Shona language

Shona (/ˈʃnə/;[5] Shona: chiShona) is a Bantu language of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. It was codified by the colonial government in the 1950s. According to Ethnologue,[6] Shona, comprising the Zezuru, Korekore and Karanga dialects, is spoken by about 7.5 million people. The Manyika and Ndau dialects of Shona[7][8][9] are listed separately by Ethnologue,[10] and are spoken by 1,025,000[11] and 2,380,000[12] people, respectively.

Chi Shona
Native toZimbabwe, Mozambique
Native speakers
12 million, Shona proper (2000 to 2007)[1]
7.50 million Zezuru, Karanga, Korekore (2000)
11 million incl. Manyika, Ndau (2000–2006)[2]
Latin script (Shona alphabet)
Arabic script (formerly)
Shona Braille
Official status
Official language in
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-1sn
ISO 639-2sna
ISO 639-3Variously:
sna – Zezuru, Karanga, Korekore
twl – Tavara (Korekore)
mxc – Manyika
twx – Tewe (Manyika)
ndc – Ndau
Glottologcore1255  Core Shona
tawa1270  Tawara
Linguasphere99-AUT-a =
  • 99-AUT-aa (standardised Shona)+ 99-AUT-ab (chiKorekore incl. varieties -aba to
    -abk)+ 99-AUT-ac (chiZezuru -aca..-ack)+ 99-AUT-ad (north chiManyika -ada..-adk)+ 99-AUT-ae (central chiManyika -aea..-aeg)+ 99-AUT-af (chiKaranga
    -afa..-aff)+ 99-AUT-ag (chiNdau -aga..-age)+ 99-AUT-ah (chiShanga)+ 99-AUT-ai (chiKalanga)+ 99-AUT-aj (chiNambya
    -aja..-ajc)+ 99-AUT-ak (chiLilima -aka..-akf)
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

The larger group of historically related languages—called Shona languages by linguists—also includes Ndau (Eastern Shona) and Karanga (Western Shona).


Wikipedia in the Shona language.
Teacher Ignatio Chiyaka teaching the Shona language to U.S. Peace Corps volunteers in Zhombe, Zimbabwe. The words on the blackboard are pfeka ("dress self") and hembe ("shirt").

Shona is a written standard language with an orthography and grammar that was codified during the early 20th century and fixed in the 1950s. In the 1920s, the Rhodesian administration was faced with the challenge of preparing schoolbooks and other materials in the various languages and dialects and requested the recommendation of the South African linguist Clement Doke.

The first novel in Shona, Solomon Mutswairo's Feso, was published in 1957. Shona is taught in the schools but is not the general medium of instruction in other subjects. It has a literature and is described through monolingual and bilingual dictionaries (chiefly Shona – English). Standard Shona is based on the dialect spoken by the Karanga people of Masvingo Province, the region around Great Zimbabwe, and Zezuru people of central and northern Zimbabwe. However, all Shona dialects are officially considered to be of equal significance and are taught in local schools.


Shona is a member of the large family of Bantu languages. In Guthrie's zonal classification of Bantu languages, zone S.10 designates a dialect continuum of closely related varieties, including Zezuru, Karanga, Manyika, Ndau and Budya, spoken in Zimbabwe and central Mozambique; Tawara and Tewe, found in Mozambique; and Nambya and Kalanga in Botswana and Western Zimbabwe.


Shona n'anga or traditional healer (Zimbabwe)

The Zezuru, Korekore and Manyika speakers most likely moved south into present-day Zimbabwe from southern Lake Tanganyika and Lake Malawi valleys. They found some Kalanga chieftancies who had moved north from Mapungubwe and Great Zimbabwe and the Karanga were born. The Kalanga language is thought to have been the language used by the Mapungubweans.[13] If this is accurate it follows that the Karanga dialect of Shona is a derivative of Kalanga. Karanga is closer to Kalanga than the rest of the aforementioned dialects. Karanga and Kalanga are both closer to Venda than the other Shona dialects. Shona as a language was codified in the 1950s by the colonial authorities.


