Chewa language

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Chichewa, Chinyanja
Native to Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe
Native speakers
12 million (2007)[1]
Latin (Chewa alphabet)
Chewa Braille
Official status
Official language in
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ny
ISO 639-2 nya
ISO 639-3 nya
Glottolog nyan1308[2]
N.30 (N.31, N.121)[3]
Linguasphere 99-AUS-xaa – xag

Chewa, also known as Nyanja, is a language of the Bantu language family. The noun class prefix chi- is used for languages,[4] so the language is also called Chichewa and Chinyanja (spelled 'Cinyanja' in Zambia, and 'Cinianja' in Mozambique). In Malawi, the name was officially changed from Chinyanja to Chichewa in 1968 at the insistence of President Hastings Kamuzu Banda (himself of the Chewa tribe), and this is still the name most commonly used in Malawi today.[5] In Zambia, Chewa is spoken by other peoples like the Ngoni and the Kunda, so a more neutral name, Chinyanja '(language) of the lake' (referring to Lake Malawi), is used instead of Chewa.

Chewa belongs to the same language group (Guthrie Zone N) as Tumbuka and Sena.[6]


Chewa is the national language of Malawi, spoken mostly in the Central and Southern Regions of that country. It is also one of the seven official African languages of Zambia, where it is spoken mostly in the Eastern Province. It is also spoken in Mozambique, especially in the provinces of Tete and Niassa, as well as in Zimbabwe where, according to some estimates, it ranks as the third-most widely used local language, after Shona and Northern Ndebele. It was one of the 55 languages featured on the Voyager.


Chewa has its origin in the Eastern Province of Zambia from the 15th century to the 18th century. The language remained dominant despite the breakup of the empire and the Nguni invasions and was adopted by Christian missionaries at the beginning of the colonial period.

The name "Chewa" (in the form Chévas) is first recorded by António Gamitto, who at the age of 26 in 1831 was appointed as second-in-command of an expedition from Tete to the court of King Kazembe in what is now Zambia. His route took him through the country of King Undi west of the Dzalanyama mountains, across a corner of present-day Malawi and on into Zambia.[7] Later he wrote an account including some ethnographic and linguistic notes and vocabularies. According to Gamitto, the Malawi people (Maraves) were those ruled by King Undi south of the Chambwe stream (not far south of the present border between Mozambique and Zambia), while the Chewa lived north of the Chambwe.[8]

Apart from a few words recorded by Gamitto, the first extensive record of the Chewa language was made by Johannes Rebmann in his Dictionary of the Kiniassa Language, published in 1877 but written in 1853-4. Rebmann was a missionary living near Mombasa in Kenya, and he obtained his information from a Malawian slave, known by the Swahili name Salimini, who had been captured in Malawi some ten years earlier.[9] Salimini, who came from a place called Mphande apparently in the Lilongwe region, also noted some differences between his own dialect (which he called Kikamtunda, the language of the plateau) and the Maravi dialect (Kimaravi) spoken further south; for example, the Maravi gave the name mombo to the tree which he himself called kamphoni.[10]

The first grammar, A Grammar of the Chinyanja language as spoken at Lake Nyasa with Chinyanja–English and English–Chinyanja vocabulary, was written by Alexander Riddel in 1880 and partial translations of the Bible were made at the end of 19th century. Further early grammars and vocabularies include A vocabulary of English–Chinyanja and Chinyanja–English: as spoken at Likoma, Lake Nyasa[11] and A grammar of Chinyanja, a language spoken in British Central Africa, on and near the shores of Lake Nyasa,[12] by George Henry (1891). The whole Bible was translated into the Likoma Island dialect of Nyanja by William Percival Johnson and published as Chikalakala choyera : ndicho Malangano ya Kale ndi Malangano ya Chapano in 1912.[13]

Another early grammar, concentrating on the Kasungu dialect of Chewa, was Mark Hanna Watkins' A Grammar of Chichewa (1937). This book, the first grammar of an African language to be written by an American, was a work of cooperation between a young black PhD student and another young black student, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, who in 1966 was to become the first President of the Republic of Malawi.

