Bantu languages

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Map showing the approximate distribution of Bantu (dull yellow) vs. other Niger-Congo languages (bright yellow).

Bantu is a language family that belongs to the Niger-Congo group. Bantu languages are spoken in South Cameroon, and in the south-eastern region of Nigeria close the Cameroonian Border, in Gabon, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Angola, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa. This wide expansion makes the Bantu family the most widespread language family in Africa, with about 310 million speakers.

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. A characteristic of Bantu languages is that they use -ntu to refer to a man. ba is a plural in some dialects, becoming ba-ntu. He and later Carl Meinhof did comparative studies of the Bantu language grammars.

The language family has hundreds of members. They have been classified by Malcolm Guthrie in 1971 into groups according to geographical zones - A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, K, L, M, N, P, R and S and then numbered within the group. Guthrie also reconstructed Proto-Bantu as the Proto-language of this language family.

The most prominent grammatical characteristic of Bantu languages is the extensive use of prefixes (see Sesotho language). Each noun belongs to a class, and each language may have about ten classes all together, somewhat like genders in European languages. The class is indicated by a prefix on the noun, as well as on adjectives and verbs agreeing with it. Plural is indicated by a change of prefix.

The verb has a number of prefixes. In Swahili for example Mtoto mdogo amekisoma means 'The small child has read it [a book]'. Mtoto 'child' governs the adjective prefix m- and the verb subject prefix a-. Then comes perfect tense -me- and an object marker -ki- agreeing with implicit kitabu 'book'. Pluralizing to children makes it Watoto wadogo wamekisoma, and pluralizing to books (vitabu) makes it Watoto wadogo wamevisoma.

The Bantu language with the largest number of speakers is Swahili (G 40). Judging from the history of Swahili, some linguists believe that Bantu languages are on a continuum from purely tonal languages to languages with no tone at all.

Other important Bantu languages include:

Some are usually known in English without the class prefix (Swahili instead of Kiswahili, etc.), and some others vary (Setswana or Tswana, Sindebele or Ndebele, etc.). The bare form typically does not occur in the language: in the country of Botswana the people are the Batswana, one person is a Motswana, and the language is Setswana.

Today most linguist see the center of the Bantu expansion, that started about 2000 years before present in eastern Nigeria and Cameroon.

Black-African South Africans were at times officially called "Bantus" by the apartheid regime.

See also


  • Guthrie, Malcolm (1948) The classification of the Bantu languages. London: Oxford University Press for the International African Institute.
  • Guthrie, Malcolm (1971) Comparative Bantu vol 2. London: Gregg Press.
  • Heine, Bernd (1973) 'Zur genetische Gliederung der Bantu-Sprachen'. Afrika und bersee, 56, 164–185.
  • Maho, Jouni F. (2001) 'The Bantu area: (towards clearing up) a mess'. Africa & Asia, 1, 40–49.
  • Piron, Pascale (1995) 'Identification lexicostatistique des groupes Bantodes stables.' Journal of West African Languages, 25, 2, 3–39.

External links

es:Lenguas bantes fr:Langues bantoues pl:Języki bantu sv:Bantusprk sr:Банту (језик) nl:Bantoetalen


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