Talk:Bantu languages

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Is Swahili Guthrie G40? It's not entirely clear. In exactly that position I'd expect the number of speakers (est.) in a parenthetical statement rather than a reference to a particular numbering system for langauges. --MichaelTinkler

It's wrong to suggest that "The word Bantu was first used by Wilhelm Heinrich Immanuel Bleek (1827-1875) with the meaning 'people', as this is reflected in many of the languages of this group." This would mean that we then adopted the word from Wilhelm Heinrich Immanuel Bleek which is wrong. The word bantu was there before he came to Africa and has always refered to people, which is a plural to singular word "muntu"

singular: umuntu (person) plural: abantu (people)

I will soon un-Redirect Bantu and put a translation of the de entry here. check this for what it might look like.

Plug into (sorry, the google URL won't work here)

Wizzy 19:15, 15 Apr 2004 (UTC)

Ur-Bantu phonology[edit]

Here's a bit of pedantic information which could be added to try to make this article a bit more than a bunch of "in teresting" non-facts with no real info about how exactly the languages are related. Please tell me what you think or just wikify it and put it somewhere in the article - preferably alerting me on my take page if you do. I'm also planning on collecting better info on the noun classes and perhaps even giving a few examples of how the sounds changed in some of the languages, but I just need to see what the response to this info is. Perhaps their should be articles on Ur-Bantu and Kintu as well? Kintu currently redirects to some article about Ugandan history; let's just say that if the people called themselves "βantu" then they would have called their language "Kintu" (not "Bantu") in the same way that Waswahili call their language Kiswahili and Bakongo call their language Kikongo and Vatsonga call their language Xitsonga etc. (no, this is not original research, although there are very few web sites which refer to Kintu as a language - but they do exist). Much of the following information comes from Text Book of Southern Sotho Grammer by Doke and Mofokeng (at the moment I can't exactly remember the title of the book by Meinhof that Doke got this info from), the rest I just sucked out of the proverbial thumb (that's the difference between knowing and understanding). Thank you. Zyxoas (talk to me - I'll listen) 11:24, 5 April 2006 (UTC)

Carl Meinhof's hypothetical "Ur-Bantu" had the following sounds:


Primary Vowels[edit]

  • a - the vowel common to all languages. Almost like the vowel in "love".
  • i - a short form of the vowel in "beat".
  • u - a short form of the vowel in "boot".

Composite Vowels[edit]

  • e - like a short form of the vowel in the South African pronunciation of the vowel in "bet". In Standard English pronunciation you would need to pronounce the vowel in "bet" slightly higher and further to the front.
  • o - like a short form of the vowel in the South African pronunciation of the vowel in "law". In Standard English pronunciation you would need to pronounce the vowel in "law" slightly higher and further to the back.

(The famous) Close Vowels[edit]

See Sesotho for a slighty "better" explanation of how the following 2 vowels are pronounced.

  • î - much higher than a sort form of the vowel in "beat". This vowel is so high that part of the tongue touches the roof of the mouth when you say it.
  • û - much higher than a sort form of the vowel in "boot". This vowel is so high that part of the tongue touches the roof of the mouth when you say it.


Primary consonants[edit]


Almost every language on Earth has these three consonants. There are a few exceptions, like 'Arabic which has no "p" and Hawai'ian which has no "k", but every language has at least one of these consonants. In English they occur as modified forms of the much more common aspirated plosives - but they're are still there.

  • k - a normal unvoiced velar plosive. Like the k in "skit" (compare to the k in "kit").
  • t - a normal unvoiced alveolar plosive. Like the t in "stop" (compare to the t in "top).
  • p - a normal unvoiced bilabial plosive. Like the p in "speak" (compare to the k in "peak).

Instead of voiced plosives Ur-Bantu had voiced fricatives.

  • γ - (<-That's supposed to be a lower case Gamma, btw) a voiced velar fricative. Try saying "a-ha" without pronouncing the h completely (letting the two a's slide into one another) - then you're almost there.
  • l - I'm not sure if this is the a mormal l in "love", since that would be a latteral, not a fricative...
  • β - a voiced bilabial fricative. Like the correct pronunciation of "Habana".

Most Kintu languages have not changed these consonants at all.

  • m - the usual bilabial nasal.
  • n - the usual alveolar nasal.

