Chewa language

Chewa (/ˈtʃɛwə/), also known as Nyanja (/ˈnjændʒə/), is a Bantu language spoken in much of Southern, Southeast and East Africa, namely the countries of Malawi and Zimbabwe, where it is an official language and Mozambique and Zambia where it is a recognised minority language. The noun class prefix chi- is used for languages,[4] so the language is usually called Chichewa and Chinyanja (spelled Cinianja in Mozambique). In Malawi, the name was officially changed from Chinyanja to Chichewa in 1968 at the insistence of President Hastings Kamuzu Banda (himself of the Chewa people), and this is still the name most commonly used in Malawi today.[5] In Zambia, the language is generally known as Nyanja or Cinyanja/Chinyanja '(language) of the lake' (referring to Lake Malawi).[6]

Chewa belongs to the same language group (Guthrie Zone N) as Tumbuka, Sena[7] and Nsenga.

Chichewa, Chinyanja
Native toZambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe
Native speakers
12 million (2007)[1]
Latin (Chewa alphabet)
Chewa Braille
Official status
Official language in
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-1ny
ISO 639-2nya
ISO 639-3nya
N.30 (N.31, N.121)[3]
Linguasphere99-AUS-xaa – xag


Chewa is the most widely known language of Malawi, spoken mostly in the Central and Southern Regions of that country.[8] "It is also one of the seven official African languages of Zambia, where it is spoken mostly in the Eastern Province and Lusaka Province (the Lusaka Nyanja dialect). It is also spoken in Mozambique, especially in the provinces of Tete and Niassa, as well as in Zimbabwe where, according to some estimates, it ranks as the third-most widely used local language, after Shona and Northern Ndebele."[9] It was one of the 55 languages featured on the Voyager spacecraft.[10]


The Chewa were a branch of the Maravi people who lived in the Eastern Province of Zambia and in northern Mozambique as far south as the River Zambezi from the 16th century or earlier.[11][12]

The name "Chewa" (in the form Chévas) itself is first recorded by António Gamitto, who at the age of 26 in 1831 was appointed as second-in-command of an expedition from Tete to the court of King Kazembe in what is now Zambia. His route took him through the country of King Undi west of the Dzalanyama mountains, across a corner of present-day Malawi and on into Zambia.[13] Later he wrote an account including some ethnographic and linguistic notes and vocabularies. According to Gamitto, the Malawi or Maravi people (Maraves) were those ruled by King Undi south of the Chambwe stream (not far south of the present border between Mozambique and Zambia), while the Chewa lived north of the Chambwe.[14]

Apart from a few words recorded by Gamitto, the first extensive record of the Chewa language was made by Johannes Rebmann in his Dictionary of the Kiniassa Language, published in 1877 but written in 1853-4. Rebmann was a missionary living near Mombasa in Kenya, and he obtained his information from a Malawian slave, known by the Swahili name Salimini, who had been captured in Malawi some ten years earlier.[15] Salimini, who came from a place called Mphande apparently in the Lilongwe region, also noted some differences between his own dialect (which he called Kikamtunda, the language of the plateau) and the Maravi dialect (Kimaravi) spoken further south; for example, the Maravi gave the name mombo to the tree which he himself called kamphoni.[16]

The first grammar, A Grammar of the Chinyanja language as spoken at Lake Nyasa with Chinyanja–English and English–Chinyanja vocabulary, was written by Alexander Riddel in 1880. Further early grammars and vocabularies include A grammar of Chinyanja, a language spoken in British Central Africa, on and near the shores of Lake Nyasa by George Henry (1891) and M.E. Woodward's A vocabulary of English–Chinyanja and Chinyanja–English: as spoken at Likoma, Lake Nyasa (1895). The whole Bible was translated into the Likoma Island dialect of Nyanja by William Percival Johnson and published as Chikalakala choyera: ndicho Malangano ya Kale ndi Malangano ya Chapano in 1912.[17] Another Bible translation, known as the Buku Lopatulika ndilo Mau a Mulungu, was made in a more standard Central Region dialect about 1900-1922 by missionaries of the Dutch Reformed Mission and Church of Scotland with the help of some Malawians. This has recently (2016) been reissued in a revised and slightly modernised version.[18]

Another early grammar, concentrating on the Kasungu dialect of the language, was Mark Hanna Watkins' A Grammar of Chichewa (1937). This book, the first grammar of an African language to be written by an American, was a work of cooperation between a young black PhD student and young student from Nyasaland studying in Chicago, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, who in 1966 was to become the first President of the Republic of Malawi.[19][20] This grammar was also the first to mark the tones of the words.

In recent years the language has changed considerably, and a dichotomy has grown between the traditional Chichewa of the villages and the language of city-dwellers.[21]



Chewa has five vowel sounds: /a, ɛ, i, ɔ, u/; these are written a, e, i, o, u. Long or double vowels are sometimes found, e.g. áákúlu 'big' (class 2), kufúula 'to shout'.[22] When a word comes at the end of a phrase, its penultimate vowel tends to be lengthened,[23] except for non-Chewa names and words, such as Muthárika or ófesi, in which the penultimate vowel always remains short. The added 'u' or 'i' in borrowed words such as láputopu 'laptop' or íntaneti 'internet' tends to be silent or barely pronounced.

A man speaking the Zambian variety of Chichewa.


Chewa consonants can be plain (i.e. followed by a vowel), labialised (i.e. followed by w), or palatalised (i.e. followed by or combined with y):

  • ba, kha, ga, fa, ma, sa etc.
  • bwa, khwa, gwa, fwa, mwa, swa etc.
  • bza, khya, ja, fya, nya, sha etc.

In this scheme, the place of bya is taken by the palatalised affricate bza, and the place of gya is taken by ja, and sya is replaced by sha.

Another way of classifying the consonants is according to whether they are voiced, unvoiced, aspirated, nasal, or continuant:

  • ba, da, ga
  • pa, ta, ka
  • pha, tha, kha
  • ma, na, ng'a
  • wa, la, ha

Voiced and aspirated consonants, as well as [f] and [s], can also be preceded by a homorganic nasal:

  • mba, ngwa, nja, mva, nza etc.
  • mpha, nkhwa, ntcha, mfa, nsa etc.

The possible consonant combinations can thus be arranged on a table as follows:

Table of Chewa consonants
voiced unvoiced aspirated nasalised voiced nasalised aspirated nasal semivowel/ liquid
labial ba
dental da
velar/ palatal ga
labio-dental va
sibilant za
affricate dza

The spelling used here is that introduced in 1973,[24] which is the one generally in use in the Malawi at the present time, replacing the Chinyanja Orthography Rules of 1931.[25]

