Northern Ndebele language

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Northern Ndebele
North Ndebele
siNdebele saseNyakatho
Native to Zimbabwe, Botswana
Region Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South in Zimbabwe; North-East District in Botswana
Native speakers
1.6 million (2012)[1]
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-1 nd – North Ndebele
ISO 639-2 nde – North Ndebele
ISO 639-3 nde – North Ndebele
Glottolog nort2795[2]
Linguasphere 99-AUT-fk incl.
varieties 99-AUT-fka
to 99-AUT-fkd
The Ndebele Language
Person iNdebele
People amaNdebele (prev. Matebele)
Language isiNdebele

The Northern Ndebele (siNdebele saseNyakatho) language, also called isiNdebele, Sindebele, Ndebele,[1] or North Ndebele,[4][5] and formerly known as Matabele, 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 19th century during the Mfecane.

Northern Ndebele and Transvaal Ndebele are separate languages. Both fall in the Nguni group of Bantu languages, but Zimbabwean Ndebele is essentially a dialect of Zulu, and Transvaal Ndebele is within a different subgroup. The shared name is by contact between Mzilikazi's people and the original amaNdebele through whose territory they crossed during the Mfecane.


Ndebele grammar is similar to Zulu.



Ndebele consonants
Bilabial Labio-
Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive plain p [pʼ] t [tʼ] k [kʼ]
voiced bh [b] d [d] ɡ [ɡ]
aspirated ph [pʰ] th [tʰ] kh [kʰ]
prenasalized mp [ᵐp] nt [ⁿt] nk [ᵑk]
prenasalized (depr.) mb [ᵐb] nd [ⁿd] ng [ᵑɡ]
Fricative plain f [f] s [s] h [h]
voiced (depr.) b [βʱ] v [vʱ] z [zʱ] zh [ʒʱ] (k [ɣʱ]) (h [ɦ])
voiced (non-depr.) b [β] (k [ɣ])
prenasalized mf [ɱf] ns [ⁿs]
prenasalized (depr.) mv [ɱv] nz [ⁿz]
Nasal plain m [m] n [n] ny [ɲ] ng [ŋ]
depressed m [mʱ] n [nʱ] ny [ɲʱ] ng [ŋʱ]
Lateral fricative plain hl [ɬ]
voiced dl [ɮ]
prenasalized nhl [ⁿɬ]
prenasalized (depr.) ndl [ⁿɮ]
Approximant plain w [w] y [j]
depressed w [wʱ] y [jʱ]
Lateral approximant plain l [l]
depressed l [lʱ]


Alveolar Post-


Affricate voiceless plain ts [tsʼ] tsh [tʃʼ] kl [kˣ]
aspirated tsh [tsʰ] tsh [tʃʰ]
voiced j [dʒ]
prenasalized plain nts [ⁿtsʼ] ntsh [ᶮtʃʼ] nkl [ᵑkˣ]
depressed nj [ᶮdʒ]


There are seven vowel phonemes, written with the letters a, e, i, o, u.[6]

  • a is pronounced [a], approximately like a in father; e.g. abantwana (children)
  • e is pronounced [ɛ] or [e], sometimes like e in bed; e.g. emoyeni (in the air)
  • i is pronounced [i], like ee in see; e.g. siza (help)
  • o is pronounced [ɔ] or [o], sometimes approximately like o in bone; e.g. okhokho (ancestors)
  • u is pronounced [u], like oo in soon; e.g. umuntu (person)

Click consonants[edit]

In isiNdebele there are three click consonants c, q and x.

c [ǀ] 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.[7] 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.[7] Some examples are qalisa (start), qeda (finish)

The x [ǁ] 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.[7][8] Some examples are xoxa (discuss), ixoxo (frog).

Ndebele Clicks
Dental Post-


Plosive voiceless plain c [ǀ] q [!] x [ǁ]
aspirated ch [ǀʰ] qh [!ʰ] xh [ǁʰ]
voiced depressed gc [ɡǀʱ] gq [ɡ!ʱ] gx [ɡǁʱ]
nasalized nc [ŋǀ] nq [ŋ!] nx [ŋǁ]
nasalized (depr.) ngc [ŋǀʱ] ngq [ŋ!ʱ] ngx [ŋǁʱ]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Ndebele at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Zimbabwean Ndebele". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  4. ^ "Documentation for ISO 639 identifier: nde". ISO 639-2 Registration Authority - Library of Congress. Retrieved 2017-07-04. Name: North Ndebele 
  5. ^ "Documentation for ISO 639 identifier: nde". ISO 639-3 Registration Authority - SIL International. Retrieved 2017-07-04. Name: North Ndebele 
  6. ^ Skhosana, Philemon Buti (2009). "3". The Linguistic Relationship between Southern and Northern Ndebele (PDF). 
  7. ^ a b c Shenk, J.R. A New Ndebele Grammar
  8. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • Bowern, Claire; Lotridge, Victoria, eds. (2002). Ndebele. Munich: LINCOM EUROPA. ISBN 3-89586-465-X. 
  • Sibanda, Galen (2004). Verbal Phonology and Morphology of Ndebele (Ph.D.). University of California, Berkeley. 

External links[edit]