Secondary consonants[edit]

Unvoiced palatals[edit]
  • tj - a palatal plosive followed by a glide, sort-off. I think the isiXhosa consonant ty sounds exactly like this, although isiXhosa ty originally comes from lŷ, where the ŷ is an î which changed under the influence of a following vowel (Ur-Bantu "kulŷa" became Kiswahili "kula", isiZulu "ukudla", isiXhosa "ukutya", Sesotho "ho ja" all meaning "to eat").
  • kj - a velar plosive followed by a glide, I guess...
Voiced palatals[edit]
  • γj - voiced velar fricative followed by a glide, I think...
  • lj - l followed by a glide, right?


Under certain circumstances the vowels i, u, î, and û become the vowels y, w, ŷ, and ŵ respectively, especially when followed by a.

Nasal compounds[edit]

These are nasals followed by the secondary consonants (with one exception), both in the same position. Notice how nasal permutation/homogeneity (see Sesotho) changed γ, l, and β to ng, nd, mb respectively.

  • nk
  • nt
  • mp

from the plosives,

  • ng
  • nd
  • mb

from the fricatives, and

  • nkj

the odd one out from the secondary consonats.


The bantu is a independent family, and too hard to study.

As a matter of fact, it isn't; see Niger-Congo languages#Classification history for more information. I have therefore reverted your edit. — mark 12:57, 29 June 2006 (UTC)

Rumba and Samba[edit]

There has been some discussion going on concerning the Bantu or non-Bantu origin of the words rumba and samba. Quoting some edit summaries in chronological order gives an idea of the points exchanged so far:

  • samba is a bantu word from angola (Chifumbe)
    • Online Etymology Dictionary gives both of these as Portugese (Rmhermen)
      • That means the Online Etymological Dictionary hasn't thought of the (likely) possibility that it entered Portuguese in Angola (where Bantu languages are spoken) (see Samba) (Mark)
        • no, it means that Online Etymology Dictionary has a non-African origin listed for these, hence the dispute (Rmhermen)
          • In this case etymonline is incorrect, what the brazilian themselves say should take precedence about the history of the samba. (Chifumbe)
            • The common Brazilian is not an etymology expert (or it is a remarkable country) (Rmhermen)
              • neither is etymonline. Etymonline was the hobby of one individual. It is a good source but not the definitive source. (Chifumbe)
                • no counter-source presented - dispute would remain even if one were (Rmhermen)
                  • rv (Chifumbe)
                    • please provide some evidence that this is not disputed - or do we need to start an RFC here? (Rmhermen)
                      • rv (Chifumbe)

I propose to stop the reverting and talk about this. To disclose my own position:

  1. I don't really care whether rumba and samba are included here or not (the article is too listy anyway)
  2. If we list these words, we should provide reliable sources.
  3. Online Etymology Dictionary isn't exactly a reliable source in my book. I prefer academic, peer-reviewed sources. For such common words as rumba and samba it shouldn't be too difficult to find a more authoritative source.
  4. I disagree with Rmhermen that the dispute would remain even if a reliable source were provided. The Online Etym Dict is not clear at all about its research methodology so a solid historical-etymological analysis which cites its sources (something OED hardly does) should certainly trump OED's proposed etymology.

mark 22:05, 11 November 2006 (UTC)

Online Etymology Online gives as "Cuban Spanish"
Oxford English Dictionary gives as "American Spanish"
American Heritage Dictionary gives as "American Spanish" gives as 1920s: "American Spanish".

In fact I haven't found any source giving an African origin except Wikipedia.

Online Etymology Dictionary gives "from Port. samba, shortened form of zambacueca, a type of dance, probably altered (by influence of zamacueco "stupid") from zambapalo, the name of a grotesque dance, itself an alteration of zampapalo "stupid man," from zamparse "to bump, crash." "
Encarta gives "< Portuguese"
Merriam-Webster gives "Portuguese" (based on Random House Unabridged Dictionary) gives: "< Pg samba, alleged to be of African orig."
American Heritage gives "Portuguese, possibly of African origin."
Oxford English Dictionary gives "Portuguese, of African origin".

None mention any particular African source word or any Bantu language. Clearly there is no lack of dispute about the origin of this word. Rmhermen 23:23, 11 November 2006 (UTC)

Obtaining exact etymologies of words that are of African origin is definitely challenging because there are few historical written records in African languages. But that said, there may be enough supportive evidence to make reasonable conclusions.

