Thursday, November 10, 2011


Ngoni Grammar Part 3

  • Thursday, November 10, 2011
  • Samuel Albert
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  • From An Introductory Grammar of the Ngoni Language by WA Elmslie 1891




    In Ngoni and other Bantu languages the noun is the most important part of speech, because upon the form of its initial letters, the forms of pronoun, adjective, verb,&c., depend. The noun is composed of two parts, Prefix and Root, e.g., umu-ntu, a person. Now, the prefix umu may be said to stamp its likeness On whatever parts of speech are dependent upon it for government, by means of attaching itself or some characteristic portion of itself to the dependent parts of speech. In this way the relation of the various words of a sentence to the subject noun is at once established. As there is thus a frequent recurrence of similar letters or syllables in the different words of a sentence, there is an easy and pleasant transition from one word to another. This pecularity, not met with in European languages, has been termed " The Euphonic or Alliteral Concord." In illustration take the plural form of umuntu which is abantu (= aba ntu), and observe how the characteristic portion (ba) influences the form of the dependent parts of speech in the following sentence :—

    Abantu bami abakulu bamukile, baye kuzingela,
    People my great they have left, they have gone to hunt,
    kodwa bazakubuya bonke kusasa.
    but they will return all tomorrow.

    Contrast the above sentence with the following which has for its governing noun, one with a prefix izi :—

    Izinkomo zako zimbili zangena, zadhla, zanyatela,
    Your two cattle entered (and) ate (and) trampled

    umumbu wami.
    down my maise.

    It will now be evident that a grouping of those nouns which have similar prefixes is necessary to follow out the principle of concord, and facilitate its use. This is done in the classification of nouns which may be referred to. Here it may be stated that there are two numbers, singular and plural. Gender does not influence grammatical structure, and is denoted by distinct terms for masculine and feminine, or by a terminal =kazi for the feminine.2—


    Nouns are classed according to the form of the prefix. There are two numbers, singular and plural, and these are distinguished by the prefix.

    The following table shows the nouns divided into seven classes, six of which have both singular and plural forms: 
    Sing Prefix
    Umu, um, u
    Umuntu, umfana, udade, ukanamanga, person, boy, sister, cat
    Umu, um, u
    Umuti, umlayo, umoya, tree, law, wind.
    Im, in, i
    Imbuzi, indhlu, inyama, goat, house, flesh.
    Itshibamu, itshandhla, gun, hand
    Ili, i
    Ilizwi or izwi, word
    Ulu, u
    Uluti,ubambo, unyawo, rod, rib, foot.
    Ukukanya, light.
    Plural Prefix
    Aba, abo, bo
    Abantu, abafana, abodade, bokanamanga
    Imiti, imilayo, imimoya.
    Izim, izin, izi
    Izimbuzi, izindhlu, izinyama.
    Ivi, izi
    Ivibamu, izandhla
    Izim, izin, izi
    Izinti, izimbambo, izinyawo


    Class 1. The nouns of this class are (1) all personal nouns, and have the prefix umu or um in the singular, and aba as their prefix in the plural; (2) nouns which signify family relationship, having the singular prefix u and the plural prefix abo; (3) nouns which are the names of living creatures, with the singular prefix u and the plural prefix bo.

    Class 2. Nouns of this class have singular prefixes similar to those of class 1, but they are distinguished from them as being the names of inanimate objects, and by having imi as their plural prefix.

    Class 3. Nouns of this class are animate or inanimate objects, and have the singular prefix im, in, or i and the plural prefix izim, izin, or izi.

    NOTE 1.—Some nouns of this class with singular prefix in have their plural prefix ama. They are few in number and are all sex nouns. If these were put in a separate class, or in a sub-class under class 5, the nouns of class 3 would be found to have the singular prefix i and the plural prefix izi. They are left here, however, for the sake of comparison with Zulu.

    Class 4. Nouns of this class have the singular prefix itshi and the plural prefix ivi in most, and izi in a few, cases. The itshi isi in Zulu, &c.

    Any noun of another class may be put into this class by prefixing itshi or tshi, and in this way have the idea of greatness attached to it ; e.g., umuti, a tree (class 2), but tshimuti, a great tree (class 4).