Notes on the consonants

  • In most words, Chewa b and d (when not prenasalised) are pronounced implosively, by sucking slightly.[26] However, there is also an explosive b and d, mostly found in foreign words, such as bála 'bar', yôdúla 'expensive' (from Afrikaans duur) (in contrast to the implosive b and d in native words such as bála 'wound' and yôdúla 'which cuts'). An explosive d is also found in kudínda 'to stamp (a document)' and mdidi 'confident step'.
  • The affricate sounds bv and pf were formerly commonly heard but are now generally replaced by b and f, e.g. (b)vúto 'problem', (p)fúpa 'bone'. In the Mtanthauziramawu wa Chinyanja dictionary produced by the University of Malawi, the spellings bv and pf are not used in any of the headwords, but bv is used two or three times in the definitions.
  • The combination bz is described by Atkins as an "alveolar-labialised fricative".[27] The combination sounds something like [bʒ] or [bzʲ]. Similarly ps is pronounced something like [pʃ] or [psʲ].
  • The sounds written ch, k, p and t are pronounced less forcibly than the English equivalents and generally without aspiration. Stevick notes that in relaxed speech, the first three are sometimes replaced with the voiced fricatives [ʒ], [ɣ] and [β], and t can be heard as a voiced flap.[28] In the combination -ti (e.g. angáti? 'how many'), t may be lightly aspirated.
  • h is also used in Chewa but mostly only in loanwords such as hotéra 'hotel', hátchi 'horse', mswahála 'monthly allowance given to chiefs'.
  • j is described by Scotton and Orr as being pronounced "somewhat more forward in the mouth" than in English and as sounding "somewhere between an English d and j ".[29]
  • l and r are the same phoneme,[30] representing a retroflex tap [ɽ], approximately between [l] and [r]. According to the official spelling rules, the sound is written as 'r' after 'i' or 'e', otherwise 'l'. It is also written with 'l' after a prefix containing 'i', as in lilíme 'tongue'.[31]
  • m is syllabic [m̩] in words where it is derived from mu, e.g. m'balé 'relative' (3 syllables), m'phunzitsi 'teacher' (4 syllables), anáḿpatsa 'he gave him' (5 syllables). However, in class 9 words, such as mphátso 'gift', mbale 'plate', or mfíti 'witch', and also in the class 1 word mphaká 'cat', the m is pronounced very short and does not form a separate syllable. In Southern Region dialects of Malawi, the syllabic m in words like mkángo 'lion' is pronounced homorganically, i.e. [ŋ̍.ká.ᵑɡo] (with three syllables), but in the Central Region, it is pronounced as it is written, i.e. [m̩.ká.ᵑɡo].[32]
  • n, in combinations such as nj, ntch, nkh etc., is assimilated to the following consonant, that is, it is pronounced [ɲ] or [ŋ] as appropriate; ny is pronounced [ɲ],[33] In words of class 9, such as njóka 'snake' or nduná 'minister' it is pronounced very short, as part of the following syllable. However, [n] can also be syllabic, when it is contracted from ndi 'it is' or ndí 'and', e.g. ń'kúpíta 'and to go'; also in the remote past continuous tense, e.g. ankápítá 'he used to go'. In some borrowed words such as bánki or íntaneti the combinations nk and nt with non-syllabic n can be found but not in native words.
  • ng is pronounced [ŋg] as in 'finger' and ng’ is pronounced [ŋ] as in 'singer'. Both of these consonants can occur at the beginning of a word: ngoma 'kudu', ng'ombe 'cow or ox'.
  • w in the combinations awu, ewu, iwu, owa, uwa (e.g. mawú 'voice', msewu 'road', liwú 'sound', lowa 'enter', duwa 'flower') although often written is generally not pronounced.[34]
  • ŵ, a "closely lip-rounded [w] with the tongue in the close-i position",[35] was formerly used in Central Region dialects but is now rarely heard, usually being replaced by 'w'. ("It is doubtful whether the majority of speakers have [β] in their phoneme inventory" (Kishindo).)[36] The symbol 'ŵ' is generally omitted in current publications such as newspapers.[37] In the dialects that use the sound, it is found only before a, i, and e, while before o and u it becomes [w].[38] To some linguists (e.g. Watkins) it sounds similar to the Spanish [β].[39]
  • zy (as in zyoliká 'be upside down like a bat') can be pronounced [ʒ].[40]


Like most other Bantu languages, Chewa is a tonal language; that is to say, the pitch of the syllables (high or low) plays an important role in it. Tone is used in various ways in the language. First of all, each word has its own tonal pattern, for example:[41]

  • munthu [mu.ⁿtʰu] 'person' (Low, Low)
  • galú [ɡa.ɽú] 'dog' (Low, High)
  • mbúzi [ᵐbú.zi] 'goat' (High, Low)
  • chímanga [t͡ʃí.ma.ᵑɡa] 'maize' (High, Low, Low)

Usually there is only one high tone in a word (generally on one of the last three syllables), or none. However, in compound words there can be more than one high tone, for example:

  • chákúdyá [t͡ʃá.kú.ɗʲá] 'food' (High, High, High; derived from chá + kudyá, 'a thing of eating')

A second important use of tone is in the verb. Each tense of the verb has its own characteristic tonal pattern (negative tenses usually have a different pattern from positive ones).[42] For example, the present habitual has high tones on the initial syllable and the penultimate, the other syllables being low:

  • ndí-ma-thandíza 'I (usually) help'
  • ndí-ma-píta 'I (usually) go'

The recent past continuous, on the other hand, has a tone on the third syllable:

  • ndi-ma-thándiza 'I was helping'
  • ndi-ma-píta 'I was going'

Tones can also indicate whether a verb is being used in a main clause or in a dependent clause such as a relative clause:[43][44]

  • sabatá yatha 'the week has ended'
  • sabatá yátha 'the week which has ended (i.e. last week)'

A third use of tones in Chewa is to show phrasing and sentence intonation. For example, immediately before a pause in the middle of a sentence the speaker's voice tends to rise up; this rise is referred to as a boundary tone.[45] Other intonational tones are sometimes heard, for example a rising or falling tone at the end of a yes-no question.[46]


Noun classes

Chewa nouns are divided for convenience into a number of classes, which are referred to by the Malawians themselves by names such as "Mu-A-",[47] but by Bantu specialists by numbers such as "1/2", corresponding to the classes in other Bantu languages. Conventionally, they are grouped into pairs of singular and plural. However, irregular pairings are also possible, especially with loanwords; for example, bánki 'bank', which takes the concords of class 9 in the singular, has a plural mabánki (class 6).[48]

When assigning nouns to a particular class, initially the prefix of the noun is used. Where there is no prefix, or where the prefix is ambiguous, the concords (see below) are used as a guide to the noun class. For example, katúndu 'possessions' is put in class 1, since it takes the class 1 demonstrative uyu 'this'.[49]

Some nouns belong to one class only, e.g. tomáto 'tomato(es)' (class 1), mowa 'beer' (class 3), malayá 'shirt(s)' (class 6), udzudzú 'mosquito(es)' (class 14), and do not change between singular and plural. Despite this, such words can still be counted if appropriate: tomáto muwíri 'two tomatoes', mowa uwíri 'two beers', malayá amódzi 'one shirt', udzudzú umódzi 'one mosquito'.[50]

Class 11 (Lu-) is not found in Chewa. Words like lumo 'razor' and lusó 'skill' are considered to belong to class 5/6 (Li-Ma-) and take the concords of that class.[51]

  • Mu-A- (1/2): munthu pl. anthu 'person'; mphunzitsi pl. aphunzitsi 'teacher'; mwaná pl. aná 'child'
      (1a/2): galú pl. agalú 'dog'. Class 1a refers to nouns which have no m- prefix.
      The plural a- is used only for humans and animals. It can also be used for respect, e.g. aphunzitsi áthu 'our teacher'
      (1a/6): kíyi pl. makíyi 'key'; gúle pl. magúle 'dance'
      (1a): tomáto 'tomato(es)'; katúndu 'luggage, furniture'; feteréza 'fertilizer' (no pl.)
  • Mu-Mi- (3/4): mudzi pl. midzi 'village'; mténgo pl. miténgo 'tree'; moyo pl. miyoyo 'life'; msika pl. misika 'village'
      (3): mowa 'beer'; móto 'fire'; bowa 'mushroom(s)' (no pl.)
  • Li-Ma- (5/6): dzína pl. maína 'name'; vúto pl. mavúto 'problem'; khásu pl. makásu 'hoe'; díso pl. masó 'eye'
      Often the first consonant is softened or omitted in the plural in this class.
      (6): madzí 'water', mankhwála 'medicine', maló 'place' (no sg.)
  • Chi-Zi- (7/8): chinthu pl. zinthu 'thing'; chaká pl. zaká 'year'
      (7): chímanga 'maize'; chikóndi 'love' (no pl.)
  • I-Zi- (9/10): nyumbá pl. nyumbá 'house'; mbúzi pl. mbúzi 'goat'
      (10): ndevu 'beard'; ndíwo 'relish'; nzerú 'intelligence' (no sg.)
      (9/6): bánki pl. mabánki 'bank'
  • Ka-Ti- (12/13): kamwaná pl. tianá 'baby'; kanthu pl. tinthu 'small thing'
      (12): kasamalidwe 'method of taking care'; kavinidwe 'way of dancing' (no pl.)
      (13): tuló 'sleep' (no sg.)
  • U-Ma- (14): usíku 'night time'; ulimi 'farming'; udzudzú 'mosquito(es)' (no pl.)
      (14/6): utá pl. mautá 'bow'