The writing system for the Shona language was codified during the 20th century. The first novel in the Shona language, Feso, was published in 1957.[14]


Shona is used to refer to a standardised language based on the central dialects of the Shona region. Shona languages form a dialect continuum from the Kalahari desert in the west to the Indian Ocean in the east and the Limpopo river in the south and the Zambezi in the north. While the languages are related, evolution and separation over the past 1000 years has meant that mutual intelligibility is not always possible without a period of acculturation. Therefore, Central Shona speakers have a difficult time understanding Kalanga speakers even though lexical sharing can be over 80% with some western Karanga dialects. In the same manner eastern dialects (Shanga) spoken by the Indian Ocean are also very divergent. There are many dialect differences in Shona, but a standardized dialect is recognized. According to information from Ethnologue (when excluding S16 Kalanga):

  • S14 Karanga dialect (Chikaranga). Spoken in southern Zimbabwe, near Masvingo. It is also mostly spoken in the Midlands province, most notably in Mberengwa and Zvishavane districts.
Subdialects: Duma, Jena, Mhari (Mari), Ngova, Venda (not the Venda language), Nyubi (spoken in Matabeleland at the beginning of the colonial period is now extinct), Govera.
  • S12 Zezuru dialect (Chizezuru, Bazezuru, Bazuzura, Mazizuru, Vazezuru, Wazezuru). Spoken in Mashonaland east and central Zimbabwe, near Harare. The standard language.
Subdialects: Shawasha, Gova, Mbire, Tsunga, Kachikwakwa, Harava, Nohwe, Njanja, Nobvu, Kwazvimba (Zimba).
  • S11 Korekore dialect (Northern Shona, Goba, Gova, Shangwe). Spoken in northern Zimbabwe, Mvurwi Bindura, Mt Darwin, Guruve, Chiweshe, Centenary .
Subdialects: Gova, Tande, Tavara, Nyongwe, Pfunde, Shan Gwe.

Languages with partial intelligibility with Shona, of which the speakers are considered to be ethnically Shona, are the S15 Ndau language, spoken in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, and the S13 Manyika language, spoken in eastern Zimbabwe, near Mutare specifically Chipinge . Ndau literacy material has been introduced into primary schools.

Maho (2009) recognizes Korekore, Zezuru, Manyika, Karanga, and Ndau as distinct languages within the Shona cluster, with Kalanga being more divergent.[3]

Phonology and alphabetEdit

All syllables in Shona end in a vowel. Consonants belong to the next syllable. For example, mangwanani ("morning") is syllabified as; "Zimbabwe" is


Shona's five vowels are pronounced as in Spanish: [a, e, i, o, u]. Each vowel is pronounced separately even if they fall in succession. For example, "Unoenda kupi?" (Where do you go?) is pronounced [].


The consonant sounds of Shona are:

Bilabial Labio-
Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
plain whistled
Plosive voiceless p t k
breathy ɡ̤
implosive ɓ ɗ
prenasalized ᵐb ⁿd ᵑɡ
Fricative voiceless f s sᶲ ʃ
breathy z̤ᵝ ʒ̤ ɦ
prenasalized ⁿz̤ ⁿz̤ᵝ
Nasal plain m n ɲ ŋ
breathy mʋ̤
Affricate voiceless p͡f t͡s t͡sᶲ t͡ʃ
breathy b͡v̤ d͡z̤ d͡z̤ᵝ d͡ʒ̤
prenasalized ⁿd͡ʒ̤
Trill r
Approximant ʋ j w

Shona has two tones, a high and a low tone, but these tones are not indicated in spelling.

Whistled sibilantsEdit

Shona and other languages of Southern and Eastern Africa include whistling sounds, (this should not be confused with whistled speech).