    NOTE 1.—In this way, greatness is more frequently denoted than by the suffix kazi as in Zulu, the latter only being retained in a very few words in Ngoni, to denote greatness, or the female sex.

    Class 5. The singular prefix of nouns of this class is ili, often contracted to i, and the plural prefix ama. Some nouns of classes 3 and 6 have their plural prefixes in ama, in which case the concord of their plurals is according to the plural of this class. The number of such nouns is not great and may easily be remembered by practice.

    NOTE 1.—The natives usually put nouns which are the names of things unknown to them, or new to them, into this class, and Europeans will find it good to follow their example • e.g., ibrete, a brick; amabrete, bricks; ibuku, a book; amabuku; books.

    Class 6. The singular prefix in the full form is ulu, but it is frequently contracted to u. The plural prefix appears as izim, izin, or izi. The insertion of m and n is doubtless for the sake of euphony. Some nouns in this class have their plural prefix in ama. See class 5.

    Class 7. Nouns of this class are all verbal nouns, and are not distinguished according to number. Their prefix is uku.

    NOTE.—In Zulu there is a class of abstract nouns with the prefix ubu. Many of these nouns are in use in Ngoni, but have been put into class 2, because, where the ubu is contracted to u the noun becomes one of class 2 by form and concord, b and w being interchangeable ; and one may hear wa. or very seldom bwa. In the case of those nouns which retain the prefix ubu, it is found that in most cases the prefix is reckoned as u, and the noun has the concord of class 2. In this respect the Ngoni language corresponds with Tumbuka, Tonga, and Nyanja, and some others. The elder people may be found using a class of nouns with the ubu prefix, and corresponding concord ; but those who observe this distinction are so few, and the hold that it has in their language is so slight, as to make it possible to drop it as a class altogether. The younger portion of the people, through contact with the Tumbuka and Tonga slaves, now use b and w as synonymous, and the prefix of abstract nouns now appears to be uwu or u ; in the one case changing the b of ubu into w, and in the other using the contracted form of prefix. in both cases the nouns specified are brought into class 2, and are under its concord, as may be gathered from the speech of the people. At the same time, one using the ubu prefix and corresponding concord would he understood, but the consensus of opinion is against its being continued.

    Such an arrangement corresponds with the same class of nouns in Tumbuka, &c., as may be seen from the following examples :—

    Ubuntu bake, his manhood
    Uwuntu wake
    Uwuntu wake
    Ubutshani bake, his grass
    Uwutshani wake

    Utshwala bake, his beer.
    Utshwala wake

    Ubukali bake, his anger.
    Uwukali wake
    Uwukali wake



    There are properly only three cases, viz., Nominative, Vocative, and Locative.

    (1) The Nominative and Objective cases of the noun are the same in form, and consist of the noun in its entirety—prefix and root.

    (2) The Vocative case is formed by dropping the initial vowel of the prefix.


    Indoda, a man; ndoda, man!
    Umntwana, a child; mntwana, child!

    NOTE.—In addressing the Supreme Being by using the English O! you imply some fault in Him, as O! Mlungu is an interjection called forth by some evil. The proper vocative is simply Mlungu!

    (3) The Locative case is formed in various ways.
    [1] By changing the initial vowel of the prefix into e, and the terminal vowels as follows :—

    If a into eni, e.g umfula, a river ; emfuleni, in the river.
    If e into eni, ilitshe, a stone; elitsheni, on the stone.
    If i into ini, e.g. inkosi, a chief ; enkosini, to the chief.
    If o into weni, e.g. ubuso, a face ; ebusweni, at the face.
    If u into wini (ini), e.g. indhlu, a house; endhlini, in the house.

    A change also takes place in the consonants b, p, m, and in the combinations, mb, mp, when they occur in the final syllable of the noun. The change is more frequent if the final vowel be o; or more rarely if it be u; and very rarely when it is either a or i. The following are the changes :-

    p and mp are changed into tsh ;e.g. umpupu, flour ; emputshini,in the flour.
    m is changed into ny ; e.g., umlomo, a mouth ; emlonyeni, in the mouth.
    mb is changed into nj ; e.g. umhlamba, a marsh ; emhlanjeni,in the marsh.

