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  • In South Africa, the Xhosa-speaking people form the second largest language group.

  • It is spoken by approximately 7.9 million speakers (about 18% of South Africans).

  • Xhosa is a member of the Southeastern, or Nguni, subgroup of the Bantu group of the Benue-Congo branch of the Niger-Congo language family. Other Southeastern Bantu languages are Zulu, Swati (Swazi), Sotho, Tswana, Venda, and Ndebele. Although Xhosa and Zulu are similar enough to be considered dialects of one language, Xhosa and Zulu speakers consider them to be separate languages.

  • 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.


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