Monday, February 17, 2014

Language Profile: Xhosa

This week's language profile is on Xhosa, a member of the Bantu language family that includes the Zulu and Shona languages. Xhosa is one of the 11 official languages of South Africa, as well as one of Zimbabwe's 16 official languages.

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in
Cape Town, South Africa
In South Africa, Xhosa is spoken by nearly a fifth of the population. One of the language's most famous speakers was Nelson Mandela, often known by his Xhosa clan name, Madiba.

Xhosa is used as a language of instruction in many primary schools as well as some secondary schools, though students are often eventually switched to learning primarily in English. The language is also studied as a subject in schools and universities.

In terms of its lexicon, Xhosa contains many loanwords from two other languages spoken in South Africa: Afrikaans and English. It is also an agglutinative language, meaning prefixes and suffixes are often attached to roots to create new words.

The Xhosa language is written using the Latin alphabet. Like other African languages, Xhosa contains several click consonants. In fact, the word Xhosa begins with a click. There are 18 click sounds in the language: six are dental clicks (made with the tongue on the back of the teeth) represented in writing as c, six are lateral clicks (made with the tongue at the sides of the mouth) represented by x, and six are alveolar clicks (made with the tip of the tongue on the roof of the mouth) represented by q.