The Tsonga Language

Tsonga is spoken throughout Southern Africa by the Shangaan-Tsonga culture.

South Africa Languages and CultureTsonga Language

Tsonga is spoken throughout Southern Africa by the Shangaan-Tsonga culture, but is concentrated in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa. Tsonga is a part of Bantu branch of the Niger-Congo languages.

The speakers of the Tsonga language are often referred to as Shangaans, but the Tsongas say that this is incorrect, claiming that that term should only be used for the Tsonga people who are living in Mozambique. Although the Tsonga speakers are spread throughout Southern Africa, the majority of them live in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. There are approximately 2.3 million Tsonga speakers in Limpopo. It is one of South Africa’s 11 official languages.

The Tsonga language does not use the English alphabet, even though they are mainly based in South Africa. In fact, they make use of the Latin alphabet. It is not an easy language to learn. It makes use of specific sounds to spell, using a combination of different letters. The letters of which it comprises are not a part of the European language.

Counting from one to ten is as follows;

Nwe (1), Mbirhi (2), Nharhu (3), Mune (4), Ntlhanu (5), Ntsevu (6), Nkombo (7), Nhungu (8), Nkaye (9), Khume (10)

A few examples of what sentences look like when they are put together in Tsonga include:

“Va ndzi tiva” - They know me
“Ndza ku rhandza” - I love you
“Ha ku tiva” - We know you
“Wa ndzi rhandza” - You love me

Numerous dialects of the language Tsonga are used as far south as Kwazulu Natal and as far north as the Save River in Zimbabwe. Most of the dialects are equally comprehensible, but they do have noticeable differences, which are generally geographical and based on the pressure from the colonial era.

There are three popular distinct dialects. These are...
1) Xironga, which is mainly spoken in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, as well as the areas around it;
2) Chihlengwe / Xitshwa, verbal in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, and
3) xiTsonga, which is the language spoken in South Africa.

All of these dialects have different pronunciation structures. For example, the Tsonga spoken in South Africa pronounces “xi” as “shi”.

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