Saturday, August 6, 2011


Languages of Southern Rhodesia in 1917

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    By ALICE WERNER, Lecturer in Swahili and Bantu Languages
    Abstract of a public lecture given by Miss Werner at the School on February 21st, 1917.

    THOUGH the development of the mining industry consequent on European occupation has brought natives of several different tribes into Southern Rhodesia, there appears to be virtually but one indigenous language in this territory. The Zulu spoken by the Matebele and the Sesuto of Sebituane's people, who settled on the Zambezi about the middle of last century, are comparatively recent intrusions.

    This language is sometimes called "Mashona", "Chino" , "Chiswina", apd "Chizwina" (sw and zw appear to be attempts at the peculiar labial sibilant also found in Ronga and the other Delagoa Bay dialects); but none of these names are to be recommended, The people called "Mashona" or "Maswina" strongly object to these appellations, which seem to be opprobrious terms applied to them by their Matebele conquerors. Moreover,
    the name Chiswina seems to be confined to the Salisbury District, while elsewhere there are countless local designations: Chimanyika (Umtali), Chiungwe (Rusapi), Chikaranga (Victoria), Chirozwi, etc. (Chi- is the prefix indicating "language ", corresponding to Se- in "Sesuto ", Lu- in " Luganda", etc.)

    The most satisfactory name would seem to be " Karanga". Mrs. C. S. Louw (Manual of the Chikaranga Language, Bulawayo, 1915), says: "In the district of Victoria "-in the south-east, on the head-waters of the Sabi-" the natives call it Chikaranga ". But there seems reason to follow Father Torrend in taking this name to include all the sub-tribes. The Bechwana, when they came in contact with these people in the north-west, called them " Makalaka" (= Makalanga or Makaranga), and the fact that the Great Zimbabwe, which was the King's Kraal, or chief tribal centre, lies in the Victoria district seems to indicate that their headquarters were formerly here. It was the Paramount Chief of the Makaranga who was vaguely known to sixteenth century geographers as the " Emperor of Monomotapa"

    Karanga is so nearly akin to Nyanja (which covers a large area north of the Zambezi) that the differences may be set down as merely dialectical. It includes Chindau (spoken in Gazaland, just east of the Portuguese border), of which Mr. Daniel Jones has made a careful phonetic study.1 Its affinities appear to be rather with the languages north of the Zambezi than with the more southern ones; it has not, like Zulu, adopted the suffixed locative, or the Hottentot clicks, and the "laterals" (usually written, in Zulu and Sesuto, hl, dhl, ti, tlh) occur, if at all, only to a limited extent. But this point cannot be determined without a full examination of the language by an exact phonetician. The three books before me, that of the Rev. H. Buck (Penhalonga), of Father Biehler, S.J. (Chishawasha, Salisbury District), and Mrs. Louw (Victoria) not only deal with different parts of the country but use different systems of orthography, so that it is impossible to gather from them what variations of sound are due to dialectical divergence, or, in some cases, exactly what sounds are intended. Mrs. Louw's book is by far the most satisfactory from a phonetic point of view.

    East of the area covered by Karanga comes the Delagoa Bay group of languages included by M. Junod under the name Thonga (so written to mark the aspirated t and also to distinguish them from the Tonga ( = Chopi) of Inhambane, the Tonga ( = Toka) of the Middle Zambezi, and the Tonga of West Nyasa). They are more nearly allied to Zulu than is any other language, except the Xosa of Cape Colony; but they also have links with Karanga (notably the labial sibilant already mentioned) and with the languages beyond them to the north.

    One interesting point about Karanga, which deserves further investigation, is the occurrence of words identical or cognate with Swahili forms, which seem to be absent from intervening languages. Thus we have sona= "sew" (Swahili shona, but Nyanja tsoka, soca, Yao tota); tswimbo, "stick"; dikiti, " melon"; ganda, " skin," "husk," etc.; and others. This is not the place to attempt giving a, complete list, still less to draw any inferences
    from this phenomenon.

    A different interest attaches to a few stray Arabic words. Ndarama, "gold," "money," is evidently (as pointed out long ago by Meinhof) from dirham, and must have spread in both directions from the Arab settlements on the Lower Zambezi, as it is also found in Nyanja. (Here it means either with the addition of "white", "silver ", with the addition of " red ", "gold ", or simply "money ". Curiously enough, it is not used in Swahili.) 

    Mari, "money," " property"= (arabic symbol used) , is also found in Zulu as i-mali and in Swahili as mali. It may be a question whether the Zulus borrowed it from the Makaranga or vice versa; it might have reached the former through the medium of the coast tribes, though M. Junod says the Thonga have taken it from Zulu. An interesting point in the latter language is the occurrence of the forms isi-kati, "time, "um-kati, "point of time." The Swahili wa-kati is so evidently derived from "(arabic symbols used)', the initial (arabic symbol) being treated as a prefix, that one is tempted to think of the Zulu words as having the same origin (prefixes being variable); but it might be possible to establish a connexion with the Bantu root KATI, "middle," "interval," or "space between ". It seems to be accepted that, in primitive languages, conceptions of space precede conceptions of time.


    1. The Pronunciation and Orthography of the Chindau Language. University of 
    London Press, 1911.

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