Zulu (called isiZulu in Zulu), is a language of the Zulu people with about 10 million speakers, the vast majority (over 95%) of whom live in South Africa. Zulu is the most widely spoken home language in South Africa (24% of the population) as well as being understood by over 50% of the population (Ethnologue 2005). It became one of South Africa’s 11 official languages in 1994 at the end of apartheid. Contents
1 Geographical distribution
3 Contemporary usage
5.2.1 Simple verb stems
5.2.2 Complex verb stems
5.2.3 Subject prefixes
5.2.4 Object prefixes
5.3 The imperative
5.4 The infinitive
5.5 The present
5.5.1 The participial form
5.5.2 The subjunctive
5.6 The perfect
5.6.1 The stative
5.7 The preterite
5.7.1 The consecutive
5.8 The future I
5.9 Other tenses
7 Sample text
8 Common place names in Zulu
9 The ‘Zulu’/’isiZulu’ debate
10 Zulu words in South African English
13 External links
13.5 Literature and culture
Zulu belongs to the South-Eastern group of Bantu languages (the Nguni group).
The language is widely spoken in KwaZulu-Natal (81% of the province’s population are Zulu first language speakers), Mpumalanga (26%) and Gauteng (21%). It is also spoken in some other African countries, with significant Zulu-speaking populations in Lesotho and Swaziland. Ndebele language|Ndebele, spoken in Zimbabwe, SiSwati and the Nguni language formerly spoken in Malawi are all closely related to Zulu and developed from nineteenth century Zulu migrant populations. Xhosa, the predominant language in the Eastern Cape, and Zulu are also mutually intelligible.
The Zulu presence in South Africa dates from about the fourteenth century AD. Much like the Xhosa who had moved into South Africa during earlier waves of the Bantu migrations, the Zulu assimilated many sounds from the San and Khoi languages of the country’s earliest inhabitants. This has resulted in the preservation of click consonants in Zulu and Xhosa, (the sounds are unique to Southern Africa except for the Australian Aborigine Damin ceremonial language) despite the extinction of many San and Khoi languages.
Zulu, like all indigenous Southern African languages, was an oral language until contact with missionaries from Europe, who documented the language using the Latin alphabet. The first written document in Zulu was a Bible translation that appeared in 1883. In 1901, John Dube (1871-1946), a Zulu from Natal, created the Ohlange Institute, the first native educational institution in South Africa. He was also the author of Insila kaShaka, the first novel written in isiZulu (1933). Another pioneering Zulu writer was Rolfes Robert Reginald Dhlomo|Reginald Dhlomo, author of several historical novels of the 19th-century leaders of the Zulu nation: : U-Dingane (1936), U-Shaka (1937), U-Mpande (1938), U-Cetshwayo (1952) and U-Dinizulu (1968). Other notable contributors to Zulu literature include Benedict Wallet Vilakazi and, more recently, Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali.
The written form of Zulu was controlled by the Zulu Language Board of KwaZulu-Natal. This board has now been disbanded and superseded by the Pan South African Language Board that promotes the use of all eleven official languages of South Africa.
English, Dutch and later Afrikaans had been the only official languages used by all South African governments before 1994. However in the Kwazulu bantustan the Zulu language was widely used. All education in the country at the high-school level was in English or Afrikaans. Since the demise of apartheid in 1994, Zulu has been enjoying a marked revival. Zulu-language television was introduced by the SABC in the early 1980s and it broadcasts news and many shows in Zulu. Zulu radio is very popular and newspapers such as isoLezwe, Ilanga and UmAfrika in the Zulu language are available, mainly available in Kwazulu-Natal province and in Johannesburg. Recently, the first full length feature film in Zulu (Yesterday) was nominated for an Academy Awards|Oscar.
South African matriculation requirements no longer specify which South African language needs to be taken as a second language, and some people have made the switch to learning Zulu. However people taking Zulu at high-school level overwhelmingly take it as first language: according to recent statistics. Afrikaans is still over 30 times more popular than Zulu as a second language. The mutual intelligibility of many Nguni languages, has increased the likelihood of Zulu becoming the lingua franca of the Eastern half of the country although the political dominance of Xhosa-speaking people on national level militates against this really happening. (The predominant language in the Western Cape and Northern Cape is Afrikaans – see the map below.
In the 1994 film The Lion King, in the Circle of Life song, the phrases Ingonyama nengw’ enamabala (English: A lion and a leopard come to this open place), Nants ingonyama nagithi Baba (English: Here comes a lion, Father) and Siyonqoba (English: We will conquer) were used. In some movie songs, like “This Land”, the voice says Busa Le Lizwe bo (Rule this land) and Busa ngothando bo (Rule with love) were used too.
