IsiXhosa in 2016

Welcome to the sixth of Bangula’s language blogs, exploring South Africa’s diverse range of official languages and their current state of development.

Each blog will also be released in a translated version as we hope to encourage the use South Africa’s languages.

Xhosa is a Bantu family agglutinative tonal language. In English, we refer to the Xhosa language as Xhosa while the Xhosa people refer to their language as IsiXhosa. Written Xhosa employs Latin alphabet style. Approximately 18% of the South African population speaks Xhosa. In addition, it has a fair degree of mutual intelligibility with Zulu, particularly the Zulu spoken in towns. Most Xhosa urban dwellers also speak Afrikaans and/or Zulu and/or English. The language of Xhosa has 15 click sounds, borrowed from the current extinct Khoi-Khoi and the San languages of South Africa.The Xhosa language has three primary click consonants: a palatal click, a dental click, and a lateral click, printed with letter q, c and x respectively. A simple five vowel list also exists that is, (a, e, i, o, u). However, some of the vowels may be silent particularly at the word end. These vowels can be there in written Xhosa but barely perceptible in verbal language. In most cases, the Xhosa words tone is always lowest at the end.

Xhosa Culture:

The Xhosa tribes have an affluent cultural heritage. They have also majorly contributed to the development and growth of South Africa. For instance, Rolihlahla later known as Nelson Mandela was the leading Icon in the freedom struggle in South Africa. Nelson Mandela became the first African president of the republic of South Africa in 1994. He is from the Xhosa people.

Other Major Facts About Xhosa Culture Include:

The Xhosa group has remained famous for the bravura and a wide range of their bead works. Traditionally, the woman’s life stages were reflected on ornamentations and garments. Newly married women wore a unique head-dress, a dissimilar style to the women who had given birth etc as a unique identifier. The Xhosa men are polygamous. However, currently only wealthier men have at least two wives. The men traditionally fulfilled the warrior’s role, stock man as well as a hunter while the women tilled the land and grew crops. A clan consists of many groups. A chief, also referred to as Inkosi, heads each clan. The land was very important, and a serious emphasis is placed on awarding as per individual needs. The clan shared everything at all time. The families help one another to complete a certain task such as building of the hut. The Xhosa has diviners in their tribes. Most of the diviners are women.

  • Home language to: 16% of the population (8 154 258 people)
  • Linguistic lineage: Niger-Congo > Atlantic-Congo > Volta- Congo > Benue-Congo > Bantoid > Southern > Narrow Bantu > Central > S group > Nguni > isiXhosa
  • Alternate and historical names: Xhosa, Xosa, Koosa
  • Dialects: Gealeka, Ndlambe, Gaika (Ncqika), Thembu, Bomvana, Mpondomse (Mpondomisi), Mpondo, Xesibe, Rhathabe, Bhaca, Cele, Hlubi, Mfengu.



Source: Census 2011 and Ethnologue