Infinitive class:

  • Ku- (15): kuóna 'to see, seeing'

Locative classes:

  • Pa- (16): pakamwa 'mouth'
  • Ku- (17): kukhosi 'neck'
  • Mu- (18): mkamwa 'inside the mouth'


Pronouns, adjectives, and verbs have to show agreement with nouns in Chichewa. This is done by means of prefixes, for example:

  • Uyu ndi mwaná wángá 'this is my child' (class 1)
  • Awa ndi aná ángá 'these are my children' (class 2)
  • Ichi ndi chímanga chánga 'this is my maize' (class 7)
  • Iyi ndi nyumbá yángá 'this is my house' (class 9)

Class 2 (the plural of class 1) is often used for respect when referring to elders. According to Corbett and Mtenje, a word like bambo 'father', even though it is singular, will take plural concords (e.g. bambo anga akuyenda, ndikuwaona 'my father is walking, I see him'); they note that to use the singular object-marker -mu- would be 'grossly impolite'.[52]

The various prefixes are shown on the table below:

Table of Chewa concords
noun English this that pron subj object num rem of of+vb other adj
1 mwaná child uyu uyo yé- a- mu/m- m/(mu)- uja wó- wína wám-
2 aná children awa awo ó- a- -a/wa- a- aja á ó- éna áa-
3 mutú head uwu uwo wó- u- -u- u- uja wó- wína wau-
4 mitú heads iyi iyo yó- i- -i/yi- i- ija yó- ína yái-
5 díso eye ili ilo ló- li- -li- li- lija ló- lína láli-
6 masó eyes awa awo ó- a- -wa- a- aja á ó- éna áa-
7 chaká year ichi icho chó- chi- -chi- chi- chija chá chó- chína cháchi-
8 zaká years izi izo zó- zi- -zi- zi- zija zó- zína zázi-
9 nyumbá house iyi iyo yó- i- -i/yi- i- ija yó- ína yái-
10 nyumbá houses izi izo zó- zi- -zi- zi- zija zó- zína zázi-
12 kamwaná baby aka ako kó- ka- -ka- ka- kaja kó- kéna káka-
13 tianá babies iti ito tó- ti- -ti- ti- tija tó- tína táti-
14 utá bow uwu uwo wó- u- -u- u- uja wó- wína wáu-
15 kugúla buying uku uko kó- ku- -ku- ku- kuja kwá kó- kwína kwáku-
16 pansí underneath apa apo pó- pa- -pa- pa- paja pó- péna pápa-
17 kutsogoló in front uku uko kó- ku- -ku- ku- kuja kwá kó- kwína kwáku-
18 mkatí inside umu umo mó- m/mu- -mu- m/mu- muja mwá mó- mwína mwám'-

Although there are 17 different noun classes, because some of them share concords there are in fact only 12 sets of prefixes.

Examples of the use of concords

In the examples below, the concords are illustrated mainly with nouns of classes 1 and 2.

Demonstratives 'this' and 'that'

  • uyu ndaní? 'who is this?'; awa ndaní? 'who are these?' (or: 'who is this gentleman?' (respectful))
  • mwaná uyu (mwanáyu) 'this child'; aná awa (anáwa) 'these children'
  • mwaná uyo (mwanáyo) 'that child'; aná awo (anáwo) 'those children'

The shortened forms are more common.

Pronominal , (w)ó etc.

Prefixed by a supporting vowel, or by 'with' or ndi 'it is', these make the pronouns 'he/she' and 'they':

  • iyé 'he/she'; iwó 'they' (or 'he/she' (respectful))
  • náye 'with him/her'; náwo 'with them' (or 'with him/her' (respectful))
  • ndiyé 'it is he/she'; ndiwó 'it is they'

For classes other than classes 1 and 2, a demonstrative is used instead of a freestanding pronoun, for example in class 6 ichi or icho. But forms prefixed by ná- and ndi- such as nácho and ndichó are found.

yénse, yékha, yémwe

The three pronominal adjectives yénse 'all', yékha 'alone', yémwe 'that same' (or 'who') have the same pronominal concords yé- and (w)ó-, this time as prefixes:

  • Maláwi yénse 'the whole of Malawi'; aná ónse 'all the children'
  • yékha 'on his/her own'; ókha 'on their own'
  • mwaná yemwéyo 'that same child'; aná omwéwo 'those same children'

In classes 2 and 6, ó- often becomes wó- (e.g. wónse for ónse etc.).

The word áliyensé 'every' is compounded from the verb áli 'who is' and yénse 'all'. Both parts of the word have concords:

  • mwaná áliyensé 'every child'; aná awíri álionsé 'every two children'
  • nyumbá íliyonsé 'every house' (class 4); chaká chílichonsé 'every year' (class 7)

Subject prefix

As with other Bantu languages, all Chewa verbs have a prefix which agrees with the subject of the verb. In modern Chewa, the class 2 prefix (formerly ŵa-) has become a-, identical with the prefix of class 1:

  • mwaná ápita 'the child will go'; aná ápita 'the children will go'

The perfect tense (wapita 'he/she has gone', apita 'they have gone') has different subject prefixes from the other tenses (see below).

améne 'who'

The relative pronoun améne 'who' and demonstrative améneyo use the same prefixes as a verb:

  • mwaná améne 'the child who'; aná améne 'the children who'
  • mwaná améneyo 'that child'; aná aménewo 'those children'
  • nyumbá iméneyo 'that house'; nyumbá ziménezo 'those houses'

Object infix

The use of an object infix is not obligatory in Chewa (for example, ndagula means 'I have bought (them)'). If used, it comes immediately before the verb root, and agrees with the object:

  • ndamúona 'I have seen him/her'; ndawáona 'I have seen them' (sometimes shortened to ndaáona).

The object infix of classes 16, 17, and 18 is usually replaced by a suffix: ndaonámo 'I have seen inside it'.

The same infix with verbs with the applicative suffix -ira represents the indirect object, e.g. ndamúlembera 'I have written to him'.

Numeral concords

Numeral concords are used with numbers -módzi 'one', -wíri 'two', -tátu 'three', -náyi 'four', -sanu 'five', and the words -ngáti? 'how many', -ngápo 'several':

  • mwaná mmódzi 'one child'; aná awíri 'two children'; aná angáti? 'how many children?'

m- becomes mu- before -wiri: tomáto muwíri 'two tomatoes' (class 1).

The number khúmi 'ten' has no concord.

Demonstratives uja and uno

The demonstrative pronouns uja 'that one you know' and uno 'this one we are in' take the concords u- and a- in classes 1 and 2. For semantic reasons, class 1 uno is rare:

  • mwaná uja 'that child (the one you know)'; aná aja 'those children' (those ones you know)
  • mwezí uno 'this month (we are in)' (class 3); masíkú ano 'these days'; ku Maláwí kuno 'here in Malawi (where we are now)' (class 17).

