African Ecology




IsiXhosa


Introduction*:  The bantu languages of South Africa can be divided into two groups, the Nguni and the Sotho. Xhosa belongs to the Nguni group of languages which includes Zulu, Swati, and Ndebele. It is the main African language spoken in the Eastern and Western Cape, but is also spoken and understood in other parts of the country. It is estimated that at least 8 million South Africans speak Xhosa as their primary language and another 10 million understand it. Zulu and Xhosa are the most widely spoken African languages in South Africa.


The Roman alphabet is used for writing Xhosa. However, Xhosa has several sounds that are not found in English, especially the clicks, which originated from the Khoisan (this refers to groups formerly known as the Hottentots and the Bushmen). Since the letter K can be subsituted for c, q, and x (click = klik, quick = kwick, axe = aks) these letters are used to represent the clicks in written Xhosa.


*This material comes from "Learn Xhosa with Anne Munnik" by Anne Munnik. 2004. Shuter and Shooter Publishers, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. Fourth Edition. I highly recommend this book for beginning Xhosa.


Pronunciation: Vowels
Xhosa Letters
Sound
Example
Translation
a
ah
abafundi
students
e
egg
ekhaya
to, from, or at home
i
ink
inyoka
snake
o
or
imoto
car
u
goo
umnwe
finger


Pronunciation: Consonants - essentially Xhosa is a phonetically written language, meaning that letters correspond to the sounds. However there are some variations with consonants that are important to understand.

Aspirated consonants: the consonant sound is accompanied by a puff of air.
Xhosa Letters
Example
Translation
bh
-bhala
write
kh
-khaba
kick
ph
-pheka (ph DOES NOT make an "f" sound Sipho=gift; sifo=disease)
cook
th
-thatha (a hard "t" sound as in "tight" NOT as in "the"
take


Consonant Combinations as in English
Xhosa Letters
Example
Translation
"ng" as in linger
ngomso
tomorrow
"ny" as in Kenya
inyama
meat
"ts" as in sits
-tsala
pull
"tsh" as in chair
-tsha
burn


Consonant Combinations NOT found in English
Xhosa Letters
Example
Translation
dl
-dlala
play
hl
-hlala
sit, stay, or live
ty
-tya
eat
rh
ugqirha (a rough gutteral r)
doctor
ndl
indlu
house
ntl
intlanzi
fish


The Clicks: There are three basic clicks in Xhosa. There are a number of variations on these three basic clicks that are indicated by the addition of a consonant to the x, c, or q. These are beyond the level of this elementary introduction.
Xhosa Letters
Description
Example
Translation
c
pull the tip of the tongue away from the back of the upper front teeth; tsk, tsk
-cela
ask for
x
pull tongue from top side of mouth; the click used to make a horse speed up
uxolo
peace
q
pull tongue down from roof of mouth; the sound of a cork popping
amaqanda
eggs


Three final notes    
  • 1. The accent in Xhosa is on the penultimate syllable, the second to last syllable
  • 2. Two vowels usually don't stand together. There are two exceptions oo and ii. If, in grammatical construction, two vowels are placed together, a change is typically made so that only one vowel is written.
  • 3. Spoken Xhosa results in shortened words that are run together. Enkosi amadoda = Enkos' 'madoda


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