isiXhosa – the language of the Xhosa people
The isiXhosa language spoken by the Xhosa people is one of the official languages of South Africa. There are approximately 7.6 million mother tongue speakers (18% of the South African population). Xhosa is the southernmost branch of the Nguni languages, which include SiSwati, Northern Ndebele and isiZulu.
What makes the language interesting is that about 15% of the Xhosa vocabulary is of San origin (giving it its original click sound). In the modern period, Xhosa has also borrowed from both Afrikaans and English. Like most African languages, Xhosa is a tonal language, that is, the same sequence of consonants and vowels can have different meanings when said with a rising or falling or high or low intonation.
Xhosa is written using a Latin alphabet. Henry Hare Dugmore, an Englishman who became fluent in isiXhosa, jointly produced the first translation of the Bible in 1859. isiXhosa’s most famous child must be Nelson Mandela.
Xhosa is the most widely distributed African language in South Africa, while the most widely spoken is isiZulu. At present, Xhosa is used as the main language of instruction in many primary schools and some secondary schools, but is largely replaced by English after the early primary grades, even in schools mainly serving Xhosa-speaking communities.