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For the Belgian colony, see Ruanda-Urundi.
Region Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, DR Congo, Tanzania
Ethnicity Hutu, Tutsi, Twa, Ha, Shubi, Hangaza, Vinza
Native speakers
20 million (2001–2007)[1]
Official status
Official language in
Rwanda (Kinyarwanda)
Burundi (Kirundi)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Variously:
kin – Rwanda
run – Rundi
haq – Ha
suj – Shubi
han – Hangaza
vin – Vinza
Glottolog rwan1241[2]

Rwanda-Rundi (Ruanda-Rundi) is a group of Bantu languages, specifically a dialect continuum, spoken in Central Africa. Neighboring dialects are mutually intelligible, but more distant ones may not be. Two dialects, Kirundi and Kinyarwanda, have been standardized as official languages of Burundi and Rwanda respectively. The other dialects are spoken in Tanzania; Ha, with one million speakers, is the most widely spoken.

Comparison of Kinyarwanda and Kirundi[edit]

Kinyarwanda and Kirundi are very similar in many aspects, but differ in several ways as well.

Tonal marking[edit]

Both languages are tonal languages. High and low tones (or H and L) are the essential tones and, having a phonemic distinction on vowel length, when a long vowel changes from a low tone to a high tone it is marked as a rising tone and when a long vowel changes from a high tone to a low tone, it is marked as a falling tone. This is often illustrated in Kirundi in Meeussen's Rule. Propositions have also been made that tones can shift by a metrical or rhythmic structure.

Symbol1 Explanation Kinyarwanda Kirundi Part of speech English (definition)
Plain vowel
(a, e, i, o, u)
Short vowel
Low tone
(gu)saba Verb ask, request
umugezi Noun stream, river
(gu)shyika (gu)shika Verb arrive
ikiraro Noun bridge
gusa Incomparable adjective only, just
Acute vowel
(á, é, í, ó, ú)
Short vowel
High tone
inká Noun cow
intébe chair
igití tree, stick, wood
urugó yard, corral
urutúgu shoulder
Circumflex vowel
(â, ê, î, ô, û)
Short vowel
High tone
inkâ inká Noun cow
intêbe intébe chair
igitî igití tree, stick, wood
urugô urugó yard, corral
urutûgu urutúgu shoulder
Circumflex vowel
(â, ê, î, ô, û)
Short vowel
High tone (on the accent vowel in Kinyarwanda)
amáazi amâzi Noun water
(gu)téeka (gu)têka Verb cook
izíiko izîko Noun hearth
(ku)ryóoha (ku)ryôha Verb taste good
(gu)kúunda (gu)kûnda love, like
Macron vowel
(Kirundi only)
(ā, ē, ī, ō, ū)
Long vowel
Low tone (both letters in low tone in Kinyarwanda)
igisaabo igisābo Noun gourd
icyeegeera icēgēra plant
(ku)giisha (ku)gīsha Verb make go
ingoona ingōna Noun crocodile
uruuho urūho gourd (utensil)
Caron vowel
(Kirundi only)
(ǎ, ě, ǐ, ǒ, ǔ)
Long vowel
High tone (on the accent vowel in Kinyarwanda)
ububaásha ububǎsha Noun ability
Abeéga Aběga Plural noun Tutsis, Tutsi clan
umuhiígi umuhǐgi Noun hunter
umukoóbwa umukǒbwa girl
umuúnsi umǔsi day, date
Diaeresis vowel
(Kirundi only)
(ä, ë, ï, ö, ü)
Long vowel
High tone
No equivalent tonal pattern bäkoze Verb they did
mwëse Noun all of you
narï nzi Verb I thought, I knew
böse Noun all of them
warüzi Verb you thought, you knew
1 These symbols are only used in transcription, for example in a dictionary, but in other forms of writing, plain vowels are used and letters are not doubled (unless if the word itself is spelt in that way).


Formation Kinyarwanda Kirundi Part of speech English (definition)
c+y cyane cane Adverb very
cyanjye canje Possessive pronoun, possessive adjective mine, my
icyubahiro icubahiro Noun respect
ntacyo ntaco Indefinite pronoun nothing
j+y -jya -ja Prefix, verb go
njyewe njewe Object pronoun me
yanjye yanje Possessive pronoun, possessive adjective mine, my
sh+y -shyira -shira Prefix, verb put, place
indeshyo indesho Noun height
nshya nsha Adjective new
umubyeyi umuvyeyi Noun parent
-gorobye -gorovye Prefix, verb became evening
-ibye -ivye Prefix, possessive pronoun, verb his (multiple objects), stole

Word formation[edit]

There are many instances in which the two speech varieties of both languages have words that are slightly different. However, these differences do not continually recur. One has to memorize such differences as "–anga" in Kinyarwanda in contrast to "-anka" in Kirundi (meaning to dislike or hate), because the shift from "g" to "k" is extremely rare, with proof being words like "inka" (cow), "inkono" (pot) and many other words where "nk" is common in both dialects. Such minor variations involve different consonants, vowels or vowel lengths, tones or affixes.

Summary Rwanda Rundi Part of speech English (definition)
Consonants impyisi imfyisi Plural noun hyena, jackal
(kw)anga (kw)anka Verb dislike, hate
amagambo amajambo Plural noun words
umunsi umusi Noun day, date
ijosi izosi neck
Vowels ibiyobe ibiyoba Plural noun peanuts
(ku)yogoza (ku)yogeza Verb annihilate
(ku)reba (ku)raba see, look
Vowel length /-riinganira/ /-ringanira/ Prefix, verb be of equal length
/-pima/ /-piima/ measure, weigh
/-sáagura/ /-sáaguura/ be in excess
Tone /umukonó/ /umukóno/ Noun signature
/mugufí/ /mugúfi/ Adjective short
/ikiguzí/ /ikigúzi/ Noun price, value
Formation nyirabukwe inabukwe Noun mother-in-law
nyirakuru inakuru grandmother1
Mixed umugati umukate Noun bread
1 In both Kinyarwanda and Kirundi, nyogokuru is more commonly used to mean "grandmother".


  1. ^ Rwanda and Rundi: Nationalencyklopedin "Världens 100 största språk 2007" The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007;
    others: Lewis, M. Paul, Gary F. Simons, & Charles D. Fennig, eds. (2015). Ethnologue: Languages of the World (18th ed.). Dallas, Texas: SIL International. 
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Rwanda–Rundi (J.60)". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.