Lesson 1 - Pronunciation
We always have to get this pronunciation out the way first, so don't be scared, it's pretty easy, simple to follow and you'll get it quickly.
In Ndebele, the vowels are spoken in a single pure sound without dipthongs [the name means "two voices/ sounds"] (vowels where there is a noticeable sound change or two vowels next to eachother). This makes Ndebele a little easier to read because, unlike similar languages such as Xhosa or other languages such as English, there are no double vowels e.g. "uu".
a e.g. mama (mother), mfana (boy), sala (stay)
e e.g. ye (yes), wena (you)
i e.g. yini? (what?), ilizwi (word)
o e.g. ogogo (grans), isigodo (pole)
u e.g. ufudu (tortoise), umumbu (maize)
As seen in the above examples, the consonants are generally easy for English speakers. There are some rules to note though, besides the click sounds which we will cover later. These rules to note are shown here in point form:
- Aspirated consonants. These consonants are written with an "h" (to show that they are different from non-aspirated ones). You can test that the sound is correct by holding your hand in front of your mouth to feel that air is "aspirated" onto it.
- Explosive and implosive 'b' sound. The b sound has an 'h' added, not because it is aspirated but to show it is explosive, i.e. it is like the English 'b' sound but more sharp.
- Consonant combinations
- tsh. In Ndebele, this sounds like "ch" in "church", unlike in Zulu where it sounds like "sh".
- isitsha (container), tshiya (leave), tshetsha (walk quickly) tshaya (hit. Sounds like Chaya)
- ng: this is a nasal sound with 2 ways of saying it depending on the word.
- 'ng' as in 'singing'. A soft sound with almost silent 'g': e.g. indingindi (measles), thenga (buy)
- 'ng' as in 'finger'. The 'g' sound is audibly pronounced, sounding almost like a 'k' sound: ngena (come in), ingubo (blanket), ngaki? (how many?), amanga (lies)
- ny: a "n-ya" or "n-yeah" sound: omunye (another person), nyikinyeka (move)
- hl: to make this sound, put your tongue on the top of your mouth (roof) like you are make an 'l' sound e.g. "la". Expel air and an almost wet "hl" sound will be made as the air escapes round the sides of your tongue with some friction almost. mhlophe (white), buhlungu (pain), kuhle (well)
- dl: to make this sound, make the "l" tongue position similar to "hl" sound but use your voice to articulate the "d" sound. indlu (house/ hut), ukudla (food)
- kl: similar way to "hl" to form this sound but with the tongue in a position similar to when you make a "g" sound. klabalala (shriek), klekla (pierce the ear), kloloda (mock)
Ok, let's look at the 3 consonants which produce the 3 click sounds found in Ndebele. The positioning of the tongue and how your remove it from where it is pressed, determines the 3 types of sound. The 3 clicks are for an 'x', 'c' and 'q'. I spoke about these before, but here they are again:
- c is made by placing the tip of the tongue against the front upper teeth and gums, the centre of the tongue is depressed and the tip of the tongue is drawn backwards. The resulting sound is similar to the sound used in English to express annoyance. Some examples are cina (end), cela (ask).
- The q sound is made by raising the back of the tongue to touch the soft palate and touching the gums with the sides and tip of the tongue. The centre of the tongue is depressed and the tip drawn quickly away from the gum. The resulting sound is like the "pop" heard when quickly removing the cork from a bottle. Some examples are qalisa (start), qeda (finish).
- The x sound is made by placing the tongue so that the back of the tongue touches the soft palate and the sides and tip of the tongue touch the gums. One side of the tongue is quickly withdrawn from the gums. Some examples are xoxa (discuss), ixoxo (frog).
- aspirated click sounds (followed by aspirated air from your mouth). e.g. uchago (milk), qha (expresses dryness) e.g. ngiwomile qha! (I am thirsty!)
- nasal click sounds e.g. nxa (when), inqola (cart), inqenye (part), ingxabano (quarrel)
Other pronunciation such as intonation should be learnt by imitation of Ndebele speakers.
In Ndebele, the verb has a basic "stem" to which prefixes and suffixes are attached.
for example: 'hamba' is the stem for 'go' and 'ukuhamba' means 'to go'.
To this we can add other prefixes and suffixes e.g. 'ngihamba' means 'I go', 'angihambanga' means 'I have never gone'.
If you look in an Ndebele dictionary, you would look for the letter that the stem word begins with e.g. if you were looking at the word 'ukuhamba', you would look under 'h' in the dictionary for 'hamba'.
You can use 'Hamba!' which means 'Go!' This is the imperative, used when giving a command to one person (e.g. hambani - is saying 'go' to many people). Apart from this situation, the verb stem will always use at least one type of prefix.
