Northern ndebele language

This article is about the Nguni language spoken in Zimbabwe. For the Ndebele language spoken in South Africa, see Southern Ndebele language.
Northern Ndebele
Native to Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa
Region Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South in Zimbabwe; North-East District in Botswana
Native speakers 1.6 million  (2001)
Language family
Language codes
ISO 639-1 nd
ISO 639-2 nde
ISO 639-3 nde
Linguist List
Guthrie code S.44[1]
Linguasphere 99-AUT-fk incl.
varieties 99-AUT-fka
to 99-AUT-fkd

The Northern Ndebele language, isiNdebele, Sindebele, or Ndebele is an African language belonging to the Nguni group of Bantu languages, and spoken by the Ndebele or Matabele people of Zimbabwe.

isiNdebele is related to the Zulu language spoken in South Africa. This is because the Ndebele people of Zimbabwe descend from followers of the Zulu leader Mzilikazi, who left KwaZulu in the early nineteenth century during the Mfecane.

The Northern and Southern Ndebele languages are not variants of the same language; though they both fall in the Nguni group of Bantu languages, Northern Ndebele is essentially a dialect of Zulu, and the older Southern Ndebele language falls within a different subgroup. The shared name is due to contact between Mzilikazi's people and the original Ndebele, through whose territory they crossed during the Mfecane.


Pronunciation of Ndebele words is relatively easy in comparison to many languages because the vowels are quite constant, with each vowel having basically one sound, and the accent is usually on the penultimate syllable.

Pronunciation of vowels

There are five basic vowel sounds; a, o, u are very constant and e and i have only slight variation

a is pronounced like a in father; e.g. abantwana (children)
e is pronounced like e in bed; e.g. emoyeni (in the air)
i is pronounced like ee in see; e.g. siza (help)
o is pronounced like o in bone; e.g. okhokho (ancestors)
u is pronounced like oo in soon; e.g. umuntu (person)

Click sounds

In Ndebele there are three click sounds c, q and x.

c is made by placing the tip of the tongue against the front upper teeth and gums, the centre of the tongue is depressed and the tip of the tongue is drawn backwards. The resulting sound is similar to the sound used in English to express annoyance.[2] Some examples are cina (end), cela (ask)

The q sound is made by raising the back of the tongue to touch the soft palate and touching the gums with the sides and tip of the tongue. The centre of the tongue is depressed and the tip drawn quickly away from the gum. The resulting sound is like the "pop" heard when quickly removing the cork from a bottle.[2] Some examples are qalisa (start), qeda (finish)

The x sound is made by placing the tongue so that the back of the tongue touches the soft palate and the sides and tip of the tongue touch the gums. One side of the tongue is quickly withdrawn from the gums.[2] Some examples are xoxa (discuss), ixoxo (frog)

See also


External links

  • Map of Ndebele language from the LL-Map Profject
  • Speak Ndebele
  • Zimbabwe News in Ndebele Language
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