The Nguni languages are a group of Bantu languages spoken in southern Africa by the Nguni peoples. Nguni languages include Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele (sometimes referred to as "Northern Ndebele"), Swati, Hlubi, Phuthi, Bhaca, Lala, Nhlangwini, Southern Transvaal Ndebele, and Sumayela Ndebele. The appellation "Nguni" derives from the Nguni cattle type. ''Ngoni'' (see below) is an older, or a shifted, variant. It is sometimes argued that use of ''Nguni'' as a generic label suggests a historical monolithic unity of the peoples in question, where in fact the situation may have been more complex. The linguistic use of the label (referring to a subgrouping of Bantu) is relatively stable.


Within a subset of Southern Bantu, the label "Nguni" is used both genetically (in the linguistic sense) and typologically (quite apart from any historical significance). The Nguni languages are closely related, and in many instances different languages are mutually intelligible; in this way, Nguni languages might better be construed as a dialect continuum than as a cluster of separate languages. On more than one occasion, proposals have been put forward to create a unified Nguni language. In scholarly literature on southern African languages, the linguistic classificatory category "Nguni" is traditionally considered to subsume two subgroups: "Zunda Nguni" and "Tekela Nguni." This division is based principally on the salient phonological distinction between corresponding coronal consonants: Zunda and Tekela (thus the native form of the name ''Swati'' and the better-known Zulu form ''Swazi''), but there is a host of additional linguistic variables that enables a relatively straightforward division into these two substreams of Nguni.

Zunda languages

* Zulu * Xhosa * Ndebele (Northern Ndebele or 'Zimbabwean Ndebele') * Southern Ndebele

Tekela languages

* Swazi * Northern Transvaal Ndebele (Sumayela Ndebele) * Phuthi * Bhaca * Hlubi (not the Hlubi dialect of Xhosa) * Lala *Nhlangwini Maho (2009) also lists S401 Old Mfengu


The following aspects of Nguni languages are typical: * A 5-vowel system, by merging the near-close and close series of Proto-Bantu. (Phuthi has re-acquired a new series of superclose vowels from Sotho) * Spreading of high tones to the antepenultimate syllable. * A distinction between high and low tones on noun prefixes, indicating different grammatical roles, accompanied in some cases by an overt pre-prefix called the ''augment''. * Development of breathy-voiced consonants, acting as depressor consonants. * Development of aspirated consonants. * Development of click consonants.

Comparative data

Compare the following sentences: Note: Xhosa = Phuthi = IPA ; Phuthi = ; Zulu = IPA , but in the environment cited here is "nasally permuted" to . Phuthi = breathy voiced = Xhosa, Zulu (in the environment here following the nasal ). Zulu, Swazi, Hlubi = . Note: Phuthi = IPA .

See also

*Ngoni is the ethnonym and language name of a group living in Malawi, who are a geographically distant descendant of South African Nguni. Ngoni separated from all other Nguni languages subsequent to the massive political and social upheaval within southern Africa, the mfecane, lasting until the 1830s. *IsiNgqumo is an argot spoken by the homosexuals of South Africa who speak Bantu languages; as opposed to Gayle, the argot spoken by South African homosexuals who speak Germanic languages. IsiNgqumo is based on a Nguni lexicon.



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Further reading

* Shaw, E. M. and Davison, P. (1973) ''The Southern Nguni'' (series: Man in Southern Africa) South African Museum, Cape Town * Ndlovu, Sambulo. 'Comparative Reconstruction of Proto-Nguni Phonology' {{DEFAULTSORT:Nguni Languages Category:Languages of South Africa Category:Languages of Eswatini Category:Languages of Zimbabwe