Makhuwa language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Native toMozambique, Tanzania
Native speakers
8.6 million (2017)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3Variously:
vmw – Central Makhuwa
mgh – Makhuwa-Meetto
vmk – Makhuwa-Shirima
kzn – Kokola
llb – Lolo
mny – Manyawa
vmr – Marenje
tke – Takwane
xmc – Makhuwa-Marrevone
xsq – Makhuwa-Saka
Glottologmaku1279  Makua–Lomwe; adds Lomwe & Moniga
chuw1239  Chuwaboic; adds Chuwabo
koko1267  Kokola
many1259  Manyawa
A Makhuwa family in Nampula.

Makhuwa (Emakhuwa; also spelt Makua and Macua) is the primary Bantu language of northern Mozambique. It is spoken by four million Makua people, who live north of the Zambezi River, particularly in Nampula Province, which is virtually entirely ethnically Makua.[3] It is the most widely spoken indigenous language of Mozambique.

Apart from the languages in the same group, eMakhuwa is distinguished from other Bantu languages by the loss of consonant + vowel prefixes in favour of e; compare epula, "rain", with Tswana pula.

Long and short vowels distinguish five vowel qualities /i e a o u/, which is unusually sparse for a Bantu language:

  • omala - to finish
  • omaala - to paste, stick
  • omela - to sprout, bud
  • omeela - to share out

The consonants are more complex: postalveolar tt and tth exist, both p and ph are used. Both x (English "sh") and h exist while x varies with s. Regionally, there are also θ (the "th" of English "thorn"), ð (the "th" of English "seethe"), z and ng. For instance in eLomwe, to which Makhuwa is closely related, the tt of eMakhuwa is represented by a "ch" as in English "church".[3]



Labial Dental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive voiceless p t ʈ c k
aspirated ʈʰ
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ h
voiced v (θ)~ð z
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Lateral l ʎ
Trill r
Approximant w j


Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e o
Open a



In Makhuwa, tone is distinctive. In the eNahara dialect, there are two tones, low (L) and high (H), and the tone-bearing unit in Makhuwa phonology is the mora. Low tone is unmarked in writing, while high tone is indicated by an acute accent above vowels or nasals (á, ń) or next to tone-bearing consonants (´l).


The names of the dialects vary in different sources. The shibboleth or distinctive variant in the dialects is the treatment of the s:

  • eSamgagi dialect: odhiva
  • eSangagi dialect: θtiva
  • eSaaka dialect: ociva
  • eNahara dialect: oziva - all meaning "agreeable, pleasant" [3]

Maho (2009) lists the following dialects:[2]

  • Central Makhuwa (3.1 million)
  • Meetto (Metto) (1.3 million, including Ruvuma)
  • Chirima (Shirima) (1.5 million, including subdialects Kokola, Lolo, Manyawa, Marenje, Takwane)
  • Marrevone (Coastal Makhuwa; 460,000 including eNahara)
  • eNahara (Naharra)
  • eSaka (Saka, 210,000)
  • Ruvuma Makhuwa (Tanzanian Makhuwa, including subdialects Imithupi, Ikorovere)

Mutual intelligibility between these is limited. Central Makhuwa ("Makhuwa-Makhuwana") is the basis of the standard language. Ethnologue lists Central Makhuwa, Meetto–Ruvuma, Marrevone–Enahara, and Esaka as separate languages, and Chirima as six languages.

The population figures are from Ethnologue for 2006. They tally 3.1 million speakers of Central Makhuwa and 3.5 million of the other varieties, though the Ethnologue article for Central Makhuwa covers Marrevone and Enahara, so these might be double counted.

Reading material in eMakhuwa[edit]

Muluku Onnalavuliha Àn'awe - Ipantte sikosolasiwe sa Biblia ("God speaks to his children" - extracts from the Scriptures for children) Aid to the Church in Need. Edição em Macúa / eMakhuwa) Editorial Verbo Divino, Estella, Navarra, 1997.

Sample text[edit]

6 Moovirikana ni mamwene ale ootakhala, aakhala atthu akina yaawenrye woona ntata na Muluku, nnaamwi awo okathi mukina yaarina makhalelo mamosaru yaarina aya atthu ale akina aromoliwe.


6 In contrast with those wicked kings, others saw God’s hand, even though they were in the same situation as those mentioned above.


  1. ^ Central Makhuwa at Ethnologue (26th ed., 2023) Closed access icon
    Makhuwa-Meetto at Ethnologue (26th ed., 2023) Closed access icon
    Makhuwa-Shirima at Ethnologue (26th ed., 2023) Closed access icon
    Kokola at Ethnologue (26th ed., 2023) Closed access icon
    Lolo at Ethnologue (26th ed., 2023) Closed access icon
    Manyawa at Ethnologue (26th ed., 2023) Closed access icon
    (Additional references under 'Language codes' in the information box)
  2. ^ a b Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  3. ^ a b c d Relatório do I Seminário sobre a Padronização da Ortografia de Línguas Moçambicanas. NELIMO, Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, 1989.
  4. ^ van der Wal, Guenever Johanna. Word order and information structure in Makhuwa-Enahara (PDF).

External links[edit]