With regard to samba( see [Talk:List of English words of African origin]) Online Etymology Dictionary gives "from Port. samba, shortened form of zambacueca, a type of dance, probably altered (by influence of zamacueco "stupid") from zambapalo, the name of a grotesque dance, itself an alteration of zampapalo "stupid man," from zamparse "to bump, crash." "

The above definition is incorrect . It implies samba is from portuguese and is a shortened form of Zambacueca. Zambacueca is actually spanish and not portuguese. The zamacueca is an Afro-Peruvian dance. It originated with africans who travelled with the conquistadors. Sub-genres of the zamacueca include the Zamba(the national dance of Argentina), cueca and the Marinera. If you read the article on the Zamba it cleary says the samba and zamba are homophones but are different dances altogether. What is interesting is that the etymology of zambacueca is most likely african as well(Afro-descendents foundation of chile Florida state university) and not as online etymology says is from Zamparse. Etymonline says Zamparse means to bump or crash which is incorrect, its actual meaning is to guzzle or to spanish-english dictionary, spanish english dictionary.
Personally I find the use of the words "stupid" and "grotesque" in online etymologies definitions condescending.

There is overwhelming evidence in favour of samba being an african word:

  • everyone is in agreement that the samba music and dance is of Afro-Brazilian origin.
  • About half of brazil's population is of African descent. A significant proportion of brazil's african population originated from the Angola/Congo area(some estimates about 70%[1]). Angola was colonized by the portuguese around the same time as brazil and share the same latitudes hence it presented one of the shortest distances between south america and africa. Therefore afro-brazilian culture has many similarities with angolan culture( eg capoeira). It is likely that the angolan music semba is the precursor to the samba.
  • In addition the word samba and its variations is frequently found in many other bantu languagesgoogle search of comparitive online bantu dictionary gives 90 hits
  • Encarta and Merriam-Webster do not give any other information other than samba is from portuguese. It is true samba entered english form portuguese but ultimately it is african.
  • Common sense - the word sounds african and is similar to many other words in the list.
  • The main reason for any disputes are rooted in eurocentrism. The samba dance is now seen as a classy, sophisticated dance. There are some who would not like to believe that such a classy culture was actually started in Africa. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by Chifumbe (talkcontribs).

Let's not waste too much time with this. I say:

  • Ditch rumba, I have not seen any source suggesting an African origin (as Rmhermen also says). (Chifumbe, you'll have to provide a reliable source for rumba if you want to keep it.)
  • Keep samba, as it is highly probably that it entered Portuguese from an African language (as some of Rmhermen's sources also suggest).
  • Rmhermen, the fact that some of your sources say 'of African origin' doesn't mean that it isn't from Bantu. We just have to look were the Portuguese took their slaves from, and this turns out to be Angola. What languages are spoken there? Bantu. Or maybe it's Mocambique, another former colony of Portugal. What languages are spoken there? Bantu. Hence, words of African origin in Portuguese are most probably of Bantu origin. Lastly, as Chifumbe says, the sources that have it as coming from Portuguese may tell just part of the story. Of course samba entered English from Portuguese. But where and when did it enter Portuguese? Most reliable sources say that it is most probably from African origin. I think it is clear that the Oxford English Dictionary is a more reliable source than the Online Etymological Dictionary (the hobby of one individual).
  • Summing up: delete rumba, I haven't seen a Bantu etymology. Keep samba as a word that is of Bantu origin. I haven't seen a reliable source suggesting a Romance origin and as I said above, reliable sources trump the Online Etymological Dictionary so I do not think we say that samba is disputed. — mark 11:23, 12 November 2006 (UTC)
    • Someone please list a reliable source that shows it is of Bantu origin. Guesses based on where you think most slaves came from are not good practice. Rmhermen 07:09, 13 November 2006 (UTC)
      • Just like you, I realize how important reliable sources are. You evade the actual argument made against Online Etymology Dictionary, the source on which you base the 'disputed' tag for samba. I'm off, because I think its stupid to waste more time on a minor issue as this. I'm fine with a {{fact}} tag until a more direct source is found for the Bantu origin (though I choose not to disregard the converging evidence gathered by Chifumbe), but keeping a 'disputed' tag on the basis of the etymology of one individual (not even a linguist, and certainly not one with knowledge of African languages!) is stretching things too far. — mark 10:33, 13 November 2006 (UTC)


according to online etymology-- rumba (n.)

