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Learn about Zulu Language and Culture

Overview of the Zulu Language

Zulu is part of the Nguni subgroup of the Bantu languages, which belong to the larger Niger-Congo language family. It is one of the 11 official languages of South Africa, where the majority of its speakers can be found.

The Zulu Alphabet and Zulu Pronunciation

Zulu is written in a version of the Latin alphabet which was adapted to the language in the early nineteenth century. Many Zulu letters sound approximately like their equivalents in English, while others are less similar. English speakers who want to learn Zulu should be particularly aware of certain letter combinations which are used to represent special sounds. For example, tsh represents a sound like ch in English. Zulu is also a tonal language, although the tones are not indicated in writing.

Another notable feature of Zulu is the use of click sounds, represented by the letters c, q, and x in the Zulu alphabet. These sounds are not merely decorations or effects; they are actual consonants that are used in words in the same way as any other letter. Also note that each type of click is a different sound. To a Zulu speaker, the clicks are as different as, for example, the sounds of the letters t and d in English. Clicks are common in Bantu languages, although Zulu has fewer of them than some members of its language family.

Zulu Grammar

One of the first features that anyone learning to speak Zulu will notice is the extensive use of prefixes called concords. These prefixes are used to convey many types of grammatical information. In the Zulu language, for example, every noun consists of a noun stem plus a prefix. These prefixes are determined by the class of the noun.

Zulu adjectives usually follow nouns, and they take prefixes that agree with the class of the noun they are modifying. Pronouns are expressed as prefixes called subject concords, which are attached to verbs. Zulu verbs are thus made up of several parts: At its most basic level, a Zulu verb contains a subject concord, a tense infix, and a verb stem.

Practicing regularly is important if you plan to learn to speak Zulu well. That's why the Zulu software programs from Transparent Language can be such useful resources. Good luck in your endeavors to learn Zulu!

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