Learn more about Bantu languages
|Subsaharan Africa, mostly Southern Hemisphere|
Bantu is a major language family of Africa, belonging to the Niger-Congo group. Bantu languages are spoken in south Cameroon, and in the south-eastern region of Nigeria close to the Cameroonian border, in Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya and the southern tip of Somalia, Tanzania, Angola, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa. This wide expansion makes the Bantu family the most widespread language family in Africa, with about 310 million speakers.
The word Bantu was first used by Wilhelm Heinrich Immanuel Bleek (1827-1875) with the meaning people as this is reflected in many of the languages of this group. A common characteristic of Bantu languages is that they use a form such as -ntu or -tu to refer to a person, and ba- is a plural prefix in some languages, this giving ba-ntu = "people". He and later Carl Meinhof did comparative studies of the Bantu language grammars.
The language family has hundreds of members. They have been classified by Malcolm Guthrie in 1971 into groups according to geographical zones - A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, K, L, M, N, P, R and S and then numbered within the group. Guthrie also reconstructed Proto-Bantu as the proto-language of this language family.
This classification was later extended and modified by SIL in 1996 and another time by researchers from the Royal Museum of Central Africa of Tervuren in 1999, adding zone J and reorganizing many groups.
 Language structure
The most prominent grammatical characteristic of Bantu languages is the extensive use of affixes(see Sesotho language). Each noun belongs to a class, and each language may have about ten classes all together, somewhat like genders in European languages. The class is indicated by a prefix on the noun, as well as on adjectives and verbs agreeing with it. Plural is indicated by a change of prefix.
The verb has a number of prefixes. In Swahili for example Mtoto mdogo amekisoma means 'The small child has read it [a book]'. Mtoto 'child' governs the adjective prefix m- and the verb subject prefix a-. Then comes perfect tense -me- and an object marker -ki- agreeing with implicit kitabu 'book'. Pluralizing to children makes it Watoto wadogo wamekisoma, and pluralizing to books (vitabu) makes it Watoto wadogo wamevisoma.
Bantu words are typically made up of open syllables of the type CV (consonant-vowel) with some languages having a vocabulary exclusively of this type. The construction of words is typically CV, VCV, CVCV, VCVCV etc with words always ending in a vowel. This tendency to avoid consonant clusters is important when words are imported from English or other non-African languages. An example is in Chichewa the word "school" becomes sukulu. Sk- is broken by inserting an epenthetic -u-, and -u is added at the end; another is buledi for "bread". Similar effects are seen in loanwords for other non-African CV languages like Japanese.
The Bantu language with the largest number of speakers is Swahili (G 40), while those with the most native speakers are Shona and Zulu. Judging from the history of Swahili, some linguists believe that Bantu languages are on a continuum from purely tonal languages to languages with no tone at all.
- Example: in Swahili piga is to strike, "pigapiga" means to strike repeatedly.
Popular names that have reduplication include
 Other Bantu languages include
- in Central and Eastern Africa
- in Southern Africa
Some are usually known in English without the class prefix (Swahili instead of Kiswahili, etc.), and some others vary (Setswana or Tswana, Sindebele or Ndebele, etc.). The bare form typically does not occur in the language: in the country of Botswana the people are the Batswana, one person is a Motswana, and the language is Setswana.
