Shona language

Shona /ˈʃoʊnə/[6] (chiShona) is a Bantu language of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. It is one of the most widely spoken Bantu languages.

The larger group of historically related languages (called Shona languages by linguists) also includes Ndau (Eastern Shona) and Karanga (Western Shona), but speakers of those languages prefer their distinct identities and usually reject any connection to the term Shona.

Native toZimbabwe, Mozambique
Native speakers
8.3 million, Shona proper (2007)[1]
10.8 million Zezuru, Karanga, Korekore (2000)
15 million incl. Manyika, Ndau (2000–2006)[2]
Latin script (Shona alphabet)
Shona Braille
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-1sn
ISO 639-2sna
ISO 639-3Variously:
sna – Zezuru, Karanga, Korekore
twl – Tavara (Korekore)
mxc – Manyika
twx – Tewe (Manyika)
ndc – Ndau
Glottologcore1255  Core Shona[3]
tawa1270  Tawara[4]
Linguasphere99-AUT-a =


Shona is the most spoken Bantu language in Southern Africa by the criterion of number of native speakers. According to Ethnologue,[7] Shona, comprising the Karanga, Zezuru and Korekore dialects, is spoken by about 10.8 million people. The Manyika and Ndau dialects of Shona[8][9][10] are listed separately by Ethnologue,[11] and are spoken by 1,025,000[12] and 2,380,000[13] people, respectively.


Wikipedia in the Shona language.

Shona is a written standard language with an orthography and grammar that was codified during the early 20th century and fixed in the 1950s. In the 1920s, the Rhodesian administration was faced with the challenge of preparing schoolbooks and other materials in the various languages and dialects and requested the recommendation of the South African linguist Clement Doke.

The first novel in Shona, Solomon Mutswairo's Feso, was published in 1957. Shona is taught in the schools but is not the general medium of instruction in other subjects. It has a literature and is described through monolingual and bilingual dictionaries (chiefly Shona – English). Standard Shona is based on the dialect spoken by the Karanga people of Masvingo Province, the region around Great Zimbabwe, and Zezuru people of central and northern Zimbabwe. However, all Shona dialects are officially considered to be of equal significance and are taught in local schools.


Shona is a member of the large family of Bantu languages. In Guthrie's zonal classification of Bantu languages, zone S10 designates a dialect continuum of closely related varieties, including Zezuru, Karanga, Manyika, Ndau and Budya, spoken in Zimbabwe and central Mozambique; Tawara and Tewe, found in Mozambique; and Nambya and Kalanga in Botswana and Western Zimbabwe.


Shona witch doctor (Zimbabwe)
Shona n'anga or traditional healer (Zimbabwe)

Shona speakers most likely moved into present-day Zimbabwe from the Mapungubwe and K2 communities in Limpopo, South Africa, before the influx of European, primarily British, colonizers. A common misconception is that the speakers of the Karanga dialect were absorbed into the Ndebele culture and language turning them into Kalanga. The Kalanga language is widely spoken in Zimbabwe and Botswana where the Ndebele were never present. The Kalanga language is thought to have been the language used by the Mapungubweans.[14] If this is accurate it follows that the Karanga dialect of Shona is a derivative of Kalanga. Karanga is closer to Kalanga than the rest of the aforementioned dialects. Karanga and Kalanga are both closer to Venda than the other Shona dialects.


Shona is used to refer to a standardised language based on the central dialects of the Shona region. Shona languages form a dialect continuum from the Kalahari desert in the west to the Indian Ocean in the east and the Limpopo river in the south and the Zambezi in the north. While the languages are related, evolution and separation over the past 1000 years has meant that mutual intelligibility is not always possible without a period of acculturation. Therefore, Central Shona speakers have a difficult time understanding Kalanga speakers even though lexical sharing can be over 80% with some western Karanga dialects. In the same manner eastern dialects (Shanga) spoken by the Indian Ocean are also very divergent. There are many dialect differences in Shona, but a standardized dialect is recognized. According to information from Ethnologue (when excluding S16 Kalanga):