The language is changing every day. This is because people are mixing certain words of English with Chichewa.



Chewa has five vowels: a, e, i, o, u. Long or double vowels are sometimes found, e.g. áákúlu 'big' (class 2), kufúula 'to shout'.[14] When a word comes at the end of a phrase, its penultimate vowel tends to be lengthened,[15] except for non-Chewa names and words, such as Muthárika or ófesi, in which the penultimate vowel always remains short. The added 'u' or 'i' in borrowed words such as láputopu 'laptop' or íntaneti 'internet' tends to be silent or barely pronounced.


In Chewa consonants are sometimes followed by a vowel, sometimes by w, and sometimes by y:

  • mpha, kha, ga, fa etc.
  • mphwa, khwa, gwa, fwa etc.
  • thya, mya, fya, nya etc.

The place of bya is taken by the palatalised affricate bza, and the place of gya is taken by ja.

Some consonants can also be preceded by a homorganic nasal:

  • ba, kha, fa, sa...
  • mba, nkha, mfa, nsa...

The possible consonant combinations can thus be arranged on a table as follows:

Table of Chewa consonants
voiced plain aspirated nasalised voiced nasalised aspirated nasal semivowel/ liquid
labial ba pa pha mba mpha ma (ŵa)
bwa pwa phwa mbwa mphwa mwa wa
bza pya psa mbza mpsa mya
dental da ta tha nda ntha na la/ra
dwa twa thwa ndwa nthwa lwa/rwa
dya tya thya ndya nthya
velar/ palatal ga ka kha nga nkha ng'a
gwa kwa khwa ngwa nkhwa ng'wa
ja cha tcha nja ntcha nya ya
labio-dental va fa mva mfa
vwa fwa
(vya) (fya)
sibilant za sa nza nsa
zwa swa nzwa nswa
(zya) sha
affricate dza tsa (ndza)
(dzwe) tswa

The spelling used here is that introduced in 1973,[16] which is the one generally in use in the Malawi at the present time, replacing the Chinyanja Orthography Rules of 1931.[17]

