Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Introductory Grammar of Ngoni Language Part 2

  • Tuesday, November 8, 2011
  • Samuel Albert
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  • Introductory Grammar of the Ngoni Language As Spoken in Mombera's country, 1891



    The Roman characters are used to represent the sounds met with in Ngoni.


    Five of the letters are vowels, and are pronounced with the open Italian sound. In accented syllables the sound is long, and in unaccented syllables it is short ; but the sound of the vow el is essentially the same in both cases.

    a as a in father, e.g., amanata, leprosy.

    e as e in there, e.g., uku perekeza, to accompany one.

    i as i in machine,e.g., uku sindisa, to save.

    o as o in tone e.g., imondolo, a lion.

    u as u in rule, e.g., umpupu, flour of maize.

    There are no diphthongs in the language, hence vowels coming together are to be sounded in separate syllables. In rapid speaking it often appears as if there were diphthong sounds, but careful attention will discover the presence of a semi-consonant w or according as the first vowel is u or i. See Chapter II. 3 for further remarks on this subject.


    With the following exceptions the consonants are pronounced as in English.

    c.  This letter is taken to represent the dental click, which is made by suddenly and forcibly withdrawing the tip of the tongue from the back of the upper front teeth. The sound of ch in the English word church is correctly represented by tsh; and thus c is redundant and may be used to represent the dental click. It is phonetically incorrect to use ch instead of tsh.

    The hard sound of ch as in monarch is correctly represented by k.

    g. This letter is always pronounced hard as in give.

    h. Sounded as in hat. It is also used before l where that consonant is aspirated. Thus, if it occurs before a consonant without a vowel intervening, it has no separate sound of its own, but must be sounded with the consonant.

    q. The sound of qu in queen is correctly represented by kw, and q is therefore redundant. It is taken to represent the palatal click which is made by forcibly and quickly withdrawing the tongue from the roof of the mouth.

    A consonant combined with a click modifies the sound of the dick and must be sounded along with it.

    w and y. As semi-consonants, they fill an important place in connection with various changes which take place in words, as will be seen on referring to Chapter II. 3,

    x. The sound of x = ks as it odours in English words. The letter is redundant in Ngoni, and is chosen to represent the lateral click, which is made by forcibly and quickly withdrawing the tip of the tongue from the side teeth. 

    Note: Only among the older Ngoni people may all the clicks be heard as in Zululand. The dental click, being the easiest, takes the place of the others. None of the incorporated peoples have adopted the more difficult q and x clicks, and the Ngoni not compelling their subjugated people to speak Ngoni, a new dialect has appeared having various combinations of consonants as substitutes for clicks. The clicks are not destined to survive long among the Ngoni.

    There are various combinations of cmasonants, such as nga, nda, mba, mva, &c., which present no difficulty in pronunciation ; but where the aspirated 1 (hl) occurs alone or in combination with one or more consonants, the proper sound can only be learned by listening to a native using them.

    I-mvu-la, rain.
    U-ku-ba-mba, to hold.
    A-ma-nga, lies.
    I-nda-ba, news.
    U-ku-dhla, food.
    Ama-ndhla, strength.
    I-ndhlwa-na, a small house.

    Certain consonants are interchangeable.

    b is often used for w, and vice versa.
    l  is often used for r, and vice versa.

    gha. This represents a sound adopted from Tumbuka. It is really g with the a aspirated, and is best pronounced with the mouth somewhat more open than is usual in speaking.

    tsh. = the sound of ch, in church.

    n. Before g and k this consonant has frequently the ringing sound of ng in singing, and nk in ink but not always.


    1. N with ringing sound, luhengo, a basket.
        N. with ringing sound, bonke, all (people).

    2. N without ringing sound, ingoma, a song.
        N without ringing sound, inkuku, fowl.

    ng'. This is used to denote the ringing sound mentioned above. It requires to be used only in such syllables as have no g or k sounded in them.
    1. Uku-nyu-ng'u-nyu, to suck.
    I-ng'a-njo, a chimney.

