Bantu languages

(redirected from Bantu language)

Bantu languages,

group of African languages forming a subdivision of the Benue-Niger division of the Niger-Congo branch of the Niger-Kordofanian language family (see African languagesAfrican languages,
geographic rather than linguistic classification of languages spoken on the African continent. Historically the term refers to the languages of sub-Saharan Africa, which do not belong to a single family, but are divided among several distinct linguistic stocks.
..... Click the link for more information.
). Bantu contains hundreds of languages that are spoken by 120 million Africans in the Congo Basin, Angola, the Republic of South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, and Kenya. The word Bantu means "the people" and is made up of the stem -ntu ("person") and the plural prefix ba-.

The total number of Bantu languages is uncertain. The most important is Swahili (see Swahili languageSwahili language,
member of the Bantu group of African languages (see African languages and Bantu languages). Swahili is spoken by 30 million people, chiefly in Tanzania, Kenya, Congo (Kinshasa), Burundi, and Uganda, and serves as a lingua franca for additional millions in E
..... Click the link for more information.
), spoken as a first language by more than 30 million people, chiefly in Kenya, Tanzania, Congo (Kinshasa), and Uganda. As the chief trade language of E Africa, it is understood by perhaps an additional 20 million. Other significant Bantu languages include Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, and Setswana, which are spoken respectively by 9 million, 7 million, 5 million, and 4 million persons, all living in South Africa, Lesotho, and Botswana; Makua and Thonga, the languages respectively of 4 million and 3 million people, chiefly in Mozambique; Bemba, the language of over 3 million in Zambia and Congo (Kinshasa); Shona, with 8 million speakers in Zimbabwe and Mozambique; Kikuyu, native to 6 million in Kenya; Ganda, the language of 4 million in Uganda; Ruanda, spoken by 8 million in Rwanda, Uganda, and Congo (Kinshasa); Rundi, the language of 6 million in Burundi and Congo (Kinshasa); Mbundu, native to 6 million in Angola; Luba, with 7 million speakers in Congo (Kinshasa); Kongo, the language of 4 million in Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa), and Angola; and Lingala, spoken by 6 million in Congo (Kinshasa).

All of the Bantu languages are tonal, except perhaps Swahili. Tones are used to indicate differences in meaning. Grammatically, nouns belong to a number of classes, each of which has its pair of prefixes, one to denote the singular and the other the plural. Linguists have not yet discovered a logical basis for most of the many different noun classes. Although they are not based on sex, these classes have been compared to the genders of Indo-European tongues. The class prefix of a noun is attached to every word that is connected grammatically with this noun, whether adjective, verb, or other part of speech. The following example from Swahili illustrates the nature of such agreement: m-thu m-zuri, "handsome man," but wu-thu wu-zuri, "handsome men." The Bantu verb consists of a stem to which are added one or more prefixes (with the exception of the imperative) and also one or more suffixes. The verbal suffixes relate to person, number, negation, tense, voice, and mood. Suffixes added to certain stems can form nouns and verbs, especially of a derivational nature.


See M. A. Bryan, ed., The Bantu Languages of Africa (1959); M. Guthrie, The Classification of the Bantu Languages (1948, repr. 1967) and Comparative Bantu (4 vol., 1967–71).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The stove - known locally as 'bitofu byankunyi,' a Kaonde(a Bantu language spoken primarily in Zambia) phrase that means a stove that uses less firewood for food preparation - costs 100 Zambian Kwacha ($7) to build and it is made from soil and other locally available raw materials.
class="MsoNormalLater, on returning to Leeds and realising the irony of writing in English when he had just been defending his Bantu language, thoughts of writing in his mother tongue started filling his mind.
(Fula, Letter v-vi) ([...] the thought that even if [my novels] do not reach their audience during my life time, it may happen that they may be a message to those following after us of what the Bantus thought of civilization, the wars, the peace as well as the solutions for contemporary world problems regarding humanity in general.) At the beginning of his writing career Fula contemplated writing in Xhosa, as he puts it, "'n werk in 'n Bantoe taal (sic) saam te stel" ("to write a work in a Bantu language"), but he soon realized that the market for such books was limited: "maar toe ek rond kyk op (sic) die leesstof wat my mense lees, het ek ontdek dat hulle belang stel in Engelse werke.
Comorian (or Shikomoro) is a Bantu language closely related to Swahili.
Homa is an extinct South Sudanese Bantu language of uncertain affiliation.
Of mush value is the identification of Kiswahili as a Bantu language belonging to the broader umbrella of the North Eastern Coastal Bantu.
Chapter 1 includes a very brief introduction to the history and structure of Swahili ('About Swahili'), referring to the basics such as that Swahili is a Bantu language, has a long written history, and has been much influenced by Arabic and English, and, to a lesser extent, by Portuguese, German, Hindi and Persian.
This article discusses the impact of linguistic and non-linguistic factors on the use of the pre-prefix in an under-described Bantu language spoken in Tanzania.
The DNA also shines light on Africans' genetic makeup before speakers of an early Bantu language spread from West Africa into central and southern regions some 3,000 years ago.
English is the country's official language, but most of the people speak a Bantu language, Setswana.
Her native tongue is Zulu, but also speaks Sotho, a Bantu language and one of the 11 official languages of South Africa, which uses a lot of clicking sounds.