  • S14 Karanga dialect (Chikaranga). Spoken in southern Zimbabwe, near Masvingo.
Subdialects: Duma, Jena, Mhari (Mari), Ngova, Venda (not the Venda language), Nyubi (spoken in Matabeleland at the beginning of the colonial period is now extinct), Govera.
  • S12 Zezuru dialect (Chizezuru, Bazezuru, Bazuzura, Mazizuru, Vazezuru, Wazezuru). Spoken in Mashonaland east and central Zimbabwe, near Harare. The standard language.
Subdialects: Shawasha, Gova, Mbire, Tsunga, Kachikwakwa, Harava, Nohwe, Njanja, Nobvu, Kwazvimba (Zimba).
  • S11 Korekore dialect (Northern Shona, Goba, Gova, Shangwe). Spoken in northern Zimbabwe, Mvurwi Bindura, Mt Darwin, Guruve, Chiweshe, Centenary .
Subdialects: Gova, Tande, Tavara, Nyongwe, Pfunde, Shan Gwe.

Languages with partial intelligibility with Shona, of which the speakers are considered to be ethnically Shona, are the S15 Ndau language, spoken in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, and the S13 Manyika language, spoken in eastern Zimbabwe, near Mutare specifically Chipinge . Ndau literacy material has been introduced into primary schools.

Maho (2009) recognizes Korekore, Zezuru, Manyika, Karanga, and Ndau as distinct languages within the Shona cluster, with Kalanga being more divergent.[5]

Phonology and alphabet

All syllables in Shona end in a vowel. Consonants belong to the next syllable. For example, mangwanani ("morning") is syllabified as; "Zimbabwe" is


Shona's five vowels are pronounced as in Spanish: [a, e, i, o, u]. Each vowel is pronounced separately even if they fall in succession. For example, "Unoenda kupi?" (Where do you go?) is pronounced [].


The consonant sounds of Shona are:

Bilabial Labio-
Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
plain lab. plain whistled
Plosive voiceless p t k
breathy ɡ̤
implosive ɓ ɗ
prenasalized ᵐb ⁿd ᵑɡ
Fricative voiceless f s sᶲ ʃ
breathy z̤ᵝ ʒ̤ ɦ
prenasalized ⁿz̤ ⁿz̤ᵝ
Nasal plain m n ɲ ŋ
breathy mʋ̤
Affricate voiceless p͡f t͡s t͡sᶲ t͡ʃ
breathy b͡v̤ d͡z̤ d͡z̤ᵝ d͡ʒ̤
prenasalized ⁿd͡ʒ̤
Trill r
Approximant ʋ j w

Whistled sibilants

Shona and other languages of Southern and Eastern Africa include whistling sounds, unlike most other languages where whistling signals a speech disorder (this should not be confused with whistled speech).

Shona's whistled sibilants are the fricatives "sv" and "zv" and the affricates "tsv" and "dzv".

Sound example translation notes
sv masvosvobwa "shooting stars" "sv" can be represented by S͎, from the Extensions to the International Phonetic Alphabet
masvosve "ants"
tsv tsvaira "sweep" (Standard Shona)
svw masvavembasvi "schemer" (Shangwe, Korekore dialect)
zv zvizvuvhutswa "gold nuggets" (Tsunga, Zezuru dialect)
dzv akadzva "he/she was unsuccessful"
zvw huzvweverere "emotions" (Gova, Korekore dialect)
nzv nzvenga "to dodge" (Standard Shona)
zvc muzvcazi "the Milky Way" Dental clicks. Only found in Ngova, Karanga dialect.
svc chisvcamba "tortoise"

Whistled sibilants stirred interest among the Western public and media in 2006, due to questions about how to pronounce the name of Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change – Tsvangirai in Zimbabwe. The BBC Pronunciation Unit recommended the pronunciation "chang-girr-ayi" /ˈtʃæŋɡɪreɪi/.[15][16]


Mupanda is the way in which Shona words are grouped:

1. Zvaanoreva (their meanings) e.g. words found in mupanda 1 and 2 describe a person: munhu (person) is in mupanda 1 and musikana (girl) is in mupanda 2.