    [2] The names of places change the initial vowel into e.


    Inyanze, a lake;
    Nivela e nyanze, I come from the Lake.

    [3] Names of rivers are usually put in the locative case by prefixing ku, and dropping their initial vowel.


    Pansi ku Kasitu, down at the Kasitu.

    [4] Nouns denoting a particular place, or a particular time, simplytchange the initial vowel into e.

    EXAMPLE. ekhaya, at home; emini, at noon; ekhanda, on the head.

    [3] The names of districts are preceded by kwa in the locative case; and kwa, followed by the name of a person denotes his country, district, or residence.


    Nivela kwa Hora, I come from about Hera.
    Niya kwa Mombera, go to Mohabera's place.

    As there is properly no possessive case of nouns, the possessive relation is expressed by a combination of particles, the form of which illustrates the principle of concord. The importance and nature of the formation of the substitute for a possessive case lead us to treat of it in a separate chapter.

    (4) Diminutive Nouns are formed by adding ana to the root of the noun, and if the final vowel be o or u it is changed into w; and the final consonant or combination of consonants is changed according to the rule given in Chapter III. 4 (3) [1], for the formation of the locative case.


    Intaba, a mountain; intatshana, a hill.,

    A very common method of forming diminutives is to prefix ka to the root in the singular and to in the plural. This corresponds to a class of Tumbuka nouns, and is really adopted from that or the Tonga language, constituting en additional class in Ngoni. It is simple, and useful, and maybe extensively used.


    Excepting the nouns which are the names of natural objects, most nouns are derived from some distinct root which may, or may not, be now tracable. Such derived nouns have their character shown by means of the prefix, just as certain nouns in English derived from verbs show it by a suffix : as do, doer; buy, buyer.

    Nouns are derived from other nouns, adjectives, and verbs.


    a. Abstract nouns. These prefix u, or uwu (for ubu) to the root of the noun to which it is derived.

    umu-ntu, a person ; uwu-ntu, humanity.
    in-doda, a man ; uwu-doda, manliness.
    in-kosi, a chief; uwu-khosi, kingship.


    a. Abstract nouns. These prefix u, or uwu, to the root of the adjective.

    khulu, great ; uwu-khulu, greatness.
    mhlope, white ; uwu-mhlope, whiteness.


    a. Personal nouns. These signify the doer, and have the prefix of class 1. The final vowel of the verb root is changed into i

    uku-hamba, to walk ; um-hambi, a walker,
    uku-yaka, to build ; um-yaki, a builder.

    But a few have the prefix itshi instead of um.

    uku pheka, to cook; itshi-pheki, a cook.
    uku-hleba, to slander ; itshi-hlebi, a slanderer.

    b. Impersonal nouns. These signify the agent by which the action of the verb is performed. They have the prefix itshi, but their terminal vowel is o by which they are distinguished from those with the same prefix noted above.

    uku-bopha, to bind ; itshi-bopho, a binder, cord. uku-cela, to pray ; itshi-celo, a prayer (the words).

    c. Some nouns denotinc, the instrument of an action are formed by prefixing tsha denoting (which see under possessive case, chap. iv.) to the verb in the objective form, infinitive mood.

    uku-kwera, to climb ; tshoku-kwerera, a thing for climbing, a ladder.



    The want of a proper possessive case is supplied by means of the pronoun of the noun possessed combined with a, which is a preposition corresponding to the English "of." This combination has been variously designated as "possessive particle," &c. The invariable part of the particle is the vowel a, and the noun signifying the thing possessed determines the form of the particle.

    The following table gives, at a glance, the forms of the possessive particle according to the various classes of nouns :-
    u + a = wa.
    u + a=wa.
    i + a=ia=ya
    i + a+ia=ya

    Note:-There is no doubt that the Bantu forms of speech are to a greater or less degree subservient to euphony, but this principle of euphonic concord, though present in all parts of speech, can scarcely be made to explain the structure of the various parts of speech; yet its power in effecting changes is clearly visible.