Sala kahle (stay well), until next lesson.
Lesson 3- The present tense
Continuing on from lesson 2 about verbs, today we will look at the present tense of a verb.
'I am going', 'I go' - ngihamba
'I want' - ngifuna
and thus we can say 'ngifuna ukuhamba' - I want to go
|1st person singular||ngi-||I|
|2nd person singular||u-||you|
|3rd person singular||u-||he/she|
|1st person plural||si-||we|
|2nd person plural||li-||you (+1 person)|
|3rd person plural||ba-||they|
Short present tense
Salibonani bangane. We have 9 classes of nouns in siNdebele, based on how those verbs start i.e. their prefixes. In siNdebele, the noun has 2 parts: the stem and the prefix.
e.g. umfana (boy) consists of "um' and "fana"
abafana (boys) consists of "aba" and "fana"
The stem stays the same, but the prefix changes for the singular and plural. The examples given are for the "um/aba" class as the singular uses the prefix "um" and the plural uses "aba". We will look at the other classes in later lessons.
Umfana omncinyane ogijimayo ucakile.
The boy of small size who is running is thin or just "The little boy who is running is thin".
You will notice that the whole structure of the sentence is based on the noun prefixes, "um" uses "u-cakile". For comparison, let us look at another sentence:
Inja encinyane egijimayo icakile
The little dog which is running is thin
Here, "inja" is from the noun class "i/izi", where inja = dog and izinja = dogs, and you will notice that "i-cakile" is used for "inja' whereas 'u-cakile" was used for "umfana".
Again, we will look at this more in later lessons and you will start to see that it is quite logical.
The article in English, such as "a" or "the", does not appear in siNdebele, so the following simply applies, for example:
umfana = a boy/ the boy
abafana = boys/ the boys
Kulungile bangane (ok friends), let us look at some more vocabulary for the first noun class we are looking at lamhla (today):
Yebo bangane, until next lesson, hamba kahle.
Salibonani bangane. As described in Lesson 3, nouns in siNdebele can be put into 9 groups depending on their singular and corresponding plural prefixes. You learn't the first one, Um/Aba in Lesson 3. Lamhla, let's look at the noun class U/O.
The singular prefix is "u-" e.g. umama (mother), ubaba (father), ugogo (grandmother)
The plural noun has a prefix "o-" e.g. omama (mothers), obaba (fathers), ogogo (grandmothers)
The Um/Aba nouns have corresponding concords for sentences. The verb in the sentence must respect the prefix of the noun for the singula (u) and the plural (ba).
e.g. ubaba uyapheka (Father is cooking)
obaba bayapheka (Our fathers are cooking)
Most of the nouns for family members are u/o, with a few different names father, mother, grandfather (depending on who's fther it is etc)
ubaba - my/our father
uyihlo - your father
uyise - their/ his/ her father
umama - my/ our mother
unyoko - your mother
unina - his/ her/ their mother
ubabamkhulu - my/ our granfather
uyihlomkhulu - your grandfather (oyihlomkhulu - your grandfathers)
uyisemkhulu - his/ her/ their grandfather
See if you can fill in the gaps for the plurals above.
For grandmother, you can apply the same rule, however "ugogo" is the common word used for grandmother in siNdebele. So instead of umamakhulu (shortened to umakhulu), one would use "ugogo/ogogo". It should be noted that, for example, if you wanted to insult someone and refered to "umama" instead of "unyoko", you would actually be insulting your own mother!
Also note that in siNdebele, people refer to a "man" as "baba" and a "woman" as "mama" etc. It just follows the respectful way of addressing a person, especially an older person.
e.g. Yebo, unjani baba? - Yes, how are you gentleman?
For a person your age, you use "bude/ sisi" (brother/ sister)
e.g. Yebo sisi, unjani? Yes sister/girl, how are you? (Again, this may not be your actual sister or father etc)
There are also a few insects and animals in the U/O class, for instance:
umangoye/ omngoye - cat/s
ubabhemi/ obabhemi - donkey/s
e.g. obabhemi bayahamba - the donkeys are going
Peoples' names belong in this U/O class also. For example:
The first name (ibizo) given to a child after birth:
USipho uyadlala - Sipho is playing
UThandi uyagijima - Thandi is running
In siNdebele, the first name is used normally to refer to a child, and adults use their father's clan name/ surname (isibongo). So for Sipho Ngwenya:
Ngifuna uNgwenya - I want Ngwenya
Sithanda oNgwenya - We like the Ngwenyas
When a woman is married, the prefix "Ma-" (from umama) is often used, so for Thadi Khumalo:
e.g. UMaKhumalo uyahamba - MaKhumalo is going away
Also, a grandson can take/ use his ancestral nme (isitemo) which is normlly the grandfather's first name, but he still uses his isibongo (surname). There are only a limited number of clan names in siNdebele, so these will be noticed over time.