One of the most distinctive features of Zulu is the use of click consonants. This feature is shared with several other languages of Southern Africa, but is almost entirely confined to this region. There are three basic clicks in Zulu:
c – dental (comparable to a sucking of teeth)
q – alveolar (comparable to a bottle top ‘pop’)
x – lateral (comparable to a click one may do for a walking horse)
These can have several variants such as being voiced, Aspiration (phonetics) or nasalisation so that there are a total of about 15 different click sounds in Zulu. The same sounds occur in Xhosa, where they are used more frequently than in Zulu.
Vowels are long when they are the stressed syllable.
Like the great majority of other Bantu and African languages, Zulu is Tonal Languages|tonal; that is, the same sequence of consonants and vowels can have different meanings when said with a rising or falling or high or low intonation. Yet, as in nearly all other such languages, it is conventionally written without any indication of tone. As a rough rule of thumb, drop the voice on the next-to-last syllable of each word, and lengthen that syllable as well.
Image:Zuludistrib.gif|thumb|300px|right|Provinces of South Africa in which Zulu is spoken as a home language by a significant proportion of the population
Some of the main grammatical features of Zulu are:
Constituent word order is Subject Verb Object.
Morphologically, it is an agglutinative language.
As in other Bantu languages, Zulu nouns are classified into fifteen noun class|morphological classes (or grammatical gender|genders), with different prefixes for singular and plural. Various parts of speech that qualify a noun must agree with the noun according to its gender. These agreements usually reflect part of the original class that it is agreeing with. An example of this is the use of the class ‘aba-‘:
Bonke abantu abaqatha basepulazini bayagawula.
All the strong people of the farm are felling (trees).
Here, the various agreement that qualify the word ‘abantu’ (people) can be seen in effect.
Its verbal system shows a combination of temporal and aspectual categories in their finite paradigm. Typically verbs have two stems, one for Present-Indefinite and another for Perfect. Different prefixes can be attached to these verbal stems to specify subject agreement and various degrees of past or future tense. For example, in the word uyathanda (“he loves”), the Present stem of the verb is -thanda, the prefix u- expresses third-person singular subject and -ya- is a filler used in short sentences.
Suffixes are also put into common use to show the causative or reciprocal forms of a verb stem.
Most property words (words which are encoded as adjectives in English) are represented by things called relatives, such is the sentence umuntu ubomvu (“the person is red”), the word ubomvu (root -bomvu) behaves similarly to a verb and uses the agreement prefix u-, but there are subtle differences, for example, it does not use the infix -ya-.
The Zulu noun consists of two essential parts, the prefix and the stem, though the prefix can be analysed further. Using the prefixes, nouns can be grouped into noun classes, which are numbered consecutively, to ease comparison with other Bantu languages. So, for example, the nouns abafana (youth) and abangane (friend) belong to Class 2, characterised by the prefix aba-, whereas isibongo (surname) and isihahla (tree) belong to Class 7, characterised by the prefix isi-.
Each noun class has a well-defined grammatical role, as well as a more loosely defined semantic one. The grammatical number of the noun, whether singular or plural, is determined by the prefix; thus, all noun classes can be organised into singular and plural pairs. For example, all nouns of Class 7 (prefix isi-) have plurals from Class 8 (prefix izi-).
Classes 14 (ubu-) and 15 (uku-) form an exception to this rule, as they have no corresponding plural classes (if necessary, plurals of Class 14 are formed from class 6. nouns of Class 15 have no plural forms).
Furthermore, the class of the noun determines the forms of other parts of speech, i.e. verbs, adjectives, etc – their prefixes are derived from those of the substantive classes, and will be in agreement with them.
umfana omkhulu (large youth)
isihlahla esikhulu (large tree)
In terms of semantics, groups of similar nouns belong to similar noun classes. For example, names and surnames are only found in class 1a. Designations of persons which are derived from verbs (eg. singer, from sing) are commonly in class 1, abstract concepts (eg. beauty) in class 14, loanwords in classes 9 and 5, and nouns derived from the infinitives of verbs (eg. eating, from eat) in class 15.
The following table gives an overview of Zulu noun class, arranged according to singular-plural pairs.
1 um- replaces umu- before monosyllabic stems, eg. umuntu (person).
2 aba- and imi- replace ab- and im- respectively before stems beginning in a vowel, eg. abongameli (president).
