A short history of the Zulu language
Zulu (isiZulu) belongs to the Southeastern, or Nguni, sub-group of the Bantu branch of the Niger-Congo family of languages. Other Southeastern Bantu languages include Xhosa, Swazi (or Swati), Sotho, Tswana, Venda and Ndebele. Zulu is the second most widely spoken of all the Bantu languages, after Shona.
It is believed that the Zulus, like other Nguni people, have lived in South Africa since around the 9th century, having gradually migrated down the east coast of Africa. But the Nguni languages were not written down, and so their recorded history only dates back to the time of contact with European missionaries, in the 19th century.
The first Zulu grammar book, written by a Norwegian missionary, was published in Norway in 1850, while the first known document written in Zulu was a translation of the Bible in 1883. The first novel written in Zulu appeared in 1930 – Insila kaShaka, by John Dube.
Since the abolition of apartheid in 1994, Zulu has gained official recognition and increased in popularity. Read more
Which countries have Zulu as a national language?
Zulu is an official language in South Africa. It is one of the nine indigenous languages that were officially recognised by the first post-apartheid South African Constitution in 1994.
How many people speak Zulu as their first language?
It is estimated that approximately 10 million people speak Zulu as their first language, over 95% of whom live in South Africa. Zulu speakers make up the largest native language group in South Africa (nearly a quarter of the population) and Zulu is understood by more than half of the population.
Zulu is also spoken in Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique and Swaziland.
Did you know…
- Zulu – in common with many other Southern African languages – is characterised by its distinctive click consonants. There are three kinds of click sounds in Zulu – dental (like sucking in through your teeth), alveolar (like the pop of a bottle top) and lateral (like the click you might make to a horse).
- Zulu dialects are often split into four groups – Central KwaZulu-Natal Zulu, Northern Transvaal Zulu, Eastern Coastal Qwabe and Western Coastal Cele.
- Zulu is largely mutually intelligible with Xhosa, and some linguists classify them as dialects of the same language. However, speakers of the two consider them to be separate languages.
The South African economy
Ranked by the World Bank as an ‘upper middle-income country’, South Africa is the largest economy in Africa. Its shrewd financial policies protected the country from the worst effects of the global financial crisis of 2007/2008.
However, at the end of 2013 South Africa was trailing other emerging markets, with unemployment officially at 25% (but estimated to be much higher). The ruling African National Congress says the country has been affected by the economic situation in Europe, with which it has crucial trade links.
But the South African economy has also been badly hit by a series of strikes in key industries, including mining and manufacturing, which together contribute around 22% of the country’s GDP (based on 2012 statistics).