Language Inc

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Blog_37.jpgBackground and status

SiSwati (also known as Swazi or Swati) is a Southern African language spoken predominantly in South Africa and Swaziland. It is the official language of Swaziland (along with English) and since 1994 one of the nine indigenous languages to enjoy official recognition in South Africa. With only 3% of South Africans indicating it as their official mother tongue siSwati is ranked as the third smallest official language group in South Africa. In South Africa most of the speakers of this language are situated in the eastern region of the Mpumalanga province, which borders Swaziland.

siSwati in South Africa

Following the democratic transition of 1994 a new body – the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) – was created to facilitate the further development of the official languages. The development of siSwati has however, proven to be a difficult task, as the heartland of the language is located in a predominantly rural and relatively poor region. Migration to urban areas has grown and siSwati speakers living in the larger cities are compelled to learn and speak other languages. SiSwati remains a predominantly spoken language. While it is well represented on TV and radio, there are no newspapers in the language.

siSwati in Swaziland

SiSwati-language publications face difficulties in the marketplace. School textbooks for SiSwati language and social studies courses are published in the local language, as required by a law that seeks to ensure that siSwati is kept alive through academic usage. However, no magazines, including academic, industrial or commercial, are published in siSwati. According to Marcus Ndlangamandla, a secondary school teacher, "English is a language of rules. SiSwati is a language of sentiment, where people communicate with descriptions." That is the biggest reason why, although the Swazis love their story-telling language, business and commerce most often are conducted in English.

The Language Inc. Team

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isiXhosa – the language of the Xhosa people

Translations South AfricaThe 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.

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isiZulu – the language of the Zulu people

b2ap3_thumbnail_Blog_32.jpgZulu or also referred to as isiZulu is the most widely spoken home language in South Africa (24% of the population) with over 10 million mother tongue speakers. Zulu is spoken predominantly in the north-eastern part of South Africa, in specific KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Gauteng and the northern parts of the Free State. The Zulu people, like Xhosa and other Nguni people, have lived in South Africa for a long time and the language has therefore been influenced by other traditional languages of the area such as San and Khoi, giving it several unique click sounds.

Zulu has a number of dialects, four of which are generally recognized as the major dialects: Zulu (of traditional Zululand), Zulu (of the old Natal), Lala and Qwabe. Understood by over 50% of the population in South Africa, it is the second largest traditional language in Southern Africa after Shona. Zulu, like most indigenous Southern African languages, was not a written language until contact with missionaries from Europe, who documented the language using the Latin script. The first grammar book of the Zulu language was published in Norway in 1850 by the Norwegian missionary Hans Schreuder. The first written document in Zulu was a Bible translation which appeared in 1883.

Today Zulu textbooks for children make up the majority of the market, however, increasingly more-and-more novels and short stories are also published by Zulu mother tongue speakers.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Blog_31.jpgWhat is the Hausa language?

Native speakers of Hausa, the Hausa people are mostly to be found in Niger in the north of Nigeria and Chad, but the language is used as a trade language across a much larger area of West Africa (Benin, Ghana, Cameroon, Togo, Côte d'Ivoire etc.), Central Africa (Chad, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea) and north western Sudan, particularly amongst Muslims. Hausa is one of Africa’s major languages – standing fifth after Arabic, French, English, Portuguese and Swahili.

Current Status

Hausa is spoken by an estimated 40 million first language speakers and an additional 25 million second language speakers. It is the lingua franca for Muslim populations in much of West Africa. Every city of any size in West Africa has a large Hausa community. Hausa is used in commerce, government and the media. While higher education in northern Nigeria tends to be in English, Hausa serves as the language of instruction in primary schools. There are several Hausa language newspapers and a growing body of literature. Radio stations like BBC, Radio France Internationale, China Radio International, Voice of Russia, Voice of America, Deutsche Welle, and IRIB broadcast in Hausa. It is also taught at universities in Africa and around the world.


This popular language is heard on Nigerian radio and TV and is the most widely used in the fields of education and commerce, and lays claim to a significant body of Hausa language literature. Given its influence and power, including Hausa in your range of translations would only add to your business and investment.

INTERESTING NOTE: Hausa was initially written using script known as ajami, which utilises a modified Arabic alphabet. Because of British colonial influence, in the early 20th century, an alternate script based on the Latin language alphabet was also developed known as “boko” (from the English word for book). The boko alphabet is primarily used in formal education, although the Arabic-based ajami script is still in limited use.

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What is the Yoruba language?

b2ap3_thumbnail_Blog_30.jpgYoruba is a Niger–Congo language spoken in West Africa. The number of speakers of Yoruba was estimated at around 20 million in the 1990s. The native tongue of the Yoruba people is spoken, among other languages, in Nigeria, Benin, and Togo and in communities in other parts of Africa, Europe and the Americas. Standard Yoruba, the variety learnt at school and used in the media, has nonetheless been a powerful consolidating factor in the emergence of a common Yoruba identity.

Current status

From the other approximately 400 languages spoken in Nigeria, Yoruba together with Igbo and Hausa maintains special status especially in the south-western states of Nigeria. In these areas it enjoys official status and is used in governmental notices and tertiary education. Yoruba is the most documented West African language used in the media, newspapers, books, films and music.

The future and opportunities

Currently there are efforts to promote the status of the indigenous languages in Nigeria. One of such efforts is by Nokia which has included Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba, the three major Nigerian languages, in the repertoire of their mobile phones sold in Nigeria. This creates a wonderful opportunity for investors and businesses alike to support the local and international effort to keep this descriptive language alive.

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