3 abe- occurs only in rare cases, eg. in abeSuthu (the Sotho) or abeLungu (the Whites, the Europeans).
4 ame- occurs only in one instance, namely amehlo (eyes) the plural of iso (eye; originally: ihlo).
5 isi- and izi- replace is- and iz- respectively before stems beginning with a vowel, eg. isandla/izandla (hand/hands).
6 The placeholder N in the prefixes iN- and iziN- for m, n or no letter at all, i.e. in classes 9 and 10 there are three different prefixes, though only one per noun stem. Examples:
iN- = i-: imali (money)
iN- = im-: impela (truth)
iN- = in-: inhlanzi (fish)
7 Rare, see above.
In contrast to the noun, the Zulu verb has a variable number of components, which are arranged in sequence according to a defined set of rules. Examples of these include:
a subject prefix (SP), which agrees with the subject of the sentence
a temporal morpheme, which indicates the tense of the verb
an object prefix (OP), which agrees with the object of the sentence
the verb stem (VS), which carries the underlying meaning of the verb
a suffix, which can signify various aspects of the verb (eg. tense or modality)
The verb stem and the suffix are always present, but the other parts are optional, ie their presence depends on the function of the verb in the sentence.
Simple verb stems
Simple verb stems are ones to which no suffixes are attached that would alter the basic meaning of the verb. Examples include:
to make, to do
to break [something]
to cook, to roast
Complex verb stems
Complex verb stems are derived from simple verb stems by attaching various suffixes, thus changing the meaning. Thus, we can take the stem -enz (to make, to do) and apply a few common suffixes to get different shades of meaning. Eg.:
to make, to do
to do something together
to be doable i.e. possible
to do something for someone
to bring someone for doing something
to be made, to be done
In Zulu, a subject prefix corresponds to the subjective case of English personal pronouns, such as I or he. Unlike personal pronouns, however, Zulu subject prefix cannot stand alone, but must be attached to a verb. Zulu does possess a set of independent personal pronouns; however, these are only used to emphasise the subject to whom they refer.
An example with the subject prefix si- and the personal pronoun thina (both meaning we):
We are going now.
Thina sihamba manje.
We are going now.
There is a unique subject prefix for each person|grammatical person and each noun class.
The non-initial subject prefixes (SP-) are used when a further prefix is attached to the SP, for example in the negative of certain tenses.
In Zulu, the object prefix is used to designate the direct|direct object or indirect object of a verb (formal Zulu does not distinguish between these two cases). Just like the subject prefixes, object prefixes cannot stand independently, but must be attached to a verb stem. Independent personal pronouns can be used in conjunction with object prefixes as well, serving, again, to shift the emphases of the sentences.
Examples with the OP -m- (him/her/it) und the personal pronoun yena (him/her/it):
I see him.
I give her a gift.
I see him.
There is a unique object prefix for each person and noun class.
Formation of the imperative:
(yi) – VS – a
OP – VS – e
(yi) – VS – ani
OP – VS – eni
The only exception to this is the common verb stem -z-, to come, whose singular and plural imperative forms are woza and wozani respectively.
eat it (the fish)!
Eat it (the fish)
Formation of the infinitive:
Aff.: uku – (OP) – VS – a
Neg.: uku – nga – (OP) – VS – i
not to fall
not to eat
to eat it (e.g. inhlanzi, the fish)
not to eat it
not to do
not to roast
Several sound changes occur, when two vowels occur together. These include:
before other vowels – this sound change occurs automatically in speech.
Furthermore, the suffi -a will be found with verb stems which end in w, never -i.
Formation of the present|present tense:
Aff.: SP – (ya) – (OP) – VS – a
Neg.: a – SP- – (OP) – VS – i
The form -ya- is found when:
the verb is the last word in the sentence
the verb contains an object prefix, and the object follows the verb
the speaker wants to emphasise the factuality of the statement.
He is going.
He is going in the morning.
He is not going.
He is helping me.
He is helping me today.
He isn’t helping me.
Usiza uyise. Uyamsiza uyise.
He is helping his father.
The participial form
Formation of the participial|participle form:
Aff.: SPP – (OP) – VS – a
Neg.: SPP – nga – (OP) – VS – i
In the participial form, the subject prefixes u-, ba- and a- of the classes 1, 1a, 2, 2b and 6 become e-, be- and e- respectively. The participial form is used, among others:
to indicate simultaneity
in subordinate clauses with certain conjunctions|conjunction.
with certain auxiliary verbs.
He talks while he eats (Eating, he talks).
