The Nguni languages are a group of closely related Bantu languages spoken in southern Africa (mainly South Africa, Zimbabwe and Swaziland) by the Nguni people. Nguni languages include Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele, and Swazi. The appellation "Nguni" derives from the Nguni cattle type. Ngoni (see below) is an older, or a shifted, variant.
It is sometimes argued that the use of Nguni as a generic label suggests a historical monolithic unity of the people in question, where in fact the situation may have been more complex. The linguistic use of the label (referring to a subgrouping of Bantu) is relatively stable.
From an English editorial perspective, the articles "a" and "an" are both used with "Nguni", but "a Nguni" is more frequent and arguably more correct if "Nguni" is pronounced as it is suggested.
Within a subset of Southern Bantu, the label "Nguni" is used both genetically (in the linguistic sense) and typologically (quite apart from any historical significance).
The Nguni languages are closely related, and in many instances different languages are mutually intelligible; in this way, Nguni languages might better be construed as a dialect continuum than as a cluster of separate languages. On more than one occasion, proposals have been put forward to create a unified Nguni language.
In scholarly literature on southern African languages, the linguistic classificatory category "Nguni" is traditionally considered to subsume two subgroups: "Zunda Nguni" and "Tekela Nguni." This division is based principally on the salient phonological distinction between corresponding coronal consonants: Zunda /z/ and Tekela /t/ (thus the native form of the name Swati and the better-known Zulu form Swazi), but there is a host of additional linguistic variables that enables a relatively straightforward division into these two substreams of Nguni.
Note: Maho (2009) also lists S401 Old Mfengu†.
The following aspects of Nguni languages are typical:
Compare the following sentences:
|Language||"I like your new sticks"|
|Zulu||Ngi-ya-zi-thanda izi-nduku z-akho ezin-tsha|
|Xhosa||Ndi-ya-zi-thanda ii-ntonga z-akho ezin-tsha|
|Northern Ndebele||Ngi-ya-zi-thanda i-ntonga z-akho ezin-tsha|
|Southern Ndebele||Ngi-ya-zi-thanda iin-ntonga z-akho ezi-tjha|
|Bhaca||Ndi-ya-ti-thsandza ii-ntfonga t-akho etin-tsha|
|Hlubi||Ng'ya-zi-thanda iin-duku z-akho ezintsha|
|Swazi||Ngi-ya-ti-tsandza ti-ntfonga t-akho letin-sha|
|Mpapa Phuthi||Gi-ya-ti-tshadza ti-tfoga t-akho leti-tjha|
|Sigxodo Phuthi||Gi-ya-ti-tshadza ti-tshoga t-akho leti-tjha|
Note: Xhosa ⟨tsh⟩ = Phuthi ⟨tjh⟩ = IPA [tʃʰ]; Phuthi ⟨tsh⟩ = [tsh]; Zulu ⟨sh⟩ = IPA [ʃ], but in the environment cited here /ʃ/ is "nasally permuted" to [tʃ]. Phuthi ⟨jh⟩ = breathy voiced [dʒʱ] = Xhosa, Zulu ⟨j⟩ (in the environment here following the nasal [n]). Zulu, Swazi, Hlubi ⟨ng⟩ = [ŋ].
|Language||"I understand only a little English"|
|Zulu||Ngisi-zwa ka-ncane isi-Ngisi|
|Xhosa||Ndisi-qonda ka-ncinci nje isi-Ngesi|
|Northern Ndebele||Ngisi-zwisisa ka-ncane isiKhiwa |
|Southern Ndebele||Ngisi-zwisisa ka-ncani nje isi-Ngisi|
|Hlubi||Ng'si-visisisa ka-ncani nje isi-Ngisi|
|Swazi||Ngisiva ka-ncane nje si-Ngisi|
|Mpapa Phuthi||Gisi-visisa ka-nci të-jhë Si-kguwa|
|Sigxodo Phuthi||Gisi-visisa ka-ncinci të-jhë Si-kguwa|
Note: Phuthi ⟨kg⟩ = IPA [x].