Shona language: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Spoken in Zimbabwe Zimbabwe
Mozambique Mozambique
Zambia Zambia
Region Africa
Total speakers 7,000,000
Ranking 58
Language family Niger-Congo
Language codes
ISO 639-1 sn
ISO 639-2 sna
ISO 639-3 sna

Shona (or chiShona) is a Bantu language, native to the Shona people of Zimbabwe and southern Zambia; the term is also used to identify peoples who speak one of the Shona language dialects, namely Zezuru, Karanga, Manyika, Ndau and Korekore. Shona is a principal language of Zimbabwe, along with Ndebele and the official language, English. Shona is spoken by a large percentage of the people in Zimbabwe and spoken by a substantial number of people in Mozambique. Other countries that host Shona language speakers are Zambia and Botswana. The total number of Shona speakers is at least 20,000,000 or more.[citation needed]

Shona is a written standard language with an orthography and grammar that was codified during the early 20th century and fixed in the 1950s. The first novel in Shona, Solomon Mutswairo's Feso, was published in 1957. Shona is taught in the schools but is not the general medium of instruction in other subjects. It has a literature and is described through monolingual and bilingual dictionaries (chiefly Shona - English). Modern Shona is based on the dialect spoken by the Karanga people of Masvingo Province, the region around Great Zimbabwe, and Zezuru people of central and northern Zimbabwe. However, all Shona dialects are officially considered to be of equal significance and are taught in local schools.

Shona is a member of the great family of Bantu languages. In Guthrie's zonal classification of Bantu languages, zone S10 designates a dialect continuum of closely related varieties, including Shona proper, Manyika, Nambya, and Ndau, spoken in Zimbabwe and central Mozambique; Tawara and Tewe, found in Mozambique; and Ikalanga of Botswana.

Shona speakers most likely moved into present day Zimbabwe during the great Bantu expansion. Before the invasion of the White English settlers, the Shona were pushed north by the Ndebeles.[citation needed] The speakers of the Karanga dialect were absorbed into the Ndebele culture and language.[citation needed]



There are many dialect differences in Shona, but a standardized dialect is recognized. According to information from Ethnologue:

  • Hwesa dialect
  • Karanga dialect (Chikaranga). Spoken in southern Zimbabwe, near Masvingo.

Subdialects Duma, Jena, Mhari (Mari), Ngova, Venda [not the Venda language), Nyubi, Govera.

  • Zezuru dialect (Chizezuru, Bazezuru, Bazuzura, Mazizuru, Vazezuru, Wazezuru). Spoken in Mashonaland and central Zimbabwe, near Harare. The standard language.

Subdialects Shawasha, Gova, Mbire, Tsunga, Kachikwakwa, Harava, Nohwe, Njanja, Nobvu, Kwazvimba (Zimba).

  • Korekore dialect (Northern Shona, Goba, Gova, Shangwe). Spoken in northern Zimbabwe, near Mvurwi.

Subdialects: Budya, Gova, Tande, Tavara, Nyongwe, Pfunde, Shan Gwe.

Languages with partial intelligibility with Shona, of which the speakers are considered to be ethnically Shona, are the Ndau language, spoken in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, and the Manyika language, spoken in eastern Zimbabwe, near Mutare. Ndau literacy material has been introduced into primary schools.

Alphabet and pronunciation

Shona's five vowels (a, e, i, o, u) are pronounced as in Spanish: [a, e, i, o, u]. Each vowel is pronounced separately even if they fall in succession. For example, "Unoenda kupi?" (Where do you go?) is pronounced [ ku.pi].

The letters of the alphabet are,

Letter IPA
a /a/
b /ɓ/
bh /b/
ch /tʃ/
d /ɗ/
dh /d/
dy /dʒɡ/
dzv /dz͎/
e /e/
f /f/
g /ɡ/
h /h/
i /i/
j /dʒ/
k /k/
m /m/
mh /?/ ?
n’ /ŋ/
n /n/
o /o/
p /p/
r /r/[citation needed]
sh /ʃ/[citation needed]
sv /s͎ ~ sɸ/[citation needed]
svw /s͎w/
sw /sw ~ skw/
t /t/
tsv /ts͎/
ty /tʃk/
u /u/
v /ʋ/[citation needed]
vh /v/
w /w/
y /j/
z /z/
zh /ʒ/[citation needed]
zv /z͎ ~ zβ/[citation needed]
zvw /z͎w/
zw /zw ~ zɡw/

The digraphs ps and bz are pronounced /ps͎/ and /bz͎/,[citation needed] and mbw is /mbɡ/.


