Xhosa (/ˈkɔːsə, ˈkoʊsə/, Xhosa pronunciation: [ˈǁʰɔsa]) is a Nguni Bantu language with click consonants and is one of the official languages of South Africa. It is also an official language of Zimbabwe. Xhosa is spoken as a first language by approximately 8.2 million people and by another 11 million as a second language in South Africa, mostly in Eastern Cape Province. Like most other Bantu languages, Xhosa is a tonal language; the same sequence of consonants and vowels can have different meanings, depending on intonation. Xhosa has two tones: high and low.
Xhosa is written with the Latin alphabet. Three letters are used to indicate the basic clicks: c for dental clicks, x for lateral clicks and q for post-alveolar clicks (for a more detailed explanation, see the table of consonant phonemes below). Tones are not normally indicated in writing.
|Native to||South Africa|
|Region||Eastern Cape, Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape, Free State|
|8.2 million (2011 census)|
11 million L2 speakers (2002)
|Latin (Xhosa alphabet)|
Official language in
| South Africa|
Proportion of the South African population that speaks Xhosa at home
|The Xhosa language|
Xhosa is part of the branch of Nguni languages known as Zunda languages, which also include Zulu, Southern Ndebele and Northern Ndebele. Zunda languages effectively form a dialect continuum of variously mutually intelligible varieties.
Xhosa is, to some extent, mutually intelligible with Zulu and Northern Ndebele, and other Nguni languages to a lesser extent. Nguni languages are, in turn, part of the much larger group of Bantu languages.
Xhosa is the most widely distributed African language in South Africa, though the most widely spoken African language is Zulu. It is the second most common home language in South Africa as a whole. As of 2003 approximately 5.3 million Xhosa-speakers, the majority, live in the Eastern Cape, followed by the Western Cape (approximately 2 million), Gauteng (671,045), the Free State (246,192), KwaZulu-Natal (219,826), North West (214,461), Mpumalanga (46,553), the Northern Cape (51,228), and Limpopo (14,225). There is a small but significant Xhosa community of about 200,000 in Zimbabwe. Also, a small community of Xhosa speakers (18,000) live in Quthing District, Lesotho.
|Close||i (i)||iː (ii)||u (u)||uː (uu)|
|Mid||ɛ (e)||eː (ee)||ɔ (o)||oː (oo)|
|Open||a (a)||aː (aa)|
Xhosa is a tonal language with two inherent phonemic tones: low and high. Tones are rarely marked in the written language, but they can be indicated a [à], á [á], â [áà], ä [àá]. Long vowels are phonemic but are usually not written except for â and ä, which are the results of gemination of two vowels, both with different tones; they have thus become long vowels with contour tones (â high-low = falling, ä low-high = rising).
Xhosa is rich in uncommon consonants. Besides pulmonic egressive sounds, which are found in all spoken languages, it has 18 clicks (in comparison, Juǀ'hoan, spoken by roughly 10,000 people in Botswana and Namibia, has 48 clicks, and Taa, with roughly 4,000 speakers in Botswana, has 83 click sounds, the largest consonant inventory of any known language). Also, Xhosa has ejectives and an implosive. Although 15 of the clicks also occur in Zulu, they are used less frequently than in Xhosa.
The first six are dental clicks (represented by the letter "c"), made with the tongue on the back of the teeth, and they are similar to the sound represented in English by "tut-tut" or "tsk-tsk" to reprimand someone. The next six are lateral (represented by the letter "x"), made by the tongue at the sides of the mouth, and they are similar to the sound used to call horses. The last six are alveolar (represented by the letter "q"), made with the tip of the tongue at the roof of the mouth, and they sound somewhat like a cork pulled from a bottle.