    In neither of these examples is g heard, as it is in the first example under n.




    The accent is always on the penultimate, but the following particles act as enclitics when used in connection with a verb.

    1. Ke, used as expressive of permission, or of doubt.

    Hamba, go; hamba ke, go then, go indeed.

    2. Na, as the sign of the interrogative.

    Uhambile, he has gone ; uhambile na? has he gone ?

    3. Ni, the interrogative, what ?

    Wathenga, he bought ; watenga ni? what did he buy?

    4. Phi, where?

    Uhambile, he has gone ? uhambe phi ? where has he gone to ?


    All syllables end in vowels. Though m and n end the prefixes of certain nouns, in speech they really begin the syllable following.

    EXAMPLE. In-komo = in (prefix), komo (root), but in syllables it is i-nko-mo, a cow.


    Important changes take place in connection with,

    1. The use of the possessive particle with nouns.

    2. The locative case of nouns.

    3. The pronoun subjective and objective with verbs.

    4. The passive voice of verbs.

    5. Some adjectives, prepositions, and adverbs.

    When two vowels come together, to prevent the consequent hiatus the following changes take place :-

    (1). One of the vowels may be elided.

    Leta manzi, bring water = leta amanzi.
    Laba bantu, these people =laba abantu.
    Le nkomo, this cow =le inkomo.
    Ku muntu, to the man = ku umuntu.

    (2). Zulu vowel verbs in use in Ngoni, instead of dropping the vowel of the pronominal prefix as in Zulu, insert a semi-consonant before the root and make the sign of the infinite uku in certain cases.

    Ukw enza, to do; wenza, he did, (in Zulu) becomes wayenza, in Ngoni.

    The rule is, that the root in the Infinite Mood may begin with a vowel as in the above example, but in all tenses the semi-consonant y begins the root, and no change takes place in the pronominal prefix. Many Zulu vowel verbs, however, insert the y in the infinite -also, and change w into u.


    Zulu—Ukw ona, to sin.

    Ngoni---Uku yona, to sin.

    (3). The first vowel may coalesce with the second ; a x a= a a x i=e; a x u=o.

    Namandhla, with power, for, na amandhla.
    Inja yendoda, the man's dog, for, inja ya indoda. Izwi lomuntu, the person's word, for, izwi la umuntu.
    Nomuntu, with the person, for, na umuntu.

    (4). W or y may be inserted between the vowels,

    a. In the negative tenses where the pronoun subjective is i.

    EXAMPLE. Iyakufika, it will arrive ; ayiyikufika, it will not arrive.

    b. Where the pronoun is used in the verb ; if u it becomes wu; if i it becomes yi.

    Niyibona, I see it (the dog).
    Niwubona, I -see it (the tree).

    Note 1. —So constant is the above change when i and u are used as verbal medials that the objective form of the pronoun of these classes of nouns may be stated to be yi and wu. In no other way may the difference between the subjective and objective forms of the pronoun of these classes be explained.

    (1). When the locative case of nouns is preceded by the personal or relative pronoun; the conjunctive particles na; or the preposition njenga ; the letter s is inserted before the e of the locative case.

    Zisenedhlini, they (things) are in the house ; (zi =pers. pron. : endhlini =loc. case).
    Abasemhlabeni (people) who are on the earth ; (aba =rel. pron. : emhlabeni =loc. case).
    Nasezulwini, and in heaven ; (na = and, ezulwini =loc. case.
    Njengasezulwini, as in heaven ; (njenga = as, and ezulwini.)

    (2). Monosyllabic verbs prefix yi to the root to form the imperative mood.


    Uku zwa, to hear ; yizwa, hear thou.
    Uku za, to come ; yiza, come thou.

    Click here for part 3 for Ngoni nouns, preposition and possessive case

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