Whistled sibilants

Shona and other languages of Southern and Eastern Africa include whistling sounds, unlike most other languages where whistling signals a speech disorder. (This should not be confused with whistled speech.)

Shona's whistled sibilants are the fricatives "sv" and "zv" and the affricates "tsv" and "dzv".

Sound example translation notes
sv masvosvobwa "shooting stars"
masvosve "ants"
tsv tsvaira "sweep" (Standard Shona)
svw masvavembasvwi "schemer" (Shangwe, Korekore dialect)
zv zvizvuvhutswa "gold nuggets" (Tsunga, Zezuru dialect)
dzv akadzva "he/she was unsuccessful"
zvw huzvweverere "emotions" (Gova, Korekore dialect)
nzv nzvenga "to dodge" (Standard Shona)
zvc muzvcazi "the Milky Way" Dental clicks. Only found in Ngova, Karanga dialect, which has
substantial Ndebele influences, including the dental click ("c").
svc chisvcamba "tortoise"

Whistled sibilants stirred interest among the Western public and media in 2006, due to questions about how to pronounce the name of Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change – Tsvangirai in Zimbabwe. The BBC Pronunciation Unit recommended the pronunciation "chang-girr-ayi". [1] [2]

In foreign popular culture

Mangwanani, the Shona word for "good morning" is the title of a song by the band "Z-trolleee" written to raise money for the charity Comic Relief. The band, based in Leicester, United Kingdom, released the single for Comic Relief Week 2007.[3] The band pronounces the word incorrectly throughout the song[citation needed].

The band Dispatch uses Shona in its song Elias.

The first single from the Noisettes debut album, What's The Time Mr. Wolf?, is called Iwe, which is Shona for "you".


All syllables in Shona end in a vowel. Consonants always belong to the next syllable. For example, mangwanani ("morning") is separated like this: ma/ngwa/na/ni; Zimbabwe is Zi/mba/bwe.

All verbs end in -a:

  • kuda - "to like, love, want"
  • kuenda - "to go"
  • kusvika - "to arrive"
  • kudya - "to eat"
  • kutamba - "to dance or play"
  • kurara - "to sleep" (kuvata)
  • kudzoka - "to come back"
  • kuseka - "to laugh"
  • kuchema - "to cry"



  • Biehler, E. (1950) A Shona dictionary with an outline Shona grammar (revised edition). The Jesuit Fathers.
  • Brauner, Sigmund (1995) A grammatical sketch of Shona : including historical notes. Köln: Rüdiger Koppe.
  • Carter, Hazel (1986) Kuverenga Chishóna: an introductory Shona reader with grammatical sketch (2nd edition). London: SOAS.
  • Doke, Clement M. (1931) Report on the unification of the Shona dialects. Stephen Austin Sons.
  • Mutasa, David (1996) The problems of standardizing spoken dialects: the Shona experience, Language Matters, 27, 79
  • Lafon, Michel (1995), Le shona et les shonas du Zimbabwe, Harmattan éd., Paris (French)

External links

Shona language edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Study guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiversity

Shona is a dialect of the Bantu languages, spoken in Southern Africa. Shona is one of the primary languages spoken in Zimbabwe, the official language for government being English.

English Shona

Hello mhoro (singular) : mhoroi (plural; hon. pl)

Hevo (singular) : Hevoi (plural; hon pl))

Thank you Ndatenda (singular) :Tatenda (plural)

or Ndinotenda (sing.) : tinotenda (pl) Alternative: wazviita (singular) : Mazviita (plural)

(A clap of the hands is also a tradional Shona thank you.)

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