1922, from Cuban Sp., originally "spree, carousal," derived from Sp. rumbo "spree, party," earlier "ostentation, pomp, leadership," perhaps originally "the course of a ship," from rombo "rhombus," in reference to the compass, which is marked with a rhombus. The verb is recorded from 1944.

This definition is kind of sketchy. I get the impression that the person who coined this etymology looked for a word similar to rumba in spanish, found rombo, and simply tried to connect the dots in between using some guess work. What does an african dance have to do with a compass. I can also assume that the etymologist in question probably had knowledge of European languages but not of African languages. This is why rumba is an african word.

  • The rumba is Afro-Cuban music and dance. The influence is from Africans who arrived there from the 16th century.
  • According to a northern kentucky university article,

    Its Central African roots are obvious from the word ‘rumba’ itself to the type of drum, conga, used to perform it. The word is probably derived from the Kikongo lùmba (to go, walk, ‘work out’ or ‘get down’)

The phonetic antecedent of the the word tumbadora we find in the expression tumba, an Afro-American word denoting drums in general. Both words - tumba and tumbadora - contain the phoneme mba which is evidently of Bantu or semi-Bantu origin. This is one more clue leading us toward the large Bantu group of peoples in our search for the historical predecessors of the Cuban instrument.

the mba phenome is also present in rumba.

The rumba is very typical Cuban and developed in the Matanzas region and the large towns, especially Havana. Rumba means something like "Festival" and comes from the Bantu language.
  • of lumba due to engrish
    • And so you see why my method of leaving the word in the list but adding a disputed origin tag is much simpler. Rmhermen 07:12, 13 November 2006 (UTC)
The contention that the "mba" syllable is strong evidence of Kintu/Bantu origins is just as unscientific as linking a dance with the shape of a compass. Of course, the unfortunate truth is that if this truly is a Kintu word then we're less likely to know and confirm this; and we'll most probaly never know the actual original language and form of the word -- just a chronological list of mispronunciations (as with gorilla). I agree with Mark's proposed solution, and so does the Oxford English Dictionary. Zyxoas (talk to me - I'll listen) 10:24, 13 November 2006 (UTC)

See meta:Proposals for closing projects/Closure of Herero Wikipedia[edit]

If anyone here has any Herero language proficiency, please take a look at this proposal and at the small Herero encyclopedia itself to see what should be done with this wikipedia (keep it or delete it.) Keeping it implies more than a sentimental commitment ("it would be nice to have a wikipedia in every language ...") but also that it can be something more than a 10 or 20-article spam and vandalism trap and not just "someday" but in the here and now.

Please do not respond here but rather at that discussion (meta:Proposals for closing projects/Closure of Herero Wikipedia).

Thanks, --A. B. (talk) 12:12, 25 May 2007 (UTC)

suggested sound change topics[edit]

it wouldnt hurt to add some things on:

  1. Dahl's law
  2. Meinhof's rule

peace – ishwar  (speak) 21:46, 1 August 2007 (UTC)

Dahl's law is the weird one that converts the onset of the first syllable into a voiced consonant (or rather, makes it seem like the word in the modern language actually came from the voiced counterpart of the PB consonant), right? Tebello TheWHAT!!?? 10:39, 16 August 2007 (UTC)

The word Bantu[edit]

The word Bantu was first used by Wilhelm Heinrich Immanuel Bleek (1827-1875) with the meaning 'people', as this is reflected in many of the languages of this group.

This is extremely ridiculous, you mean the term wasnt used untill he came into the picture???

Jkaranikataka 05:44, 9 November 2007 (UTC)

Number of Bantu languages[edit]

"By one estimate, there are over 9000 languages in the Bantu grouping, 681 languages in Bantoid, and 1,514 in Niger-Congo."

How can there be more Bantu languages than Niger-Congo languages? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 10:03, 21 November 2008 (UTC)

That's called vandalism. kwami (talk) 06:19, 4 February 2010 (UTC)


The article could do with more info on the proto-bantu. I am not a linguist, but I'll try to come up with something. Missing from the article is the similarities between bantu languages. There isn't much detail on bantu grammar, which is similar across many bantu languages. The article, Overview of the language family, history of scholarship, classification and historical reconstructions, has some information that could be useful to the article. Wapondaponda (talk) 15:50, 26 January 2010 (UTC)

Polyplural noun class[edit]

Can this article be merged into the bantu languages article? --NDSteve10 (talk) 21:50, 2 November 2010 (UTC)


