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Shona language

Shona (or chiShona) is a Bantu language, native to the Shona people of Zimbabwe and southern Zambia; the term is also used to identify peoples who speak one of the Shona language dialects: Zezuru, Karanga, Manyika, Ndau and Korekore. (Some researchers include Kalanga: others recognise Kalanga as a distinct language in its own right.) Shona is a principal language of Zimbabwe, along with Ndebele and the official business language, English. Shona is spoken by a large percentage of the people in Zimbabwe. Other countries that host Shona language speakers are Zambia and Botswana and Mozambique.

Shona is the Bantu language most widely spoken as a native language. According to Ethnologue,[1] Shona comprising the Karanga, Zezuru, and Korekore dialects, is spoken by about 10.8 million people. Manyika and Ndau dialects of Shona,[2][3][4] listed separately by Ethnologue,[5] and are spoken by 1,025,000[6] and 2,380,000[7] people, respectively. The total figure of Shona speakers is then about 14.2 million people. Zulu is the second most widely spoken Bantu language with 10.3 million speakers according to Ethnologue.[8]

Shona is a written standard language with an orthography and grammar that was codified during the early 20th century and fixed in the 1950s. The first novel in Shona, Solomon Mutswairo's Feso, was published in 1957. Shona is taught in the schools but is not the general medium of instruction in other subjects. It has a literature and is described through monolingual and bilingual dictionaries (chiefly Shona English). Modern Shona is based on the dialect spoken by the Karanga people of Masvingo Province, the region around Great Zimbabwe, and Zezuru people of central and northern Zimbabwe. However, all Shona dialects are officially considered to be of equal significance and are taught in local schools.

Shona is a member of the large family of Bantu languages. In Guthrie's zonal classification of Bantu languages, zone S10 designates a dialect continuum of closely related varieties, including Shona proper, Manyika, Nambya, and Ndau, spoken in Zimbabwe and central Mozambique; Tawara and Tewe, found in Mozambique; and Ikalanga of Botswana and Western Zimbabwe.

Shona speakers most likely moved into present day Zimbabwe from the Mapungubwe and K2 communities in Limpopo South Africa before the invasion of the English settlers. A common misconception is that the speakers of the Karanga dialect were absorbed into the Ndebele culture and language turning them into Kalanga. This misconception is a direct result of the political bias in the national curriculum framework of Zimbabwe. The Kalanga language is widely spoken in Botswana where the Ndebele were never present. The Kalanga language is thought to have been the language used by the Mapungubweans (Department of Archeology Witts University). If this is accurate it follows that the Karanga dialect of Shona is a derivative of Kalanga. Karanga is closer to Kalanga than the rest of the aforementioned dialects. Karanga and Kalanga are both closer to Venda than the other Shona dialects.



There are many dialect differences in Shona, but a standardized dialect is recognized. According to information from Ethnologue (when excluding Kalanga):

  • Hwesa dialect
  • Karanga dialect (Chikaranga). Spoken in southern Zimbabwe, near Masvingo.

Subdialects Duma, Jena, Mhari (Mari), Ngova, Venda (not the Venda language), Nyubi, Govera.

  • Zezuru dialect (Chizezuru, Bazezuru, Bazuzura, Mazizuru, Vazezuru, Wazezuru). Spoken in Mashonaland and central Zimbabwe, near Harare. The standard language.

Subdialects Shawasha, Gova, Mbire, Tsunga, Kachikwakwa, Harava, Nohwe, Njanja, Nobvu, Kwazvimba (Zimba).

  • Korekore dialect (Northern Shona, Goba, Gova, Shangwe). Spoken in northern Zimbabwe, near Mvurwi.

Subdialects: Budya, Gova, Tande, Tavara, Nyongwe, Pfunde, Shan Gwe.

Languages with partial intelligibility with Shona, of which the speakers are considered to be ethnically Shona, are the Ndau language, spoken in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, and the Manyika language, spoken in eastern Zimbabwe, near Mutare. Ndau literacy material has been introduced into primary schools.

Phonology and alphabet

All syllables in Shona end in a vowel. Consonants always belong to the next syllable. For example, mangwanani ("morning") is separated like this: ma/ngwa/na/ni; Zimbabwe is Zi/mba/bwe.

All verbs end in -a:

  • kutenda "to thank"
  • kuda "to like/love/want"
  • kuenda "to go"
  • kusvika "to arrive"
  • kudya "to eat"
  • kutamba "to dance/play"
  • kurara "to sleep" (kuvata)
  • kudzoka "to come back"
  • kuseka "to laugh"
  • kuchema "to cry"

Shona's five vowels (a, e, i, o, u) are pronounced as in Spanish: . Each vowel is pronounced separately even if they fall in succession. For example, "Unoenda kupi?" (Where do you go?) is pronounced .

The letters of the alphabet are,

Letter IPA

The digraphs ps and bz are pronounced and , and mbw is .

Whistled sibilants

Shona and other languages of Southern and Eastern Africa include whistling sounds, unlike most other languages where whistling signals a speech disorder. (This should not be confused with whistled speech.)

Shona's whistled sibilants are the fricatives "sv" and "zv" and the affricates "tsv" and "dzv".

Sound example translation notes
sv masvosvobwa "shooting stars"
masvosve "ants"
tsv tsvaira "sweep" (Standard Shona)
svw masvavembasvwi "schemer" (Shangwe, Korekore dialect)
zv zvizvuvhutswa "gold nuggets" (Tsunga, Zezuru dialect)
dzv akadzva "he/she was unsuccessful"
zvw huzvweverere "emotions" (Gova, Korekore dialect)
nzv nzvenga "to dodge" (Standard Shona)
zvc muzvcazi "the Milky Way" Dental clicks. Only found in Ngova, Karanga dialect, which has
substantial Ndebele influences, including the dental click ("c").
svc chisvcamba "tortoise"

Whistled sibilants stirred interest among the Western public and media in 2006, due to questions about how to pronounce the name of Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change Tsvangirai in Zimbabwe. The BBC Pronunciation Unit recommended the pronunciation "chang-girr-ayi". [9][10]



  • Biehler, E. (1950) A Shona dictionary with an outline Shona grammar (revised edition). The Jesuit Fathers.
  • Brauner, Sigmund (1995) A grammatical sketch of Shona : including historical notes. K ln: R diger Koppe.
  • Carter, Hazel (1986) Kuverenga Chish na: an introductory Shona reader with grammatical sketch (2nd edition). London: SOAS.
  • Doke, Clement M. (1931) Report on the unification of the Shona dialects. Stephen Austin Sons.
  • Mutasa, David (1996) The problems of standardizing spoken dialects: the Shona experience, Language Matters, 27, 79
  • Lafon, Michel (1995), Le shona et les shonas du Zimbabwe, Harmattan d., Paris

External links

af:Sjona (Taal) az: ona dili bn: br:Choneg ca:Xona de:Shona (Sprache) el: es:Idioma shona eo: ona lingvo fa: hif:Shona bhasa fr:Shona (langue) hr:Shona jezik id:Bahasa Shona it:Lingua shona sw:Kishona kv: ( ) kg:Kishona lt: on kalba mk: ( ) mzn: nah:Xonatlaht lli nl:Shona (taal) ja: no:Shona (spr k) nn:Shona nov:Shonum pms:Lenga Shona pl:J zyk shona pt:L ngua chona qu:Shona simi ru: ( ) ckb: sr: ( ) fi: onan kieli sv:Shona ta: uk: ug:

Source: Wikipedia | The above article is available under the GNU FDL. | Edit this article

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