Shona's whistled sibilants are the fricatives "sv" and "zv" and the affricates "tsv" and "dzv".

Sound example translation notes
sv masvosvobwa "shooting stars" "sv" can be represented by S͎, from the Extensions to the International Phonetic Alphabet
masvosve "ants"
tsv tsvaira "sweep" (Standard Shona)
svw masvavembasvi "schemer" (Shangwe, Korekore dialect)
zv zvizvuvhutswa "gold nuggets" (Tsunga, Zezuru dialect)
dzv akadzva "he/she was unsuccessful"
zvw huzvweverere "emotions" (Gova, Korekore dialect)
nzv nzvenga "to dodge" (Standard Shona)
zvc muzvcazi "the Milky Way" Dental clicks. Only found in Ngova, Karanga dialect.
svc chisvcamba "tortoise"

Whistled sibilants stirred interest among the Western public and media in 2006, due to questions about how to pronounce the name of Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change – Tsvangirai in Zimbabwe. The BBC Pronunciation Unit recommended the pronunciation "chang-girr-ayi" /ˈæŋɡɪri/.[15][page needed][16]


  • A - a - [a]
  • B - ba - [ɓ]
  • Bh - bha - [b̤]
  • Ch - cha - [t͡ʃ]
  • D - da - [ɗ]
  • Dh - dha - [d̤]
  • E - e - [e]
  • F - fa - [f]
  • G - ga - [ɡ̤]
  • H - ha - [ɦ]
  • I - i - [i]
  • J - ja - [d͡ʒ̤]
  • K - ka - [k]
  • M - ma - [m]
  • N - na - [n]
  • Nh - nha - [n̤]
  • O - o - [o]
  • P - pa - [p]
  • R - ra - [r]
  • S - sa - [s]
  • Sh - sha - [ʃ]
  • T - ta - [t]
  • U - u - [u]
  • V - va - [ʋ]
  • Vh - vha - [v̤]
  • W - wa - [w]
  • Y - ya - [j]
  • Z - za - [z̤]
  • Zh - zha - [ʒ̤][17]


Shona version of the Book of Mormon
  • bv - [b͡v̤]
  • dz - [d͡z̤]
  • dzv - [d͡z̤ᵝ]
  • dy - [d̤ʲg]
  • mb - [ᵐb]
  • mbw - [ᵐb]
  • mh - [m̤]
  • mv - [mʋ̤]
  • nd - [ⁿd]
  • ng - [ŋ]
  • nj - [ⁿd͡ʒ̤]
  • ny - [ɲ]
  • nz - [ⁿz̤]
  • nzv - [ⁿz̤ᵝ]
  • pf - [p͡f]
  • sv - [sᶲ]
  • sw - [skw]
  • ts - [t͡s]
  • tsv - [t͡sᶲ]
  • ty - [tʲk]
  • zv - [z̤ᵝ]

Old alphabetEdit

From 1931 to 1955, Unified Shona was written with an alphabet developed by the linguist Professor Clement Martyn Doke. This included the following letters:

ɓ (b with hook),
ɗ (d with hook),
ŋ (n with leg),
ȿ (s with swash tail),
ʋ (v with hook),
ɀ (z with swash tail).

In 1955, these were replaced by letters or digraphs from the basic Latin alphabet. For example, today ⟨sv⟩ or ⟨ş⟩ is used for ⟨ȿ⟩ and ⟨zv⟩ or ⟨z̧⟩ is used for ⟨ɀ⟩.


