Tswa language

Tswa (Xitswa) is a South-Eastern Bantu language in Southern Mozambique. Its closest relatives are Ronga and Tsonga, the three forming the Tswa–Ronga family of languages.

Tswa is mainly spoken in the rural areas west of Inhambane. Its largest dialect, Hlengwe, extends westwards to Southern Zimbabwe; Maho (2009) considers this to be a distinct language. The other principal dialects are Dzibi (Dzivi) and Dzonga. According to some estimates, there are just over one million BaTswa, but not all can speak the Tswa language. Many Mozambicans, including census officials, often consider it a dialect of Tsonga.

Native toMozambique
Native speakers
1.2 million (2006)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3tsc
Linguasphere99-AUT-da (shi-Tswa) incl. varieties 99-AUT-daa...-dae + 99-AUT-db (shi-Hlengwe) incl. varieties 99-AUT-dba...-dbb


Tswa uses a variant of the Latin alphabet previously used for Tsonga. It is partly based on those developed by the Portuguese colonists and Methodist missionaries to the region. The first major transliterator for the Tswa language into English was the Swede J. A. Persson, who consolidated the alphabet for Tswa specifically.

Letter: A B C D E G H I J K L M N O P R S Ŝ T U V W X Y Z
Value: a b~β d e~ɛ ɡ h i k l m n ŋ ɔ~o p r s ʂ t u v w ʃ j z ʐ

Ŝ and are lightly whistled. The letter Q is sometimes used in words imported from Zulu, in which case it is pronounced in various ways, the clicks of Zulu not being native to the Tswa language. There are also several compounds, which include lateral fricatives.

Like most Bantu languages, all syllables end in vowels or nasals. Tone is important but is rarely written.

Basics of grammar

Tswa is a Bantu language and thus has a noun class system and verbal system easily recognisable to Bantu speakers throughout Eastern and Southern Africa. In general the system is the same as in most Bantu languages. The following details are more specific.

Noun class system

Instead of genders there are eight classes which have a similar but more complex role, where each noun begins with a class prefix as below:

Class Number Singular Plural Uses
1 mu- ba- mainly nouns for people
2 mu- mi- impersonal objects
3 gi- ma- impersonal objects, particularly fruit
4 xi- ẑi- tools, means, languages, diminutives, defects, verbal nouns
5 yi- ti- particularly nouns for animals
6 li- ti- mental qualities, states of mind, verbal nouns
7 wu- - abstract nouns
8 ku - infinitives

Verbal systems

Tswa verbs change according to status (affirmative/negative), mood (indicative/potential), aspect, tense, number, person and class. The usual three persons used in the Bantu group apply, and the first and second persons plural are maximally inclusive. The class link is usually written as a separate word, as in Tsonga and Ronga. Otherwise the paradigm is organised as follows:

Present continuous
Past continuous
Future perfect
Past continuous
Future Perfect

Grammatical Peculiarities of Linguistic Interest

Though Tswa does have a subjunctive, it does not change the standard '-a' at the end of a verb to an '-e' like most of the surrounding Bantu languages, unless it is used as an implied imperative in a dependent clause – a peculiarity it shares with the Tsonga and Ronga. The 'xi-' class, unlike its seeming equivalents in other languages, more closely mirrors the Nguni 'isi-' in that it has a strongly diminutive use.


  1. ^ Tswa at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Tswa". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
Mabote District

Mabote District is a district of Inhambane Province in south-east Mozambique. Its principal town is Mabote. The district is located at the northwest of the province and borders with Machaze District of Manica Province and Machanga District of Sofala Province in the north, Govuro District in the east, Inhassoro District in the southeast, Funhalouro District in the south, and with Chigubo and Massangena Districts of Gaza Province in the west. The area of the district is 14,577 square kilometres (5,628 sq mi). In terms of the area, this is the biggest district of Inhambane Province. It has a population of 45101 as of 2007.

Official language
Indigenous languages
Sign languages
Official languages
Unofficial languages


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