Notes on the consonants

  • In most words, Chewa b and d (when not prenasalised) are pronounced implosively, by sucking slightly.[18] However, there is also an explosive b and d, mostly found in foreign words, such as bála 'bar', yôdúla 'expensive' (from Afrikaans duur) (in contrast to the implosive b and d in native words such as bála 'wound' and yôdúla 'which cuts'). An explosive d is also found in kudínda 'to stamp (a document)' and mdidi 'confident step'.
  • The affricate sounds bv and pf were formerly commonly heard but are now generally replaced by b and f, e.g. (b)vúto 'problem', (p)fúpa 'bone'. In the Mtanthauziramawu wa Chinyanja dictionary produced by the University of Malawi, the spellings bv and pf are not used in any of the headwords, but bv is used two or three times in the definitions.
  • The combination bz is described by Atkins as an "alveolar-labialised fricative".[19] The combination sounds something like [bž]. Similarly ps is pronounced something like [pš].
  • The sounds written ch, k, p and t are pronounced less forcibly than the English equivalents and generally without aspiration. Stevick notes that in relaxed speech, the first three are sometimes replaced with the voiced fricatives [ʒ], [ɣ], and [β], and t can be heard as a voiced flap.[20] In the combination -ti (e.g. angáti? 'how many'), t may be lightly aspirated.
  • h is also used in Chewa but mostly in foreign words such as hotéra 'hotel', hátchi 'horse', mswahála 'monthly allowance given to chiefs'.
  • j is described by Scotton and Orr as being pronounced "somewhat more forward in the mouth" than in English and as sounding "somewhere between an English d and j ".[21]
  • l and r are the same phoneme,[22] representing a sound something between [l] and [r]. The spelling rules are to write 'r' after 'i' or 'e', except after a prefix, as in lilíme 'tongue'.[23]
  • m is syllabic in words where it is derived from mu, e.g. m'balé 'relative' (3 syllables), m'phunzitsi 'teacher' (4 syllables), anáḿpatsa 'he gave him' (5 syllables). However, in class 9 words, such as mphátso 'gift', mbale 'plate', or mfíti 'witch', and also in the class 1 word mphaká 'cat', the m is pronounced very short and does not form a separate syllable. In Southern Region dialects of Malawi, the syllabic m in words like mkángo 'lion' is pronounced homorganically, i.e. [ŋkángo] (with three syllables), but in the Central Region, it is pronounced as it is written, i.e. [mkángo].[24]
  • n in combinations such as nj, ntch, nkh etc. is assimilated to the following consonant, that is, it is pronounced [ɲ] or [ŋ] as appropriate. ny is pronounced [ɲ],[25] In words of class 9, such as njóka 'snake' or nduná 'minister' it is pronounced very short, that is to say as part of the following syllable. But it can also be syllabic, when it is contracted from ndi 'it is' or ndí 'and', e.g. ń'kúpíta 'and to go'; also in the remote past continuous tense, e.g. ankápítá 'he used to go'. In some borrowed words such as bánki or íntaneti the combinations nk and nt with non-syllabic n can be found, but not in native words.
  • ng is pronounced [ŋg] as in 'finger' and ng’ is pronounced [ŋ] as in 'singer'. Both of these consonants can occur at the beginning of a word: ngoma 'kudu', ng'ombe 'cow or ox'.
  • w in the combinations awu, ewu, iwu, owa, uwa (e.g. mawú 'voice', msewu 'road', liwú 'sound', lowa 'enter', duwa 'flower') although often written is generally not pronounced.[26]
  • ŵ, a "closely lip-rounded [w] with the tongue in the close-i position",[27] was formerly used in Central Region dialects but is now rarely heard, usually being replaced by 'w'. ("It is doubtful whether the majority of speakers have /β/ in their phoneme inventory" (Kishindo).)[28] The symbol 'ŵ' is no longer used in books and newspapers. In those dialects that use the sound, it is found only before a, i, and e, while before o and u it becomes [w].[29]
  • zy (as in zyoliká 'be upside down like a bat') can be pronounced [ʒ] ([ž]).[30]


Main article: Chichewa tones

Like most other Bantu languages, Chewa is a tonal language; that is to say, the pitch of the syllables (high or low) plays an important role in it. Tone is used in various ways in the language. First of all, each word has its own tonal pattern, for example:

  • munthu 'person' (Low, Low)
  • galú 'dog' (Low, High)
  • mbúzi 'goat' (High, Low)
  • chímanga 'maize' (High, Low, Low)

Usually there is only one high tone in a word (generally on one of the last three syllables), or none. However, in compound words there can be more than one high tone, for example:

  • chákúdyá 'food' (derived from chá + kudyá, 'a thing of eating')

A second important use of tone is in the verb. Each tense of the verb has its own characteristic tonal pattern (negative tenses usually have a different pattern from positive ones). For example, the present habitual has high tones on the initial syllable and the penultimate, the other syllables being low:

  • ndí-ma-thandíza 'I (usually) help'
  • ndí-ma-píta 'I (usually) go'

The recent past continuous, on the other hand, has a tone on the third syllable:

  • ndi-ma-thándiza 'I was helping'
  • ndi-ma-píta 'I was going'

Tones can also indicate whether a verb is being used in an main clause or in a dependent clause such as a relative clause:

  • sabatá yatha 'the week has ended'
  • sabatá yátha 'the week which has ended (i.e. last week)'

A third use of tones in Chewa is to show phrasing and sentence intonation. For example, immediately before a pause in the middle of a sentence the speaker's voice tends to rise up; this rise is referred to as a boundary tone. Other intonational tones are sometimes heard, for example to distinguish a question from a statement.

