Kirundi,[5][6] also known as Rundi,[2][7][8][9] is a Bantu language spoken by 9 million people in Burundi and adjacent parts of Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as in Uganda. It is the official language of Burundi. Kirundi is mutually intelligible with Kinyarwanda, an official language of Rwanda, and the two form part of the wider dialect continuum known as Rwanda-Rundi.[10]

Native toBurundi
EthnicityHutu, Tutsi, and Twa
Native speakers
8.8 million (2007)[1]
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-1rn Rundi
ISO 639-2run Rundi
ISO 639-3run Rundi
Glottologrund1242  Rundi[2]
rund1241  Rundi-Kitwa[3]

Kirundi is natively spoken by the Hutu, including Bakiga and other related ethnicities, as well as Tutsi, Twa and Hima among others have adopted the language. Neighbouring dialects of Kirundi are mutually intelligible with Ha, a language spoken in western Tanzania.

Kirundi is one of the languages where Meeussen's rule, a rule describing a certain pattern of tonal change in Bantu languages, is active.



Although the literature on Rundi agrees on 5 vowels, the number of consonants can vary anywhere from 19 to 26 consonants.[11] The table below is compiled from a survey of academic acceptance of Rundi consonants.[12]

Labial Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Plosive voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɟ g
Affricate p͡f t͡s t͡ʃ
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ h
voiced v z ʒ
Approximant j w
Flap ɾ
Trill r


The table below gives the vowel sounds of Rundi.

Front Back
Close i u
Mid e o
Open a

All five vowels occur in long and short forms. The distinction is phonemic.[13]


Rundi is a tonal language. There are two essential tones in Rundi : high and low (or H and L). Since Rundi has phonemic distinction on vowel length, when a long vowel changes from a low tone to a high tone it is marked as a rising tone. When a long vowel changes from a high tone to a low tone, it is marked as a falling tone.[14]

Rundi is often used in phonology to illustrate examples of Meeussen's rule[15][16] In addition, it has been proposed that tones can shift by a metrical or rhythmic structure. Some authors have expanded these more complex features of the tonal system noting that such properties are highly unusual for a tone system.[17]


Syllable structure in Rundi is considered to be CV, that is having no clusters, no coda consonants, and no complex vowel nuclei. It has been proposed that sequences that are CVV in the surface realization are actually CV in the underlying deep structure, with the consonant coalescing with the first vowel.[18]

Consonant harmony

Rundi has been shown to have properties of consonant harmony particularly when it comes to sibilants. Meeussen described this harmony in his essay and it is investigated further by others.[19] One example of this harmony is triggered by /ʃ/ and /ʒ/ and targets the set of /s/ and /z/ in preceding adjacent stem syllables.

Sample phrases

Example translations
MwaramutseHi/Good Morning
MwiriweGood evening
Ijoro ryizaGood night
Bite?What's Up?
Uravuga icongereza?Do you speak English?
Witwa gute?What is your name?
Jewe nitwaMy name is
Woshobora kumfasha?Can you help me?
Ikirundi n'ikinyarwanda bisa nk'igi czek n'igi slovakRundi and Rwanda are closely related like Czech and Slovak.
InzogaAlcoholic beverage
Nzoza ejo/Nzoz'ejoI will come tomorrow
Leta zunz'ubumwe z'amerikaUnited States of America
°N.B. eejo is pronounced the same as ejo:
the other e is written for differentiation.


  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, eds. (2017). "Rundi". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Rundi-Kitwa". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  5. "Kirundi". Oxford Dictionaries, British & World English. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2017-07-05.
  6. "Kirundi". American Heritage Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Retrieved 2017-07-05.
  7. Simons, Gary F. and Charles D. Fennig, eds. (2017). "Rundi". Ethnologue: Languages of the World (20th ed.). Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Retrieved 2017-07-05.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)
  8. "Rundi". Collins English Dictionary. HarperCollins Publishers. Retrieved 2017-07-05.
  9. "Rundi". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. Retrieved 2017-07-05.
  10. Ethnologue, 15th ed.
  11. Zorc and Nibagwire 2007, p. 23.
  12. Zorc and Nibagwire 2007, p. 25.
  13. Meeussen 1959
  14. de Samie 2009
  15. Myers 1987
  16. Phillipson 2003
  17. Goldsmith & Sabimana 1989
  18. Sagey 1986
  19. Ntihirageza 1993


  • Broselow, E. & Niyondagara, A. (1990) "Feature geometry of Kirundi palatalization". Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 20: 71-88.
  • de Samie. (2009) Dictionnaire Francais-Kirundi. L'Harmattan. Paris.
  • Goldsmith, J. & Sabimana, F. (1989) The Kirundi Verb. Modèles en tonologie. Editions du CNRS. Paris.
  • Meeussen, A.E. (1959) Essai de grammaire Rundi. Annales du Musée Royal du Congo Belge, Série Sciences Humaines – Linguistique, vol. 24. Tervuren.
  • Myers, S. (1987) Tone and the structure of words in Shona. PhD dissertation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Garland Press. New York.
  • Ntihirageza, J. (1993) Kirundi Palatization and Sibilant Harmony : Implications for Feature Geometry. Master thesis, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois.
  • Philippson, G. (2003) Tone reduction vs. metrical attraction in the evolution of Eastern Bantu tone systems. INALCO. Paris.
  • Sagey, E. (1986) The Representation of Features and Relations in Non-Linear Phonology. Doctoral dissertation, MIT, Cambridge, Mass.
  • Zorc, R. D. & Nibagwire, L. (2007) Kinyarwanda and Kirundi Comparative Grammar. Dunwoody Press. Hyattsville.
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