Perfect tense subject prefix

The same concords w- (derived from u-) and a-, combined with the vowel a, make the subject prefix of the perfect tense. In the plural the two prefixes a-a- combine into a single vowel:

  • mwaná wapita 'the child has gone; aná apita 'the children have gone'

Possessive concord

The concords w- (derived from u-) and a- are also found in the word á 'of':

  • mwaná wá Mphátso 'Mphatso's child'; aná á Mphátso 'Mphatso's children'

The same concords are used in possessive adjectives -ánga 'my', -áko 'your', -áke 'his/her/its/their', -áthu 'our', -ánu 'your (plural or respectful singular), -áwo 'their'/'his/her' (respectful):

  • mwaná wángá 'my child'; aná ángá 'my children'

-áwo 'their' is used only of people (-áke is used for things).

'of' can be combined with nouns or adverbs to make adjectives:

  • mwaná wánzérú 'an intelligent child'; aná ánzérú 'intelligent children'
  • mwaná ábwino a good child'; aná ábwino 'good children'

In the same way 'of' combines with the ku- of the infinitive to make verbal adjectives. + ku- usually shortens to wó-, except where the verb root is monosyllabic:

  • mwaná wókóngola 'a beautiful child'; aná ókóngola 'beautiful children'
  • mwaná wákúbá 'a thieving child'; aná ákúbá 'thieving children'

-ína 'other' and -ení-éní 'real'

The same w- and a- concords are found with the words -ína 'other' and -ení-éní 'real'. In combination with these words the plural concord a- is converted to e-:

  • mwaná wína 'a certain child, another child'; aná éna 'certain children, other children'
  • mwaná weníwéní 'a real child'; aná eníéní 'real children'

Double-prefix adjectives

Certain adjectives (-kúlu 'big', -ng'óno 'small'; -(a)múna 'male', -kázi 'female'; -táli 'long', 'tall', -fúpi 'short'; -wisi 'fresh') have a double prefix, combining the possessive concord (wá-) and the number concord (m- or mw-):

  • mwaná wáḿkúlu 'a big child'; aná áákúlu 'big children'
  • mwaná wáḿng'óno 'a small child'; aná ááng'óno 'little children'
  • mwaná wámwámúna 'a male child'; aná áámúna 'male children'
  • mwaná wáḿkázi 'a female child'; aná áákázi 'female children'

Historic changes

Early dictionaries, such as those of Rebmann, and of Scott and Hetherwick, show that formerly the number of concords was greater. The following changes have taken place:

  • Class 2 formerly had the concord ŵa- (e.g. ŵanthu aŵa 'these people'), but this has now become a- for most speakers.
  • Class 8, formerly using dzi- (Southern Region) or bzi/bvi/vi- (Central Region) (e.g. bzaká bziŵíri 'two years'),[53] has now adopted the concords of class 10.
  • Class 6, formerly with ya- concords (e.g. mazira aya 'these eggs'),[54] now has the concords of class 2.
  • Class 11 (lu-) had already been assimilated to class 5 even in the 19th century, although it still exists in some dialects of the neighbouring language Tumbuka.
  • Class 14, formerly with bu- concords (e.g. ufá bwángá 'my flour'),[55] now has the same concords as class 3.
  • Class 13 (ti-) had tu- in Rebmann's time (e.g. tumpeni utu 'these small knives'). This prefix still survives in words like tuló 'sleep'.

In addition, classes 4 and 9, and classes 15 and 17 have identical concords, so the total number of concord sets (singular and plural) is now twelve.


Formation of tenses

Tenses in Chichewa are differentiated in two ways, by their tense-marker (or tense-infix), and by their tonal pattern. Sometimes two tenses have the same tense-marker and differ in their tonal pattern alone. In the following examples, the tense-marker is underlined:[56][57]

  • ndi-ku-gúla 'I am buying'
  • ndí-ma-gúla 'I usually buy'
  • ndi-ma-gúla 'I was buying', 'I used to buy'
  • ndí-dzá-gula 'I will buy (tomorrow or in future)'
  • ndí--gula 'I will buy (when I get there)'

One tense has no tense-marker:

  • ndí-gula 'I will buy (soon)'

Tenses can be modified further by adding certain other infixes, called 'aspect-markers', after the tense-marker. These are -má- 'always, usually' -ká- 'go and', -dzá 'come and' or 'in future', and -ngo- 'only', 'just'. These infixes can also be used on their own, as tense-markers in their own right (compare the use of -ma- and -dza- in the list of tenses above). For example:

  • ndi-ku-má-gúlá 'I am always buying'[58]
  • ndi-ná-ká-gula 'I went and bought'[59]
  • ndí-má-ngo-gúla 'I just usually buy'[60]

Compound tenses, such as the following, are also found in Chichewa:[61]

  • nd-a-khala ndí-kú-gúla 'I have been buying'


Chichewa verbs (with the exception of the imperative mood and infinitive) begin with a prefix agreeing grammatically with the subject.[62] This prefix is referred to by some grammarians as the 'subject-marker'.[63]

  • (ife) ti-ku-píta 'we are going'
  • mténgo w-a-gwa (for *u-a-gwa) 'the tree has fallen'[64]

The subject-marker can be:

  • Personal: ndi- 'I', u- 'you (singular)', a- 'he, she, they', ti- 'we', mu- 'you (plural or polite)'. (In the perfect tense, the subject-marker for 'he, she' is w-: w-a-pita 'he has gone'.)[65]
  • Impersonal: a- (class 1, 2 or 6), u- (class 3 or 14), i- (class 4 or 9), li- (class 5), etc.
  • Locative: ku-, pa-, {{lang|ny|mu-

An example of a locative subject-marker might be:

  • m'madzí muli nsómba 'in the water there are fish'[66]


An object-marker can also optionally be added to the verb; if one is added it goes immediately before the verb-stem:[67]

  • ndí-ma-ku-kónda 'I love you' (ndi = 'I', ku = 'you')

The object-marker can be:

  • Personal: -ndi- 'me', -ku- 'you', -mu- or -m'- 'him, her', -ti- 'us', -wa- 'them', 'him/her (polite)'. For 'you (plural or polite)',as well as -ku- -ni is added to the end of the verb, e.g. ndí-ma-ku-kónda-ni 'I love you (plural or polite)'.
  • Impersonal: -mu- (class 1), -wa- (class 2), -u- (class 3 or 14), etc.
  • Locative: e.g. m'nyumba mu-ku--dzíwa 'you know the inside of the house';[68] but usually a locative suffix is used instead: nd-a-oná-mo 'I have seen inside it'
  • Reflexive: -dzi- 'himself', 'herself', 'themselves', 'myself', etc.

Variety of tenses

Chewa has a large number of tenses, some of which differ in some respects from the tenses met with in European languages. The distinction between one tense and another is made partly by the use of infixes, such as -na- and -ku-, and partly by the intonation of the verb, since each tense has its own particular tonal pattern.

Near vs. remote

There are five time-frames (remote past, near past, present, near future, and remote future). The distinction between near and remote tenses is not exact. The remote tenses are not used of events of today or last night, but the near tenses can sometimes be used of events of earlier or later than today.

