The isiXhosa Language

Day 4,605, 17:52 Published in Japan Japan by Yaakmo

So, in my past three posts, I touched on some widely known languages beloved by many people for different reasons! But in a world inhabited by thousands of languages, I feel that it's important to touch on one of the lesser-known languages: isiXhosa. Found only in South Africa, this language is just a bit unknown to most people. Not necessarily due to it being an obscure language, but also because linguists as a whole have very little knowledge of this language. But, let's go ahead and dive into this language only a few of you have ever heard of!

IsiXhosa, or Xhosa for short, means "Angry Man". Kind of an ironic name due to how kind most people part of amaXhosa (the main tribe who speaks isiXhosa) are. Xhosa is part of a family called "Nguni" (don't worry, that name takes a bit to get used to pronouncing: nn-goo-nee). This family houses a large variety of African languages, and it also falls under a family of languages called the "Niger-Congo" languages. Under the Nguni branch, there are two main categories: Zunda (Zulu, Xhosa, and Ndebele) and Tekela (Swazi, Transvaal Ndebele, Phuthi, Bhaca, Hlubi, Lala, and Nhlangwini). Naturally, we'll be focusing on the Zunda category due to Xhosa being part of it.

Some of you may be wondering how to even pronounce Xhosa, it's a unique spelling and has exceptionally unique phonemes compared to Slavic, Romantic, and Germanic languages. Xhosa written in the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet), is as follows: [ˈǁʰɔsa]. Now, if y'all want one day, I'll break down phonology, it's a cool science of pronunciation; and if you learn the entire IPA, you'll be able to pronounce practically any word known. But, back to Xhosa's intricate-looking phonetics. Xhosa, and all Zunda languages, is a clicking language. A lot of people will make clicking sounds to make fun of people from Africa due to these languages. So, at the start of Xhosa, you stick the side of your tongue on the side of your teeth to make a click. After that, in layman's terms, the rest of the word is "Oh-sah". So, click-oh-sah is how you pronounce Xhosa. I promise you it'll feel weird, but you'll get used to it if you practice a few times!

As stated above, we truly don't know much about this language's history. It didn't have writing until the Scramble for Africa (it's thought that a man named John Bennie gave amaXhosa people an alphabet, mainly to translate the bible for them). Now, even though we don't know much about the people, we've been able to learn about some of their oral histories. Xhosa speaking people have been on the coastal region before the 16th century. When exactly isn't known since the current month/year system was developed by Christians. The ancestor of Xhosa had 0 clicks in the language, but Xhosa gained it via mingling with a San Language. Xhosa's vocabulary has roughly 15% San origin, which helps show the mingling between the two tribes. Currently, Xhosa also borrows from both Afrikaans and English, which isn't much of a surprise due to the UK gaining South Africa during the Scramble. In modern times, Xhosa makes up roughly 16% of the SA population's first language, which is a lot especially since SA has 11 official languages.

To end this post, I'd like to give some fun facts about Xhosa! When watching Black Panther, listen to the language the natives of Wakanda speak. Funnily enough, they're speaking Xhosa! In fact, the actor who played T'Chaka is part of the amaXhosa tribe. Another famous person in history is Nelson Mandela, his first language was Xhosa, and he was also part of the amaXhosa tribe. Alongside this, Xhosa is a very popular subject for native and non-native speakers in SA. But, the literacy rate of Xhosa speakers has not been of importance to people, as only 50% of amaXhosa can actually read as of 1996. Of course, this percentage could´ve changed by now, but being as small of a language as it is, it hasn´t been focused on for a census report, nor do the natives really care.

Thank you for spending the time to read all of this! I know this language isn´t popular amongst most people, but I think it´s important to share both popular and unpopular languages! Every language is beautiful for its own reason, and I hope this post has given you some interest in more African languages.

Like always, please don´t hesitate to leave me feedback, ask any questions, or suggest languages you want to learn more about!