History of the Zulu Language

Zulu is a South African language spoken mainly by the South African community. A great number of Zulu speakers can also be found in Gauteng and Mpumalanga. Zulu became one of the nine native languages in 1994 and came to be officially recognized by the first post-apartheid Constitution in South Africa.

There are about 10 million Zulu speakers in the world, a majority of who live in South Africa. In 1994, Zulu became the 11th official language of South Africa.

The Zulu linguists generally tend to avoid the language prefix, as a result of which ‘isiZulu’ is commonly referred to as “Zulu”. Zulu is a tonal language like other home-grown South African languages where the structure of the sentence is governed by the noun. Like most Bantu languages, Zulu too is written using the Latin alphabet.

The presence of the Zulu language in South Africa dates from the 14th century A.D. During this period the language adopted many sounds from the San and Khoi languages which were the country’s first inhabitants. As a result, the click consonants are still preserved in the Zulu language despite the extermination of the San and Khoi languages.

Similar to all other local South African languages, Zulu was an oral language until it came in contact with the missionaries from Europe who documented Zulu using the Latin alphabet. Written Zulu was thus discovered in the 19th century. The foremost Zulu book called Incwadi Yokuqala Yabafundayo concentrated on the spellings of Zulu words and the Old Testament’s history.

In 1994, after the changeover in democracy, the accountability of language policy and development was taken care of by the Department of Arts, Science, Technology and Culture. A new organization called the Pan South African Language Board was formed, which entrusted the responsibility of language planning. The Zulu Lexicography unit was formed for developing terminology in the language.

While Zulu is well recognized on radio and television and has established its place in a popular African language newspaper - Ilanga, it has failed to see much progress in the education sector. Although the Zulu language is a subject in school at all levels, it is taught only from Grade 1 to 3 as a medium of instruction.

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