Perfect vs. past

Another distinction is between perfect and past.[69][70] The two perfect tenses imply that the event described still has some relevance now:

  • nd-a-gula 'I have bought some' (and still have it) (Perfect)
  • ndi-ná-gula or ndi-dá-gula 'I bought some' (and still have it) (Remote Perfect)

The two past simple tenses usually imply that the result of the action has been reversed in some way:

  • ndi-na-gúla 'I bought some (but no longer have it)' (Recent Past)
  • ndí-ná-a-gúla (or ndí-dá-a-gúla) 'I bought some (but no longer have it)' (Remote Past)

When used in narrating a series of events, however, these implications are somewhat relaxed: the Remote Perfect is used for narrating earlier events, and the Recent Past for narrating events of today.[71]

Perfective vs. imperfective

Another important distinction in Chewa is between perfective and imperfective aspect. Imperfective tenses are used for situations, events which occur regularly, or events which are temporarily in progress:

  • ndi-nká-gúlá 'I used to buy', 'I was buying (a long time ago)'
  • ndi-ma-gúla 'I was buying (today)', 'I used to buy (a long time ago)'
  • ndí-zi-dza-gúla 'I will be buying (regularly)'

In the present tense only, there is a further distinction between habitual and progressive:

  • ndí-ma-gúla 'I buy (regularly)'
  • ndi-ku-gúla 'I am buying (currently)'

Other tenses

One future tense not found in European languages is the -ká- future, which 'might presuppose an unspoken conditional clause':[72]

  • ndí-ká-gula 'I will buy' (if I go there, or when I get there)

The following tenses refer to potentiality as well as time:

  • ndi-nga-gule 'I can buy'
  • ndi-kadá-gula 'I would have bought'

There are also two subjunctive mood tenses, as follows:

  • ndi-gulé 'I should buy'
  • ndi--gúlá 'I should be buying'

Negative tenses

Negative tenses, if they are main verbs, are made with the prefix sí-. They differ in intonation from the positive tenses.[73] The negative of the -ná- tense has the ending -e instead of -a:

  • sí-ndí-gula 'I don't buy'
  • sí-ndi-na-gúle 'I didn't buy'

Tenses which mean 'will not' or 'have not yet' have a single tone on the penultimate syllable:

  • si-ndi-dza-gúla 'I won't buy'
  • si-ndi-na-gúle 'I haven't bought (it) yet'

Infinitives, participial verbs, and the subjunctive make their negative with -sa-, which is added after the subject-prefix instead of before it. They similarly have a single tone on the penultimate syllable:

  • ndi-sa-gúle 'I should not buy'[74]
  • ku-sa-gúla 'not to buy'

Dependent clauses

The tenses used in certain kinds of dependent clauses (such as relative clauses and some types of temporal clauses) differ from those used in main clauses. Dependent verbs often have a tone on the first syllable. Sometimes this change of tone alone is sufficient to show that the verb is being used in a dependent clause.[75][76] Compare for example:

  • a-ku-gúla 'he is buying'
  • á-kú-gúla 'when he is buying' or 'who is buying'

Other commonly used dependent tenses are the following (the last of these is toneless):[77][78]

  • ndí-tá-gúla 'after I bought'
  • ndí-sa-na-gúle 'before I buy'
  • ndi-ka-gula 'when / if I buy'


After the verb stem one or more extensions may be added. The extensions modify the meaning of the verb, for example:

  • gul-a 'buy'
  • gul-ir-a 'buy for' or 'buy with'
  • gul-ir-an-a 'buy for one another'
  • gul-ik 'get bought', 'be for sale'
  • gul-its-a 'cause to get bought, i.e. sell'
  • gul-its-idw-a 'be sold (by someone)'

Extensions which have an intensive or stative meaning tend to have a high tone, e.g. yang'anitsitsá 'look carefully', pitirirá 'carry on, keep going', guliká 'be saleable, get bought'; however, there are some exceptions such as oneka 'seem'.[79]

Most extensions, apart from the reciprocal -ana 'one another', have two possible forms, e.g. -ira/-era, -itsa/-etsa, -ula/-ola. The forms with e and o are used if the verb stem is monosyllabic or has an e or o in it, e.g.[80]

  • dy-er-a 'eat with',
  • ton-ol-a 'remove grains of corn from the cob'
  • bwe-re-ra 'come back'
  • chep-ets-a 'reduce'

The forms with i and u are used with the verb stem has a, i, or u:

  • gul-its-a 'sell'
  • sungun-ul-a 'melt (something)'
  • kan-ik-á 'fail to happen'


Story-writers and playwrights

The following have written published stories, novels, or plays in the Chewa language:


Town Nyanja (Zambia)

Town Nyanja
Native toZambia
Language codes
ISO 639-3None (mis)

An urban variety of Nyanja, sometimes called Town Nyanja, is the lingua franca of the Zambian capital Lusaka and is widely spoken as a second language throughout Zambia. This is a distinctive Nyanja dialect with some features of Nsenga, although the language also incorporates large numbers of English-derived words, as well as showing influence from other Zambian languages such as Bemba. Town Nyanja has no official status, and the presence of large numbers of loanwords and colloquial expressions has given rise to the misconception that it is an unstructured mixture of languages or a form of slang.

Zambian Town Nyanja.

The fact that the standard Nyanja used in schools differs dramatically from the variety actually spoken in Lusaka has been identified as a barrier to the acquisition of literacy among Zambian children.[85]

The concords in Town Nyanja differ from those in Chichewa described above. For example, classes 5 and 6 both have the concord ya- instead of la- and a-; class 8 has va- instead of za-; and 13 has twa- instead of ta-.[86] In addition, the subject and object marker for "I" is ni- rather than ndi-, and that for "they" is βa- (spelled "ba-") rather than a-.[87]

Sample phrases

English Chewa (Malawi)[88] Town Nyanja (Lusaka)[89]
How are you? Muli bwanji? Muli bwanji?
I'm fine Ndili bwino Nili bwino / Nili mushe
Thank you Zikomo Zikomo
Yes Inde Ee
No Iyayi/Ayi Iyayi
What's your name? Dzina lanu ndani?[90] Zina yanu ndimwe bandani?
My name is... Dzina langa ndine... Zina yanga ndine...
How many children do you have? Muli ndi ana angati? Muli na bana bangati? ('b' = [ŵ])
I have two children Ndili ndi ana awiri Nili na bana babili
I want... Ndikufuna... Nifuna...
Food Chakudya Vakudya
Water Madzi Manzi
How much is it? Ndi zingati? Ni zingati?
See you tomorrow Tionana mawa Tizaonana mailo
I love you Ndimakukonda Nikukonda