Kulungile bangane, until Lesson 6, sahle kahle (stay well).
e.g. ubaba uyatshaya umfana - Father is hitting a boy
The object concord may be used together with the noun:
Kulungile bangane, until Lesson 7, hamba kahle (go well).
First of all when you speak to one person, you can use main stem of the verb only:
e.g. Hamba!- Go! (singular)
Sebenza!- Work! (singular)
Khangela!- Look! (singular)
Secondly, if you speak to a number of people, add "-ni" after the main verb stem:
e.g. Sebenzani!- Work! (plural)
Khangelani!- Look! (plural)
A third way is not commonly used but it is extra polite, used for plural or singular and involves you adding "-nini" to the end of the main verb stem:
e.g. Dinganini!- Search! (from the verb "dinga" to find/ search)
Fundanini!- Learn! (from "funda" to learn)
There are some irregular imperative forms, such as from the verb "ukuza" (to come) is:
Woza!- Come! (singular)
Wozani!- Come! (plural)
You don't need to put object concords in front of the imperative verbs (e.g. They is "ba-", you is "u-" etc)
The exception is "ngi-", which can be used for the singular imperative:
e.g. Ngikhangela!- Look at me!
Ngisiza!- Help me!
Here are 3 more verbs for vocabulary:
ukulethela- to bring to e.g. Ngilethela! (bring it to me!)
ukunika- to give (to) e.g. nginika! (give it to me!)
ukuyekela- to stop doing e.g. Yekela! (stop it!), yekela ukukhala! (stop crying)
Applying the lesson to talking to people:
When you address someone, you normally drop the initial vowel of the noun you use:
e.g. "umama" (mother) becomes "mama"
Khangela, mama!- Look, mother!
"umfana" (boy) becomes "mfana"
Woza, mfan'ami!- Come here my boy!
"uSipho" (Sipho, a name) simply becomes "Sipho"
Lalela Sipho!- Listen, Sipho!
An exception is the plural noun prefix "o-", such as "omama" (mothers). Remember too, that the polite way of addressing adults is "mama (bomama)" or "baba (bobaba)" even though they may not be your actual mother(s) or father(s)
e.g. Wozani, bomama!- Come, mothers!
Khangelani, bobaba!- Look, fathers!
Ngena mama!- Come inside, mother!
Woza baba!- Come, father!
Lesson 8 - Interjections
Here are some interjections in isiNdebele:
Yebo/ Ye - Yes
Yebo-ke - Certainly ('ke' is used for emphasis)
Ehe - Yes, that's it/ approval
Hayi/ Hatshi - No
Hatshi bo - No way/ Certainly not
A'a/ Ah-ah - No (with disapproval)
Some exclamations of surprise or disapproval can be made with your tone of voice:
Bakithi! - My people!
Bantu! - People!
Dadewethu! - Sister!
X! - expression of annoyance, e.g. to naughty dog or child
C! - expressing pity or disgust or grief
Phepha! - Phew! or "that was a lucky catch"
Maye! - expressing dismay or grief for another person
Uxolo! - "I beg your pardon! or "excuse me!" (From ngiyaxolisa - I apologise)
From ukubonga (to thank) you get:
ngibongile/ sibongile - I am thankful/ we are thankful
or to thank someone, use their clan name with "e-" before:
e.g. ENdlovu - Thanks, Ndlovu!
EKhumalo - Thanks, Khumalo!
Lesson 9 - Questioning
To make a sentence into a question, one can add to the end:
Umngane uyahamba - My friend is going away
Umngane uyahamba na? - is my friend going away?
Abafana bathanda ukugijima kakhulu - The boys like to run fast
Abafana bathanda ukugijima kakhulu na? - Do boys like to run fast?
Lesson 10 - Greetings
This is the plural form of greetings but nowadays may even be used for greeting one person. The singular greeting, however, would be:
In the morning, the greeting in isiNdebele is made by asking about how the person slept or woke up, using the verb "ukuvuka" (to wake up). I, personally, use it as a joke when a colleague has been dozing off in a meeting, in which case I say "uvukenjani?" (how did you wake?), haha. You can thus also ask how a person woke (uvuke njani?) or if they woke up (uvukile?).
To greet a person in the evening, after you have already seen them that day or recently, use the verb "ukutshona" (to set [the sun]). It describes the sun setting, so is difficult to directly translate, but perhaps use for the below "is your day winding down?" or something equivalent greeting.
