Shona // (chiShona) is the most widely spoken Bantu language as a first language and is native to the Shona people of Zimbabwe. The term is also used to identify peoples who speak one of the Central Shona varieties: Zezuru, Karanga, Manyika and Korekore. Based on Clement Doke's 1931 report, Union Shona or Standard Shona was developed from the Central Shona varieties. Because of the presence of the capital city in the Zezuru region, that variety has come to dominate in Standard Shona.
|Native to||Zimbabwe, Mozambique|
|8.3 million, Shona proper (2007)
10.8 million Zezuru, Karanga, Korekore (2000)
15 million incl. Manyika, Ndau (2000–2006)
|Latin script (Shona alphabet)
Official language in
The larger group of historically related languages (called Shona languages by linguists) also includes Ndau (Eastern Shona) and Kalanga (Western Shona), but speakers of those languages prefer their distinct identities and usually reject any connection to the term Shona.
Shona is the most spoken Bantu language by the criterion of number of native speakers. According to Ethnologue, Shona, comprising the Karanga, Zezuru and Korekore dialects, is spoken by about 10.8 million people. The Manyika and Ndau dialects of Shona are listed separately by Ethnologue, and are spoken by 1,025,000 and 2,380,000 people, respectively. The total figure of Shona speakers is then about 14.2 million people. Zulu is the second most widely spoken Bantu language with 10.3 million speakers according to Ethnologue.
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 S10 designates a dialect continuum of closely related varieties, including Zezuru, Karanga, Manyika, and Ndau, spoken in Zimbabwe and central Mozambique; Tawara and Tewe, found in Mozambique; and Nambya and Kalanga in Botswana and Western Zimbabwe.
Shona speakers most likely moved into present day Zimbabwe from the Mapungubwe and K2 communities in Limpopo, South Africa, before the influx of European, primarily British, colonizers. A common misconception is that the speakers of the Karanga dialect were absorbed into the Ndebele culture and language turning them into Kalanga. The Kalanga language is widely spoken in Botswana where the Ndebele were never present. The Kalanga language is thought to have been the language used by the Mapungubweans. 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 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.
- 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 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, near Mvurwi.
- Subdialects: Budya, 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. 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.
Phonology and alphabetEdit
All syllables in Shona end in a vowel. Consonants belong to the next syllable. For example, mangwanani ("morning") is syllabified as ma.ngwa.na.ni; "Zimbabwe" is zi.mba.bwe.
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, "Uno enda kupi?" (Where do you go?) is pronounced [u.no.e.nda.ku.pi].
The consonant sounds of Shona are:
This section needs attention from an expert in Languages or Africa. The specific problem is: we need a better explanation & preferably some sound files.(August 2008)
Shona and other languages of Southern and Eastern Africa include whistling sounds, unlike most other languages where whistling signals a speech disorder (this should not be confused with whistled speech).
|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.|
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". 
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⟩ is used for ⟨ȿ⟩ and ⟨zv⟩ is used for ⟨ɀ⟩.
- Mikael Parkvall, "Världens 100 största språk 2007" (The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007), in Nationalencyklopedin
- Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Core Shona". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
- Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Tawara". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
- Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
- Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
- Ethnologue's Shona entry
- 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
- Report on the Unification of the Shona Dialects. By Clement M. Doke. 1931
- University of Pennsylvania Language Center
- Ethnologue's list of Shona (S.10) languages
- Ethnologue's Manyika entry
- Ethnologue's Ndau entry
- Ethnologue's list of languages by size
- Department of Archeology, Wits University
- "?" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 June 2011.
- Clement M. Doke. "Report on the unification of Shona dialects". JSTOR. Retrieved 3 September 2010.
- 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:
|Shona edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia|
- "The History of the Shona People".
- Pan African Localization report on Shona
- Example of Shona, Lyrikline.org page on poet Chirikure Chirikure, with audio and translations into English.
- Basic Shona language course (book + audio files) USA Foreign Service Institute (FSI)
- Shona Dictionary Shona Dictionary