The tones are not marked in the standard orthography of Chewa. Thus the word written ndimapita could mean 'I go' or 'I was going' according to the context in which it is used.


Noun classes[edit]

Chewa nouns are divided for convenience into a number of classes, which are referred to by the Malawians themselves by names such as "Mu-A-",[31] but by Bantu specialists by numbers such as "1/2", corresponding to the classes in other Bantu languages. Conventionally, they are grouped into pairs of singular and plural. However, irregular pairings are also possible, especially with loanwords; for example, bánki 'bank', which takes the concords of class 9 in the singular, has a plural mabánki (class 6).[32]

When assigning nouns to a particular class, initially the prefix of the noun is used. Where there is no prefix, or where the prefix is ambiguous, the concords (see below) are used as a guide to the noun class. For example, katúndu 'possessions' is put in class 1, since it takes the class 1 demonstrative uyu 'this'.

Some nouns belong to one class only, e.g. tomáto 'tomato(es)' (class 1), mowa 'beer' (class 3), malayá 'shirt(s)' (class 6), udzudzú 'mosquito(es)' (class 14), and do not change between singular and plural. Despite this, such words can still be counted if appropriate: tomáto muwíri 'two tomatoes', mowa uwíri 'two beers', malayá amódzi 'one shirt', udzudzú umódzi 'one mosquito'.[33]

Class 11 (Lu-) is not found in Chewa. Words like lumo 'razor' and lusó 'skill' are considered to belong to class 5/6 (Li-Ma-) and take the concords of that class.[34]

  • Mu-A- (1/2): munthu pl. anthu 'person'; mphunzitsi pl. aphunzitsi 'teacher'; mwaná 'child' pl. aná
      (1a/2): galú pl. agalú 'dog'. Class 1a refers to nouns which have no m- prefix.
      (1a/6): kíyi pl. makíyi 'key'
      (1a): tomáto 'tomato(es)'; kachéwere 'potato(es)'
  • Mu-Mi- (3/4): mudzi pl. midzi 'village'; mténgo pl. miténgo 'tree', mowa (no pl.) 'beer'
  • Li-Ma- (5/6): dzína pl. maína 'name'; vúto pl. mavúto 'problem'; khásu pl. makásu 'hoe'
      Often the first consonant is softened or omitted in the plural in this class.
  • Chi-Zi- (7/8): chinthu pl. zinthu 'thing'; chaká pl. zaká 'year'
  • I-Zi- (9/10): nyumbá pl. nyumbá 'house'; mbúzi pl. mbúzi 'goat'
      (9/6): bánki pl. mabánki 'bank'
  • Ka-Ti- (12/13): kamwaná pl. tianá 'baby', tuló (no sg.) 'sleep'. Usually this class is used for small things.
  • U-Ma- (14/6): utá pl. mautá 'bow'
      (14) udzudzú 'mosquito(es)'

Infinitive class:

  • Ku- (15): kuóna 'to see, seeing'

Locative classes:

  • Pa- (16): pakamwa 'mouth'
  • Ku- (17): kukhosi 'neck'
  • Mu- (18): mkamwa 'inside the mouth'


According to the class of noun, verbs, pronouns, numbers, and adjectives take certain prefixes called concords. These operate in much the same way as genders in European languages. For example:

  • Uyu ndi mwaná wángá = 'this is my child'
  • Uwu ndi mundá wángá = 'this is my garden'
  • Ili ndi thupi lánga = 'this is my body'
  • Iyi ndi nyumbá yángá = 'this is my house'
  • Aka ndi kamwaná kángá = 'this is my baby'

There are fewer concords in present-day Chewa than there were in the 19th century, since class 8 (formerly using idzi or ibzi/ibvi/ivi 'these')[35] has now adopted the concords of class 10 (izi), class 6 (formerly aya 'these')[36] has adopted the concords of class 2 (awa), and class 14 (ubu)[37] has now adopted the concords of class 3 (uwu). Class 11 (Lu-) had already been assimilated to class 5 even in the 19th century in Chewa, but it still exists in some dialects of the neighbouring language Tumbuka. In addition, classes 4 and 9, and classes 15 and 17 have identical concords, so the total number of concord sets (singular and plural) is now twelve.

