Northern Ndebele language facts for kids

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Northern Ndebele
Native to  Zimbabwe
 South Africa
Region Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South in Zimbabwe; North-East District in Botswana
Native speakers 1,558,000  (date missing)
Language family

Northern Ndebele (Northern Ndebele: isiNdebele, commonly called Sindebele) is an African language. It is categorized as part of the Nguni group of Bantu languages. It is spoken by the amaNdebele, Ndebele and Matabele people of Zimbabwe. It is also known as siNdebele or simply Ndebele.

Sindebele is related to the Zulu language spoken in South Africa. The Ndebele people of Zimbabwe are descended from followers of the Zulu leader Mzilikazi. Mzilikazi and his people left kwaZulu in the early 1800s during the Mfecane. They travelled North, past what is now Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo, in South Africa, and into Zimbabwe and Botswana. There are thus isiNdebele speakers in many places in Southern Africa.

The Northern Ndebele language and the Southern Ndebele language are not two variations of the same language. Both are Bantu languages, but Northern Ndebele is very similar to isiZulu. The Southern Ndebele language has similarities to the Sotho and Tswana languages.


Title page of one of the earliest Sindebele phrase books

It is relatively easy to pronounce Ndebele words because the vowel sounds are constant. (That is, each vowel has basically one sound.) The accent is usually on the second-to-last syllable.


The vowels are a, e, i, o, and u. They are pronounced like so:

Vowel Pronunciation Example
a a in father abantwana (children)
e e in bed emoyeni (in the air)
i ee in see siza (help)
o o in bone okhokho (ancestors)
u oo in soon umuntu (person)

Click sounds

In Ndebele, there are three click sounds. They are shown with the letters c, q and x.

c is made by placing the tip of the tongue against the front upper teeth and gums, the centre of the tongue is pressed down and the tip of the tongue is moved backwards. The resulting sound is like the sound used in English to express annoyance, called a "clucking sound." Some words with this sound are cina (end), and 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 pressed down and the tip moved quickly away from the gum. The resulting sound is like the "pop" heard when quickly removing a cork from a bottle. Some words with this sound are qalisa (start) and 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 pulled away from the gums. Some words with this sound are xoxa (discuss) and ixoxo (frog).

Basic phrases

The following are several basic phrases in isiNdebele.

Phrase How to say it English meaning
Salibonani hello (literally: "we have seen each other")
Unjani (linjani)? How are you (you plural)?
Ngiyaphila (siyaphila) I am fine (we are fine)
Ngikhona (sikhona) I am fine (we are fine) (literally means "I am here")
Unjani wena? How are you?
Yebo, ye yes, yeah
Hayikhona/ hayi/ hayibo no, nope, no way
Ngiyabonga (siyabonga) I thank you (we thank you)
Hamba kahle go well/ good bye (said by the person staying behind)
Sala kahle stay well/ good bye (said by the person leaving)

Related pages

Northern Ndebele language Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.