    To say that the euphonic of the governing noun is put before the noun governed, is not and explanation of the composition of the possessive particle. In the table presented the structure of the particle is given. That this is the explanation is evident, whether we look upon the a as a preposition, "of" or denoting the relation. It is the relative pronoun in Zulu and cognate languages.

    In some languages the u + a is written ua ( = wa), and is not incorrectly so written. If pronounced rapidly ua = wa, just as ia = ya when uttered quickly. Euphony explains such changes. Take li + la = la. Here, evidently, the i is dropped altogether, according to the theory of euphonic government. That it is not lya (li a) is no proof that the above is not a correct explanation of the structure of the particle. In the Wanda language we have aclass of nouns whose form corresponds to Ngoni nouns of the 5th class, izina, a name, and the possessive particle is lia, the pronounciation of which would be the same though it were written lya. The corresponding class of nouns in Kongo have the prefix di and the possessive particle dia.

    The literal translation of a passage in which the possessive particle occurs is thus :—umuntu wenkosi, a man of the chief= umuntu, a man, wa he of (u + a = wa) inkosi, chief; (the we =wa + inkosi as explained at chap. II. 3 (3).

    NOTE. —It is not a matter of no importance whether we write wa or ua, lia or lya, for the same sound, as may be seen by such words as

    ilua (i-lu-a), a flower.
    ukulwa (u-ku-lwa), war.

    If this word were written ukulua it would require a diacritical mark to distinguish where the accent falls. If the sound of wa requires two pure vowels, it should he oa rather than ua, as Krapf points out. To write it wa obviates the necessity to use accented letters, which is no small benefit in giving books easily read to natives. So also in the case of words in which lia and lya occurThe possessive case is formed according to the following rules :-

    1. With common nouns, by placing the possessive particle belonging to the noun denoting the thing possessed, before the noun which denotes the possessor, and the a of the particle coalesces with the initial vowel of the prefix of the latter noun, according to chapter II. 3(3).


    Umfazi wendoda, the man's wife (wa-indoda).
    Ilizwi lomuntu, the person's word (la-umuntu).

    2. With singular proper names, the prefix (u) of the name is dropped and the preposition ka is placed before the name. It the pronoun of the governing noun does not begin with a vowel it is used before ka, thus ilizwi lika Yohane, the word of John.

    NOTE.—In Ngoni the tendency being to revert to simpler forms of speech, the following forms are quite common and may be used.

    Ilizwi la Yohane, the word of John.
    Ilizwi lo Yohane, „ lo =la + u (prefix of Yohane).

    3. With plural proper nouns, the preposition kwa without or with the personal pronoun of the governing noun is placed before the plural proper name, with its prefix dropped.


    Abantu bakwa Ngoni; or abantu kwa Ngoni,
    the people of the Ngoni.

    4. With nouns which denote family relationship, and ubani (plural abobani) one, according to Rules 1 and (or) 2 in the singular, and according to Rule 3 in the plural.



    There are few prepositions in Ngoni, but by means of certain of these the lack of adjectives is supplied and a verb "to have" constructed.

    Some words really adverbs are used as prepositions, in which case they are followed by ku and kwa (kua).


    Phezulu kwamanzi, above, or on the water.
    Phezulu kumuti, upon the tree.

    Some require to be followed by na.


    Eduze nentaba, near to the hill.

    The place of the preposition in English is frequently supplied in Ngoni by using the locative case of nouns, or the objective form of the verb.


    Usendhlini, he is in the house.
    Wafela ekhaya, he died at home.

    The number of conjunctions in the Ngoni language is not large. "Like all uneducated tribes, the people incline to the use of short sentences, and to independent phrases. The relation of one proposition, or of one phrase, to another, often depends more upon the general construction, than upon any single word of a conjunctive character."

    The following are the principal prepositions and conjunctions with examples of their use.

    Na. 1. Signifying with, in the sense of having. In this sense it is used with the verb ukuba, to be, forming a verb " to have." See chapter VIII. 4. In this sense also it assists in the formation of many adjectives.

