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definition - Kalanga language

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Kalanga language

Spoken in Zimbabwe, Botswana
Ethnicity Kalanga people
(formerly) Lemba
Native speakers 850,000  (date missing)
Language family
Language codes
ISO 639-3 kck
Linguasphere 99-AUT-ai

The Kalanga language, or Ikalanga, TjiKalanga, is a Bantu language spoken by the Kalanga people, 300,000 in Botswana and 700,000 in Zimbabwe (Ethnologue). It is a Black language known for its extensive phoneme inventory, which includes palatalized, velarized, aspirated, and breathy voiced consonants. It is closely related to Shona.



The Kalanga and the Shona migrated in separate groups from a common region in the north. The Kalanga speaking people are thought to have been the first. They first settled in South Africa. Ruins of their oldest settlement are called the Mapungubwe ruins. Their speech shows considerable differences from that of the Shona people.

The conclusion that Kalanga is a Shona dialect is one of the most erroneous conclusions that have ever been made in history. It will be understood that this is a battle that has been going on for over eighty years now. Way back in 1927 the Rhodesia Missionary Society wanted to create a standard Shona orthography, but they could not agree on Kalanga being listed as a Shona dialect. They enlisted the help of Professor Clement M. Doke, then a Bantu Studies professor at the University of the Witwatersrand. After a year long study in Zimbabwe, he actually concluded that Kalanga cannot be listed as a Shona dialect because it is too phonologically diverse from what can be called Shona. In fact, a simple test that this is true is this: those who speak the so-called Shona cannot understand the Kalanga when they speak, though the Kalanga can understand the Shona.

Kalanga is a distinct language group by itself with the following languages affiliated to it: what has been termed TjiKalanga tjekuDombodema (as spoken in the Plumtree area, name first coined by the UCCSA in 1929), Lilima, Talaunda, Jahunda, Nanzwa(or Nambya), Venda, Lobedu, Hlengwe and Lozwi. It should be recognized that all these are now distinct languages themselves, but historically they all profess to have originated from Bukalanga/Vhukalanga. [To be expanded on...]

Kalanga is, for instance, the only dialect to have the l sound; the rest of the Shona dialects have r only. The language is closely related to the Balobedu-baka-Modjadji group of languages including Shona, Karanga, Zezuru, Venda, Birwa, Tjililima and Shankwe. From this it is believed that they stem from a people who originated from the Limpopo/Drakensburg areas of South Africa and settled in the Northern part of Botswana and the modern day Zimbabwe. The oldest Kalanga ruins are strikingly similar to the Great Zimbabwe ruins. These ruins contain similar artifacts as those found in the Great Zimbabwe ruins. The Mapungubwe ruins pre-date the Great Zimbabwe ruins. These observations suggest that the builders of the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, the Khami Ruins, the Lusvingo Ruins and others ruins in western Zimbabwe and eastern Botswana are the Kalanga people. The Kalanga are the descendants of the Kingdom of Butua.


  • Chebanne, A. M. & Rodewald, M. K & Pahlen, K. W. (1995) Ngatikwaleni iKalanga: a manual for writing Kalanga as spoken in Botswana. Gaborone: Botswana Society.
  • Mathangwane, Joyce T. (1999) Ikalanga phonetics and phonology: a synchronic and diachronic study. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications.


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