Languages of Zimbabwe

01 Mar 2017

Zimbabwe is a conglomeration of people from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Needless to say, this makes for a nation rich in languages.
In fact, there are a total of 16 official languages spoken in Zimbabwe, the most popular of which are English, Shona and Ndebele.

DeVere Zimbabwe explores these three primary language groups in the country and the interrelations between them.

The main native language groups are Shona and Ndebele, whereas the rest (barring English) form just a small fraction of Zimbabwe’s 13million+ people.
With over 10 million native speakers and many more second language speakers, Shona is the principal and most widely spoken language in Zimbabwe. The nation’s capital city, Harare, is also predominately Shona speaking. As well as being the most popular spoken language in Zimbabwe, Shona is also the most spoken of all the Bantu linguistic groups.

In brief, Bantu can be loosely defined as referring to a large group of people that can trace a similar lineage with similar customs and or relatable but not always mutually intelligible languages.

There are about three main Shona dialects; the Karanga, the Zezuru and the Korekore. There is also the Kalanga, although whether it is a dialect or has grown into a separate language in its own right is disputed.

As a former British colony, the English language is generally used for official business and serves as a kind of lingua franca for Zimbabweans of different language groups.

Although, some Ndebele speakers can also speak Shona as a second language. The Northern Ndebele language consists of roughly just over 2 million native speakers, most of which reside in southern Zimbabwe. The majority of Ndebele speakers can be found in the city of Bulewayo, which also happens to be the nation’s second biggest city with over 600,000 people.

As with Shona, Ndebele can also trace its ancestry to the Bantu languages, although this is where the similarity ends. There are about 250 Bantu languages, all of which have varying degrees of intelligibility with one another.  

What is interesting about the Ndebele tribe is that their speech is filled with clicks. This form of speech is very similar to the Zulu language, which is also derives from Bantu.

The other official 14 official languages of Zimbabwe include; Chewa, Chibarwe, Kalanga, Nambya, Ndau, Shangani, Zimbabwean sign language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda and Xhosa.

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