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].
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.
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 agglutinative: 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.
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. The q, c and x letters where chosen to convey the hint that non-native speakers can replace the click with the 'k' sound with little loss in meaning. 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, a song traditionaly sung when a young girl is married (Well known as performed by Miriam Makeba). It is known in English as The Click Song. (See the bottom for a 6 second sample of the song.)
- Igqira lendlela nguqongqothwane
- Igqira lendlela kuthwa nguqongqothwane
- Sebeqabele gqithapha bathi nguqongqothwane
- Sebeqabele gqithapha bathi nguqongqothwane.
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To view or edit this article at Wikipedia go to http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xhosa_language
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