Class 1 has the greatest variety of concords, as can be seen below:

Using yu or ye:

  • 'This': Mwaná uyu (mwanáyu) = 'this child'
  • 'That': Mwaná uyo (mwanáyo) = 'that child'
  • 'All', etc.: Mwaná nse = 'the whole child', mwaná kha = 'the child alone', mwaná mwe = 'the child himself, the same child, the child who', mwaná áliyensé = 'every child'
  • Pronoun: I = 'he/she' (used only with class 1 iyé and class 2 iwó 'they')
  • Ndi + pronoun: ndi = 'he/she is' (all classes)

Using a:

  • Subject-marker (except in the perfect tense): Mwaná anáona = 'the child saw'
  • Relative pronoun: Mwaná améne = 'the child who'
  • 'Every': Mwaná áliyensé = 'every child'

Using mu or m' :

  • Noun class prefix: Munthu = 'person', mphunzitsi = 'teacher', mwaná = 'child'
  • Object-marker: Mwaná anáona = 'the child saw him'
  • Numeral: Mwaná mmódzi = 'one child' (mu- is found in muwíri 'two')

Using u or w:

  • Remote demonstrative: Mwaná uja = 'that child (you were talking about)'
  • Perfect tense: Mwaná waona = 'the child has seen'
  • 'Of': Mwaná wá Khúmbo = 'Khumbo's child'
  • Possessive: Mwaná wángá = 'my child'
  • Verbal adjective: Mwaná wôgúla = 'a child who buys' (derived from á + the infinitive ku-)
  • 'Other': Mwaná wína = 'another child'
  • 'Real': Mwaná weníwéní = 'a real child'

Using both w and m(u):

  • Double-prefix adjective: Mwaná wámng'óno = 'a small child'

Class 2 (the plural of class 1) is often used for respect when referring to elders, e.g. agógo angá = 'my grandparent(s)'.

In class 2 and 6 ó sometimes becomes (nse, ndi for ónse, ndió etc.). The plural personal pronoun is always i 'they'.

Table of Chewa concords
noun English that subj all this object num rem of of+vb other adj
1 mwaná child uyu uyo yé- a- mu/m- m/(mu)- uja wó- wína wám-
2 aná children awa awo ó- a- -wa- a- aja á ó- éna áa-
3 mutú head uwu uwo wó- u- -u- u- uja wó- wína wau-
4 mitú heads iyi iyo yó- i- -i/yi- i- ija yó- ína yái-
5 díso eye ili ilo ló- li- -li- li- lija ló- lína láli-
6 masó eyes awa awo ó- a- -wa- a- aja á ó- éna áa-
7 chaká year ichi icho chó- chi- -chi- chi- chija chá chó- chína cháchi-
8 zaká years izi izo zó- zi- -zi- zi- zija zó- zína zázi-
9 nyumbá house iyi iyo yó- i- -i/yi- i- ija yó- ína yái-
10 nyumbá houses izi izo zó- zi- -zi- zi- zija zó- zína zázi-
12 kamwaná baby aka ako kó- ka- -ka- ka- kaja kó- kéna káka-
13 tianá babies iti ito tó- ti- -ti- ti- tija tó- tína táti-
14 utá bow uwu uwo wó- u- -u- u- uja wó- wína wáu-
15 kugúla buying uku uko kó- ku- -ku- ku- kuja kwá kó- kwína kwáku-
16 pansí underneath apa apo pó- pa- -pa- pa- paja pó- péna pápa-
17 kutsogoló in front uku uko kó- ku- -ku- ku- kuja kwá kó- kwína kwáku-
18 mkatí inside umu umo mó- m/mu- -mu- m/mu- muja mwá mó- mwína mwám'-


