Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Language Profile: Shona

In this week's language profile, we're taking a brief look at Shona, the first Bantu language we've covered. Also known as Chishona, it is the native language of the Shona people of Zimbabwe and Zambia. It is also the most widely spoken Bantu language in the world in terms of native speakers, closely followed by Zulu. It is spoken in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Mozambique.

The Zambezi River in Zimbabwe.
In Zimbabwe, Shona is one of 16 official languages. While English is used in the education and judicial systems, it is not the native language of most Zimbabweans. Shona is spoken by approximately 70% of the population of Zimbabwe, while Ndbele (aka Sindebele), another indigenous Bantu language, is spoken by about 20% of the population. Media such as radio and television are available in all three of these languages. 

The name Shona is used to refer to a standardized language based on the language's several dialects: Karanga, Korekore, Zezuru, Ndau, and Manyika. Recently, at least one linguist has suggested that each dialect is in fact a distinct language from Shona. In any case, the many varieties of Shona constitute a dialect continuum that spans across a large geographical area.

The Shona alphabet is written in a Latin-based script which includes additional letters such as dzv, svw, tsv, and zh. If you're looking for a language to learn, Shona may be for you, since it contains features such as all syllables ending in a vowel, all verbs ending in -a, and all five vowels (a, e, i, o, u) being pronounced the same as in Spanish. The main phonological difficulty would be the language's whistled sibilants, which are common in languages of Southern and Eastern Africa, but foreign to many other areas of the world.