Blogging from A to Z
Theme: Languages of the World
Xhosa (isiXhosa) is the southernmost member of the Bantoid group of the Niger-Congo language family in Africa. It is closely related to Zulu, Swati, and Ndebele. Although mutually intelligible, they are considered to be separate languages for political and cultural reasons.
The Xhosa, formerly called Kaffir or Kafir (Arabic for ‘infidel’), are a cluster of related peoples who have inhabited Eastern Cape Province and Transkei, South Africa, since before the 16th century. They are thought to have migrated to this region along the east coast of Africa and through central Africa. In southern Africa, they came into contact with Khoisan-speaking people. As a result of this contact, the Xhosa people borrowed some Khoisan words along with their pronunciation, for instance, the click sounds of the Khoisan languages.
Xhosa is spoken as a first language by 8.2 million people and by 11 million as a second language in South Africa, mostly in Eastern Cape Province and Transkei. It is also spoken in Botswana and Lesotho. It is one of the eleven official languages of the Republic of South Africa, although the status of Xhosa, like all other African languages in the Republic of South Africa, is complex.
Fascinating facts about Xhosa
It’s also one of the most recognisable Bantu languages, mainly due to the prominence of its click consonants and its intense use of the letter “x,” used to denote some of the clicks.
Xhosa has its origins in the tribal group descended from the Bantu, who originated in present-day Cameroon and Nigeria and migrated south between 2000 B.C. and 1000 A.D.
The use of Xhosa in education was previously governed by apartheid-era legislation. The role of African language in South African education has since improved, but remains complex and ambiguous.
Grammy Award-winning South African singer and civil rights activist Miriam Makeba, helped introduce Xhosa to an international audience with her 1957 hit single, “Pata Pata.” It was one of the first mainstream moments for Xhosa. In an interview she gave in 1979, Makeba discussed the experience of sharing her language with the rest of the world. “Everywhere we go, people often ask me, ‘How do you make that noise?’” she said. “It used to offend me because it isn’t a noise. It’s my language.”
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