Native toZimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana
RegionSouthern Africa
EthnicityShona people
Native speakers
6.5 million, Shona proper (2000 to 2007)[1]
5.50 million Zezuru, Karanga, Chimanyika, Korekore (2000)
5.8 million incl. Manyika, (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)
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.
CountryZimbabwe, Mozambique

Shona (/ˈʃnə/;[5] Shona: chiShona) is a Bantu language of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. The term is variously used to collectively describe all the Central Shonic varieties (comprising Zezuru, Manyika, Korekore and Karanga) or specifically Standard Shona, a variety codified in the mid-20th century. Using the broader term, the language is spoken by over 14,000,000 people.[6]

The larger group of historically related languages—called Shona or Shonic languages by linguists—also includes Ndau (Eastern Shona) and Kalanga (Western Shona). In Guthrie's classification of Bantu languages, zone S.10 designates the Shonic group.

Languages that are related to Shona

Shona is closely related to Ndau, Kalanga and is related to Tonga, Chewa, Tumbuka, Tsonga and Venda.


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 South African linguist Clement Doke. The language is now described through monolingual and bilingual dictionaries (chiefly Shona – English).

The first novel in Shona, Solomon Mutswairo's Feso, was published in 1957. Subsequently, hundreds of novels, short story collections and poetry volumes in Shona have appeared. Shona is taught in the schools, but after the first few grades it is not the general medium of instruction for subjects other than Shona grammar and literature.


The last systematic study of varieties and sub-varieties of the Central Shona dialect continuum was that done by Clement Doke in 1930, so many sub-varieties are no longer functional and should be treated with caution.

According to information from Ethnologue:

Subdialects: Duma, Jena, Mhari (Mari), Ngova, Venda (not the Venda language), Govera.
Subdialects: Shawasha, Gova, Mbire, Tsunga, Kachikwakwa, Harava, Nohwe, Njanja, Nobvu, Kwazvimba (Zvimba).
Subdialects: Gova, Tande, Tavara, Nyongwe, Pfunde, Shangwe.

Languages with partial intelligibility with Central 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.[3]


Shona allows only open syllables. Consonants belong to the next syllable. For example, mangwanani ("morning") is syllabified as [ma.ᵑɡ]; Zimbabwe is [zi.ᵐba.ɓwe]. Shona is written with a phonemic orthography, with only slightly different pronunciation or grammatical differences according to variety. Shona has two tones, a high and a low tone, but these tones are not indicated in the standard writing system.


Shona has a simple 5-vowels system: [a, e, i, o, u]. This inventory is quite common cross-linguistically, with similar systems occurring in Spanish, Tagalog, Swahili and Japanese. Each vowel is pronounced separately even if they fall in succession. For example, Unoenda kupi? ("Where are you going?") 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
Affricate voiceless p͡f t͡s t͡sᶲ t͡ʃ
breathy b͡v̤ d͡z̤ d͡z̤ᵝ d͡ʒ̤
prenasalized ⁿd͡ʒ̤
Fricative voiceless f s sᶲ ʃ
breathy z̤ᵝ ʒ̤ ɦ
prenasalized ⁿz̤ ⁿz̤ᵝ
Nasal plain m n ɲ ŋ
breathy mʋ̤
Trill r
Approximant ʋ j w

Whistled sibilants

This section needs attention from an expert in Languages or Africa. The specific problem is: we need a better explanation & preferably some sound files. WikiProject Languages or WikiProject Africa may be able to help recruit an expert. (August 2008)

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 masvavembasvwi "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/.[7][page needed][8]

Special characters


The letters "C", "L", "Q", and "X" are not used in Shona and are used only in loanwords.

Letter combinations

Shona version of the Book of Mormon

Old alphabet

From 1931 to 1955, Unified Shona was written with an alphabet developed by linguist Clement Martyn Doke. This included these 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⟩.


Noun classes (mupanda)

Shona nouns are grouped by noun class (mupanda) based on:

  1. Meanings (Zvaanoreva) e.g. words found in class 1 and 2 describe a person: munhu ("person") is in mupanda 1 and musikana ("girl") is in mupanda 2.
  2. Prefix (Chivakashure) e.g. words in class 1 have prefix mu-, class 8 zvi-, class 10 dzi-, class 11 ru-, etc. Empty prefix units refer to words that do not require a prefix
  3. Singular and plural forms (Uwandu neushoma) e.g. words found in class 8 are plurals of class 7: zvikoro ("schools") in class 8 is the plural form of chikoro ("school") in class 7.
  4. Agreement (Sungawirirano) e.g. words in class 5 have accordance of the marker -ri- with pronouns and modifiers: garwe iri ("this crocodile"), dombo iri ("this stone"), gudo iri ("this baboon"); iri means 'this'.
Noun class Muenzaniso weIzwi
("word example")
Word construction
English translation
Prefix Body
1 mu mukomana mu- -komana "boy"
1a baba -baba "father"
2 va vakomana va- -komana "boys"
2a va vasahwira va- -sahwira "best friend"
2a vana vanatezvara vana- -tezvara "father-in-law"
2b a atete a- -tete "aunt"
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"
12 ka kambwa ka- -mbwa "that little dog"
13 tu tumbwa tu- -mbwa "those little dogs"
14 u upfu u- -pfu "mealie meal"
15 ku kuenda ku- -enda "going"
16 pa pamba pa- -mba "home"
17 ku kumusha ku- -musha "rural home"
17a zasi -zasi "below"
18 mu mumunda mu- -munda "in the farm"
19 svi svimbudzi svi- -mbudzi "goat"
21 zi zigomana zi- -gomana "big boy"

Sample text in Shona

Vanhu vese vanoberekwa vakasununguka uyewo vakaenzana pahunhu nekodzero dzavo. Vanhu vese vanechipo chokufunga nekuziva chakaipa nechakanaka saka vanofanira kubatana nomweya wohusahwira.


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

See also


  1. ^ Mikael Parkvall, "Världens 100 största språk 2007" (The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007), in Nationalencyklopedin
  2. ^ "Ethnologue report for Shona (S.10)". Archived from the original on 19 February 2015. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
  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. ISBN 9783794052257 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  6. ^ "Shona". Ethnologue.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Clement M. Doke (1932). "Report on the unification of Shona dialects". Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London. 6 (4). JSTOR: 1097–1099. JSTOR 606944.
  9. ^ Ndambakuwa, Victor. "Shona word n'anga in the Shona Dictionary". VaShona Project. Retrieved 30 November 2021.
  10. ^ "Dzidzai Shona pa Kombiyuta - The Shona Alphabet". African Studies Center - African Languages at Penn. Retrieved 10 December 2020.