 (Narrow) Bantu languages
- Zone D (Lengola, Enya, Mbole, Mituku, Bembe, Buyu, Nyanga, Bhele (Piri), Bila, Bodo, Bera (Bira), Budu, Homa, Kaiku, Komo, Kango, Ndaka, Nyali, Amba, Vanuma, Mbo, Kare, Bali, Beeke, Hamba, Holoholo, Kanu, Kwami, Shabunda-Lega, Mwenga-Lega, Lika, Songoora (Dialects: Gengele, North Binja, South Binja), Zimba)
- Zone E (Gweno, Kahe, Chaga (Chaga languages: Machame Mochi, Rombo, Vunjo), Rusa, Malakote, Chonyi, Digo, Duruma, Giryama (Nyika), Segeju, Pokomo (Upper and Lower), Taita, Sagalia, Logoli, Kabwa, Gusii, Ikizu, Kuria, Ngurimi, Ikoma (Nata), Sonjo (Temi), Suba, Sizaki, Ware, Zanaki, Dhaiso, Embu, Gikuyu, Chuka, Meru, Tharaka, Mwimbi, Muthambi)
- Zone F (Bende, Fipa, Mambwe, Lungu, Pimbwe, Rungwa, Tongwe, Konongo, Kimbu, Nyamwezi, Sukuma, Sumbwa, Bungu, Langi, Mbugwe, Nilamba, Nyaturu (Rimi), Mbugu)
- Zone G
- Zone H
- Zone J
- Zone K (Lunda)
- Zone L (Bwile, Kaonde, Nkoya, Mbwera, Bangubangu, Binji, Kete, Luna, Songe, Mbagani, Budya, Hemba, Kanyok, Luba-Kasai, Luba-Katanga, Lwalu, Sanga)
- Zone M (Bemba)
- Zone N (Manda, Mantengo, Ngoni, Tonga, Mpoto, Nyanja, Tumbuka, Nsenga, Barwe, Kunda, Nyungwe, Phimbi, Sena, Malawi Sena, Podzo, Rue)
- Zone P (Yao, Mwera, Makonde, Machinga, Nyasa, Mabiha, Ndonde Hamba, Ndendeule, Matumbi, Mbunga, Ndengereko, Ngindo, Nindi, Rufiji, Chuwabu, Maindo, Koti, Kokola, Lolo, Manyawa, Lomwe, Ngulu, Marenje, Takwane, Makua, Makhuwa-Meetto, Makhuwa-Moniga, Makhuwa-Shirima, Makhuwa-Marrevone, Makhuwa-Saka)
- Zone R (Herero, Zemba, Yeyi, Umbundu (South Mbundu), Ndombe, Nyaneka, Nkhumbi, Kwanyama, Ndonga, Kwambi, Ngandyera, Mbalanhu)
- Zone S (Dema, Kalanga, Manyika, Ndau, Nambya, Shona, Zezuru, ChiToko Tawara, Tewe, Chopi, Tonga-Inhambane, Ronga, Tsonga, Tonga, Tswa, Venda, Swati (Swazi), Phuthi (Phuti), Xhosa, Zulu, Zimbabwe Ndebele, North Transvaal Ndebele, South Transvaal Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Birwa, Kgalagadi, Lozi, Tswana, Tswapong)
- Unclassified (Boguru, Gbati-ri, Isanzu, Ngbee, Kari, Mayeka, Ngbinda, Nyanga-li, Songo)
 Some Bantu words in popular western culture
 See also
- Guthrie, Malcolm (1948) The classification of the Bantu languages. London: Oxford University Press for the International African Institute.
- Guthrie, Malcolm (1971) Comparative Bantu vol 2. London: Gregg Press.
- Heine, Bernd (1973) 'Zur genetische Gliederung der Bantu-Sprachen'. Afrika und Übersee, 56, 164–185.
- Maho, Jouni F. (2001) 'The Bantu area: (towards clearing up) a mess'. Africa & Asia, 1, 40–49.
- Piron, Pascale (1995) 'Identification lexicostatistique des groupes Bantoïdes stables.' Journal of West African Languages, 25, 2, 3–39.
 External links
- Comparative Bantu Online Dictionary - includes a comprehensive bibliography.
- Bantu online resources by Jacky Maniacky, including
- List of Bantu language names with synonyms ordered by Guthrie number).
- Introduction to the languages of South Africa
- Etymology Dictionary
- Adaptation of English loanwords in Chichewa
- Bemba Phonology
- Journal of West African Languages - for back issues and reprints of articles.ast:Llingües del grupu bantú
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