2. Uwandu neushoma (singular and plural form) e.g. words found in mupanda 8 are plurals of mupanda 7: zvikoro (schools) in mupanda 8 is a plural form of chikoro (school) in mupanda 7.

3. Sungawirirano (accordance) words in mupanda 5 have sungawirirano -ri- eg garwe (crocodile) iri, dombo (stone) iri, gudo (baboon) iri; 'iri' means 'this'.

4. Chivakashure (prefix) e.g. words in mupanda 1 have prefix mu-, mupanda 8 zvi-, mupanda 10 dzi-, mupanda 11 ru-, etc.

There are 21 mupanda. Mupanda 20 was omitted because it is considered vulgar.

Mupanda Muenzaniso weIzwi(word example) Word construction


English translation
Chivakashure body
1 mu mukomana mu- -komana boy
2 va vakomana va- -komana boys
3 mu muti mu- -ti tree
4 mi miti mi- -ti trees
5 ri rize ri- -ze scorpion
6 ma marize ma- -ze scorpions
7 chi chingwa chi- -ngwa bread
8 zvi zvingwa zvi- -ngwa bread
9 i imba i- -mba house
10 dzi dzimba dzi- -mba houses

Old alphabet

From 1931 to 1955, Unified Shona was written with an alphabet developed by the linguist Professor Clement Martyn Doke. This included the following letters:

ɓ (b with hook),
ɗ (d with hook),
ŋ (n with leg),
ȿ (s with swash tail),
ʋ (v with hook),
ɀ (z with swash tail).

In 1955, these were replaced by letters or digraphs from the basic Latin alphabet. For example, today ⟨sv⟩ is used for ⟨ȿ⟩ and ⟨zv⟩ is used for ⟨ɀ⟩.


  1. ^ Mikael Parkvall, "Världens 100 största språk 2007" (The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007), in Nationalencyklopedin
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 19 February 2015. Retrieved 19 February 2015.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Core Shona". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Tawara". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  5. ^ a b Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  6. ^ Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  7. ^ Ethnologue's Shona entry
  8. ^ Stabilization in the Manyika Dialect of the Shona Group, Hazel Carter, Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 26, No. 4, Oct., 1956, pp. 398-405
  9. ^ Report on the Unification of the Shona Dialects. By Clement M. Doke. 1931
  10. ^ University of Pennsylvania Language Center
  11. ^ Ethnologue's list of Shona (S.10) languages
  12. ^ Ethnologue's Manyika entry
  13. ^ Ethnologue's Ndau entry
  14. ^ Department of Archeology, Wits University
  15. ^ "?" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 June 2011.
  16. ^ Clement M. Doke (1932). "Report on the unification of Shona dialects". Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London. JSTOR. 6 (4): 1097–1099. JSTOR 606944.


  • Biehler, E. (1950) A Shona dictionary with an outline Shona grammar (revised edition). The Jesuit Fathers.
  • Brauner, Sigmund (1995) A grammatical sketch of Shona : including historical notes. Köln: Rüdiger Koppe.
  • Carter, Hazel (1986) Kuverenga Chishóna: an introductory Shona reader with grammatical sketch (2nd edition). London: SOAS.
  • Doke, Clement M. (1931) Report on the unification of the Shona dialects. Stephen Austin Sons.
  • Fortune, George (1985). Shona Grammatical Constructions Vol 1. Mercury Press.
  • Mutasa, David (1996) The problems of standardizing spoken dialects: the Shona experience, Language Matters, 27, 79
  • Lafon, Michel (1995), Le shona et les shonas du Zimbabwe, Harmattan éd., Paris (in French)
  • D. Dale:
    • Basic English – Shona dictionary, Afro Asiatic Languages Edition, Sept 5, 2000, ISBN 978-0869220146
    • Duramazwi: A Shona - English Dictionary, Afro Asiatic Languages Edition, Sept 5, 2000, ISBN 978-0869220146

External links

42 (number)

42 (forty-two) is the natural number that succeeds 41 and precedes 43.