Noun Classes (mupanda)

Mupanda, or noun classes, is the way in which Shona words are grouped:

  1. Zvaanoreva ("their meanings") e.g. words found in mupanda 1 and 2 describe a person: munhu ("person") is in mupanda 1 and musikana ("girl") is in mupanda 2.
  2. Uwandu neushoma ("singular and plural form") e.g. words found in mupanda 8 are plurals of mupanda 7: zvikoro ("schools") in mupanda 8 is a plural form of chikoro ("school") in mupanda 7.
  3. Sungawirirano (accordance) words in mupanda 5 have sungawirirano -ri- e.g. garwe iri ("this crocodile"), dombo iri ("this stone"), gudo iri ("this baboon"); 'iri' means 'this'.
  4. Chivakashure ("prefix") e.g. words in mupanda 1 have prefix mu-, mupanda 8 zvi-, mupanda 10 dzi-, mupanda 11 ru-, etc.

There are 21 mupanda. Mupanda 20 was omitted because it is considered vulgar.

Noun class Muenzaniso weIzwi ("word example") Word construction


English translation
Prefix Body
1 mu mukomana mu- -komana "boy"
2 va vakomana va- -komana "boys"
3 mu muti mu- -ti "tree"
4 mi miti mi- -ti "trees"
5 ri rize ri- -ze "scorpion"
6 ma marize ma- -ze "scorpions"
7 chi chingwa chi- -ngwa "bread"
8 zvi zvingwa zvi- -ngwa "bread"
9 i imba i- -mba "house"
10 dzi dzimba dzi- -mba "houses"
11 ru rwizi ru- -izi "river"

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Mikael Parkvall, "Världens 100 största språk 2007" (The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007), in Nationalencyklopedin
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 19 February 2015. Retrieved 19 February 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ a b Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  4. ^ Haberland, Eike (3 May 1974). "Perspectives Des Études Africaines Contemporaines: Rapport Final D'un Symposium International". Deutsche UNESCO-Kommission – via Google Books.
  5. ^ Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  6. ^ "Shona". Ethnologue.
  7. ^ Stabilization in the Manyika Dialect of the Shona Group, Hazel Carter, Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 26, No. 4, Oct., 1956, pp. 398-405
  8. ^ Report on the Unification of the Shona Dialects. By Clement M. Doke. 1931
  9. ^ "Shona".
  10. ^ "Browse by Language Family". Ethnologue.
  11. ^ "Manyika". Ethnologue.
  12. ^ "Ndau". Ethnologue.
  13. ^ Department of Archeology, Wits University
  14. ^ "Shona language, alphabet, and pronunciation". Omniglot. Retrieved 10 December 2020.
  15. ^ Ryan K. Shorsed. "Just put your lips together and blow? The whistled fricatives of Southern Bantu" (PDF). University of California. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 June 2011. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  16. ^ Clement M. Doke (1932). "Report on the unification of Shona dialects". Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London. JSTOR. 6 (4): 1097–1099. JSTOR 606944.
  17. ^ "Dzidzai Shona pa Kombiyuta - The Shona Alphabet". African Studies Center - African Languages at Penn. Retrieved 10 December 2020.


  • Biehler, E. (1950) A Shona dictionary with an outline Shona grammar (revised edition). The Jesuit Fathers.
  • Brauner, Sigmund (1995) A grammatical sketch of Shona : including historical notes. Köln: Rüdiger Koppe.
  • Carter, Hazel (1986) Kuverenga Chishóna: an introductory Shona reader with grammatical sketch (2nd edition). London: SOAS.
  • Doke, Clement M. (1931) Report on the unification of the Shona dialects. Stephen Austin Sons.
  • Fortune, George (1985). Shona Grammatical Constructions Vol 1. Mercury Press.
  • Mutasa, David (1996) The problems of standardizing spoken dialects: the Shona experience, Language Matters, 27, 79
  • Lafon, Michel (1995), Le shona et les shonas du Zimbabwe, Harmattan éd., Paris (in French)
  • D. Dale:
    • Basic English – Shona dictionary, Afro Asiatic Languages Edition, Sept 5, 2000, ISBN 978-0869220146
    • Duramazwi: A Shona - English Dictionary, Afro Asiatic Languages Edition, Sept 5, 2000, ISBN 978-0869220146

External linksEdit