Northern Ndebele language

Northern Ndebele (English: /ɛndəˈbl/), also called Ndebele, isiNdebele, Zimbabwean Ndebele[1] or North Ndebele,[3][4] and formerly known as Matabele, is an African language belonging to the Nguni group of Bantu languages, spoken by the Northern Ndebele people, or Matabele, of Zimbabwe.

Northern Ndebele
Zimbabwe Ndebele
isiNdebele saseNyakatho
RegionMatabeleland North, Matabeleland South in Zimbabwe; North-East District in Botswana
Native speakers
2.5 million (2015)[1]
Latin script
Official status
Official language in
 Zimbabwe
Language codes
ISO 639-1nd – North Ndebele
ISO 639-2nde – North Ndebele
ISO 639-3nde – North Ndebele
Glottolognort2795
S.44[2]
Linguasphere99-AUT-fk incl.
varieties 99-AUT-fka
to 99-AUT-fkd
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 Ndebele Language
PersoniNdebele
PeopleamaNdebele (prev. Matabele)
LanguageisiNdebele

Northern Ndebele is related to the Zulu language, spoken in South Africa. This is because the Northern Ndebele people of Zimbabwe descend from followers of the Zulu leader Mzilikazi (one of Zulu King Shaka's generals), who left the Zulu Kingdom in the early 19th century, during the Mfecane, arriving in present-day Zimbabwe in 1839.

Although there are some differences in grammar, lexicon and intonation between Zulu and Northern Ndebele, the two languages share more than 85% of their lexicon.[5] To prominent Nguni linguists like Anthony Trevor Cope and Cyril Nyembezi, Northern Ndebele is a dialect of Zulu. To others like Langa Khumalo, it is a language. Distinguishing between a language and a dialect for language varieties that are very similar is difficult, with the decision often being based not on linguistic but on political criteria.[6][7][8]

Northern Ndebele and Southern Ndebele (or Transvaal Ndebele), which is spoken in South Africa, are separate but related languages with some degree of mutual intelligibility, although the former is more closely related to Zulu. Southern Ndebele, while maintaining its Nguni roots, has been influenced by the Sotho languages.[9]


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