Guthrie said that his "zones" were defined on a non-linguistic basis. His writings were not a idiotic as this remark implies. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:11, 24 February 2011 (UTC)

What about Kikulu and Bassa Languages ?[edit]

Bassa is spoken in Cameroon and is definitely a Bantu language. (talk) 08:14, 4 September 2011 (UTC)

Arabic (loan)words in Bantu languages[edit]

This REALLY surprised me. So kitabu means "book" in Bantu languages? Well, in Arabic it's كتاب (kitāb) and kitap in Turkish. TBH I would never have assumed that Arabic influences made it that far into African territory. -andy (talk) 07:45, 1 September 2013 (UTC)


Four or five days ago I wrote here, under the section title "Crying Wolof*" (footnote below):

§ Bantu words popularised in western cultures ends with the single sentence
A case has been made out for borrowings of many place-names and even misremembered rhymes such as "Here we go looby-loo ... " – chiefly from one of the Luba varieties – in the USA.
This seems very much like a false etymology: there's a similarity in the words ("looby-loo", "Luba"), but little or no connection beyond that.
There's quite a bit of discussion of this song on the serious folksong site The Mudcat Café.[1] It's known as a children's song in the US and Scotland, from at least 1930[2] or 1926[3]. Contributor Malcolm Douglas says [4]
Early examples are known from various British (mostly Scottish) sources, though it was re-made more than once by American commercial performers during the 20th century, presumably from American traditional forms. See DT entries

"Hilli ballu" has the chorus
Hilli ballu ballai!
Hilli ballu ballight!
Hilli ballu ballai!
Upon a Saturday night.
which is a much stronger connection than the similarity of "looby" to "Luba".
If "Hilli ballu" had been collected in South Carolina there might be some doubt about it, but this was recorded in the Scottish highlands, in or before 1897.[5]

But it turns out that the connection is stronger than it looks. The source for this proposal says[6]

Here we go looby-loo; here we go looby-la
(or looby-light)
Here we go looby-loo; all on a Saturday night!
Both of these Luba words, lubilu (quickly, in a hurry), and lubila (a shout) are words still in common usage in the Republic of Zaïre.

So it's not just the glottonym Luba, after all. This discovery called for restoring the sentence, with some clarification.

However, the presence of this song in the Scottish Highlands remains to be explained.

* "a recently coined term used to describe amateur etymologists who make unfounded claims as to the origin of a word or phrase simply due to their phonetic similarity" [7],[8]

--Thnidu (talk) 00:06, 3 September 2014 (UTC) (09:11, 7 September 2014 (UTC))


  1. ^ "Origins: Looby Loo ===> Hokey Pokey". The Mudcat Café. 
  2. ^ Dwyer, Casey. ""Looby-Loo"". Folklorist. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  3. ^ M., John (9 October 2005). "Origins: Looby Loo ===> Hokey Pokey". The Mudcat Café. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  4. ^ Douglas, Malcolm (9 October 2005). "RE: Origins: Looby Loo ===> Hokey Pokey". The Mudcat Café. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  5. ^ Nicholson, Edward Williams Byron. "Golspie. Contributions to its Folklore". Amazon. British Library, Historical Print Editions. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  6. ^ Vass, Winifred Kellersberger (1979). The Bantu Speaking Heritage of the United States. Center for Afro-American Studies, University of California. p. 73. Retrieved 7 September 2014. 
  7. ^ Witherspoon, E.B. (July 29, 2009). "In the beginning...there was a word.". The Boy Who Cried Wolof. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  8. ^ Hip (slang): Many etymologists believe that the terms hip, hep and hepcat derive from the west African Wolof language word hepicat, which means "one who has his eyes open". Some etymologists reject this, however, [...] and some have even adopted the denigration "to cry Wolof" as a general dismissal or belittlement of etymologies they believe to be based on "superficial similarities" rather than documented attribution.

Stats in Intro[edit]

The Bantu language with the largest total number of speakers is Swahili; however, nearly all speakers know it as a second language. According to Ethnologue, there are over 180 million L2 (second-language) speakers, but only about 45 million native speakers.[5]

According to Ethnologue, Shona is the most widely spoken as a first language,[6] with 10.8 million speakers,

Is there a distinction between first language vs Native speaker here? — Preceding unsigned comment added by MaulYoda12 (talkcontribs) 23:32, 3 November 2014 (UTC)