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Xhosa language

Xhosa or !Xhosa is a language of South Africa. It is spoken by approximately 7.9 million speakers (about 18% of South Africans). Click consonants feature prominently in the sounds of this language, and even the name, "Xhosa", begins with a click. In IPA, the name of the language is pronounced approximately /||hosa/.

Spoken in:South Africa
Region:Eastern Cape Province
Total speakers: 7.9 Million
Ranking:Not in top 100
      Narrow Bantu
Official status
Official language of:South Africa
Regulated by:Xhosa Language Boards of Ciskei and Transkei
Language codes
ISO 639-1: xh
ISO 639-2: xho

Table of contents
1 History
2 Geographic distribution
3 Sounds
4 Grammar
5 Writing system
6 External links


The name Xhosa refers to one of their legendary chieftains of old. The ethnic group that speaks Xhosa refer to themselves as the amaXhosa and their language is known as isiXhosa. Almost all languages with clicks are Khoisan languages, and the presence of clicks in Xhosa betray the strong historical interaction with its Khoisan neighbors. Even the name Xhosa may be of Khoisan origin.

Geographic distribution

The language represents the most South Western branch of the Nguni subfamily of the Bantu languages. Most native Xhosa speakers are located in the Eastern Cape Province, but increasingly also in the Western Cape, including Cape Town.


In addition to being mostly mutually intelligible with
Zulu and closely related Bantu languages, Xhosa has several dialects. There is debate among scholars as to what exactly the divisions between the dialects are. One such grouping is: (original) Xhosa, Ngqika, Gcaleka, Mfengu, Thembu, Bomvana, and Mpondomise.


Xhosa has a relatively simple set of vowels, but it is rich in unusual consonants. Besides normal pulmonic egressive sounds, it has 3 basic clicks in addition to ejectives and implosives. The first is the dental click, which is made with the tongue on the back of the teeth, and is the sound represented in English by "tut-tut" or "tsk-tsk" used to reprimand someone. The second is the lateral click, which is made by the tongue at the sides of the mouth, and is similar to the sound used to call horses. The third is the postalveolar click, which is made with the body of the tongue on the roof of the mouth. Each click occurs in 6 varieties. Xhosa is also a tone language with two inherent tones, low and high.


The grammar of Xhosa is of a type called agglunative: suffixes and prefixes are attached to root words and stems to convey grammatical information. Xhosa also has the characteristic noun class, or "gender" system which is common to all Bantu languages. There are many more classes than the masculine, feminine, and neuter genders of familiar Indo-European languages. The nouns in each class are roughly related in meaning. For example, there are classes for people, relatives, animals, plants, objects, abstract concepts, etc.

Writing system

Xhosa is written using the Latin alphabet. Clicks are written using 'c' for the dental click, 'x' for the lateral click, and 'q' for the postalveolar click. An example of the written language is a section of the national anthem of South Africa.

Nkosi, sikelel' iAfrika;
Malupakam'upondo lwayo;
Yiva imithandazo yethu

Another example is Qongqothwane, written by Miriam Makeba. It is known in English as The Click Song. (An audio clip would be nice for those who want to know what the click really sounds like.)
Igqira lendlela nguqongqothwane
Igqira lendlela kuthwa nguqongqothwane
Sebeqabele gqithapha bathi nguqongqothwane
Sebeqabele gqithapha bathi nguqongqothwane.

External links