Southern Ndebele language

Southern Ndebele (English: /ɛndəˈbl/), also known as Transvaal Ndebele[1] or South Ndebele,[5][6] is an African language belonging to the Nguni group of Bantu languages, spoken by the Ndebele people of South Africa.

Southern Ndebele
Transvaal Ndebele
isiNdebele seSewula
Native toSouth Africa
RegionMpumalanga, Limpopo, Gauteng, North West
Native speakers
1.1 million (2011 census)[1]
1.4 million L2 speakers (2002)[2]
Latin (Ndebele alphabet)
Ndebele Braille
Signed Ndebele
Official status
Official language in
 South Africa
Language codes
ISO 639-1nr – South Ndebele
ISO 639-2nbl – South Ndebele
ISO 639-3nbl – South Ndebele
Linguasphere99-AUT-fi + 99-AUT-fj

There is also a different language called Northern Ndebele or isiNdebele, Matabele, or simply Ndebele, spoken in Zimbabwe, which is closer to Northern Nguni.[7]


The Southern Transvaal Ndebele people's history has been traced back to King Ndebele, King Ndebele fathered King Mkhalangana, King Mkhalangana fathered King Mntungwa (not to be confused with the Khumalo Mntungwa, because he was fathered by Mbulazi), King Mntungwa fathered King Jonono, King Jonono fathered King Nanasi, King Nanasi fathered King Mafana, king Mafana fathered King Mhlanga and Chief Libhoko, King Mhlanga fathered King Musi and Chief Skhube .

Ndebele – Some of his sons were left behind with the Hlubi tribe
Mkhalangana – Some of his sons branched north and formed the Kalanga tribe
Mntungwa – Founder of the amaNtungwa clan
Njonono – He died in Jononoskop near Ladysmith – Surname Jonono is in the Hlubi tribe
Nanasi – He died in Jononoskop near Ladysmith – Surname Nanasi is in the Hlubi tribe
Mafana – He died in Randfontein (Emhlangeni)
Mhlanga – He died in Randfontein (Emhlangeni)
Musi – He died in kwaMnyamana (Pretoria)

King Musi's kraal was based at eMhlangeni a place named after his father Mhlanga, the name of the place is currently known as Randfontein (Mohlakeng) and later moved to KwaMnyamana which is now called Emarula or Bon Accord in Pretoria. King Musi was a polygamist and fathered the following sons, Skhosana (Masombuka), Manala (Mbuduma), Ndzundza (Hlungwana), Thombeni (Kekana or Gegana), Sibasa, Mhwaduba (Lekhuleni) and Mphafuli and others.

Southern Transvaal Ndebele is one of the eleven official languages in the Republic of South Africa. The language is a Nguni or Zunda classification (UN) spoken mostly in the Mpumalanga Province, Gauteng, Limpopo and the Northwest.

The expression "isikhethu" can be loosely translated to mean 'the Southern Ndebele way of doing or saying'. Isikhethu means Southern Ndebele the same way that sikitsi will mean Swazi and se harona will mean Sotho. The language has been severely marginalised over the years. Until the formation of the apartheid Southern Ndebele homeland (KwaNdebele), speaking the language publicly was discouraged. Most Southern Transvaal Ndebele speakers preferred Zulu especially because the latter was learned at school. Today the Southern Ndebele speakers, mostly those who are educated still prefer to use Southern Ndebele as home language for their children and will use Southern Ndebele as a language to communicate with other Southern Ndebele speakers.



Southern Ndebele vowels
Front Back
Close i [i] u [u]
Mid e [e~ɛ] o [o~ɔ]
Open a [a]