I saw that he was not working
Formation of the subjunctive:
Aff.: SCS – (OP) – VS – e
Neg.: SCS – nga – (OP) – VS – i
In the subjunctive, the subject prefix u- of classes 1 and 1a becomes a-. The subjunctive is used
in wishes and polite requests
in sequences of requests
with certain auxiliary verbs
I told him he should go.
Woza lapha uzame futhi!
Come here and try it again!
He only laughs.
The perfect|perfect tense the recent, although what is meant by ‘recent’ depends on the speaker. In the colloquial language, the perfect is often preferred to the preterite.
Formation of the perfect:
Aff.: SP – (OP) – VS – e/ile
Neg.: a – SP- – (OP) – VS – anga
The long form in -ile is found when the verb is the last word in the sentence or clause, otherwise the short form in -e is used, with the -e- accented.
We went yesterday.
We did not go.
We have not seen him/her.
A range of Zulu verbs indicate a change of state or a process, which tends towards some final goal (cf. inchoative verbs). To indicate that this final state has been achieved, the stative|stative verb, which is related to the perfect, is used.
Formation of the stative:
Aff.: SP – VS – ile
Neg.: a – SP- – VS – ile
He is dying.
He is dead.
I am becoming hungry.
I am hungry.
We are turning back.
We have returned.
Note that the form verbs with certain endings, the ending -ile is not used. These are:
1 This is a unique case, namely the irregular passive -bulaw- from -bulal-.
The preterite is used to indicate the distant past, the past preceding the perfect, and as a narrative perfect.
Formation of the preterite:
Aff.: SP + a – (OP) – VS – a
Neg.: a – SP- – (OP) – VS – anga
In the affirmative, because of the merger of the of the SP with a following a in the spoken language, the following subject prefixes result for the preterite:
We did not go.
We did not see him/her.
Formation of the consecutive:
Aff.: SP + a – (OP) – VS – a
Neg.: SP + a – nga – (OP) – VS – a
The consecutive is used to describe a sequence of consecutive events in the preterite, and differs from it only in the negative.
Wavuka wagqoka wahamba.
He woke up, dressed, and went out.
Wabaleka wangabheka emuva.
He ran away and did not look back.
The future I
Formation of the future|future tense I:
Aff.: SP – zo – (OP) – (ku) – VS – a
Neg.: a – SP- – zu – (ku)- (OP) – VS – a
The marker of the future tense is the infix zo- in the affirmative and the corresponding -zu- in the negative. The form is constructed from the auxiliary verb uku-za (or with the auxilairy uku-ya) and the infinitive of the verb. So, ngiza ukusiza (I am coming to help) = ngizosiza (I will help), or, alternatively ngiya ukusiza (I am going to help) = ngiyosiza (I will help) – English (as well as French and others) has had a similar development, whereby the verb to go has become the marker of the future tense. To form the negative, the auxiliary verb is negated and then merged with the following verb, thus angizi ukusiza = angizusiza. In the case of monosyllabic verb stems, as well as those that begin with vowels, the prefix -ku- is added to the stem – this becomes -k- before o and -kw- in front of other vowels
I will come.
I will not come.
I will build
I will not build.
I will help him.
I will not help him.
Other forms, such as the pluperfect, the future II, the progressive forms or the conjunctive forms are somewhat complicated. They are formed with single or double uses of the auxiliary verb -ba-, to be, but in practical usage are abbreviated further.
The following is a list of phrases that can be used when visiting a region where the primary language is Zulu.
Hello, to one person
Hello, to a group of people
Unjani? / Ninjani?
How are you (sing.)? / How are you (pl.)?
Ngisaphila / Sisaphila
I’m okay / We’re okay
Thanks (a lot)
Ngubani igama lakho?
What is your name?
Igama lami ngu…
My name is…
What’s the time?
Can I help you?
Where do you stay?
Where are you from?
Hamba kahle / Sala kahle
Go well / Stay well (used as goodbye)
Hambani kahle / Salani kahle
Go well / Stay well, to a group of people
Wow! (No real European equivalent, used in South African English) (you could try a semi-expletive, such as oh my God or what the f*ck. It expresses a notion of shock and surprise)
No! / Stop! / No way! (used in South African English too)
I don’t know
Ukhuluma isiNgisi na?
Do you speak English?
Ngisaqala ukufunda isiZulu
I’ve just started learning Zulu
(From the preamble to the Constitution of South Africa|South African Constitution)
Thina, bantu baseNingizimu Afrika, ‘Siyakukhumbula ukucekelwa phansi kwamalungelo okwenzeka eminyakeni eyadlula; ‘Sibungaza labo abahluphekela ubulungiswa nenkululeko kulo mhlaba wethu; ‘Sihlonipha labo abasebenzela ukwakha nokuthuthukisa izwe lethu; futhi ‘Sikholelwa ekutheni iNingizimu Afrika ingeyabo bonke abahlala kuyo, sibumbene nakuba singafani.
