakers of Xhosa are located at Port Elizabeth and east of Middleburg in the Eastern Cape Province. In the Northern Cape Province, speakers are located at the municipality of Pixley Ka Seme. There are also speakers around the municipalities of Ugu and Sisonke and around Lesotho.
The language has many dialects, including Hlubi, Ndlambe, Mpondomise, Thembu, Gcaleka, Gaika or Ngqika, Bomvana, Xesibe, Mpondo or Pondo and Maho.
The clicking sound, which is created by putting the tongue to the side of the mouth, resembles the sound given to a trotting horse. This is used to pronounce the ”x” properly.
When written, Xhosa uses the Latin alphabet. But the spoken Xhosa has many sounds that have no equivalent in English, particularly the clicks. The clicking sound came from a group of African languages, the Khoisan languages that are very distinct because of their clicking consonants. Many of the languages belonging to the Khoisan group are already endangered and some have become extinct.
Several years ago, the Khoisan languages were widespread all over eastern and southern Africa. Now the speakers are mostly confined to the Kalahari Desert in Botswana and Namibia and central Tanzania’s Rift Valley.
In written Xhosa, the clicks represent the letter K, which is a substitute for x, q and c, such as in words like aks (axe), kwick (quick) and klik (click). The letter ”C” indicates the dental clicks, the letter “Q” for the post-alveolar clicks and the letter ”X” for the lateral clicks. These three letters are for the basic clicks. Variations of the clicks are created by the addition of consonants to the basic clicks.
To make the click sounds, here’s the procedure:
- C – Place the tip of your tongue on the back of your front teeth then pull it away. The sound made is like tsk, tsk. Example is –cela which means “ask for.”
- X – put your tongue to the side of your mouth to create a sound resembling the sound made to urge a horse to speed up. Example is the word uxolo which translates to ”peace.”
- Q – pull the tongue down from the roof of your mouth to create the sound like popping of the cork. It is used to pronounce such words as amaqanda, which is the Xhosa word for eggs.
You can have a feel for how these basic click sounds are done from this video:
When Xhosa is spoken, some words are shortened when they run together. Except for ”ii” and ”oo” no two vowels are placed together as a rule in written Xhosa. If that is unavoidable due to the grammatical construction of the sentence, some changes are made to ensure that only one vowel is used. The accent, when speaking Xhosa, is placed on the second to the last syllable.
Although Xhosa has the widest distribution among all the official languages of South Africa, Zulu is the most widely spoken. Zulu is spoken by 27.3 million in Africa, broken down into 11.6 million people speaking it as their first language and 15.7 million using it as their second language. Across the globe, Zulu speakers number almost 27.5 million.
Some words and phrases in Xhosa:
|Molweni||–||Hello (when greeting two people or more)|
|Upila njani? (Unjani?)||–||How are you?|
|Ndiyaphila||–||I am fine.|
|Ndiyaphile, enkosi||–||I am fine, thank you.|
|Ndiphilile enkosi||–||I am well, thank you!|
|Uxolo||–||Sorry / Excuse me|
|Andiqodi||–||I don’t understand|
|Andazi||–||I don’t know|
|Ndivela||–||I come from…|
|Uyakwazi ukuthetha isiNgesi?||–||Do you speak English?|
|Ewe (pronounced eh-weh)||–||Yes|
|Hamba kakuhle||–||Goodbye (go well)|
|Sala kakuhle||–||Goodbye (stay well)|
|Yanga ungaphumelela||–||Good luck|
|Ndicela uxolo||–||I am sorry|
|Ndiya kuthanda||–||I love you|
|Uyaphi?||–||Where are you going?|
|Ngubani ixesha ngoku?||–||What time is it?|
|Wenzani?||–||What are you doing?|
|Yimalini?||–||How much is this?|
|Amashumi amabine ananye||–||twenty-one|
|Amashumi amabine anesibini||–||twenty-two|
Xhosa seems like a difficult language to learn, particularly if you consider the click sounds for spoken Xhosa. You do not need to learn a language to have your documents translated. We at Day Translations provide accurate translations of African languages, be they medical, legal, business or certified translation services. You can get in touch with us by phone or email 24/7.
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