The following table lists the consonant phonemes of the language, with the pronunciation in IPA on the left and the orthography on the right:
|Click||tenuis/ejective||[kǀʼ] c||[kǁʼ] x||[kǃʼ] q|
|aspirated||[kǀʰ] ch||[kǁʰ] xh||[kǃʰ] qh|
|slack voice||[ɡ̊ǀʱ] gc||[ɡ̊ǁʱ] gx||[ɡ̊ǃʱ] gq|
|nasal||[ŋǀ] nc||[ŋǁ] nx||[ŋǃ] nq|
|slack-voice nasal||[ŋǀʱ] ngc||[ŋǁʱ] ngx||[ŋǃʱ] ngq|
|glottalised nasal||[ŋǀˀ] nkc||[ŋǁˀ] nkx||[ŋǃˀ] nkq|
|Plosive||tenuis/ejective||[pʼ] p||[tʼ] t||[c̟ʼ] ty||[kʼ] k|
|aspirated||[pʰ] ph||[tʰ] th||[c̟ʰ] tyh||[kʰ] kh|
|slack voice||[b̥ʱ] bh||[d̥ʱ] d||[ɟ̟̊ʱ] dy||[ɡ̊ʱ] g|
|Affricate||ejective||[tsʼ] ts||[tʃʼ] tsh||[kxʼ] kr|
|aspirated||[tsʰ] ths||[tʃʰ] thsh||[kxʰ] krh|
|slack voice||[d̥zʱ] dz 3||[d̥ʒʱ] j|
|Fricative||voiceless||[f] f||[s] s||[ɬ] hl||[ʃ] sh||[x] rh||[h] h|
|slack voice||[v̤] v||[z̤] z||[ɮ̈] dl||[ʒ̈] zh 2||[ɣ̈] gr||[ɦ] hh|
|Nasal||fully voiced||[m] m||[n] n||[ɲ̟] ny||[ŋ] ngʼ|
|slack voice||[m̤] mh||[n̤] nh||[ɲ̟̈] nyh||[ŋ̈] ngh 4|
|Approximant||fully voiced||[l] l||[j] y||[w] w|
|slack voice||[l̤] lh||[j̈] yh||[w̤] wh|
|Trill||fully voiced||[r] r 1|
|breathy voiced||[r̤] r 1|
In addition to the ejective affricate [tʃʼ], the spelling tsh may also be used for either of the aspirated affricates [tsʰ] and [tʃʰ].
The breathy voiced glottal fricative [ɦ] is sometimes spelled h.
The ejectives tend to be ejective only in careful pronunciation or in salient positions and, even then, only for some speakers. Otherwise, they tend to be tenuis (plain) stops. Similarly, the tenuis (plain) clicks are often glottalised, with a long voice onset time, but that is uncommon.
The murmured clicks, plosives and affricates are only partially voiced, with the following vowel murmured for some speakers. That is, da may be pronounced [dʱa̤] (or, equivalently, [d̥a̤]). They are better described as slack voiced than as breathy voiced. They are truly voiced only after nasals, but the oral occlusion is then very short in stops, and it usually does not occur at all in clicks. Therefore, the absolute duration of voicing is the same as in tenuis stops. (They may also be voiced between vowels in some speaking styles.) The more notable characteristic is their depressor effect on the tone of the syllable.
When consonants are prenasalised, their pronunciation and spelling may change. The murmur no longer shifts to the following vowel. Fricatives become affricated and, if voiceless, they become ejectives as well, at least with some speakers: mf is pronounced [ɱp̪fʼ], ndl is pronounced [ndɮ], n+hl becomes ntl [ntɬʼ], n+z becomes ndz [ndz], etc. The orthographic b in mb is the voiced plosive [mb].
When voiceless clicks (c, x, q) are prenasalised, the silent letter k is added (nkc, nkx, nkq) to prevent confusion with the nasal clicks nc, nx, nq.
|/pʰ/, /tʰ/, /c̟ʰ/, /kʰ/||/mp/, /nt/, /ɲc̟/, /ŋk/||Aspiration is lost on obstruents.|
|/kǀ/, /kǁ/, /kǃ/||/ŋǀʱ/, /ŋǁʱ/, /ŋǃʱ/||Plain clicks become slack voiced nasal.|
|/kǀʰ/, /kǁʰ/, /kǃʰ/||/ŋǀˀ/, /ŋǁˀ/, /ŋǃˀ/||Aspirated clicks become glottalised nasal.|
|/ɓ/||/mb̥ʱ/||Implosive becomes slack voiced.|
|/f/, /s/, /ʃ/, /ɬ/, /x/
/v/, /z/, /ɮ/, /ɣ/
|[ɱp̪f], /nts/, /ɲtʃ/, /ntɬ/, /ŋkx/
[ɱb̪̊vʱ], [nd̥zʱ], [nd̥ɮʱ], [ŋɡ̊ɣʱ]?
|Fricatives become affricates. Only phonemic, and thus reflected orthographically, for /nts/, /ɲtʃ/, /ntɬ/ and /ŋkx/.|
|/m/, /n/, /ɲ̟/||/m/, /n/, /ɲ̟/||No change when the following consonant is itself a nasal.|
Palatalisation is a change that affects labial consonants whenever they are immediately followed by /j/. While palatalisation occurred historically, it is still productive.
Moreover, Xhosa does not generally tolerate sequences of a labial consonant plus /w/. Whenever /w/ follows a labial consonant, it changes to /j/, which then triggers palatalisation of the consonant.
