Shona () is a Bantu language of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. It is one of the most widely spoken Bantu languages. According to ''Ethnologue'', Shona, comprising the Karanga, Zezuru and Korekore dialects, is spoken by about 10.8 million people. The Manyika and Ndau dialects of Shona are listed separately by ''Ethnologue'', and are spoken by 1,025,000 and 2,380,000 people, respectively. The larger group of historically related languages—called Shona languages by linguists—also includes Ndau (Eastern Shona) and Karanga (Western Shona). Speakers of those languages prefer their distinct identities and usually reject any connection to the term Shona.


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 S.10 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 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. 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.


The writing system for the Shona language was codified during the 20th century. The first novel in the Shona language, ''Feso'', was published in 1957.


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. It is also mostly spoken in the Midlands province, most notably in Mberengwa and Zvishavane districts. :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.

Phonology and alphabet

All syllables in Shona end in a vowel. Consonants belong to the next syllable. For example, ''mangwanani'' ("morning") is syllabified as ''ma.ngwa.na.ni;'' "Zimbabwe" is ''zi.mba.bwe.''


Shona's five vowels are pronounced as in Spanish: . 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: Shona has two tones, a high and a low tone, but these tones are not indicated in spelling.

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". 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" .


* A - a - * B - ba - * Bh - bha - ̤* Ch - cha - ͡ʃ* D - da - * Dh - dha - ̤* E - e - * F - fa - * G - ga - ̤* H - ha - * I - i - * J - ja - ͡ʒ̤* K - ka - * M - ma - * N - na - * Nh - nha - ̤* O - o - * P - pa - * R - ra - * S - sa - * Sh - sha - * T - ta - * U - u - * V - va - * Vh - vha - ̤* W - wa - * Y - ya - * Z - za - ̤* Zh - zha - ̤ref>


* bv - ͡v̤* dz - ͡z̤* dzv - ͡z̤ᵝ* dy - ̤ʲg* mb - b* mbw - bəg* mh - ̤* mv - ʋ̤* nd - d* ng - * ngg - ɡ* nj - d͡ʒ̤* ny - * nz - * nzv - z̤ᵝ* pf - ͡f* sv - * sw - kw* ts - ͡s* tsv - ͡sᶲ* ty - ʲk* zv - ̤ᵝ

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 or is used for and or is used for .


Noun Classes (''mupanda)'' ''Mupanda'', or noun classes, is the way in which Shona words are grouped: # ''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. # ''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. # ''Sungawirirano'' (accordance) words in ''mupanda'' 5 have ''sungawirirano'' -ri- e.g. ''garwe'' ''iri'' ("this crocodile"), ''dombo'' ''iri'' ("this stone"), ''gudo'' ''iri'' ("this baboon"); 'iri' means 'this'. # ''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.



* 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 * D. Dale: ** ''Basic English – Shona dictionary'', Afro Asiatic Languages Edition, Sept 5, 2000, ** ''Duramazwi: A Shona - English Dictionary'', Afro Asiatic Languages Edition, Sept 5, 2000,

External links

Pan African Localization
report on Shona
Example of Shona
Lyrikline.org page on poet Chirikure Chirikure, with audio and translations into English.
Basic Shona language course (book + audio files)
USA Foreign Service Institute (FSI)
Biblical study material in Shona language
(publications, video and audio files
online bible
by Jehovah's Witnesses
Shona Dictionary
Shona Dictionary {{DEFAULTSORT:Shona language Category:Shona languages Category:Languages of Botswana Category:Languages of Mozambique Category:Languages of Zambia Category:Languages of Zimbabwe Category:Languages of South Africa