Shona language

Native to Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana
Native speakers
8.3 million, Shona proper (2007)[1]
10.8 million Zezuru, Karanga, Korekore (2000)
15 million incl. Manyika, Ndau (2000–2006)[2]
Latin script (Shona alphabet)
Shona Braille
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-1 sn
ISO 639-2 sna
ISO 639-3 Variously:
sna  Zezuru, Karanga, Korekore
twl  Tavara (Korekore)
mxc  Manyika
twx  Tewe (Manyika)
ndc  Ndau
Glottolog core1255  (Core Shona)[3]
tawa1270  (Tawara)[4]

99-AUT-a =

Shona /ˈʃnə/,[6] or chiShona, is a Bantu language, native to the Shona people of Zimbabwe. The term is also used to identify peoples who speak one of the Shona language dialects: Zezuru, Karanga, Manyika and Korekore, sometimes also Ndau. Some researchers include Kalanga: others recognise it as a language in its own right. Desmond Dale's basic English–Shona and Shona–English dictionaries comprise special vocabulary of the Karanga, Korekore, Manyika and Zezuru dialects, but no Ndau or Kalanga. Shona is a principal language of Zimbabwe, along with Ndebele and the official business language, English. Shona is spoken by a large percentage of the people in Zimbabwe. Other countries that host Shona language speakers include Botswana and Mozambique.


Shona is the is the most spoken Bantu language by the criterion of number of native speakers. According to Ethnologue,[7] Shona, comprising the Karanga, Zezuru, and Korekore dialects, is spoken by about 10.8 million people. The Manyika and Ndau dialects of Shona[8][9][10] are listed separately by Ethnologue,[11] and are spoken by 1,025,000[12] and 2,380,000[13] people, respectively. The total figure of Shona speakers is then about 14.2 million people. Zulu is the second most widely spoken Bantu language with 10.3 million speakers according to Ethnologue.[14]


Wikipedia in the Shona language.

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.

Related vernaculars

Shona is a member of the large 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 and Western Zimbabwe.


Shona n'anga or traditional healer (Zimbabwe)

Shona speakers most likely moved into present day Zimbabwe from the Mapungubwe and K2 communities in Limpopo, South Africa, before the influx of European, primarily British, settlers. A common misconception is that the speakers of the Karanga dialect were absorbed into the Ndebele culture and language turning them into Kalanga. This misconception is a direct result of the political bias in the national curriculum framework of Zimbabwe. The Kalanga language is widely spoken in Botswana where the Ndebele were never present. The Kalanga language is thought to have been the language used by the Mapungubweans.[15] If this is accurate it follows that the Karanga dialect of Shona is a derivative of Kalanga. Karanga is closer to Kalanga than the rest of the aforementioned dialects. Karanga and Kalanga are both closer to Venda than the other Shona dialects.


Shona is used to refer to a standardised language based on the central dialects of the Shona region. Shona languages form a dialect continuum from the Kalahari desert in the west to the Indian ocean in the east and the Limpopo river in the south and the Zambezi in the north. While the languages are related, evolution and separateness over the past 1000 years has meant that mutual intelligibility is not always possible without a period of acculturation. Therefore, Central Shona speakers have a difficult time understanding Kalanga speakers even though lexical sharing can be over 80% with some western Karanga dialects. In the same manner eastern dialects (Shanga) spoken by the Indian ocean are also very divergent. There are many dialect differences in Shona, but a standardized dialect is recognized. According to information from Ethnologue (when excluding S16 Kalanga):

Subdialects: Duma, Jena, Mhari (Mari), Ngova, Venda (not the Venda language), Nyubi (spoken in Matabeleland at the beginning of the colonial period is now extinct), Govera.
Subdialects: Shawasha, Gova, Mbire, Tsunga, Kachikwakwa, Harava, Nohwe, Njanja, Nobvu, Kwazvimba (Zimba).
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 S15 Ndau language, spoken in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, and the S13 Manyika language, spoken in eastern Zimbabwe, near Mutare. Ndau literacy material has been introduced into primary schools.

Maho (2009) recognizes Korekore, Zezuru, Manyika, Karanga, and Ndau as distinct languages within the Shona cluster, with Kalanga being more divergent.[5]

Phonology and alphabet

Shona language alphabet and pronunciation.

All syllables in Shona end in a vowel. Consonants belong to the next syllable. For example, mangwanani ("morning") is syllabified as; "Zimbabwe" is

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

Modern alphabet

The letters of the alphabet are:

a /a/
b /b/
bh /b̤/
ch /tʃ/
d /d/
dh /d̤/
dy /dʲɡ/
dzv /dβz/
e /e/
f /f/
g /a/
h /h/
i /i/
j /dʒ/
k /k/
l /l/
m /m/
mh /m̤/
n /n/
ng /ŋ/
o /o/
p /p/
r /rw/
s /s/
sv /ɸs/
sw /skw/
t /t/
tsv /tɸs/
ty /tʲk/
u /u/
v /β/
vh /v/
w /w/
y /j/
z /z/
zv /βz/

The trigraph mbw is pronounced /mbəɡ/.

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"
tsv tsvaira"sweep" (Standard Shona)
svw masvavembasvi"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.
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". [16][17]

Old alphabet

From 1931 to 1955, Unified Shona was written with an alphabet developed by the linguist Professor Clement Martyn Doke. This included the following letters:

ɓ (b with hook),
ɗ (d with hook),
ŋ (n with leg),
ȿ (s with swash tail),
ʋ (v with hook),
ɀ (z with swash tail).

In 1955, these were replaced by letters or digraphs from the basic Latin alphabet. For example, today sv is used for ȿ and zv is used for ɀ.


  1. Mikael Parkvall, "Världens 100 största språk 2007" (The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007), in Nationalencyklopedin
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Core Shona". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Tawara". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. 1 2 Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  5. Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  6. Ethnologue's Shona entry
  7. Stabilization in the Manyika Dialect of the Shona Group, Hazel Carter, Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 26, No. 4, Oct., 1956, pp. 398-405
  8. Report on the Unification of the Shona Dialects. By Clement M. Doke. 1931
  9. University of Pennsylvania Language Center
  10. Ethnologue's list of Shona (S.10) languages
  11. Ethnologue's Manyika entry
  12. Ethnologue's Ndau entry
  13. Ethnologue's list of languages by size
  14. Department of Archeology, Wits University
  15. "?" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 June 2011.
  16. Clement M. Doke. "Report on the unification of Shona dialects". JSTOR. Retrieved 3 September 2010.


External links

Shona edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/30/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.