In South Africa, the Xhosa-speaking people form the second largest
It is spoken by approximately 7.9 million speakers (about 18% of South
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