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Learn about Zulu Language and Culture

Overview of the Zulu Language

Zulu is more properly referred to as isiZulu. It is part of the Nguni subgroup of the Bantu languages, which are part of the larger Niger-Congo language family. Zulu 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 Zulu 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, such as tsh representing the sound of ch in English.

Another notable feature of Zulu is the 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 a common feature in Bantu languages, although Zulu has fewer clicks than some of the other 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. Every Zulu noun belongs to one of eighteen classes, although it is generally accepted that, for normal purposes, there can be considered eight. There are several singular classes, several plural classes, and two neutral classes, each with its own prefix.

Zulu adjectives usually follow nouns, and they take prefixes that agree with the class of the noun they are modifying. Pronouns, too, 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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