Tonga (Nyasa) language

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Western Nyasa
Native to Malawi
Ethnicity Tonga
Native speakers
170,000 (2001)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-2 tog
ISO 639-3 tog
Glottolog tong1321[2]

Tonga is a Bantu language spoken by 170,000 people mainly in the Nkhata Bay District of Malawi, on the shores of Lake Malawi facing the islands of Likoma and Chizumulu.[4]

The language is called chiTonga by its own speakers. The 'chi' means 'the language of the', the equivalent of 'ki' in kiSwahili or 'se' in seTswana.

The Tonga language of Malawi is described as "similar" to Tumbuka, and Turner's dictionary[5] lists only those words which differ from the Tumbuka, with the added comment that "the Tonga folk, being rapid speakers, slur or elide the final syllable of many words, e.g. kulira becomes kuliya, kukura becomes kukuwa, kutoa becomes kuto’." Tonga (Nyasa), i.e. Malawian Tonga, is grouped in the Glottolog classification along with Tumbuka in a single group. It is classified by Guthrie as being in Zone N15, whereas the Zambian Tonga is classified as Zone M64 and can thus be considered a different language.

An example of a folktale translated into Tonga, Tumbuka and other languages of Northern Malawi is given in the Language Mapping Survey for Northern Malawi carried out by the Centre for Language Studies of the University of Malawi.[6]


  • chingana - although;
  • ndi - and;
  • pa rweka - beyond;
  • msuzi - blacksmith (plural: wasuzi, ʋasuzi);
  • matchiwa - breezes;
  • kufya - to burn;
  • chigawu - cassava;
  • fungu - wild damson;
  • wiskekuru - ancestor;
  • kutenga - to bring;
  • gutu - ear (plural: makutu);
  • kuwomba manja - to clap hands;
  • mbweno! - enough![7]


  1. ^ Tonga at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Tonga (Nyasa)". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  4. ^ Language map of Northern Malawi produced by the Centre for Language Studies of the University of Malawi
  5. ^ Turner, Rev. Wm. Y., Tumbuka–Tonga–English Dictionary. Hetherwick Press, Blantyre (Malawi), 1952.
  6. ^ Language Mapping Survey, p. 60-64.
  7. ^ Turner's Dictionary, as above