Monday, December 16, 2013

Language Profile: Zulu

Today we'll be looking at Zulu, the second most spoken Bantu language in the world after Shona, which we covered in last week's profile. It is also known as isiZulu, with -isi being a prefix associated with languages that is used in Zulu.

Drakensberg, the highest mountain range in South Africa.
Zulu is one of South Africa's 11 official languages, and is understood by over half of the country's population. It is the most common native language in South Africa, where it is spoken by approximately 23% of the population, followed by Xhosa, Afrikaans, and English. Zulu is also spoken in the neighboring countries of Lesotho, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swaziland.

Despite being the most common native language in South Africa, Zulu has only had official status in the country since 1994. The language has also been increasingly used in television, radio, film, newspapers and education in recent decades. Standard Zulu tends to avoid the use of loanwords, while the variety spoken in cities includes them in its lexicon, including many loanwords from English.

As with many African languages, Zulu was not written until the arrival of European missionaries, hence the use of a Latin-based alphabet. If you're looking for a challenging language to learn, you might be interested in Zulu. It's a tonal language whose syllables can have one of three tones: high, low or falling. It also contains some click consonants, a feature typical of languages in the region. These consonants have three different types of articulation: dental, alveolar and lateral.