Xhosa language

Spoken in

  • Niger - Congo languages Benue - Congo languages Bantoidsprachen Bantu languages Ngunisprachen isiXhosa isiXhosa




IsiXhosa (? listen / i, German pronunciation: [ Iziko ː za] ), simplistically called Xhosa, the language of the Xhosa and one of the eleven official languages ​​in South Africa, besides, it is also used in Botswana and Lesotho.

It is spoken by about nine million people and is the second most common after Zulu native language in South Africa. Characteristic are especially the clicking sounds; also the name Xhosa begins with a Schnalzlaut. It is written in the International Phonetic Alphabet as follows: [ ǁ ʰ osa ].

Xhosa is a southeastern Bantu language of the Nguni subgroup, however, about 15 percent of the vocabulary comes from the Khoisan languages ​​. It is closely related with the language of the Zulu, isiZulu.


The name comes from a legendary Xhosa chief. The ethnic group that speaks isiXhosa, bills itself as the amaXhosa. Nearly all languages ​​with Schnalzlauten are Khoisan languages ​​and the presence of these clicking sounds reveals the close historical ties with the Khoisan languages ​​of neighboring countries.

Geographical spread

The language represents the southwestern part of the Nguni family, a subfamily of the Bantu languages ​​, represents the most native speakers live in the Eastern Cape, but there are also increasingly spokesman in the Western Cape, including Cape Town.


Xhosa is closely related to the other Ngunisprachen. Their speaker often also understand the other language, such as isiZulu or siSwati. In addition, isiXhosa has several dialects. Between experts, the boundaries between the different dialects is controversial. A categorization is: Xhosa, Ngqika, Gcaleka, Mfengu, Thembu, Bomvana, Mpondomise.

Phonetics and phonology

IsiXhosa but has a simple structure of the vowels, is rich in unusual consonant. In addition to the molded using the pulmonary flow consonants it has three types of Schnalzlauten. The first is the dental Schnalzlaut, it is produced by a pressing of the tongue on the front teeth. The resulting sound is comparable to the "ts ts ts", which is used as the blame. The second is the lateral Schnalzlaut generated by the tongue against the sides of the mouth, the result is a Schnalzlaut, such as is used for calling of horses. The third is called postalveolar Schnalzlaut and is produced with the body of the tongue against the palate. Each Schnalzlaut occurs in six game types. In addition, Xhosa is a tonal language, that is, the pitch at which a word is spoken, is meaningless distinctive. There are two tones, high and low.


Xhosa has a system of ten vowels: [a ], [ ɛ ], [i ], [ ɔ ] and [u ], which can each be long or short. They are a, e, i, o and u posted.


In the following table are listed the consonant. On the left is each of the phonetic value in IPA, the right spelling in normal spelling.

In loanwords more consonants occur: [ r] and [ r] r is written; [ ʒ ] and [ ʒ̈ ] zh be written; [ ʣ ] and [ ʣ̤ ] are written dz; [n ] is written ngh.

The clicking sounds, plosives and affricates with breathy voice are actually even spoken with normal phonation, but the following vowel is breathed. Example: because [ DA].

The spelling of tsh can also stand still for [ ʦ ʰ ] and [ ʧ ʰ ] except for [ ʧ ']. The glottal fricative with breathy voice [ ɦ̤ ] is written sometimes h.


Xhosa is an agglutinative language ( from the Latin agglutinare - Are stuck together ), suffixes and prefixes are added to the root words and contain grammatical information. In addition, isiXhosa has a class or genus system like all Bantu languages ​​, common with many more categories than masculine, feminine, neuter, as in Indo-European. There are classes for word groups, such as people, relatives, animals, plants, objects and abstract concepts.


Used the Latin alphabet. European missionaries introduced it, when they began to translate the Bible. 1833 first portions of the Bible in isiXhosa were published, in 1846 the entire New Testament and finally in 1859 a complete edition of the Bible. Clicking sounds are not written with diacritics, but with c for dental, x is the lateral and q for the postalveolar Schnalzlaut.

Text Examples


  • The sung and spoken in isiXhosa feature film U -Carmen was honored at the 2005 Berlinale Golden Bear.
  • The Debian derivative Ubuntu is named with a word from the language of the Xhosa and Zulu. The founder and main sponsor of this software project is the South African Mark Shuttleworth.