The Chewa verb is made up of various elements as follows:[38]

NEG - SM - NEG - TM - AM - OM - ROOT - EXT - FV - SUFF
  • NEG is a negative marker (= 'not'), which can be:
    • si (which goes before the subject-marker), used in Indicative tenses, e.g. -ndí-pita 'I don't go'
    • sa (which follows the subject-marker), used in non-indicative tenses, e.g. mu-sa-píte 'don't go', ku-sa-píta 'not to go'
  • SM is the subject-marker, which can be:
    • personal: ndi 'I', u 'you', a 'he, she, they', ti 'we', mu 'you (plural or polite)'
    • impersonal: chi 'that (e.g. maize)', zi 'those things', li 'it' (e.g. book, day) etc.
    • locative: ku 'there', pa 'there', mu 'in there', e.g. ku-ku-zízira 'it's cold'
  • TM is the tense-marker:
    • na of the recent past, e.g. ndi-na-píta 'I went (today)'
    • ku of the present continuous, e.g. ndi-ku-píta 'I am going'
    • nka of the remote past continuous, e.g. ndi-nká-pítá 'I used to go', etc.
  • AM are the aspect-markers, which can be combined. There are four possibilities:
    • ma 'always, usually'
    • ka 'go and'
    • dza 'come and' or 'at a future time'
    • ngo 'just', e.g. ndí-má-ngo-khála 'I usually just sit'.

The first three of these aspect-markers can also be used as a tense-marker if there is no other tense-marker present: ndí-dzá-pita 'I will go', ndi-ma-píta 'I was going'.

  • OM is the object-marker, which can be:
    • personal: ndi 'me', ku 'you', mu 'him, her', ti 'us', wa 'them', e.g. nda--ona 'I have seen them'.
        The polite or plural form of 'you' is made by combining ku and the suffix -ni: nda--ona-ni 'I have seen you (pl.)'.
    • impersonal: zi 'them (e.g. houses)', chi 'it (e.g. maize)', mu 'it (e.g. sugar)' etc.: nda-chí-ona 'I have seen it (the maize)'
    • locative: mu 'inside'; but a locative object is usually converted into a suffix, e.g. nd-a-on-á-mo 'I have seen inside it'
    • reflexive: dzi 'myself', 'yourself', 'himself, 'herself', 'themselves', e.g. ndi-ná-dzí-thandíza 'I helped myself'
  • ROOT is the verb root itself such as gon- 'sleep' or pit- 'go'.
  • EXT are the extensions, if present, e.g. ir/er (applicative), its/ets (causative or intensive), ik/ek (causative or stative), ul/ol (reversive), uk/ok (reversive intransitive), an (reciprocal), idw/edw (passive). (The forms with i and u are used if the verb root has the vowel a/i/u; otherwise those with e and o are used.) There are also some other less common extensions such as iz/ez (causative) or am (of physical attitude), which are used only with certain verbs. Extensions can be combined. When an extension is intensive or stative, it usually has a high tone.[39]
  • FV is the final vowel, which is usually -a, but in the Subjunctive or the Past Tense negative -e, e.g. ndí-pit-a 'I will go', but ndi-pit-é 'I should go', sí-ndi-na-pít-e 'I didn't go'
  • SUFF are suffixed elements such as -ko 'there', -di 'indeed', -nso 'also, again', and so on.

(Hyphens are used here for clarity but are not written in the standard orthography.)