Akaliza Keza Gara

Akaliza Keza Gara is a Rwandan IT activist and entrepreneur. She is active in promoting the field to girls and has been recognised for her activism by awards from the Rwandan government and the International Telecommunication Union. Gara has founded a technology consultancy and website design company and an animation studio. She has been described as "one of the few young Rwandan women who have made significant strides in changing the face of technology in the country" and is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Community.


Chimurenga is a word in the Shona language. The Ndebele equivalent, though not as widely used since the majority of Zimbabweans are Shona speaking, is Umvukela, roughly meaning "revolutionary struggle" or uprising. In specific historical terms, it also refers to the Ndebele and Shona insurrections against administration by the British South Africa Company during the late 1890s—the Second Matabele War, or First Chimurenga—and the war fought between African nationalist guerrillas and the predominantly white Rhodesian government during the 1960s and 1970s—the Rhodesian Bush War, or Second Chimurenga/Imvukela.

The concept is also occasionally used in reference to the land reform programme undertaken by the Government of Zimbabwe since 2000, which some call a Third Chimurenga. Proponents of land reform regard it as the final phase in what they hold to be the liberation of Zimbabwe through economic and agrarian reforms intended to empower indigenous people, despite the economic collapse that soon followed, which some have labeled the Third "Chimurenga" as being the catalyst.

In a modern context, the word may denote a struggle for human rights, political dignity and social justice. The expression is also used in context with modern Zimbabwean music, Chimurenga music.

Chimurenga music

Chimurenga music is a Zimbabwean popular music genre coined and popularized by Thomas Mapfumo. Chimurenga is a Shona language word for liberation, which entered common usage during the Rhodesian Bush War. The word's modern interpretation has been extended to describe a struggle for human rights, political dignity and social justice. Mapfumo developed a style of music based on traditional Shona mbira music, but played with modern electric instrumentation, with lyrics characterized by social and political commentary.

Forbidden Fruit (2000 film)

Forbidden Fruit is a 2000 German/Zimbabwean short film written and directed by Sue Maluwa-Bruce. Filmed in Zimbabwe, the film depicts the romantic relationship between two women, and the aftermath of the discovery of their relationship.

Gonimbrasia belina

Gonimbrasia belina is a species of emperor moth which is native to the warmer parts of southern Africa. Its large edible caterpillar, known as the madora or mopane worm or amacimbi, feeds primarily but not exclusively on mopane tree leaves. Mopane worms are an important source of protein for millions in the region. The species was first described by John O. Westwood in 1849.


Harare (; officially Salisbury until 1982) is the capital and most populous city of Zimbabwe. The city proper has an area of 960.6 km2 (371 mi2) and an estimated population of 1,606,000 in 2009, with 2,800,000 in its metropolitan area in 2006. Situated in north-eastern Zimbabwe in the country's Mashonaland region, Harare is a metropolitan province, which also incorporates the municipalities of Chitungwiza and Epworth. The city sits on a plateau at an elevation of 1,483 metres (4,865 feet) above sea level and its climate falls into the subtropical highland category.

The city was founded in 1890 by the Pioneer Column, a small military force of the British South Africa Company, and named Fort Salisbury after the British prime minister Lord Salisbury. Company administrators demarcated the city and ran it until Southern Rhodesia achieved responsible government in 1923. Salisbury was thereafter the seat of the Southern Rhodesian (later Rhodesian) government and, between 1953 and 1963, the capital of the Central African Federation. It retained the name Salisbury until 1982, when it was renamed Harare on the second anniversary of Zimbabwean independence.

Hillcrest College

Hillcrest College (or Hillcrest, also informally referred to as Crest) is an independent, co-educational, boarding and day high school in Mutare, Zimbabwe. The school was established in 1985, two years after the establishment of Hillcrest Preparatory School. Alumni of Hillcrest College are referred to as Old Crestonians.

