The Xhosa language is a Niger-Congo language, of the Bantu language branch. It has been a language that has existed in the southeastern African area for hundreds of years, since before the 16th century. Originally inhabited by those who referred to themselves as the amaXhosa tribe, and who called the language itself isiXhosa, the language has taken on much influence from the surrounding countries and languages.
There still remain today those who are of the ethnic group amaXhosa, though in current modern language around the world, the isi- has been dropped by most other groups of speakers, and the language is simply referred to as Xhosa. At present, the Xhosa language is used in many primary schools, though it is often replaced with English as the students get older and go into secondary schools. It is also widely studied at University level in South Africa.
The Xhosa language is spoken by nearly 8 million people, which is around 18% of the South African population. It is an official language in South Africa and Lesotho, spoken primarily in the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape, where around 7.3 million speakers live. It is, conversely, the southernmost of the Nguni languages. Other Nguni languages include Swati, Northern Ndebele and Zulu.
Many of these languages have a level of intelligibility with each other as they share many linguistic features. The country of Lesotho, officially the Kingdom of Lesotho, is landlocked by the Republic of South Africa in all directions. There are around 18,000 speakers of the Xhosa language in this country, most of whom live in the Quthing District.
As with many Bantu languages, the Xhosa language is a tonal language, though is also features click consonants. Click consonants are clicking noises made with the tongue on the roof of the mouth. In the English language, this noise is conveyed in literature with the word “tut”, while in American English it is a “tsk!” It is also the noise that is commonly associated in Western society with spurring a horse on. When speaking the name of the Xhosa language itself, it should actually be spoken with a click preceding the word.
We can see from the click consonants that the Xhosa language has been heavily influenced by the Khoisian languages. Almost all the languages that use clicks as part of the words themselves have their origins in the Khoisian language. It is estimated that around 15% of the Xhosa vocabulary actually comes from the Khoekhoe language, which is also a Khoisian language.
The Xhosa language is written using a Latin alphabet system, though there certain indications for the click consonants, as there are three kinds of click consonants used in the Xhosa language. There are many dialects within the Xhosa language, most of which relate directly to the region that they came from, such as Gcaleka, Thembu, Bhaca and Cele. These days, the major influence to the Xhosa language comes through the media, with both English and Afrikaans being two of the main languages that the Xhosa language has taken words from.
Why Learn The Xhosa Language?
The country of South Africa is comprised of nine provinces, and there is much cultural diversity to be found in these different areas. There are a lot of different tribes and ethnic minorities that still live in largely rural areas who keep their own traditions alive, as well as embracing more modern achievements such as the wide variety of literature and cinema that has been produced. South Africa is also famous for its wine and cuisine, and has many fine vineyards.
The Xhosa language is the most widely distributed across the South African region. This is not to say that it has the most speakers. For this part of the world, that would be the Zulu language. However, the reach of the language has travelled far across the continent, and speakers of the Xhosa language do not only live in the Eastern and Western Capes, but also in Gauteng, the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, the Northern Cape, and Limpopo. There are eleven official languages in the South African area, and learning the slightly less common Xhosa language could help to give you a specialized skill that many others will not have.