    2. And. As a simple conjunction it joins nouns and pronouns together. It may be joined to the noun according to the rule in chapter II. 3. (3), or to the pronoun corresponding to the noun, and the pronoun in that case is put before the noun. Emphasis is denoted by prefixing na to the pronoun, although it may frequently be done where no emphasis is required


    Umuntu nomfazi wake, the person and his wife.
    Umuntu naye umfazi wake, the person, and she, his wife.

    3. Also, both, too, together with. To express these English words, na is chiefly-used, joined to a pronoun.


    U Yohane wahamba, no Yakobe wahamb naye, John went, and James went. also, or with him.
    Nabafazi nabantwana bafa, both the women and the children died.
    Mina nami niyafuna amanzi, I also, or I too am seeking water.
    Bahambile nazo zinkomo, they have gone together with the cattle.

    4. Together. Expressive of mutual action, and also that there is reciprocity. To indicate these the na is affixed to the root of the verb which defines the action.


    Tiyathwalana lomtwalo, we are together carrying this burden.
    Tiyathandana, we are loving each other.

    5. Than. See under ku.

    6. It may be used with nouns to express through, by means of, &ac., thus denoting the instrument by which an action is accomplished; and the manner of an action.


    Wamtshaya nentonga, he struck him with a staff.
    Wahamba nezinyawo, he went on foot.
    Wamtshela izindaba nomfazi, he told him the news concerning the woman.

    Nga. 1. Used with nouns or pronouns (like na No.5) expresses, through, by means of, concerning, &c. In use it is synonymous with na No. 5, but is more in use with pronouns, than na which is chiefly used with nouns.

    2. About, whereabout, near to, &c. It signifies locality generally. It is used also with adverbs to signify hereabouts, thereabouts, &c.


    Uyangaphi (or ngakuphi), whereabout are you going? But note, uyaphi (or uyakuphi) means, where are you going ?

    Tshikhona ngalapho, it is thereabouts. But note tshikhona lapho, it is there.

    3. It is used in the formation of adverbs from nouns and in this way means according to.


    Ngenyama (according to flesh) fleshly— from inyama, flesh.
    Ngokukanya, brightly, shining (according to light), from ukukhanya, light.

    Njenga. This is compounded of the adverb nje so, thus, &c., and is used in making comparisons. It may be translated by according to, or as.


    Kukhanya njengelanga, it shines as the sun.
    Njengoyise uthanda abantwana bake,like as a father loves his children.

    KU 1. To. It is used with nouns, pronouns and names of places or people.


    Wakhuluma ku muntu, he spoke to the man.
    Niya ku baba, I go to my father.

    2. From. It is used as No. 1.


    Nivela kuye, I come from him.
    Zonke izinto ezihle zivela ku Mlungu, all good things come from God.

    3. Than. Used with, or without, na in making comparisons.


    Umkulu ku noyise, he is greater than his father.
    Umkulu ku wena, he is greater than thou.

    NOTE.—Ku enters into the formation of the locative case with nouns which are proper names.T

    Kwa. Used with a person's name, signifies his place or village. Used with a personal pronoun it means the person's people, family, or place of residence.


    Nivela kwa Mombera, I come from Mombera's place or village.
    Wahamba kwake, he went home.
    Wahamba kwabo, he went to his people.

    Pa. 1. At, upon, &c. It denotes locality, and is prefixed to other words to form prepositions.

    EXAMPLE. Phezulu (pa + izulu), above.

    NOTE 1.—It is obsolete in Zulu, but is in use in Ngoni, Tumbuka, Tonga, &c., and may be used frequently instead of the locative case of the noun, e.g., pamuthi, emuthini, at or on the tree.

    NOTE 2.—Pansi=beneath, is derived from the obsolete nsi, meaning earth, (found in Kongo, Wanda, Sze.) and the obsolete pa.

    NOTE —Where prepositions are joined to nouns, it is according to rule in chap. ii. 3 (3).

    2 Responses to “Ngoni Grammar Part 3”

    Yasinta Ngonyani said...
    November 12, 2011 at 11:28 AM

    I like your job!

    Samuel Kadyakale said...
    December 12, 2011 at 12:48 PM

    Ngiyabonga kakhulu sister. I have really learnt alot about our wangoni brothers and sisters through you. May God bless you. Unkulumkango makabe nawe udade wami.

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