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Spoken in

Republic of South Africa , Botswana , Lesotho
speaker 9 million
Official status
Official language in Republic of South Africa , Zimbabwe
Language codes
ISO 639 -1


ISO 639 -2


ISO 639-3


Share of isiXhosa speakers in South Africa (2011)
Density of isiXhosa speakers in South Africa (2011)

isiXhosa ( listen to ? / i , German pronunciation: [ iziˈkoːza ]), simply called Xhosa ( isi- is a singular prefix , the latter are mandatory for nouns in Bantu languages ), is the language of the Xhosa and one of the eleven official languages in the Republic of South Africa , as well it is also spoken in Botswana and Lesotho . Audio file / audio sample

It is spoken by about nine million people. After isiZulu , it is the second most frequent mother tongue in South Africa and is used as mother tongue by 15.43 percent (as of 2015) of the population over 15 years of age.

The clicking sounds are particularly characteristic ; the name Xhosa also begins with a click. In the international phonetic alphabet it is written as follows: [ ǁʰosa ].

isiXhosa is a southeastern Bantu language of the Nguni subgroup , but around 15 percent of the vocabulary comes from the Khoisan languages . It is closely related to isiZulu, the language of the Zulu .


The name Xhosa comes from a legendary chief. The ethnic group speaking isiXhosa refers to itself as the amaXhosa. Almost all languages ​​with clicks are Khoisan languages ​​and the presence of these clicks reveals the close historical connections with neighboring Khoisan languages.

Geographical expansion

The language represents the southwestern part of the Nguni family, a subfamily of the Bantu languages. Most native speakers live in the Eastern Cape Province , but there are also increasing numbers of speakers in the Western Cape Province , including Cape Town .


isiXhosa is closely related to the other Nguni languages. Their speakers often also understand the other language, such as isiZulu or Siswati . In addition, isiXhosa has several dialects. The demarcation between the individual dialects is controversial among experts. One categorization is: Xhosa, Ngqika , Gcaleka , Mfengu , Thembu , Bomvana , Mpondomise .

Phonetics and Phonology

isiXhosa has a simple vowel structure but is rich in unusual consonants. In addition to the consonants formed with the help of the lung current, it has three types of clicks. The first is the dental click, it is produced by pressing the tongue against the incisors. The resulting sound is comparable to the "ts ts ts", which is used, for example, to reprimand. The second click is the lateral one, produced by the tongue on the sides of the mouth, resulting in a click sound like the one used to call horses. The third is called the postalveolar click and is produced with the body of the tongue against the roof of the mouth. Each click comes in six varieties. In addition, Xhosa is a tonal language , which means that the pitch in which a word is spoken is different in meaning. There are two tones, high and low.


Xhosa has a system of ten vowels: [a], [ɛ], [i], [ɔ] and [u], each of which can be long or short. They are written a , e , i , o and u .


The following table lists the consonant phonemes. On the left is the sound value in IPA , on the right is the spelling in normal spelling.

labial Dental /
/ palatal
velar glottal
Central lateral
Clicks easy [kǀ] c [kǁ] x [kǃ] q
aspirated [kǀʰ] ch [kǁʰ] xh [kǃʰ] qh
breathy voice [ɡǀʱ] gc [ɡǁʱ] gx [ɡǃʱ] gq
nasal [ŋǀ] nc [ŋǁ] nx [ŋǃ] nq
breathy voice , nasal [ŋǀʱ] ngc [ŋǁʱ] ngx [ŋǃʱ] ngq
Plosives ejective [p '] p [t '] t [tʲ '] ty [k '] k
aspirated [pʰ] ph [tʰ] th [tʲʰ] tyh [kʰ] kh
breathy voice [bʱ] bh [dʱ] d [dʲʱ] dy [ɡʱ] g
implosive [ɓ] b
Affricates ejective [ʦ '] ts [ʧ '] tsh [kx '] kr
aspirated [ʦʰ] ths [ʧʰ] thsh
breathy voice [ʤʱ] j
Fricatives unvoiced [f] f [s] s [ɬ] St. [ʃ] sh [x] rh [h] h
breathy voice [v̤] v [z̤] z [ɮ̈] dl [ɣ̈] gr [ɦ̤] hh
Nasals voiced [m] m [n] n [nʲ] ny [ŋ] n '
breathy voice [m̤] mh [n̤] nh [n̤ʲ] nyh
Approximants voiced [l] l [j] y [w] w
breathy voice [l̤] lh [j̈] yh [w̤] wh

There are further consonants in loan words: [r] and [r̤] are written r ; [ʒ] and [ʒ̈] are written zh ; [ʣ] and [ʣ̤] are written dz ; [ŋ̈] is written ngh .

The clicks, plosives and affricates with breathy voice are actually spoken with normal phonation, but the following vowel is breathed. Example: da [da̤].

The notation tsh can stand for [ʧ] and [ʧʰ] in addition to [ʧ ']. The glottal fricative with breathy voice [ɦ̤] is sometimes written h .


isiXhosa is an agglutinating language (from the Latin agglutinare " stick together"), suffixes and prefixes are added to the word stems and contain grammatical information. In addition, isiXhosa has a class or pleasure system like all Bantu languages, with many more categories than male, female, neuter, as is common in Indo-European. There are classes for groups of words, for example for people, relatives, animals, plants, objects and abstract concepts.


The Latin alphabet is used . European missionaries introduced it when they began translating the Bible . In 1833 the first parts of the Bible were published in isiXhosa, in 1846 the entire New Testament and finally in 1859 a complete edition of the Bible. Click sounds ( clicks ) are not written with special click letters , but with c for the dental, x for the lateral and q for the postalveolar click.

Text examples

isiXhosa German
Bonke abantu bazalwa bekhululekile belingana ngesidima nangokweemfanelo. Bonke abantu banesiphiwo sesazela nesizathu sokwenza isenzo ongathanda ukuba senziwe kumzalwane wakho. All people are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should meet one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Iinkonzo zeLwimi zeSizwe zinyusa izinga kwaye zikwanika uncedo lonxibelelwano kwiilwimi. Ukugcina iimfuneko zolwimi zoMgaqo Siseko I-NLS ilawula ukungafani kweelwimi zoluntu kwaye inoxanduva lokusebenza ngokumandla zonke iilwimi zabantu bethali ngokuthiusen iphke amanyatheloishat kwokunzhiusen ibeke amanyathelo ewunenziye enkqubo zoluntizwaium, ewunenziuzi, kqubo zoluntiumium, ewunenziye, kqubo zoluntuzwaium ew The National Language Service (NLS) promotes and facilitates communication between different languages. According to the linguistic provisions of the Constitution, the NLS is responsible for the linguistic diversity of our society and the harnessing of all the languages ​​of our people by putting into practice policies to promote these languages, including those languages ​​that have been neglected in the past.



  • Heidi Schirrmacher, Lawrence Sello Sihlabeni: Xhosa word for word . Reise Know-How-Verlag, Bielefeld 2003, ISBN 3-89416-777-7

Web links

Commons : isiXhosa  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Tore Janson: A Brief History of Languages . Spektrum Akademischer Verlag, 2010, ISBN 978-3-8274-1778-7 , p. 50-51 .
  2. ^ Institute of Race Relations : South Africa Survey 2017 . Johannesburg 2017, p. 74