16 Things You Didn’t Know About Xhosa
Xhosa is one of the most recognizable Bantu languages, mainly due to the prominence of its click consonants and its intense use of the letter “x,” used to denote some of the clicks. Spoken mostly in South Africa, but also in Lesotho, Zimbabwe, and other areas in Southern Africa, Xhosa is an interesting language with an even more interesting history. Here are 16 things you didn’t know about Xhosa.
Sources: OddityCentral.com, Wikipedia.org, Princeton.edu, sa-venues.com, alsintl.com, everyculture.com, bioculturaldiversity.co.za
About 18% of South Africans speak Xhosa
The 18-percent of South Africans who speak Xhosa amount to approximately 7.6 million people. While many don’t consider it their mother tongue, it is still a very common language throughout the country, and is one of South Africa’s 11 official languages.
The Bantu people are believed to have been a part of one of the largest mass migrations in human history
Xhosa has its origins in the tribal group descended from the Bantus, who originated in present-day Cameroon and Nigeria and migrated south from 2000 B.C. to 1000 A.D. Following the migration, the people divided into two language groups – Eastern and Western – early in their history.
Xhosa and Zulu languages are similar in sound
Speakers of Xhosa and Zulu usually understand each other even if speaking in their mother tongues, as both languages are classified as Bantu. These two peoples live side-by-side in many regions of South Africa. Xhosa is common especially in the Western Cape Province and Gauteng.
Xhosa has several dialects
Linguists are still sorting out all the dialects, but the confirmed dialect groups are: Gcaleka, Thembu, Mpondo, Bhaca, Xhosa, Ngqika, Mpondomise, Bomvana, and Mfengu.
The clicks are divided into three categories
Alveolar clicks are accomplished by pulsing the tongue against the palette, exploding the sound out like a champagne bottle being uncorked. The lateral click is difficult — it is represented by the letter “x” and is formed by the tongue clicking the side of the mouth, like the sound to call a horse. Finally, the dental clicks are the tongue against the back of the upper row of teeth — tsk-tsk or tut-tut, as if you’re reprimanding someone.
The click sounds are borrowed from Khosian languages
In fact, the click feature has not only spread from Khosian languages into Xhosa, but into many Bantu languages. In South Africa, tongue clicks are also found in Zulu and Sotho; in Namibia and Botswana, in the Gciriku (Diriku), Yei (Yeye), and Mbukushu languages; finally, into Dahalo in Kenya.
Xhosa contains lots of idioms
If you have isandla esishushu, then you have a “warm hand,” which means that you’re generous. Many idioms in Xhosa apply to relationships with plants, such as “udle ingcolo,” meaning “he has drunk the juice of the flower of the wild aloe,” usually said of a sleepy-seeming person.
Xhosa is the most widely distributed African language in South Africa
Although the most widely spoken Bantu language is Zulu, Xhosa is the most widely distributed. It is spoken most commonly in the Eastern Cape, but is also very prominent in the Western Cape. An additional million-or-so Xhosa speakers are scattered throughout the other provinces.
The Bantu ancestor of Xhosa did not have clicks
An estimated 15 percent of Xhosa is of San origin, which is attributed to the strong historical contact between the two tribes. The San are one of 14 known ancestral population clusters from which all known modern humans descend. The Xhosa language also hosts a collection of borrowed words from Afrikaans and English.
Xhosa speakers were segregated into a Bantustan
During apartheid in South Africa, the government ordered black citizens to be segregated into black homelands known as bantustans. It was only in their assigned bantustans that blacks were considered to be citizens — not citizens of the country. Transkei was the non-independent republic bantustan designated for Xhosa speakers.
Xhosa was legislated by the Bantu Education Act of 1953
The use of Xhosa in education was previously governed by apartheid-era legislation known as the Bantu Education Act, which effectively segregated races in schools and allowed for different standards of education. Though schools are now desegregated, the role of African language in South African education remains complex and ambiguous. For the most part, Xhosa is taught in primary school, but then only as a secondary subject in higher levels.
The Cape Frontier Wars had an enormous impact on the Xhosa language
The Xhosa people engaged in wars with European colonial powers, specifically the British and Dutch, from 1778 to 1878. Following their defeat, their land was annexed. It was at this time that Xhosa became a written language in the Latin alphabet.
The first Xhosa Bible translation was done in 1859
Another sign of the colonial influence was the first Xhosa Bible translation, produced by Henry Hare Dugmore in 1859.
“Nkosi Sikelil’ iAfrika,” a Xhosa anthem, is the anthem of several different countries
Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (“Lord Bless Africa” in Xhosa), was originally composed as a hymn in 1897 by Enoch Sontonga, a Xhosa clergyman at a Methodist mission school near Johannesburg. It has since become the anthem of Tanzania and Zambia, and is the former anthem of Zimbabwe and Namibia. The South African anthem had stanzas added to it as time passed, and also had versions that were translated into Zulu, Sotho, and Afrikaans.
Xhosa was introduced to pop culture through the vocal stylings of Miriam Makeba
Grammy Award-winning South African singer and civil rights activist, Miriam Makeba, helped introduce Xhosa to an international audience with her 1957 hit single, “Pata Pata.” It was one of the first mainstream moments for Xhosa. In an interview she gave in 1979, Makeba discussed the experience of sharing her language with the rest of the world. “Everywhere we go, people often ask me, ‘How do you make that noise?’” she said. “It used to offend me because it isn’t a noise. It’s my language.” Source: OddityCentral.com.
Xhosa literature has long addressed the political struggles of South Africans
Many authors have explored the political struggles of the Xhosa people in their work. A.C. Jordan’s “Ingqumbo yeminyanya” (“The Wrath of the Ancestors,” 1940), explored the impact of Western colonialism. Guybon Sinxo’s 1922 novel “uNomsa,” examined the dangers of urban life in Africa.
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