Remember that you can use the singular too - "u-" and "ngi-", and the alternative "utshone'njani?" etc.
"Njani" is an adverb which means "how" and can be used to ask about "how" someone is or "how" something of theirs is.
For example, Linjani/ kunjani? (how are you [plural/ singular]?)
Sikhona/ siyaphila? (we are here/ we are healthy) would be possible replies
Lesson 11 - Saying goodbye
The verbs are "ukusala" for to stay/remain, and 'ukuhamba' for to go.
Lesson 12 - How are you?
Banjani ekhaya? (How are they at home?)
To answer, for example, one could use 'khona' (to be there/ present) or 'ukuphila' (to live/ be well) to say;
Sikhona (we are present)
Siyaphila (we are well)
also, for example, ukhona - he/ she is present
bayaphila - they are well
(see the prefix lesson in Lesson 3 for a recap).
Lesson 13 - Question adverbs
- njani? - how?
- nini? - when?
- ...-ni? (at end of verb) - what?
- ngaphi? - where?
Lesson 14 - "Ukuya..", the verb for "to go to..."
Remember that "uku" is in front of a verb to mean "to", for example "gijima" is "run" and "ukugijima" for "to run". Thus, ukuya is "to go to...".
For example, "uya ngaphi?" (where are you going?)
or abafana bayahamba (the boys are in in the process of walking).
The word "bani" is often put at the end of a verb to ask a question using "who/ whom". The noun "ubani" or "obani" means "who?" or "who (plural)?"
For example, from the verb "ukudinga" (to look/ search for), similarly to asking "udingani" (what are you looking for?), one could ask "udinga bani?" (Whom are you looking for?).
In English, one would use the verb "to be", as shown by "is" in a sentence such as "Where is father?". In siNdebele, we would simply say "Ungaphi ubaba?" There is no verb used here so it would translate literally to "Where father?" Similarly, we say "Banjani abafana?" for "how are the boys?" Notice the use of prefixes, "u-" and "ba-" for the words "ubaba" and "abafana". This is covered in Lesson 5 and previous lessons on noun classes.
Lesson 17 - The present tense: Long form
For the long form, we use the "...ya..." extension, for example:
Ufuna ukunatha itiye na? (Do you want to drink tea?)
Yebo, ngiyafuna (Yes, I do)
The long form is also used for when the verb is still being done. For example, you can say that you are going (Ngiyahamba) versus saying that you go (Ngihamba).
Remember that "na" is placed at the end of a sentence if we would like to make sure an isiNdebele sentence is heard as a question, and not simply a statement. Saying "uyafuna" (you like), would not be a fully understood question if one didn't say "uyafuna na?" (Do you want to?).
The long form is also used when the concord for an object is used with the verb, for example:
uyambona umfana na? - Do you see the boy? [Note the "m" before the word "bona" (to see)] or
uyabafuna abantwana na? Do you want the children?
Lesson 18 - The present tense: Short form
The short form is different to the long form in that it does not use the "...ya...".
ngiyafuna ukupheka - I am learning to cook (at this exact time) versus
ngifunda ukupheka - I am learning to cook (in general).
Note the short form appears before a infinitive/ general expression such as ngizama ukufuna (I am trying to learn).
Another use of the short form is in a question, where the adverb allows for the use of "na?" to be unnecessary. For example:
umama upheka nini? - When does mother cook? (literally "Mother cooks when?")
If there is no object concord with the verb and there is another word after the verb, one can use the short form, for example, to say:
Ngifuna itiye - I want tea, or
Abafana banatha utshwala na? ... Hayibo, abafana banatha itiye. (Do boys drink beer?.. No way, boys drink tea).
Lesson 19 - The negative of a present tense verb
The negative form of a present tense verb in isiNdebele is quite simple. We add "ka-" to the beginning of the verb, before a subject concord, and change the final vowel at the end of the word to the letter "-i".
For example, Ngihamba (I go) becomes kangihambi (I don't go).
Often the "ka-" can be shortened to "a-". So angihambi.
In siNdebele, unlike some languages like isiXhosa, two vowels do not appear next to eachother. If two words come together causing two vowels to be next to eachother, either one vowel will be dropped (often using an apostrophe to substitute the dropped vowel), or they may have the letters "w" or "y" placed in between them as a semivowel.
Thus upheka (you cook) would have a negative form with "ka-upheki" which can be written "kawupheki".
Also, the noun object can be dropped, for example, so that "kangifuni ...imali" becomes "kangifuni mali", or (angifuni'mali).
Remember the use of the different types of prefixes for I, you, he/she, we, you plural, they. For example, Omama kabapheki (Our mothers (they) don't cook).