Southern Ndebele consonants
Bilabial Labio-
Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive ejective p [pʼ] t [tʼ] k [kʼ]
aspirated ph [pʰ] th [tʰ] kh [kʰ]
devoiced bh [b̥] d [d̥] ɡ [ɡ̊]
prenasal mp [ᵐp] nt [ⁿt] nk [ᵑkʼ]
prenasal (vd.) mb [ᵐb] nd [ⁿd] ng [ᵑɡ]
implosive b [ɓ]
Fricative plain f [f] s [s] rh [x]
voiced v [v] z [z] h [ɦ]
prenasal mf [ᶬf]
prenasal (vd.) mv [ᶬv]
Nasal m [m] n [n]ny [ɲ] ngh [ŋ]
Lateral Fricative plain hl [ɬ]
voiced dl [ɮ]
aspirated dlh [ɮʰ]
Rhotic r [r]
Lateral Approximant l [l]
Approximant w [w] y [j]
Alveolar Post-
Affricate voiceless ejective ts [tsʼ] tj [tʃʼ] kg [kxʼ]
aspirated tsh [tsʰ] tjh [tʃʰ] kgh [kxʰ]
lateral tl [tɬʼ]
lateral (asp.) tlh [tɬʰ]
voiced plain dz [dz]
devoiced j [d̥ʒ]
prenasal nj [ᶮdʒ]

Consonant sounds nt, nd, k, mf, and mv often result in allophones of [d̥r dr k̬ ɱp̪fʼ ɱb̪v].[8]

Click consonants

Southern Ndebele clicks
Dental Post-
Plosive voiceless plain c [ǀ] q [!] x [ǁ]
aspirated ch [ǀʰ] qh [!ʰ]
nasalized nc [ᵑǀ] nx [ᵑǁ]
voiced plain gc [ǀᶢ] gq [!ᶢ]
nasalized ngq [ᵑ!ᶢ]



The Southern Ndebele noun consists of two essential parts, the prefix and the stem. Using the prefixes, nouns can be grouped into noun classes, which are numbered consecutively, to ease comparison with other Bantu languages.

The following table gives an overview of Southern Ndebele noun classes, arranged according to singular-plural pairs.

Class Singular Plural
1/2 um(u)-1 aba-, abe-
1a/2a u- abo-
3/4 um(u)-1 imi-
5/6 i-, ili-, ilu- ama-
7/8 is(i)- iz(i)-, iiN-
9/10 iN- iiN-
14 ubu-, ub-, utj-
15 uku-
17 uku-

1 umu- replaces um- before monosyllabic stems, e. g. umuntu (person).


Verbs use the following affixes for the subject and the object:

Prefix Infix
1st sing. ngi- -ngi-
2nd sing. u- -wu-
1st plur. si- -si-
2nd plur. ni- -ni-
1 u- -m(u)-
2 ba- -ba-
3 u- -m(u)-
4 i- -yi-
5 li- -li-
6 a- -wa-
7 si- -si-
8 zi- -zi-
9 i- -yi-
10 zi- -zi-
14 bu- -bu-
15 ku- -ku-
17 ku- -ku-
reflexive -zi-


Months in Southern Ndebele

EnglishNorthern Ndebele (Zimbabwe)Southern Ndebele (South Africa)

AmaNdebele in Zimbabwe

Ndebele/Zimbabwean Ndebele (Northern Ndebele) is part of the Nguni languages even though it is still heavily influenced by other Nguni languages (zulu/Xhosa/Swati), there is also influence from many other Non-Ndebele Zimbabwean tribes due to intermarriages, while the South African (or Southern Transvaal Ndebele), while maintaining its Nguni roots, has been more influenced by the Sotho languages.[8]


  1. Ndebele at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Webb, Vic. 2002. "Language in South Africa: the role of language in national transformation, reconstruction and development." Impact: Studies in language and society, 14:78
  3. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Sumayela Ndebele". 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. "Documentation for ISO 639 identifier: nbl". ISO 639-2 Registration Authority - Library of Congress. Retrieved 4 July 2017. Name: South Ndebele
  6. "Documentation for ISO 639 identifier: nbl". ISO 639-3 Registration Authority - SIL International. Retrieved 4 July 2017. Name: South Ndebele
  7. Skhosana, Philemon. "The (ama)Ndebele of Africa and their name '(ama)Ndebele'". University of Pretoria – Department of Library Services. University of Pretoria. Retrieved 24 March 2016.
  8. Skhosana, P.B. (2010) The Linguistic Relationship between Southern and Northern Ndebele, University of Pretoria, DLitt Thesis


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