Hillcrest College is a member of the Association of Trust Schools (ATS) and the Headmistress is a member of the Conference of Heads of Independent Schools in Zimbabwe (CHISZ).

LGBT rights in Zimbabwe

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Zimbabwe face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Since 1995, the Zimbabwe Government has carried out campaigns against LGBT rights. Sodomy is classified as unlawful sexual conduct and defined in the Criminal Code as either anal sexual intercourse or any "indecent act" between consenting adults. The law also applies to heterosexuals, but not to lesbians.Zimbabwe stands in sharp contrast with neighbouring South Africa, as well as Botswana and Mozambique which have recently enacted LGBT protections. Same-sex marriage is banned by the Zimbabwe Constitution, and LGBT people enjoy no legal protections from discrimination, violence and harassment. Members of the LGBT community are heavily marginalised in both the legal and social spheres. As a result, many choose to remain in the closet, commit suicide, or move to South Africa. However, since Robert Mugabe's forced removal from the presidency in November 2017, LGBT activists have expressed hopes that their human rights will be respected.

According to a 2018 survey, 50% of gay men in Zimbabwe had been physically assaulted and 64% had been disowned by their families. 27% of lesbians also reported disownment.Homosexuality, same-sex relations and cross-dressing used to be accepted and commonplace in Zimbabwe prior to colonisation and post-independence anti-white government policies, which in turn has spread the erroneous belief that homosexuality is un-African or a Western product. Homosexual activity has been documented among the San people, the Khoikhoi people, the Ndebele people and the Shona people.

Lomagundi College

Lomagundi College (or simply Lomagundi) is an independent, co-educational, boarding and day, senior school in Zimbabwe which is situated about 130 km northwest of the capital Harare along the Harare-Chirundu highway on the outskirts of Chinhoyi (formerly known as Sinoia) the provincial capital of Mashonaland West.

Lomagundi College was ranked as one of the Top 10 High Schools in Zimbabwe in 2014.Lomagundi College is a member of the Association of Trust Schools (ATS) and the Headmaster is a member of the Conference of Heads of Independent Schools in Zimbabwe (CHISZ).


Mahewu (Shona language) Mageu (Setswana spelling), Mahleu (Sesotho spelling) Maxau ( Khoekhoe spelling), maHewu, amaRhewu (Xhosa spelling) or amaHewu (Zulu and Northern Ndebele spelling) is a traditional Southern African non-alcoholic drink among many of the Shona and Ndebele, Khoekhoe -Damara and Nama people, Sotho people, Tswana people and Nguni people made from fermented mealie pap. Home production is still widely practiced, but the drink is also available at many supermarkets, being produced at factories.

Its taste is derived predominantly from the lactic acid that is produced during fermentation, but commercial mageu is often flavoured and sweetened, much in the way commercially available yogurt is. Similar beverages are also made in other parts of Africa.

Morgan Mahanya

Morgan Mahanya (born 30 June 1948) is a Zimbabwean Shona-language writer of detective fiction and war fiction. He has published 13 books since 1976, including books in Shona and in English, both fiction and nonfiction. Mahanya is one of the pioneering writers of detective stories in the Shona language. His books Chidamwoyo, Zvinoyera and The Wound are about the Rhodesian Bush War.


Mzungu (pronounced [m̩ˈzuŋɡu]) is a Bantu language term used in the African Great Lakes region to refer to people of European descent. It is a commonly used expression among Bantu peoples in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Comoros, Mayotte and Zambia, dating back to the 18th century.

No. 266 Squadron RAF

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Northern Ndebele people

The Northern Ndebele people (Northern Ndebele: amaNdebele) are a Bantu-speaking nation and ethnic group in Southern Africa, who share a common Ndebele culture and Ndebele language (isiNdebele) . The Northern Ndebele were historically referred to as the Matabele which derives from the Sesotho expression thebele, indicating people who sheltered behind tall cowhide shields. The term Bathebele was applied to at least two Nguni-speaking groups who settled in the region later called the Transvaal, long before the Mfecane. Although the amaNdebele of Mzilikazi used the much smaller cowhide shields and short stabbing assegai of King Shaka’s army, they also were called Bathebele, which in isiNguni was rendered as amaNdebele.