In keeping with many other Southern Bantu languages, Xhosa is an agglutinative language, with an array of prefixes and suffixes that are attached to root words. As in other Bantu languages, nouns in Xhosa are classified into morphological classes, or genders (15 in Xhosa), with different prefixes for both singular and plural. Various parts of speech that qualify a noun must agree with the noun according to its gender. Agreements usually reflect part of the original class with which the word agrees. The word order is subject–verb–object, like in English.
The Xhosa noun consists of two essential parts, the prefix and the stem. Using the prefixes, nouns can be grouped into noun classes, which are numbered consecutively, to ease comparison with other Bantu languages.
The following table gives an overview of Xhosa noun classes, arranged according to singular-plural pairs.
|5/6||i-, ili-1||ama-, ame-|
|11/10||u-, ulu-1, ulw-, ul-||iiN-3, iziN-4|
|14||ubu-, ub-, uty-|
1 Before monosyllabic stems, e.g. iliso (eye), uluhlu (list).
2 is- and iz- replace isi- and izi- respectively before stems beginning with a vowel, e.g. isandla/izandla (hand/hands).
3 The placeholder N in the prefixes iN- and iiN- for m, n or no letter at all.
4 Before monosyllabic stems in some words.
Verbs use the following prefixes for the subject and object:
Xhosa-speaking people have inhabited coastal regions of southeastern Africa since before the 16th century. They refer to themselves as the amaXhosa and their language as Xhosa. AmaXhosa migrated to the east coast of Africa and came across Khoisan-speaking people; "as a result of this contact, the Xhosa people borrowed some Khoisan words along with their pronunciation, for instance, the click sounds of the Khoisan languages". The Bantu ancestor of Xhosa did not have clicks, which attests to a strong historical contact with a San language that did. An estimated 15% of Xhosa vocabulary is of San origin. In the modern period, it has also borrowed, slightly, from both Afrikaans and English.
John Bennie was a Scottish Presbyterian missionary and early Xhosa linguist. Bennie, along with John Ross (another missionary), set up a printing press in the Tyhume Valley and the first printed works in Xhosa came out in 1823 from the Lovedale Press in the Alice region of the Eastern Cape. But, as with any language, Xhosa had a rich history of oral traditions from which the society taught, informed, and entertained one another. The first Bible translation was in 1859, produced in part by Henry Hare Dugmore.
At present, Xhosa is used as the main language of instruction in many primary schools and some secondary schools, but is largely replaced by English after the early primary grades, even in schools mainly serving Xhosa-speaking communities. The language is also studied as a subject.
The language of instruction at universities in South Africa is English or Afrikaans, and Xhosa is taught as a subject, both for native and for non-native speakers.
Literary works, including prose and poetry, are available in Xhosa, as are newspapers and magazines. The South African Broadcasting Corporation broadcasts in Xhosa on both radio (on Umhlobo Wenene FM) and television, and films, plays and music are also produced in the language. The best-known performer of Xhosa songs outside South Africa was Miriam Makeba, whose Click Song #1 (Xhosa Qongqothwane) and "Click Song #2" (Baxabene Ooxam) are known for their large number of click sounds.
In 1996, the literacy rate for first-language Xhosa speakers was estimated at 50%.
Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika is part of the national anthem of South Africa, national anthem of Tanzania and Zambia, and the former anthem of Zimbabwe and Namibia. It is a Methodist hymn written in Xhosa by Enoch Sontonga in 1897. The original stanza was:
Additional stanzas were written later by Sontonga and other writers, with the original verse translated into Sotho and Afrikaans, as well as English.
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe films Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther, the language spoken in the fictional African nation of Wakanda is Xhosa. This came about because South African actor John Kani, a native of the Eastern Cape province who plays Wakandan King T'Chaka, speaks some Xhosa and suggested that the directors of Civil War incorporate dialogue in the language. For Black Panther, director Ryan Coogler "wanted to make it a priority to use Xhosa as much as possible" in the script, and provided dialect coaches for the film's actors.
Beaufort West (Afrikaans: Beaufort-Wes; Xhosa: eBhobhofolo) is a town in the Western Cape province in South Africa. It is the largest town in the arid Great Karoo region, and is known as the "Capital of the Karoo". It forms part of the Beaufort West Local Municipality, with 34 085 inhabitants in 2011.It is the centre of an agricultural district based mainly on sheep farming, and is a significant town on the N1 national road.
Next door to Beaufort West is the Karoo National Park. Important fossils have been found in the area, initially by David Baird, son of the local magistrate in 1827.
The old Town Hall and the Dutch Reformed Church have been declared national monuments.Department of Defence (South Africa)
The Department of Defence is a department of the South African government. It oversees the South African National Defence Force, the armed forces responsible for defending South Africa.