Main article: Chichewa tenses

Tenses in Chewa differ from each other partly by the use of different tense-markers (TM) and partly through the use of different tonal patterns. The position of the high tones is shown below by 1, 2, 3, P, F (= high tone on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, penultimate, or final syllable), and 0 (= all tones low). In some circumstances a tone may spread, so for example 'he helped' can be either a-ná-thandiza or a-ná-thándiza, according to the dialect. Some tones, such as the first tone of the present habitual, do not spread.

The use of tenses differs slightly between the Central Region and the Southern Region of Malawi. For example, the tense , which in the Central Region is a kind of perfect tense (anápita = 'he has gone, and is still away'), is used in the south as a simple past. Some speakers in the south do not use the remote past.

Compound tenses are also found in Chewa, for example, ndakhala ndíkúpíta 'I have been going', ndinalí kupíta or ndinalí ndíkúpíta 'I was going' and so on. They are omitted here.

Main clauses[edit]

To save space, only the main tenses are shown below.

  • Perfect: TM a. Tones 0. 3rd person singular has w-:
wabwera = 'he has come' (and is still here)
  • Recent past: TM na. Tones 3:
anabwéra = 'he came (just now, but has gone away again)'
  • Simple past (remote perfect): TM na / da. Tones 2:
anábwera = 'he came / he has come' (yesterday or earlier)
  • Remote Past: TM naa / daa (often written just na / da). Tones 1, P or 1, 2, P:
ánaabwéra / ánáabwéra = 'he came / he had come' (some time ago, but went away again)
  • Recent past continuous: TM ma. Tones 3:
ndimathándiza = 'I was helping'
  • Remote past continuous: TM nka. Tones 3, P:
ndinkáthandíza = 'I used to help, I was helping' (some time ago)
  • Present continuous: TM ku. Tones 3:
ndikuthándiza = 'I am helping'
  • Present habitual: TM ma, Tones 1, P:
ndímathandíza = 'I (usually) help'
  • Present simple / near future: TM 0. Tones 1:
ndíthandiza / ndíthándiza = 'I'll help'
But ndili 'I am' (used of location or temporary state) has tones 0.
  • Remote future: TM dza. Tones 1, 2 (or just 2):
ndídzáthandiza / ndidzáthandiza = 'I will help' (at some future date)
  • Non-local future: TM ka. Tones 1, 2 (or just 2):
múkáona / mukáona = 'you will see' (when you get there)

The following could be considered to be moods rather than tenses, although they also involve time:

  • Subjunctive mood (present tense): TM 0. Tones F. The final vowel is e:
ndithandizé = 'let me help, I should help
  • Perfect conditional: TM kada / kana. Tones 3:
ndikadáthandiza = 'I would (or should) have helped'
  • Potential: TM nga. Tones 0. The final vowel is e:
ndingathandize = 'I can help'
  • Necessitative: TM zi. Tones 2, P:
muzíthandíza = 'you should always help'

Negative tenses[edit]

Negative tenses are made with the prefixes si (main verbs) or sa (infinitives, participles, subjunctives). The tones generally differ from those of the positive verb.

Subordinate clauses[edit]

In subordinate clauses, such as 'before he went', 'while he was going', 'if he had gone', 'whenever he goes', etc. the tenses differ from those in main clauses, either by using different tones or different tense-markers.

Chewa literature[edit]

Story-writers and playwrights[edit]

The following have written published stories, novels, or plays in the Chewa language:


Town Nyanja (Zambia)[edit]

Town Nyanja
Native to Zambia
Region Lusaka
Native speakers
(no data)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 None (mis)
Glottolog None

An urban variety of Nyanja, sometimes called Town Nyanja, is the lingua franca of the Zambian capital Lusaka and is widely spoken as a second language throughout Zambia. This is a distinctive Nyanja dialect with some features of Nsenga, although the language also incorporates large numbers of English-derived words, as well as showing influence from other Zambian languages such as Bemba. Town Nyanja has no official status, and the presence of large numbers of loanwords and colloquial expressions has given rise to the misconception that it is an unstructured mixture of languages or a form of slang.

