Zulu – South Africa’s Renowned Indigenous Language

Zulu or isiZulu is another of South Africa's official languages. Spoken by some 10 million individuals, most of whom reside in South Africa, Zulu is the home language of 24% of South Africans and is understood by more than 50% of the country's inhabitants. Forming part of the Nguni group of the Bantu languages, Zulu and Xhosa are mutually understandable.

The Zulu nation’s existence in South Africa dates back to around the 14th century AD. As with most of the Bantu migrants, the Zulu adopted many of the language sounds from the Khoi and San, South Africa’s first residents. This is evidenced in the use of click consonants in the Zulu language. Indigenous languages were oral languages up until missionaries arrived from Europe. This was the case with Zulu which only became written when the missionaries noted down this interesting language by means of the Latin alphabet. In 1883 the first written work in the Zulu language was produced, a Bible. John Dube from Natal established the Ohlange Institute in 1901. This was South Africa’s first indigenous educational foundation. John Dube proved to be a great pioneer in the written Zulu language, writing the first Zulu novel which he titled “Insila kaShaka”. Other great names in Zulu literature have included Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali, Benedict Wallet Vilakazi and Reginald Dhlomo, who specialized in historical novels based on the lives of Zulu leaders such as Shaka and Dingane. Zulu poetry anthologies were produced from 1935 onwards with writers such as BWV Vilkazi, JC Dlamini and OEH Nxumalo.

Zulu has become a wide-spread language in Africa. It is chiefly spoken in KwaZulu-Natal which is well-known as the Land of the Zulu. It is also heard in Gauteng and Mpumalanga. Other African countries where Zulu is spoken include Lesotho and Swaziland, South Africa’s close neighbors. Even South African English has accepted several Zulu words into its vocabulary. These include donga (ditch), ubantu (humanity), muti (medicine) and indaba (conference). Certain words are also used in Standard English, particularly animal names such as mamba and impala.

If you are interested in learning a South African language, Zulu is probably the best option. Its not too difficult to pick up and it is widely spoken and understood. When visiting this beautiful land why not ask one of the local Zulu speakers to teach you a few phrases, they are certain to appreciate your efforts.

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