As of June 2012 the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans was Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.Department of International Relations and Cooperation
The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) is the foreign ministry of the South African government. It is responsible for South Africa's relationships with foreign countries and international organizations, and runs South Africa's diplomatic missions. The department is headed by the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, currently Naledi Pandor.
Formerly known as the Department of Foreign Affairs, it was renamed the Department of International Relations and Cooperation by President Jacob Zuma in May 2009. In the 2010 national budget, it received an appropriation of 4,824.4 million rand, and had 4,533 employees.Department of Labour (South Africa)
The Department of Employment and Labour is the department of the South African government responsible for matters related to employment, including industrial relations, job creation, unemployment insurance and occupational health and safety.
As of 29 May 2019 the Minister of Employment and Labour is Thembelani Thulas Nxesi. In the 2011/12 budget the department had a budget of R1,981 million and a staff complement of 3,490 civil servants.Department of Public Enterprises
The Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) is one of the ministries of the South African government. It is the governments shareholder representative with oversight responsibility for a number of state-owned enterprises (SoEs).Eastern Cape
The Eastern Cape (Xhosa: iMpuma-Koloni; Afrikaans: Oos-Kaap; Sotho: Kapa Botjhabela) is a province of South Africa. Its capital is Bhisho, but its two largest cities are Port Elizabeth and East London. It was formed in 1994 out of the Xhosa homelands or bantustans of Transkei and Ciskei, together with the eastern portion of the Cape Province. It is the landing place and home of the 1820 Settlers. The central and eastern part of the province is the traditional home of the Xhosa people.Free State (province)
The Free State (Sotho: Freistata; Afrikaans: Vrystaat; Xhosa: iFreyistata; Tswana: Foreistata; Zulu: iFuleyisitata; before 1995, the Orange Free State) is a province of South Africa. Its capital is Bloemfontein, which is also South Africa's judicial capital. Its historical origins lie in the Boer republic called Orange Free State and later Orange Free State Province.Local municipality (South Africa)
In South Africa, a local municipality (Tswana: mmasepalaselegae; Sotho: masepala wa lehae; Northern Sotho: mmasepala wa selegae; Afrikaans: plaaslike munisipaliteit; Zulu: umasipala wendawo; Southern Ndebele: umasipaladi wendawo; Xhosa: umasipala wengingqi; Swazi: masipaladi wasekhaya; Venda: masipalawapo; Tsonga: masipala wa muganga) or Category B municipality is a type of municipality that serves as the third, and most local, tier of local government. Each district municipality is divided into a number of local municipalities, and responsibility for municipal affairs is divided between the district and local municipalities. There are 226 local municipalities in South Africa.
A local municipality may include rural areas as well as one or more towns or small cities. In larger urban areas there are no district or local municipalities, and a metropolitan municipality is responsible for all municipal affairs.Municipalities of South Africa
Local government in South Africa consists of municipalities (Tswana: bommasepala; Sotho: bomasepala; Northern Sotho: bommasepala; Afrikaans: munisipaliteite; Zulu: ngomasipala; Southern Ndebele: bomasipala; Xhosa: ngoomasipala; Swazi: bomasipala; Venda: vhomasipala; Tsonga: vamasipala) of various types. The largest metropolitan areas are governed by metropolitan municipalities, while the rest of the country is divided into district municipalities, each of which consists of several local municipalities. After the municipal election of 18 May 2011 there were eight metropolitan municipalities, 44 district municipalities and 226 local municipalities. Since the boundary reform at the time of the municipal election of 3 August 2016 there are eight metropolitan municipalities, 44 district municipalities and 205 local municipalities.Municipalities are governed by municipal councils which are elected every five years. The councils of metropolitan and local municipalities are elected by a system of mixed-member proportional representation, while the councils of district municipalities are partly elected by proportional representation and partly appointed by the councils of the constituent local municipalities.Northern Cape
The Northern Cape (Afrikaans: Noord-Kaap; Tswana: Kapa Bokone; Xhosa: uMntla-Koloni) is the largest and most sparsely populated province of South Africa. It was created in 1994 when the Cape Province was split up. Its capital is Kimberley. It includes the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, part of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, an international park shared with Botswana. It also includes the Augrabies Falls and the diamond mining regions in Kimberley and Alexander Bay. The Namaqualand region in the west is famous for its Namaqualand daisies. The southern towns of De Aar and Colesberg, in the Great Karoo, are major transport nodes between Johannesburg, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. In the northeast, Kuruman is known as a mission station and also for its artesian spring, the Eye of Kuruman. The Orange River flows through the province, forming the borders with the Free State in the southeast and with Namibia to the northwest. The river is also used to irrigate the many vineyards in the arid region near Upington.