The history of the Northern Ndebele began when a Nguni group split from King Shaka in the early 19th century under the leadership of Mzilikazi, a former chief in his kingdom and ally. Under his command the disgruntled abaNguni went on to conquer and rule the chiefdoms of the Southern Ndebele. This was where the name and identity of the eventual kingdom was adopted.

During a turbulent period in Nguni and Sotho-Tswana history known as the Mfecane or “the crushing’, Mzilikazi’s regiment, initially numbering 500 soldiers, moved west towards the present-day city of Pretoria, where they founded a settlement called Mhlahlandlela. The Great Trek in 1838 saw Mzilikazi defeated by the Voortrekkers at Vegkop after which he was exiled into present-day Zimbabwe where the Ndebele overwhelmed the local Lozvi, eventually carving out a home now called Matabeleland and encompassing the west and southwest region of the country. In the course of the migration, large numbers of conquered local clans and individuals were absorbed into the Ndebele nation, adopting the Ndebele language and culture. Historically the assimilated people came from the Southern Ndebele, Swazi, Sotho-Tswana, and amaLozwi ethnic groups.

Pterocarpus angolensis

Pterocarpus angolensis (African teak, wild teak, Afrikaans: Kiaat, Sotho: Morôtô, Tswana: Mokwa, Venda: Mutondo, Shona: Mukwa, Shona: Mubvamaropa, Zulu: Umvangazi) is a species of Pterocarpus native to southern Africa, in Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zaire, Zimbabwe,and Zambia. It is a protected tree in South Africa. The name Kiaat, although Afrikaans, is sometimes used outside South Africa as well. In Zimbabwe, depending on what region you are in, it is known as Mukwa or Mubvamaropa.

Swainson's spurfowl

Swainson's spurfowl or Swainson's francolin (Pternistis swainsonii) is a species of bird in the family Phasianidae.

It is found in Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. In the Shona language in Zimbabwe, this bird is called the chikwari and is considered a delicacy by outdoor and hunting enthusiasts.

Swainson's francolin was named after William Swainson, an English ornithologist.

Velar nasal

The velar nasal, also known as agma, from the Greek word for 'fragment', is a type of consonantal sound, used in some spoken languages. It is the sound of ng in English sing. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨ŋ⟩, and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is N. The IPA symbol ⟨ŋ⟩ is similar to ⟨ɳ⟩, the symbol for the retroflex nasal, which has a rightward-pointing hook extending from the bottom of the right stem, and to ⟨ɲ⟩, the symbol for the palatal nasal, which has a leftward-pointing hook extending from the bottom of the left stem. Both the IPA symbol and the sound are commonly called 'eng' or 'engma'.

As a phoneme, the velar nasal does not occur in many of the indigenous languages of the Americas or in a large number of European or Middle Eastern or Caucasian languages, but it is extremely common in Australian Aboriginal languages and is also common in many languages of Sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia, Southeast Asia and Polynesia. While almost all languages have /m/ and /n/, /ŋ/ is rarer. Only half of the 469 languages surveyed in Anderson (2008) had a velar nasal phoneme; as a further curiosity, a large proportion of them limits its occurrence to the syllable coda. In many languages that do not have the velar nasal as a phoneme, it occurs as an allophone of /n/ before velar consonants. An example of it used this way is the English word ingredient, which can be pronounced as either [ɪnˈɡriːdiənt] or [ɪŋˈɡriːdiənt].

An example of a language that lacks a phonemic or allophonic velar nasal is Russian, in which /n/ is pronounced as laminal denti-alveolar [n̪] even before velar consonants.Some languages have the pre-velar nasal, which is articulated slightly more front compared with the place of articulation of the prototypical velar nasal, though not as front as the prototypical palatal nasal - see that article for more information.

Conversely, some languages have the post-velar nasal, which is articulated slightly behind the place of articulation of a prototypical velar nasal, though not as back as the prototypical uvular nasal.

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