Language

Updated: November 11, 2012

The Kalanga language, called TjiKalanga or Ikalanga by its speakers, is spoken by about 500,000 people in southwestern Zimbabwe, 150,000 people in northeastern Botswana, and a smaller number in the diaspora. Dialects include:  Lilima (Botswana), Nyai, and Kalanga of the Plumtree area.  (Map)

Kalanga is a Bantu language, most closely related to Nambya in northwestern Zimbabwe and the Shona languages in central and eastern Zimbabwe.  Kalanga shares about 75% of its core vocabulary with literary Standard Shona. The language is under great social pressure from Tswana in Botswana and Ndebele in Zimbabwe and often borrows words from those languages, as well as from English.

Some basic phrases

Good morning. How are you?  — Dumilani. Mamuka tjini?
I am fine thanks  —  Tamuka totibathu
What is your name?  — Zina lilo/labo/lenyu ndiani?
Who are you? —  Ndi ingwi ani?
I do not know Kalanga well —  Anditoziba tjikalanga zwibuyanana
I come from ….   — Ndodwa ku … 
It was nice meeting you   —  Ndoshatha kushangana na’ngwi
How much is this thing? — Kuthu ikoku kodana bungana?
Thank you — Ndaboka
It is very hot — Kopisa kwazo

Some fun words:

  • nyemudza — tantalise by offering something and then refuse to give it
  • shanyula — get half done, as when threshing corn or stamping corn in a mortar

Kalanga has the standard features of Bantu languages:

  • Typical word order is:  SUBJECT – VERB – OBJECT.
  • Nouns belong to one of many noun classes and have a relevant class prefix in the singular and plural.
  • Verbs have a subject marker (related to the noun class of the subject), followed by various tense and mood markers, the root, various verb extensions, and a final vowel.
  • All syllables end with a vowel. Syllables can have either a low or a high tone, which can change the meaning of the word or phrase.  For example: símba “lion” (high tone + low tone)  ~  simba “strength” (low tone + low tone ).

Examples:

Bana     ba-no-zomol-an-a.
children   SUBJECTMARKER-PRESENT-pinch-RECIPROCAL-FINALVOWEL
“The children are pinching each other.”

Nzhuzha     u-no-shaka      ku-zan-a    na-we.
young man  SM-PRESENT-want-FV   INFIN-dance/play-FV   with-you
“The young man wants to dance with you.”

BoNeo      a-ba-zo-n-sek-a.
Neo+    NEG-SM-PRESENT-OBJ-laugh-FV
“Neo and others   did not laugh at him.”

Several elementary books for children are available from the Mukani Action Campaign in Francistown (some based on the primers of the earlier 20th century).  A new textbook series for Zimbabwean schools, prepared by the Kalanga Language and Culture Development Association is scheduled to appear in early 2013.

The only full grammar of Kalanga is the admirable Kalanga: Summary grammar by A. M. Chebanne & Daniel Schmidt (published in 2010 by CASAS).

Online resources: