Talk:Zulu language

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Zulu is not called isiZulu. Its like saying German is also known as Deutch or French as Français, Spanish as Español. Zulu is isiZulu in Zulu. Furthermore there are good linguistic reasons not to include the prefixes when taking words from prefix based languages. In South Africa there are fearly well established ways in which words from the Bantu languages are taken up into the Germanic ones (English and Afrikaans). The prefix is almost always dropped. And yes, I do speak Zulu. --1 July 2005 21:05 (UTC)

Well, you know that the autonym for Zulu in Zulu is isiZulu. That's why it says "also known as isiZulu". As far as I can see, the article doesn't say that the language "is called isiZulu". The language table to the right, as a rule, includes first the English name for the language (Zulu in this case) and then, between brackets, the native name (autonym), which is isiZulu. See Turkana language and Maasai language for other examples. So, while I fully concur with what you're saying, I don't see why this article warrants this rant. — mark 1 July 2005 22:11 (UTC)
Ok. I see. My apologies for coming over as a rant - this issue just irritates me a bit. So would you say that Spanish is "also known as" Español? I see the Xhosa article simply says "Xhosa, or isiXhosa", giving a reader no information that it really isn't known as isiXhosa. Wouldn't it be better to mention it later and say that it is an autonym (first time I heard the word), rather than giving the impression that it has two names? --5 July 2005 21:25 (UTC)
Aha, I see your point. No, I wouldn't say that Spanish is "also known as" Español myself — but I don't think it's necessarily incorrect (well, at least I feel less strongly about it than you do). However, yours might be a good idea, feel free to carry it out. As for autonym, and the related endonym (self-name) and exonym (name given by strangers), I've been thinking for a while now that those terms need an article. At least among linguists and anthropologists, these are common terms. Incidentally, have you considered registering? Registering makes communication with fellow editors easier and enables you to take credit for your work. There are a lot more benefits, please refer to here for the details. Regards, — mark 6 July 2005 20:23 (UTC)
Ok. I'm not likely to edit - please go ahead. I'm spending all my free time at Afrikaans, where you can reach me at Gebruiker:Alias. My English login broke, and I haven't spoken to a developer to fix it (same name). If I had more time, I would be working at zu:, not here :-) -- 20:32, 19 July 2005 (UTC)

I've taken the liberty to fix it up a bit, clarifying that the isi- prefix identifies languages in Zulu and giving some further examples (isiNgisi etc). I deleted the reference to correctness as being confusing and prescriptivist, and changed the 'also known as' to a parenthetical '(isiZulu in Zulu)'. Mairead, 10 Jan 06

There appears to be an emerging trend in South African English (as used in the media) to refer to the various languages and ethnic groups using their own grammatical rules. For example the Sotho people are often reffered to as the BaSotho on radio. This is consistent with English allowing adoptive words to obey the grammar of the originating language for example the plural of the Hebrew derived word "cherub" is "cherubim". Anon, 16 Ferbruary 2006

I've added a table of prefixes to explain the reason for using 'isiZulu', and the counter-argument. Hope this clears everything up! Joziboy 24 February 2006, 11:42 UTC
I'm affraid I don't understand how/what this is supposed to clear up. We don't need to use isiZulu to distinguish it from umZulu, because umZulu is not an English word (and in my opinion, neither is isiZulu). Of course, just as "German" can refer to a language or to the German ways/culture, such an ambuity can exist, but is not solved by using "isiZulu" as the word for the language or "culture" is the same word in Zulu anyway. Context or prepositions probably solve all ambiguity problems, just as they do for all other languages spoken about in English. I believe KwaZulu is already an established place name, however. To say isiZulu is used in South African English is perhaps possible, but so many things are used in RSA English that are mostly also considered to be wrong. Zulu speakers will also sometimes use Zulu plurals for nouns, but I don't believe that dictates how those words should be pluralised in English in general. Many people will talk about uJohn, or boZama, but I don't consider that South African English suitable for an encyclopedia, even if the person was talking English at the time. --12:22, 1 March 2006 (UTC)

Yeah, well I was just putting it up because so many people disagree about it and wanted to show both sides of the argument. Personally I also prefer to just talk about 'Zulu' in English, rather than isiZulu. But there's also no set correct way of speaking English - as soon as the majority of speakers of a language do something, then that's the correct way. And I'm assuming SA English will become more influenced by the indigenous languages in future, rather than solely from Afrikaans. Joziboy 2 March 2006, 22:04 (UTC)

There isn't a "trend" at all (as asserted by Anon. above) to include the prefix inflexions in English. The articles here, under Xhosa language and elsewhere are quite correct and consistent in stating that the English word for the language spoken by the Zulu people is Zulu (Xhosa by Xhosa, etc.) (And thanks to Mairead for a sensible resolution of the also known as debate above.) Whenever the Zulu language is referred to in the article, it is called, correctly, Zulu, because Zulu is the correct name of the language in English.
There was indeed a silly pretension in some quarters to try to impose the vernacular forms of various words on to English, thus isiXhosa for Xhosa, isiZulu for Zulu, seTswana for Tswana, tsiVenda for Venda, etc. This silly argument often seemed to be made by pc-minded non-native-speakers, and often, as you allude to, in the media, and questions of usage were muddled with questions of "respect". The protagonists in this debate have generally recognised that it is spurious to claim that there is some sort of disrespect in saying "Pasha speaks fluent Russian" instead of "Pasha speaks fluent русский язык", or "Ganesh sings beautifully in Zulu" instead of "Ganesh sings beautifully in isiZulu".
&cet.Brockle 13:18, 16 April 2007 (UTC)

What some call "silly pretensions" and others call media trends and opinions is fact here in KwaZulu-Natal. I refer you to the Oxford South African English Dictionary © 2009 p. 610, which contains entries for both isiXhosa and isiZulu. Presumably this meets the official CAPS requirements (Curriculum And Assessment Policy Statement) although I don't have a copy. This isn't an aberration as it's the title of Oxford translation dictionaries at all levels, such as Oxford translation dictionary © 2010, titled English–isiZulu / isiZulu–isiNgisi. If I knew how to upload pictures, I'd show happily you. In other words, the English side is titled English–isiZulu and the Zulu side is titled isiZulu–isiNgisi. This is analogous to the Hachette title English-French / Français-Anglais. Further: the SAPS Community training manual (2006 in English) refers to isiZulu, p.14-44. You see isiZulu other places such as the Google page ( which reads (in English): " offered in: Afrikaans Sesotho IsiZulu IsiXhosa Setswana Northern Sotho." (talk) 22:15, 20 November 2012 (UTC)

Compiling all this[edit]

Wish I'd found this discussion earlier! I'm trying to accummulate refs to different names for languages at User:JackyR/African language names - current usage. Feel free to ADD YOUR KNOWLEDGE here! Cheers! JackyR 19:24, 24 February 2006 (UTC)

learning zulu language[edit]

zulu is one of the african languages i'm attempting to learn. as i mentioned elsewhere, i've made very little progress so far.

Gringo300 04:20, 31 October 2005 (UTC)

  • Eish (I am completely flabbergasted by what just happened, and words fail me.)
Heh... sorry, but that is just too funny for words! Perhaps the funniest definition ever! Thank you for the laugh!

On linguistic description[edit]

Recently, the following addition caught my attention:

  • There is no verb 'to have', nor is there 'to be' (although the infix -ngu- is sometimes used)
  • There are no articles the or a/an.

I feel that this is not the most helpful way of presenting facts about Zulu. The problem is that it is modelled too much on the English language. Compare the following example that I made up (it would've been stronger if it was written in Zulu, but you get the point): English lacks the umu-/aba-, u-/o-, umu-/imi-, ili-/ama-, isi-/izi-, in-/izin-, ulu-/u-, ubu-, uku-, pha- and ku- noun class prefixes (although nouns are sometimes divided in three broad groups according to something called gender). Furthermore, there are no tense affixes -a-, -ile, -zo-/-zoku- or -yo-/-yoku-. Instead, different tenses are expressed by morphological changes to the verb, sometimes together with grammatical particles.

Most probably it is true that it's impossible to avoid imposing language structures of the language we use on the language we are describing, but we can do our best not to model our description of the latter on the structure of the former. In this case, I would recommend describing the facts about Zulu as comprehensively as possible, instead of pointing to grammatical structures Zulu lacks in comparison with English. — mark 19:00, 15 March 2006 (UTC)

Sorry! I was reading through the Finnish language article and noticed that a lot of the things it pointed out were also true of Zulu (the lack of 'to have' etc) so was just adding them for general interest/to point out differences between Zulu and English (for learners). But you're right, it's probably best without them as it doesn't sound very encyclopedic. I'll remove them. Joziboy 15 March 2006, 19:53 (UTC)
Nevertheless, these are interesting facts that a non-specialist reader may never infer from the article. Rather than removing them, I would suggest representing the other differences next to them; perhaps, not in the form of statements about what English does not have (this is not an article about English, after all; although this may be a good subject for the article on English in the Zulu Wikipedia), but in the form of statements about what isiZulu does have. Not that a language not having something is necessarily a bad thing. --Leokor 02:57, 2 November 2007 (UTC)

Jawa language[edit]

Is there a reference for the claim that the fictional Jawa language from Star Wars is electronically sped-up Zulu? Joziboy 28 June 2006, 17:29 (UTC)

Even if there was, I think a reference to that belongs only in some Star Wars sub-article. We're not the encyclopedia of pop-culture. — mark 06:55, 29 June 2006 (UTC)
I've removed that; the alien race doesn't even have its own article. Graham talk 12:39, 4 August 2006 (UTC)

Transation from German article[edit]

The sections about phonology and grammar of the German wikipedia are much much better then those sections in this article. Would anybody try to translate these sections to the english section. I do not have the time to do it and neither German nor English is my first language. If nobody does it I will do it in a few weeks, but I rather see it done by somebody who knows German better than I do.

Needs some fixing[edit]

The article needs a more refined tone. Also, the consonants and vowels sections are not complete. Azalea pomp 01:01, 21 April 2007 (UTC)

In regards to tone, the guideline about how to pronounce tone on words is blatantly wrong. While Zulu may put a high tone on the penultimate syllable, it is wrong to say that it always goes there (it depends on what prefixes and suffixes you are adding to the verb). Also, the bit about penultimate lengthening should go elsewhere in the section about phonology since it has nothing to do with tone directly. A list of the phonemic tones in Zulu should be made (I believe that it's just high and low tone, but I am unsure about rising and falling tones.) A description of depressor consonants in Zulu should also be added to this section as they lower any high tones (I don't have a list of these off-hand).
Also, it would be nice if a native speaker could go in and add the tones to all the words on the page, but this may be quite a feat unless they have a good understanding of the phonetic difference between high, low, rising, falling, downstep, etc. Vaaht (talk) 01:39, 2 October 2008 (UTC)

Gender 17?[edit] lists the gender 17 on their grammar page. But this article doesn't. Who is right? --Leokor 02:47, 2 November 2007 (UTC)

Voiced velar implosive[edit]

The 'k' consonant in "ukuza" is not ejective, as described in the article. It's a voiced velar implosive. --Leokor 19:14, 2 November 2007 (UTC)

Uhm, no. This is a velar ejective. Please don't make claims without knowing what you are speaking about first. Vaaht (talk) 01:31, 2 October 2008 (UTC)
As far as I know the letter k represents to 2 phonemes, one is an ejective and if I recall corectly is only used at the beginning of stems and following a prenasalization, the other one is described as a softer sound and may very well be an implosive. the k in the uku-prefix is acording to my grammar book an example of the latter sound.--Merijn2 (talk) 19:36, 12 January 2009 (UTC)


Zulu does not have any infixes; it only has prefixes and suffixes. An infix is when the root is split up by a morpheme. For example, the word "fucking" in English can be an infix, as in "abso-fucking-lutely" or "Massa-fucking-chusetts". For a word in Zulu like "ngiyadlala" it is composed of four morphemes: ngi- (1st person, singular), ya- (present tense for a verb without an object/verb focus), -dlal- (root "play"), -a (final vowel). I am going to go through the article and correct all instances of "infix" in it. However, I am not going to correct the misuse of the hyphen that occurs throughout the article because I don't have the time. Any time a prefix is listed, it should have a hyphen as follows: prefix-. Any time a suffix is listed it should have a hyphen as follows: -suffix. This should be corrected. Vaaht (talk) 02:03, 2 October 2008 (UTC)

Ejective Consonants[edit]

I see no mention of ejective consonants for Zulu, despite the fact that they are well-attested in the language. Vaaht (talk) 02:39, 2 October 2008 (UTC)

I've never heard of there being ejective consonants in a Bantu language, or any language outside the Americas (other than in the Caucasus). There are currently stops written [t'] [p'] [k'], but in the descriptions of their pronunciations it sounds like these are supposed to be unaspirated voiceless stops. If that's so, we should probably remove the ' symbols, since these do denote ejectives. 10:38, 14 March 2013. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk)

Zulu language template[edit]

If you are a native speaker of Zulu then you can add this template to your userpage:

zu Lo msebenzisi ukwazi ukusiza ezingeni lesiZulu soqobo.

--Amazonien (talk) 03:35, 20 January 2009 (UTC)

39 Zulu words for "green"[edit]

Richard D. Lewis claims in "When Cultures Collide" (p.8-9) that there are 39 words for "green" in Zulu. This is quite obviously a variant of the urban legend concerning Eskimo words for snow (which he also naively presents as true on p.4). Does Zulu have more than one root word for "green" to which it attaches different affixes? The examples given by Lewis's informant/"expert" can be found here or here. --Espoo (talk) 20:35, 10 April 2010 (UTC)

Corrections made under "Nouns" section of " Zulu language" article[edit]

When I was reading the article on "Zulu language", under "Nouns" section I picked up the following statement which I thought was incorrect:

ame- occurs only in one instance, namely amehlo (eyes) the plural of iso (eye; originally: ihlo).

Actually the prefix ame- for class 6 nouns I believe occurs in two instances, namely amehlo(eyes) and ameva(thorns)the plural of iva. I've since edited the corrections.

Is there anyone out there who agrees/disagrees?

Smzuma (talk) 10:05, 31 May 2010 (UTC)

Splitting it up[edit]

I think this is a great article, simply because it gives a lot of useful, specific information. However, the grammar section is so extensive that it completely dominates the article. Wouldn't is be wise to split this section off to a new article called Zulu grammar and replace the it here with a more concise grammar paragraph? Steinbach (talk) 21:33, 22 June 2010 (UTC)

  • agree  Andreas  (T) 12:58, 23 June 2010 (UTC)
    Done. Steinbach (talk) 22:38, 2 July 2010 (UTC)
    But hey, wtf...? Data base is being annoying, link in article stays red and when you click on it, it says the article does not exist. Hope it pops up later... Steinbach (talk) 22:44, 2 July 2010 (UTC)

The consonant phonemes[edit]

The table of consonants is rather bewildering currently. I can't help but wonder how many of the sounds listed there are actually phonemes. It seems to me that several of them could be analysed as single phonemes with multiple allophones. The table and surrounding text doesn't say anything about this, although it does put all the pronunciations in square brackets (which indicate a narrow phonetic/subphonemic representation). Could more information about actual phonemic contrasts be added? CodeCat (talk) 01:45, 30 November 2013 (UTC)

I added what looks to be a very good source, in the biblio, but can't access it myself apart from snippets at GBooks. If you're able to gain access, that would be a huge help. I changed the slashes to brackets a couple years ago because I was concerned that some of the entries were just allophones. (If they're not, the transcriptions of the example words would seem to be wrong in some cases, e.g. for ŋ.) So the charts should already be phonemic: they just need to be confirmed with a RS. — kwami (talk) 03:40, 30 November 2013 (UTC)
There is still considerable allophony even if they can be phonemes in some environments. Aspiration is lost after a nasal, for example: inkosi pluralises as amakhosi. CodeCat (talk) 14:21, 30 November 2013 (UTC)

Dubious: falling tone[edit]

The section on tone is inconsistent. We say that Zulu has no phonemic vowel length, but then say that it has two phonemic tones, high and falling, the latter only occurring on long vowels. Is there ever a contrast between high and falling on a penultimate vowel, when the ultima is low?

Here's what I'm guessing is going on: A non-tonic vowel takes a falling contour when between a tonic and non-tonic vowel. Or maybe this is described as mid except when the vowel is penultimate (long). A tonic vowel takes a falling contour when penultimate and followed by a non-tonic vowel.

That is,

/H/ → [F:]/__L#
/L/ → [H]/H__H
/L/ → [F]/H__L...
/L/ → [F:]/H__L#

Ignoring depressor consonants, is it more complicated than that? — kwami (talk) 18:54, 2 May 2014 (UTC)

The first written document in Zulu[edit]

The first written document in Zulu was a Bible translation that appeared in 1883.

No citation is given for this assertion, which is demonstrably incorrect, viz.

The first complete book of the Bible translated into isiZulu was the Gospel of Matthew, which was translated by Rev. George Champion of the American Board Mission and was printed in 1848. The New Testament (also translated by the missionaries of the American Board Mission) was published in 1865. The first complete Bible (again, translated by the American Board Mission) was published by the American Bible Society in 1883. In 1855 Bishop Colenso produced the 1848 translation of the American Board Mission with adaptations and in 1897 the New Testament (Hermanson 1995:144,145). [1]

1) Masubelele, M. R. "Missionary interventions in Zulu religious practices: The term for the supreme being." Acta Theologica 12, no. 1 (2011). (talk) 23:17, 5 May 2014 (UTC)

Request lock & re-write[edit]

Came here expecting at least a half decent article on the zulu languge. What I just read seems a bit insulting.