  1. ^ Mikael Parkvall, "Världens 100 största språk 2007" (The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007), in Nationalencyklopedin
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Nyanja". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ a b Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  4. ^ cf. Kiswahili for the Swahili language.
  5. ^ Kishindo (2001), p.265.
  6. ^ For spelling Chinyanja cf. Lehmann (1977). Both spellings are used in Zambia Daily Mail articles.
  7. ^ Kiso (2012), pp.21ff.
  8. ^ Mchombo (2006).
  9. ^ Malawian Writers and Their Country, edited by Bridgette Kasuka, published on, page 143
  10. ^ "Voyager Greetings"
  11. ^ Marwick (1963)
  12. ^ Newitt (1982).
  13. ^ Marwick (1964).
  14. ^ Marwick (1963), p.383.
  15. ^ Rebman (1877), preface.
  16. ^ Rebmann (1877) s.v. M'ombo.
  17. ^ The UMCA in Malawi, p 126, James Tengatenga, 2010: "Two important pieces of work have been accomplished during these later years. First, the completion by Archdeacon Johnson of the Bible in Chinyanja, and secondly, the completed Chinyanja prayer book in 1908."
  18. ^ Bible Society of Malawi newsletter, 24 February 2016.
  19. ^ Watkins (1937), p. 7.
  20. ^ Wade-Lewis (2005).
  21. ^ Batteen (2005).
  22. ^ Atkins (1950), p.201.
  23. ^ Downing & Pompino-Marschall (2013).
  24. ^ See Kishindo (2001), p.267.
  25. ^ Atkins (1950), p.200.
  26. ^ Scotton & Orr (1980), p.15; Atkins (1950), p.208.
  27. ^ Atkins (1950), p.208.
  28. ^ Stevick (1965), p.xii.
  29. ^ Scotton & Orr (1980), p.18.
  30. ^ Atkins (1950), p.207; Stevick et al. (1965), p.xii.
  31. ^ Kishindo (2001), p.268.
  32. ^ Atkins (1950), p.209.
  33. ^ Watkins (1937), p. 14.
  34. ^ Atkins (1950), p.204.
  35. ^ Atkins (1950), p.205.
  36. ^ Kishindo (2001), p.270.
  37. ^ The Nation online news in Chichewa; Zodiak Radio online news in Chichewa.
  38. ^ Watkins (1937), p.13.
  39. ^ Watkins (1937), p. 13.
  40. ^ Mchombo (2004), p.10.
  41. ^ Mtanthauziramawu wa Chinyanja (2002).
  42. ^ Mtenje (1986), pp.195; 203-4; 244ff; Mtenje (1987), p.173.
  43. ^ Stevick et al. (1965), p.147.
  44. ^ Mchombo (2004), pp.17-18.
  45. ^ Kanerva (1990), p.147.
  46. ^ Hullquist (1988), p.145.
  47. ^ E.g. Mtanthauziramawu wa Chinyanja.
  48. ^ Paas (2015).
  49. ^ Kunkeyani (2007), p.154.
  50. ^ Paas (2015) s.v.
  51. ^ Mtanthauziramawu wa Chinyanja.
  52. ^ Corbett & Mtenje (1987), p. 10.
  53. ^ Scott & Hetherwick (1929), s.v. Ibsi; Rebmann (1877) s.v. Chiko, Psiwili/Pfiwili; Watkins (1937), p. 37.
  54. ^ Rebmann (1877) s.v. Aya, Mame, Mano, Yonse; cf Goodson (2011).
  55. ^ Rebmann (1877), s.v. Ufa; Watkins (1937), pp. 33-4.
  56. ^ Maxson (2011), pp.39ff, 77ff.
  57. ^ For tones, Mtenje (1986).
  58. ^ Maxson (2011), p.126.
  59. ^ Maxson (2011), p.115.
  60. ^ Salaun, p.49.
  61. ^ Kiso (2012), p.107.
  62. ^ Maxson (2011), pp.19ff.
  63. ^ Hyman & Mtenje (1999a).
  64. ^ Maxson (2011), p.52.
  65. ^ Maxson (2011), p.36.
  66. ^ Salaun, p.16.
  67. ^ Maxson (2011), pp.26ff.
  68. ^ Maxson (2011), p.64.
  69. ^ Watkins (1937), pp. 55-6.
  70. ^ Maxson (2011), p. 77.
  71. ^ Kiso (2012), pp. 110-111.
  72. ^ Maxson (2011), p. 116.
  73. ^ Mtenje (1986), p. 244ff.
  74. ^ Stevick et al. (1965), p.222.
  75. ^ Mchombo (2004), pp.17-18.
  76. ^ Stevick et al. (1965), p.147.
  77. ^ Salaun, p.70
  78. ^ Kanerva (1990), p.24.
  79. ^ Hyman & Mtenje (1999b).
  80. ^ Salaun, p.78.
  81. ^ "Chafulumira, William". Dictionary of African Christian Biography.
  82. ^ WorldCat list of Ntara's publications
  83. ^ "Whither Vernacular Fiction?". The Nation newspaper May 26, 2017.
  84. ^ "Jolly Maxwell Ntaba". The Nation newspaper April 4, 2014
  85. ^ Williams, E (1998). Investigating bilingual literacy: Evidence from Malawi and Zambia (Education Research Paper No. 24). Department for International Development.
  86. ^ Gray, Lubasi, & Bwalya (2013), p. 11
  87. ^ Gray, Lubasi & Bwalya (2013) p. 16.
  88. ^ Paas (2016).
  89. ^ Phrases from Gray et al. (2013).
  90. ^ Maxson (2011), p. 112.


External links

Barnaba Zingani

Barnaba M. Zingani (born 3 March 1958) is a Malawian novelist and teacher. He is the son of the late Rev. Maxwell Zingani, a primary school teacher and Anglican priest, and is the brother of author and journalist Willie Zingani.

Zingani has written five books in the Chichewa language, as well as a technical book, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Mechanics, and a number of short stories in Chichewa, published in Moni magazine. Zingani has also published a children's book in English, Black-Skinned Scientist and Other Stories (2016).The titles of his novels are:

Ukaziputa Limba (1987)

Nzeru Za Yekha (1990) (children's book)

Kugwira Njakata (1991)

Ufiti (1992) (children's book)

Mmphawi wa Chuma (2000)Zingani is married, and has three daughters and a son.

Benedicto Wokomaatani Malunga

Benedicto Wokomaatani Malunga (born in 1962), also known as Ben Malunga, is a Malawian poet, writing in the Chichewa language. He is also a short-story writer, an essayist, a music composer, public speaker, and translator who has translated Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart into Chichewa under the title Chipasupasu. Malunga holds a bachelor's degree from Chancellor College of the University of Malawi (1986) and an MA from Manchester University (1996) in the UK. He is currently working as Registrar for the University of Malawi and Secretary of the University of Malawi Council.Although born in Chikwawa in the south of Malawi, he was brought up from a young age in the village of Chabwera in Machinga District. He attended Malosa Secondary School near Zomba.Malunga is the author of three collections of poems (see Bibliography). In 2002 the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) honoured him with an award for his creativity. As the University of Malawi turned 50 in 2015, he composed its first ever anthem. Some of his poems, including Ndine yemwe uja, have also been turned into songs by Billy Kaunda.

In an interview in 2010, the poet Stanley Onjezani Kenani referred to Malunga as "Malawi's most famous poet". He added: "Jack Mapanje is the most famous poet internationally. But when you talk of poetry in Malawi, in the villages, everywhere, the household name is Benedicto Malunga." With a colleague Gospel Kazako, Malunga recorded the first Malawian cassette of poetry called Taimbani Alakatuli which was later followed by Ndidzakutengera Kunyanja Ligineti Ndi Ndakatulo Zina. His compact disc titled Siananso Awa is regularly aired by various radio stations in Malawi. Some of his short stories have appeared in the African Studies journal Ufahamu published by the University of California.

One of Malunga's poems, Misozi ya Chumba ('The Tears of the Barren Woman'), which puts into words the feelings of a woman unable to have children, was set for comment in the 2010 Chichewa International Baccalaureate exam. This is an example of the social issues which Malunga's poetry tackles.


Chewa may refer to:

the Chewa people

the Chewa language

Chichewa tenses

Chichewa (also but less commonly known as Chinyanja, Chewa or Nyanja) is the main lingua franca of central and southern Malawi and neighbouring regions. Like other Bantu languages it has a wide range of tenses. In terms of time, Chichewa tenses can be divided into present, recent past, remote past, near future, and remote future. The dividing line between near and remote tenses is not exact, however. Remote tenses cannot be used of events of today, but near tenses can be used of events earlier or later than today.

The Chichewa tense system also incorporates aspectual distinctions. Except for the Present Simple, nearly every tense in Chichewa is either perfective or imperfective in aspect; for example the Recent Past ndinapíta "I went" is perfective, describing a simple action, while the Past Imperfective ndimapíta "I was going, I used to go" is imperfective, describing a continuing or habitual action. In the imperfective tenses for the most part there is no distinction between habitual and progressive aspect; however, in the present tense there is such a distinction; for example, ndímapíta "I go (every day)" (habitual) vs ndikupíta "I am going (now)" (progressive).