We, the people of South Africa, Recognize the injustices of our past; Honor those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land; Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.
Common place names in Zulu
Zulu place names usually occur in their locative form, which combines what would in English be separate prepositions with the name concerned. This is usually achieved by simply replacing the i- prefix with an e- prefix (for example, ‘eGoli’ translates literally as ‘to/at/in/from Johannesburg’ when iGoli is simply Johannesburg), but changes in the name can also occur (see Durban below). The locatives are given in brackets.
South Africa – iNingizimu Afrika / uMzansi Afrika
Durban – iTheku (eThekwini)
Johannesburg – iGoli (eGoli)
Cape Town – iKapa (Cape Town|eKapa)
Pretoria – iPitoli (ePitoli)
Pietermaritzburg – uMgungundlovu (eMgungundlovu)
Ladysmith – uMnambithi (eMnambithi)
Overseas – phesheya
The ‘Zulu’/’isiZulu’ debate
The Zulu language is called ‘isiZulu’ in Zulu, ‘isi-‘ being the prefix associated with languages (e.g., isiNgisi = English, isiXhosa = Xhosa, isiBhunu = Afrikaans, isiJalimane = German, etc.).
The root word Zulu can take many other forms in Zulu, each with a different meaning. Here is a table showing how the meanings of two roots – Zulu and ntu – change according to their prefix.
umZulu (a Zulu person)
umuntu (a person)
amaZulu (Zulu people)
isiZulu (the Zulu language)
isintu (culture, heritage, mankind)
ubuntu (humanity, compassion)
kwaZulu (place of the Zulu people)
izulu (the weather/sky/heaven)
phezulu (on top)
ezulwini (in, at, to, from heaven)
Some prefer to call Zulu isiZulu in English as per the Zulu name for the language. This is similar to the practice of calling Swahili Kiswahili, but many languages are not called by their native names in English, like German (which is Deutsch in German) and Japanese (which is Nihongo in Japanese).
Zulu words in South African English
South African English has absorbed many words from the Zulu language. Others, such as the names of local animals (impala and mamba are both Zulu names) have made their way into standard English language|English. A few examples of Zulu words used in South African English:
Muti (from umuthi) – medicine
Donga (ditch)|Donga (from udonga) – ditch (udonga actually means ‘wall’ in Zulu)
Indaba – conference (it means ‘an item of news’ in Zulu)
inDuna – chief or leader
Shongololo (from ishongololo) – millipede
ubuntu (ideology)|Ubuntu – compassion/humanity
UCLA Language Materials Project – Zulu
Dent, G.R. and Nyembezi, C.L.S. (1959) Compact Zulu Dictionary. Pietermaritzburg: Shuter & Shooter. ISBN 0-7960-0760-8
Dent, G.R. and Nyembezi, C.L.S. (1969) Scholar’s Zulu Dictionary. Pietermaritzburg: Shuter & Shooter. ISBN 0-7960-0718-7
Doke, C.M. (1947) Text-book of Zulu grammar. London: Longmans, Green and Co.
Doke, C.M. (1953) Zulu-English Dictionary. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press. ISBN 1-86814-160-8
Doke, C.M. (1958) Zulu-English Vocabulary. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press. ISBN 0-85494-009-X
Nyembezi, C.L.S. (1957) Learn Zulu. Pietermaritzburg: Shuter & Shooter. ISBN 0-7960-0237-1
Nyembezi, C.L.S. (1970) Learn More Zulu. Pietermaritzburg: Shuter & Shooter. ISBN 0-7960-0278-9
Wilkes, Arnett, Teach Yourself Zulu. ISBN 0-07-143442-9
Ethnologue report on Zulu
South African Languages — IsiZulu
A short English – isiZulu – Japanese phraselist incl. sound file
isiZulu.net Zulu – English Online Dictionary
Zulu – English Dictionary
Spell checker for OpenOffice.org and Mozilla, OpenOffice.org, Mozilla Firefox web-browser, and Mozilla Thunderbird email program in Zulu
Translate.org.za Project to translate Free and Open Source Software into all the official languages of South Africa including Zulu
PanAfrican L10n wiki page on Zulu
Literature and culture
KwaZulu-Natal Literary Map Category:isiZulu]] Category:Ulimi]]