Tonga language

From Chalo Chatu, Zambia online encyclopedia

Native toZambia, Zimbabwe
EthnicityTonga, Kafwe Twa?
Native speakers
1.5 million (2001–2010 census)[1]
one of the key lingua francas in Zambia and parts of Zimbabwe and Mozambique)
  • Atlantic–Congo
    • Benue–Congo
      • Bantoid
        • Bantu
          • Botatwe
            • Tonga
Plateau Tonga
Valley Tonga (We)
Latin (Tonga alphabet)
Tonga Braille
Official status
Official language in
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3toiinclusive code
Individual code:Template:Infobox language/codelist

The Tonga language, Chitonga, of Zambia and Zimbabwe, also known as Zambezi, is a Bantu Language primarily spoken by the Tonga people in those countries who live mainly in the Southern and Western provinces of in those countries who live mainly in the Southern and Western provinces of Zambia, and in northern Zimbabwe, with a few in Mozambique. The language is also spoken by the Iwe, Toka and Leya people, perhaps by the Kafwe Twa (if that is not Ila), as well as many bilingual Zambians and Zimbabweans. It is one of the major lingua francas in Zambia, together with Bemba, Lozi and Nyanja. The Tonga of Malawi is not particularly close.

The Tonga speaking inhabitants are the oldest Bantu settlers, with the Tumbuka, a small tribe in the east, in what is known as Zambia. There are two distinctive dialects of the Tonga, Valley Tonga and Plateau Tonga. Valley Tonga is mostly spoken in the Zambezi valley and southern areas of the Batonga (Tonga People) while Plateau Tonga is spoken more around Monze district and the northern areas of the Batonga.[4]

Tonga (Chitonga or iciTonga) developed as a spoken language and was not put into written form until missionaries arrived in the area. The language is not standardized, and speakers of the same dialect may have different spellings for the same words once put into written text.[5]

At least some speakers have a bilabial nasal click where neighboring dialects have /mw/, as in mwana 'child' and kumwa 'to drink'.[6]

Maho (2009) removes Shanjo as a separate, and not very closely related, language.


Tonga follows the standard Bantu language structure. One word may consist of a verb, a direct object, a tense marker and even an indirect object.

Tense[7] Tense marker Example
Subject-(tense marker)-verb root-(ending) First person "ndi" doing something s/he shouldn't be doing "kuputa"
Present Simple -(verb root) Ndaputa
Present Perfect -a-(verb root)-ide Ndiputide
Present Continuous -la- Ndilaputa
Habitual Present Tense -la-(verb root)-a Ndilaputa
Recent Past (Past of Today) -ali-(verb root)-ide ndaliputide
Simple Past -aka- ndakaputa
Recent Past Continuous -ali-ku-(verb root) ndalikuputa
Habitual Past Continuous -akali-ku-(verb root) Ndakalikuputa
Remote Past -aka- ndakaputa
Near Future -la- Ndilaputa
Simple Future -ya-ku-(verb root)-a Ndiyakuputa
Future Habitual -niku-(verb root)-a ndinikuputa
Extended Future (Tomorrow or after tomorrow) -yaku-(verb)-a ndiyakuputa


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  1. Tonga at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) Template:Subscription required
    Dombe (derogatory synonym) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) Template:Subscription required
  2. Lua error in ...ribunto/includes/engines/LuaCommon/lualib/mwInit.lua at line 23: bad argument #1 to 'old_ipairs' (table expected, got nil).
  3. Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  4. A Practical Introduction to Chitonga, C.R. Hopgood, 1992 Edition, Zambia Educational Publishing House, p. x
  5. Mweenzu Wafwulwe Ulalila Bowa (An Advanced Chitonga Language Course), R.N. Moonga and F.W. Wafer, Zambia Educational Publishing House, 1997, p. v
  6. Norval Smith, Harry Van Der Hulst, 1988. Features, Segmental Structure & Harmony Processes, vol. 1 p. 198
  7. Tenses taken from Peace Corps Zambia Trainee's Book: Tonga, 2003

External links