Another aspectual distinction in Chichewa is that between perfect and past. A perfect tense is one which carries an implication that the result of a past action still holds at the present time; for example, wabwera "he has come" implies that the person is still here. The past tenses in Chichewa carry exactly the opposite implication, namely that the result of the past action no longer holds; for example the Recent Past tense anabwéra "he came" implies that the person has now gone. This kind of tense is known in modern linguistics as discontinuous past. It differs from the English Past Simple, which is generally neutral in implication.The distinction between one tense and another in Chichewa is made partly by changing the tense-marker, which is an infix such as -ku-, -na-, -ma- etc. added to the verb, and partly by the use of tone. Often two different tenses, such as ndimapíta "I was going" and ndímapíta "I go", have the same tense-marker but are distinguished by their tonal pattern.

Compound tenses are also found in Chichewa to express more complex meanings, such as ndimatí ndipité "I was about to go" or ndakhala ndíkúpíta "I have been going".

In addition to ordinary tenses, Chichewa also has tenses to express obligation ("I should go"), potentiality ("I might go"), and persistence ("I am still going"), participle-like tenses with meanings such as "while going", "having gone", "before going", and a number of tenses meaning "when..." or "if..." such as akapita "when he goes", átápíta "if he were to go", and ákadapíta "if he had gone".

Ezra Chadza

Ezra Jofiya Chadza (1923-1985) or E.J. Chadza, as he signed his books, was a well-known Malawian teacher, author and poet, writing especially in the Chichewa language of Malawi.

Ezra Chadza was born in the village of Ntande in Dedza District in Malawi in 1923. He attended school in the same village, and then in 1937 went on to the Mlanda mission school (situated at Lizulu between Dedza and Ntcheu). In 1939 he began to teach. He studied for a teaching certificate at Nkhoma from 1943–45, obtaining the 'Grade 2' or the 'English grade' as it was known at that time. Afterwards he taught at Mlanda before becoming headmaster of Livukezi School in Ntcheu in 1948. From 1949 to 1954 he taught in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). He studied teaching again at Domasi Teacher Training College until 1959. After that he taught at the Kongwe Presbyterian mission school in Dowa District. It was here that he wrote Ntchito za Pakamwa and Zokoma ziri m'Tsogolo. In 1968 he continued his studies at the University of Cape Town. In 1970 with others he started a school to teach Chichewa to missionaries in Kongwe. He also ran the Nkhoma Synod school and in 1972 became secretary of the Chichewa Board, a board set up by President Hastings Kamuzu Banda to encourage and develop the Chichewa language. Ezra Jofiya Chadza died in 1985.In the preface to his best-known book, Kokha Mcheperawakalulu, E.J. Chadza explains that he originally submitted the book, together with four others, to the Publications and Literature Bureau for approval in 1966. Unfortunately the manuscript of all the books was lost when the Bureau was closed. He therefore had to write the book again. The only book which survived was Tiphunzire Chichewa, which he happened to have with him for revision. In the same introduction, Chadza complains about the fact that very few books have been written in Chichewa, and expresses his belief that Malawians should write books in their own language just as other nations do.

E.J. Chadza's best known poem is Likongolerenji Bokosi? 'What a Beauty the Coffin Is', which was chosen for comment in the 2011 International Baccalaureate Chichewa exam (see link below).

Francis Moto

Professor Francis P. B. Moto (born 1952) is a Malawian writer, academic, and diplomat. His home is Golomoti in the Dedza District of Malawi. He attended secondary school in Chichiri in Blantyre and was admitted to the University of Malawi in 1972, obtaining a degree in linguistics in 1977.From 1978-1980 Francis Moto studied at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, obtaining an MA in linguistics. He was awarded a PhD from University College London in 1989. From 1990-93, he served as Education Attaché of Malawi in London, Later he worked as lecturer in Chichewa and linguistics at Chancellor College (part of the University of Malawi). From 1998-2005 he was Principal of Chancellor College.In 2005, following disturbances at the university, Francis Moto was removed as Principal by the then President of Malawi Bingu wa Mutharika. He was subsequently appointed High Commissioner of Malawi in London from 2005–10, and later served as the first Ambassador of Malawi in Brazil from 2011-15.

Francis Moto's book Trends in Malawi Literature (2001) has been the subject of a detailed critique by Professor Harri Englund of the University of Cambridge.

Innocent Masina Nkhonyo

Innocent Masina Nkhonyo (born 3 March 1987) is a Malawian writer and poet, writing mostly in the Chichewa language. He was born in Dedza, and educated at Likuni Primary School and Mlale Seminary in Lilongwe. From 2008-12 he studied Education Humanities at the University of Malawi in Zomba. He has had numerous short stories in Chichewa published in the newspapers Weekend Nation and Malawi News. He has also written poems, including Mubwere ku Mudzi ('Please Come Home') and Mseko ('Laughter').

Jack Mapanje

Jack Mapanje (born 25 March 1944) is a Malawian writer and poet. He was the head of English at the Chancellor College, the main campus of the University of Malawi before being imprisoned in 1987 for his collection Of Chameleons and Gods, which indirectly criticized the administration of President Hastings Banda. He was released in 1991 and emigrated to the UK, where he worked as a teacher.

List of Chichewa-language authors

This is a list of notable persons (of any ethnicity or nationality) who wrote fiction, essays, or plays in the Chewa language.


Maravi was a kingdom which straddled the current borders of Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia, in the 16th century. The present-day name "Maláŵi" is said to derive from the Chichewa word "malaŵí", which means "flames".

At its greatest extent, the state included territory from the Tonga and Tumbuka people's areas in the north to the Lower Shire in the south, and as far west as the Luangwa and Zambezi river valleys. Maravi's rulers belonged to the Mwale matriclan and held the title Kalonga. They ruled from Manthimba, the secular/administrative capital, and were the driving force behind the state's establishment. Meanwhile, the patrilineal Banda clan, which traditionally provided healers, sages and metallurgists, took care of religious affairs from their capital Mankhamba near Nthakataka.

After contact with the Portuguese, trade intensified. It included such items as beads of the Khami type and Chinese porcelain imported via Portuguese intermediaries. In the 19th century, the state declined and the Maravi were frequently raided by their neighbours the Yao and captured for sale as slaves. David Livingstone visited Lake Nyasa in 1859, and other Protestant missionaries soon followed.

The Maravi Confederacy was founded by the Bantu people immigrating into the valley of the Shire River (flowing out of Lake Nyassa) around 1480 AD. It prospered into the late 18th century, extending to reach what is now belonging to Zambia and Mozambique. In the 19th century the neighboring Yao raided on them, selling captive Maravi on the slave markets of Kilwa and Zanzibar. In the 1860s, Islam was introduced into the region through contact with Swahili slave traders. The region was visited by David Livingstone and stations were set up by Protestant missionaries in 1873. A British consul was also sent there in 1883.

Beginning as early as the thirteenth century, the first signs of a large-scale migration of related clans entered the region of Lake Malawi. Traditional accounts indicate that these people originated in the Congo Basin to the west of Lake Mweru, in an area that subsequently formed part of the Luba Kingdom. The movement continued during the succeeding two or three centuries, but it appears certain that by the sixteenth century the main body of these people, known collectively as the Maravi, were settled in the Shire River valley and over a wide area lying generally west and southwest of Lake Malawi, including parts of present-day Zambia and Mozambique. The first (colonial) historical account of the Maravi was by Gaspar Boccaro, a Portuguese man who traveled through their territory in 1616. The picture presented in the 1660s by Father Manuel Barretto, a Jesuit priest, was of a strong, economically active confederation that swept an area from the coast of Mozambique between the Zambezi River and the bay of Quelimane for several hundred miles into the mainland. An account from the following century implied that the western limits of the confederation were near the Luangwa River and that it extended on the north to the Dwangwa River. "Maravi" is therefore a general name of the peoples of Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique and the eastern part of Zimbabwe. The Chewa language, which is also referred to as Nyanja, Chinyanja or Chichewa, and is spoken in southern and central Malawi, in Zambia and to some extent in Mozambique, is the main language that emerged from this empire.