Native speakers of Afrikaans comprise a higher percentage of the population in the Northern Cape than in any other province. The Northern Cape's four official languages are Afrikaans, Tswana, Xhosa, and English. Minorities speak the other official languages of South Africa, and a few people speak indigenous languages such as Nama and Khwe.
The provincial motto, Sa ǁa ǃaĩsi 'uĩsi ("We go to a better life"), is in the Nǀu language of the Nǁnǂe (ǂKhomani) people. It was given in 1997 by one of the language's last speakers, Ms. Elsie Vaalbooi of Rietfontein, who has since died. It was South Africa's first officially registered motto in a Khoisan language. Subsequently, South Africa's national motto, ǃKe e ǀxarra ǁke, was derived from the extinct Northern Cape ǀXam language.Port Elizabeth
Port Elizabeth or The Bay (Xhosa: iBhayi; Afrikaans: Die Baai [di ˈbɑːi]) is one of the major cities in South Africa; it is situated in the Eastern Cape Province. The city, often shortened to PE and nicknamed "The Windy City", stretches for 16 kilometres (10 mi) along Algoa Bay, and is one of the major seaports in South Africa. Port Elizabeth is the southernmost large city on the African continent, just farther south than Cape Town. Port Elizabeth was founded as a town in 1820 to house British settlers as a way of strengthening the border region between the Cape Colony and the Xhosa. It now forms part of the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality, which has a population of over 1.3 million.Silene undulata
Silene undulata (Xhosa: iindlela zimhlophe—"white ways/paths", also known as Silene capensis, and African dream root) is a plant native to the Eastern Cape of South Africa.South African National Department of Health
The Department of Health is the executive department of the South African government that is assigned to health matters.
The Office for Health Standards and Compliance was established in 2014.South African Reserve Bank
The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) (Afrikaans: Suid-Afrikaanse Reserwebank) is the central bank of South Africa. It was established in 1921 after Parliament passed an act, the "Currency and Bank Act of 10 August 1920", as a direct result of the abnormal monetary and financial conditions which World War I had brought. The SARB was only the fourth central bank established outside the United Kingdom and Europe, the others being the United States, Japan and Java. The earliest suggestions for the establishment of the Central Bank in South Africa date back to 1879. A select committee, consisting of ten members of Parliament was established on 31 March 1920 to examine the benefits to the national interest of the establishing of the central bank.Following on the recommendations of the committee, the South African Reserve Bank opened for business on 30 June 1921, making it the oldest central bank in Africa. The first banknotes were issued to the public by the Bank on 19 April 1922.
Unlike the Bank of England, which provided the model for establishing the SARB, the SARB is privately owned.Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa
The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), formerly known as the Appellate Division, is an appellate court in South Africa. It is located in Bloemfontein.Tenuis alveolar click
The voiceless or more precisely tenuis (post)alveolar click is a click consonant found primarily among the languages of southern Africa. The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents this sound is ⟨ǃ⟩. The Doke/Beach convention, adopted for a time by the IPA and still preferred by some linguists, is ⟨ʗ⟩.U-Carmen eKhayelitsha
U-Carmen eKhayelitsha is a 2005 South African operatic film directed and produced by Mark Dornford-May.Western Cape
The Western Cape (Afrikaans: Wes-Kaap; Xhosa: iNtshona-Koloni) is a province of South Africa, situated on the south-western coast of the country. It is the fourth largest of the nine provinces with an area of 129,449 square kilometres (49,981 sq mi), and the third most populous, with an estimated 6.6 million inhabitants in 2018. About two-thirds of these inhabitants live in the metropolitan area of Cape Town, which is also the provincial capital. The Western Cape was created in 1994 from part of the former Cape Province.Xhosa Wikipedia
The Xhosa Wikipedia is the Xhosa language edition of Wikipedia. It has 1,021 articles, which as of 25 August 2018 makes it the 260th largest Wikipedia.The Xhosa edition of Wikipedia was started in June 2003. Its low number of articles has led to proposals to close it in 2008 and 2013 (both rejected).
As Xhosa is mutually intelligible with Zulu, both of which are Nguni languages, it is possible for articles in the Zulu edition to be easily translated into Xhosa for the Xhosa Wikipedia. Similar trans-wiki efforts have been made for Scandinavian-language editions, such as the Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish through Wikimedia's Skanwiki collaboration tool.
mentioned in the
Note: The Guthrie classification is geographic and its groupings do not imply a relationship between the languages within them.