A Look at the Xhosa, Ndebele and Zulu languages

Method and Conclusion. See here.

Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.

Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.

Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.

This post will look at the Xhosa, Ndebele and Zulu languages in terms of how difficult they would be for an English speaker to learn them.

Benue-Congo
Bantoid
Southern
Narrow Bantu
Central
S
Nguni

Xhosa, Ndebele and Zulu are closely related languages that are widely spoken in South Africa. Some think that they are not even separate languages and instead of being three languages here, there are only one or two languages and one or two dialects of the other tongue(s).

Xhosa, a language of South Africa, is quite difficult, with up to nine click sounds. Clicks only exist in one language outside of Africa – the Australian language Damin – and are extremely difficult to learn. Even native speakers mess up the clicks sometimes. Nelson Mandela said he had problems making some of the click sounds in Xhosa. The phonemics in general of Xhosa are pretty wild.

Xhosa gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

Zulu and Ndebele also have these impossible click sounds. However, outside of click sounds, the phonology of Nguni languages is straightforward. All Nguni languages are agglutinative.

Ndebele gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

Zulu has pitch accent, tones and clicks. There are nine different pitch accents, four tones and three clicks, but each click can be pronounced in five different ways. However, tones are not marked in writing, so it’s hard to figure out when to use them. Zulu also has depressor consonants, which lower the tone in the vowel in the following syllable. In addition, Zulu has multiple gender – 15 different genders. Some nouns behave like verbs. It also has 12 different noun classes, but 90% of words are part of a group of only three of those classes.

These languages also make plurals by changing the prefix of the noun, and the manner varies according the noun class. If you want to look up a word in the dictionary, first of all you need to discard the prefix.

For instance, in Zulu:

“river” umfula
“rivers” imifula, but
“stone” ilitshe
“stones” amatshe, yet
“tree” isihlahla
“trees” izihlahla

Zulu gets a 6 rating, hardest of all.

4 Comments

Filed under Africa, Applied, Bantu, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Niger-Congo, Niger-Kordofanian, Regional, South Africa, Xhosa

4 responses to “A Look at the Xhosa, Ndebele and Zulu languages

  1. bluffcreek1967

    Robert, I apologize for using this post to talk about Bigfoot, but have you been following the activities of Nathan Reo and his Youtube channel (‘Utah Sasquatch’)? The man has made some compelling videos of interactions with these creatures. He has more or less rocked the Bigfoot world with his ‘discoveries’ and theories about them (most of which ring true).

    Nathan is not a hoaxer either. He’s open, humble, and seems to have a natural touch in finding these creatures. He’s in good physical shape, so he goes into areas that no humans go. He find almost endless amounts of tracks and tree structures. He has recorded them surrounding him whooping, grunting, moaning, and clacking rocks. There’s nothing contrived or phony about it either.

    Also, Robert Dodson on his Youtube channel has a relatively clear photograph of a young Sasquatch. This thing looks like the real deal, and I have no reason to believe he’s a hoaxer.

    If you haven’t done so yet, I hope you will check it out.

    If you wish, you can write me back at: http://www.sasquatchfootnotes.com

    Thanks for your time and consideration.

    Atticus Chambers

  2. Doctor mokwena ,mokwenadoc@gmail.com

    There example used there ndebele are writen wrong .you wrote them in zulu

    its ,river#umlambo, rivers#imilambo , stone#ilitje ,stones#amatje ,tree#muthi tress#imithi though some interchanges the word sihlahla for medication and vice versa with muthi for medication it depends how onw was raised

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