Martyn Cundy

Henry Martyn Cundy (23 December 1913 – 25 February 2005) was a mathematics teacher and professor in Britain and Malawi as well as a singer, musician and poet. He was one of the founders of the School Mathematics Project to reform O level and A level teaching. Through this he had a big effect on maths teaching in Britain and especially in Africa.

Meeussen's rule

Meeussen's rule is a special case of tone reduction in Bantu languages. The tonal alternation it describes is the lowering, in some contexts, of the last tone of a pattern of two adjacent High tones (HH), resulting in the pattern HL. The phenomenon is named after its first observer, the Belgian Bantu specialist A. E. Meeussen (1912–1978). In phonological terms, the phenomenon can be seen as a special case of the Obligatory Contour Principle.

The term "Meeussen's Rule" (the spelling with a capital R is more common) first appeared in a paper by John Goldsmith in 1981. It is based on an observation made by Meeussen in his 1963 article on the Tonga verb stating that "in a sequence of determinants, only the first is treated as a determinant". It was John Goldsmith who reformulated this as the rule HH > HL (or, as he expressed it, H → L / H ) which later became well known as Meeussen's Rule.Meeussen's rule is one of a number of processes in Bantu languages by which a series of consecutive high tones is avoided. These processes result in a less tonal, more accentual character in Bantu tone systems, ending finally in a situation in which there tends to be only one tone per word or morpheme.

Steve Chimombo

Steve Bernard Miles Chimombo (4 September 1945 – 11 December 2015) was a Malawian writer, poet, editor and teacher. He was born in Zomba.

Super VC-10 hap

The Super VC-10 hap (Placidochromis milomo) is a species of cichlid endemic to Lake Malawi along the Malawian shores of the lake. It prefers areas with rocky substrates. This species can reach a length of 18.7 centimetres (7.4 in) SL. It can also be found in the aquarium trade. In the wild uses its thickened lips to scrape algae from rocks and this seems to thicken the lips further, which tends not to be the case with aquarium specimens which have only slightly thickened lips.It is an extremely thick-lipped species; its specific epithet milomo is the word for "lips" in the Chewa language. The common name of this fish was coined by Peter Davies, a trader in Lake Malawi fish, who compared its rapid flight when he attempted to catch the fish with the Vickers Super VC-10 airliner, the type of aeroplane that flew from Malawi to London at that time.


"Thangata" is a word deriving from the Chewa language of Malawi which has changed its meaning several times, although all meanings relate to agriculture. Its original, pre-colonial usage related to reciprocal help given in neighbours' fields or freely-given agricultural labour as thanks for a benefit. In colonial times, between 1891 and 1962, it generally meant agricultural labour given without pay, by a tenant on an estate owned by a European, in lieu of a cash rent. Thangata was exploited, and tenants could be forced to work on the owners' crops for four to six months annually when they could have cultivated their own crops. From the 1920s, the name thangata was extended to situations where tenants were given seeds to grow set quotas of designated crops instead of providing cash or labour. Both forms of thangata were abolished in 1962, but both before and after independence and up to the present, the term has been used for short-term rural casual work, often on tobacco estates, which is considered by workers to be exploitative.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a 2019 British drama film written, directed by and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor in his feature directorial debut. The film is based on the memoir The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. It was screened in the Premieres section at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and began streaming in most territories on Netflix on 1 March 2019.

Whyghtone Kamthunzi

Whyghtone Kamthunzi (31 July 1956 - 18 May 2000) was a leading writer in the Chichewa language of Malawi in the 1980s and 1990s.

Kamthunzi was born in the village of Njolomole in Ntcheu district in Malawi. His father was a school teacher. After attending Ntcheu Secondary School from 1972 to 1976 he trained as a teacher at Lilongwe Teachers’ College. He began his teaching career in 1978 at Nkhata Bay and later moved to Malili Primary School in Likuni near Lilongwe.Kamthunzi began writing plays and stories in 1976. He was also the leader of a drama group in Lilongwe. Kamthunzi became well known for his radio series Tinkanena ('We Told You So'), a series of plays on the theme of Aids about a young man called Same.Among the short novels written by Kamthunzi were the following:

Wachitatu Nkapasule ('The Third Person is a Family-Breaker') (Popular Publications 1987)A girl from a wealthy family falls in love with a poor boy and marries him. But the boy’s uncle is dead against the marriage and does his best to break it up. In the end, however, the good sense and diplomacy of the girl’s parents win the day.Sungani: Mwana Wolimba Mtima ('Sungani, the Courageous Boy') (Popular Publications 1988)A young boy, Sungani, brought up in a village, learns to be sympathetic to animals. He is distressed when the local chief starts a hunt to kill baboons who are stealing the village crops and tries unsuccessfully to persuade the chief to stop the hunt. In the end, however, an environmental disaster follows and Sungani is praised for his foresight.Agnesi ndi Mphunzitsi Wake ('Agnes and her Teacher') (Popular Publications 1990)Sautso, the young unmarried headmaster of a secondary school, forms a relationship with one of his students, a distant cousin, despite opposition from the local chief, from his own parents, and from Khumbo, an unqualified teacher whom he has been forced to dismiss. When the girl is raped and dies from a home abortion he is falsely accused of murder, but is saved at the last minute when the rapist confesses.Nyanga ya Nsatsi ('A Horn made from a Castor Oil Plant') (Popular Publications 1990)

Gadula Wosamva ('Gadula, Who Wouldn't Listen') (Dzuka Pub. Co. 1991)

Njokaluzi ('The Harmless Snake') (Popular Publications 1993)A plucky boy called Chifundo is excited to be selected for a secondary boarding school. But when he gets there, like other first year boys he is terrorised by one of the senior boys called Pasula. One day, however, he gets into a fight with Pasula and vanquishes him, to the delight of everyone.Tiferenji ('Why should we die?') (Popular Publications 1996)

Kuno n'Kunja ('This is the World') (Popular Publications 1996)

Wakufa Sadziwika ('The One who Dies Isn’t Known') (CLAIM Malawi 2005)A young newly appointed doctor, Chikondi, befriends a madman and tries to cure him. But the local chief and the hospital director are afraid that the madman will reveal their secrets and they plot to have Chikondi murdered. By good fortune the plot goes wrong and the criminals are punished.

Willie Zingani

Willie T. Zingani (born 14 March 1954) is a Malawian novelist, poet, playwright and journalist.

Willie Zingani is the son of the late Rev. Maxwell Zingani, a primary school teacher and voluntary Anglican priest. After leaving school he was awarded a scholarship to study journalism at the Africa Literature Centre in Zambia. He later attended a Publishing and Public Relations course at Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom.He began his career in journalism in 1982, working as a features writer for the Malawi News newspaper, but for a time was put in prison by the regime of President Hastings Kamuzu Banda because of an article he had allegedly written. Before leaving the newspaper he had risen to the post of editor.

Under the new government of President Bakili Muluzi he got a job in the Ministry of Information where, after a year of editing the Government weekly news he helped the President research his book "Democracy With a Price". After this he served as Deputy Presidential Press Secretary, then as Presidential Press Secretary until 2004.

After a period of unemployment he briefly became editor of the Guardian newspaper and in 2009-10 worked in the office of Vice President Joyce Banda. From 2010 until his retirement in 2014 he was corporate services manager at the Limbe Leaf tobacco company.

Willie Zingani has six children. He is the brother of Barnaba Zingani, the author of Mmphawi wa Chuma, Kugwira Njakata and Black-Skinned Scientist and other stories.

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