Bantu languages

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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.
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). 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
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), 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).

References in periodicals archive ?
Mandela exemplified the philosophy of "Ubuntu," a word that has its origins in the Bantu languages of southern Africa and which expresses an African worldview.
Meanwhile, another important San legacy is the click consonants borrowed by a number of Bantu languages such as Xhosa and Zulu, two of South Africa's 11 official languages.
Other studies on Bantu languages provide evidence that the subject position is topical or definite, anti-focus or does not accommodate indefinites that are restricted to the postverbal position (Louwrens 1981; Louwrens 1991; Bresnan 1994; Zerbian 20064; Zerbian 2007; Halpert 2008; Zeller 2008).
In terms of ethnic grouping the term "Southern Bantu" refers to the Bantu languages spoken in the Southern African region (Nguni, Sotho-Tswana, Venda), which also includes languages of Mozambique (Tsonga) (Van Warmelo 1935).
In particular, languages from the Kwa sub-family (spoken in Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria) and Bantu languages (spoken in Gabon, Congo, Angola) had prolonged contact with Portuguese (Castro 2001:46).
From a homeland in west and central Cameroon between 3000 and 4000 years ago (Vansina 1990; Ehret 1998), Bantu languages spread across most of central, eastern and southern Africa and by AD 300 covered a region roughly the size of North America.
A common linguistic feature associated with Bantu languages is the elaborate noun class system.
Original lyrics in one of the two local Bantu languages, Kiswahili and Kisukuma, are paralleled by English translation, and followed by an interpretation ranging from a short paragraph to over a page.
The democratisation of South Africa in 1994 had far-reaching language-political consequences for the country: on the one hand eleven languages (including nine Bantu languages) were recognised as national official languages with the commitment to promote these languages; on the other hand, global and local economic, educational and social forces led to the dominance of English in the public sphere, the marginalisation of Afrikaans as a public language, and the continued peripheralisation of the Bantu languages as public languages, leaving them in effect in the same position as they were under the previous regime.
The word has its origin in the Bantu languages of southern Africa.
Five thousand years later, people who spoke Bantu languages began spreading out from Cameroon, on Africa's west coast, until they eventually inhabited much of Sub-Saharan Africa.
where, he here undertakes an inspection of Bantu languages, which are both prefixing and suffixing, and which evidence great diversity in prosodic organization.