The fact that the standard Nyanja used in schools differs dramatically from the variety actually spoken in Lusaka has been identified as a barrier to the acquisition of literacy among Zambian children.[40], which develops online educational content in Zambian languages, has begun making 'Lusaka Nyanja' available as a separate language of instruction after finding that schoolchildren in Lusaka do not understand standard Nyanja.

Sample phrases[edit]

English Chewa (Malawi) Town Nyanja (Lusaka)
How are you? Muli bwanji? Muli bwanji?
I'm fine Ndili bwino Nili bwino / Nili mushe
Thank you Zikomo Zikomo
Yes Inde Ee
No Ai Iyai
What's your name? Dzina lanu ndindani? Zina yanu ndimwe bandani?
My name is... Dzina langa ndine... Zina yanga ndine...
How many children do you have? Muli ndi ana angati? Muli na bana bangati?
I have two children Ndili ndi ana awiri Nili na bana babili
I want... Ndikufuna... Nifuna...
Food Chakudya Vakudya
Water Madzi Manzi
How much is it? Ndi zingati? Ni zingati?
See you tomorrow Tidzaonana mawa Tizaonana mailo
I love you Ndimakukonda Nikukonda


  1. ^ Mikael Parkvall, "Världens 100 största språk 2007" (The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007), in Nationalencyklopedin
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Nyanja". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ a b Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  4. ^ cf. Kiswahili for the Swahili language.
  5. ^ Kishindo (2001), p.265.
  6. ^ Kiso (2012), pp.21ff.
  7. ^ Marwick (1964).
  8. ^ Marwick (1963), p.383.
  9. ^ Rebman (1877), preface.
  10. ^ Rebmann (1877) s.v. M'ombo.
  11. ^ Woodward, M. E. 1895.
  12. ^ Henry, George. 1891.
  13. ^ The UMCA in Malawi, p 126, James Tengatenga, 2010: "Two important pieces of work have been accomplished during these later years. First, the completion by Archdeacon Johnson of the Bible in Chinyanja, and secondly, the completed Chinyanja prayer book in 1908."
  14. ^ Atkins (1950), p.201.
  15. ^ Downing & Pompino-Marschall (2013).
  16. ^ See Kishindo (2001), p.267.
  17. ^ Atkins (1950), p.200.
  18. ^ Scotton & Orr (1980), p.15; Atkins (1950), p.208.
  19. ^ Atkins (1950), p.208.
  20. ^ Stevick (1965), p.xii.
  21. ^ Scotton & Orr (1980), p.18.
  22. ^ Atkins (1950), p.207; Stevick et al. (1965), p.xii.
  23. ^ Kishindo (2001), p.268.
  24. ^ Atkins (1950), p.209.
  25. ^ Watkins (1937), p. 14.
  26. ^ Atkins (1950), p.204.
  27. ^ Atkins (1950), p.205.
  28. ^ Kishindo (2001), p.270.
  29. ^ Watkins (1937), p.13.
  30. ^ Mchombo (2004), p.10.
  31. ^ E.g. Mtanthauziramawu wa Chinyanja.
  32. ^ Paas (2015).
  33. ^ Paas (2015) s.v.
  34. ^ Mtanthauziramawu wa Chinyanja.
  35. ^ Scott & Hetherwick (1929), s.v. Ibsi; Rebmann (1877) s.v. Chiko, Psiwili/Pfiwili; Watkins (1937), p.37.
  36. ^ Rebmann (1877) s.v. Aya, Mame, Mano, Yonse; cf Goodson (2011).
  37. ^ Rebmann (1877), s.v. Uda; Watkins (1937), p.33-4.
  38. ^ Hyman & Mtenje (1999a), p.95.
  39. ^ Hyman & Mtenje (1999b).
  40. ^ Williams, E (1998). Investigating bilingual literacy: Evidence from Malawi and Zambia (Education Research Paper No. 24). Department for International Development. 


External links[edit]