Zulu Dialects in Natal


The Zulu-Kafir Language is properly the dialect of a small tribe, the amaZulu, who, under their famous Chief Tshaka (Chaka), and his brothers and successors Dingane and Mpande, have acquired and maintained, for some sixty years, the supremacy over the natives along the S.E. coast of Africa, excepting, of course, those who have been living under British protection since Natal came under our Government in 1845. On this account it has a right to be considered the standard dialect of this part of Africa; though other varieties of the Kafir Language are spoken by different tribes within and far beyond, the borders of the Colony.

Thus the language of the tribes on the Eastern Frontier of the Cape Colony, of the Basuto nation, and of the amaSwazi, is substantially the same; though the dialects spoken by some of these tribes are sometimes so different that even natives living within the small district of Natal can hardly understand each other, as the vulgar dialect of Lincolnshire and Somersetshire vary considerably from each other, and from the standard language of educated Englishmen.

Philologists indeed have shown conclusively that there are strong affinities between the languages spoken by the tribes living on the eastern and those on the western coast of Africa; and the tendency of modern inquiries is towards the conclusion that the whole central part of this continent, from the north-west to the south-east, is inhabited by tribes, speaking only different varieties of the same common tongue.

Thus the name for the Deity among the Zulus, at least the nearest approach to a name for the Creator, is uNkulunkulu, ‘the Great-Great- One.’ And Dr. W. H. Bleek has informed me, ‘ This same word is used with the same meaning, though in abbreviated forms, all along the eastern coast of Africa, e.g. Mulungulu in Inhambane, Mulungu in the Kikamba and Ki-nika languages, Mlungu at Cape Delgado, Mulungo or Muluko in the Makwa language, Murungu at Sofala, Murungu or Morongu at Sena and Tete, Mungu in the Swahili, and Mungo in the Pokomo. [No doubt from this is derived the word umlungu, commonly used in this colony for ‘white-man.’] It would, of course, be a bold thing to identify this last form Mungo with the Zulu uNkulunkulu, if we could not follow up the gradual abbreviation through so many different stages. But, as it is, there is no doubt that from Natal to the borders of tlie Gallas country this very same word has, by most different authorities (English, Portuguese, Germans, French, &c.), been noted as the nearest representative of our word ‘God.’ And even in Otshiherero (spoken on the West Coast, to the north of Great Namaqualand) a cognate word is used, viz., Om-kuru; and among theTimnchs of Sierra Leone (whose language has, by the late Bishop Vidal, been recognised as related to the Kafir) the name of God is Kuruh; though the identity of this last word with tho South African names cannot yet be considered as an established fact.’

At the present time the district of Natal is largely occupied by a very mixed populiitidti of native tribes. The majority of them are sprung from the aboriginal inhabitants, who either took refuge in the natural fastnesses of the country, when the desolating waves of Tshaka’s invasions roIled over the land, and have since emerged into the light of day, or had

fled beyond his reach into the neighbouring districts, and returned to settle in their own abodes, as soon as the Dutch Boers took possession of the land, before the proclamation of British supremacy. Others have since come in from all quarters round, to seek shelter and protection under a civilized government. Most of these are commonly called Zulus from their having been formerly under the Zulu rule and still using the Zulu dialect. But there are also large bodies of the natives who speak other dialects, differing distinctly from the Zulu, though the grammar of the language is essentially the same for all.

The principal varieties of the Kafir tongue, which prevail to any extent in this district, are the dialects of the amaXhosa, the amaTefula, and the amaLala.

The amaXhosa dialect belongs properly to the Kafir nation of that name upon the Eastern Frontier of the Cape Colony.

It prevails among many of the tribes in the S. and S.W. parts of Natal. One of its most striking peculiarities is to, sound continually nd for ng; and there are many of its words and forms of expression which are not used at all by the great body of natives in this district.

The Wesleyan Missionaries have translated the whole Bible and most of the Prayer-Book of the Church of England into the amaXhosa dialect. But it varies so much from the vernacular of these parts that these books, though easily understood by an intelligent Zulu, are of little use among the great body of Natal natives.

The amaTefula dialect is spoken by many of the Natal Kafirs, especially by the amaQwabe tribe. Its chief peculiarity consists in putting y (or rather a sound which resembles that of y, but is really a softening of the l ) in the place of l, and changing ny into n, as shown in the following examples :

Zulu                                                                                                                                       amaTefula

lapho, there, when                                                                                                          yapho

lezi, these                                                                                                                            yezi

umlilo, fire                                                                                                                          umyiyo

inyama, meat                                                                                                                    inama

inyoni, bird                                                                                                                          Inoni

The amaLala dialect differs much from the Zulu, The name (amaLala) is given collectively to certain tribes in this district (the amaNcolosi and others), who were conquered by the Zulus, and of whom many are said to tekeza in their speech, whereas the tribes along the Zulu coast to the N.E. of Natal, as far as Delagoa Bay and beyond, generally tefula.

A few examples of the peculiarities of this dialect are here given.

Zulu-Kafir                                                                                                                                             amaLala

inkomo, bullock                                                                                                                                 iyomo

inkunzi, bull                                                                                                                                        iyudi

inkomokazi, cow                                                                                                                               iyomwadi

inkonyana, calf                                                                                                                                  Iyomwane

upondo, horn                                                                                                                                    yilupondo

umuntu, person, man                                                                                                                    umunu

umlomo, mouth                                                                                                                               unomo

inkosi, chief                                                                                                                                        iwosi

inja, dog                                                                                                                                               imbwa

abafazi, women                                                                                                                                abafati

amanzi, water                                                                                                                                   amadi

izinkomo, cattle                                                                                                                                itioma

ngihlezi kahle, I am comfortable                                                                                                ndzireti kahle

ngihlabe izolo, I slaughtered yesterday                                                                                  ndzirabe itolo

isandla, hand                                                                                                                                     isangra

From the above instances it appears that the amaTefula dialect differs but little from the ordinary Zulu, whereas that of the amaLala varies from it considerably. The former is intelligible to any Zulu and may be heard at the royal kraal; indeed, Mpande’s great wife, Monase,” now a refugee in this colony, uses it habitually, though her son Mkungo does not, but speaks the pure Zulu. The ukutefula, in fact, is rather a sort of lisping Zulu ; whereas the ukutekeza is quite a distinct dialect, and is understood with difficulty even by a Zulu, if unpractised in it. It is not, however, considered correct to tefula, and in legal and other proceedings of importance it would be avoided as much as possible.

The amaLala use very freely the harsh guttural represented by r in the last of the above instances, which practice is called ukuradula. Many of the tribes, however, in Natal, which formerly used to tekeza, are Zuluized.

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