views updated May 11 2018

BANTU. A term with a neutral, scholarly use throughout the world and, especially formerly, a sociopolitical use in SOUTH AFRICA that, in the context of apartheid, was largely pejorative and is therefore disliked by black South Africans. The international sense relates to a group of over 300 widely distributed and closely related languages of Black Africa south of a line from CAMEROON to KENYA, and by extension to c.60m people of various ethnic backgrounds who speak these languages. The Bantu languages belong to the Niger–Congo family and include: Douala in Cameroon, Ganda in UGANDA, Kongo in Zaïre, Nyanja in MALAWI, Shona and Ndebele in ZIMBABWE, Sotho in LESOTHO and South Africa, Tsonga in Mozambique and South Africa, Tswana in BOTSWANA and South Africa, Siswati in SWAZILAND, and Xhosa and Zulu in South Africa. The most widely used Bantu language is SWAHILI, a LINGUA FRANCA of East and Central Africa that has been strongly influenced by ARABIC. The original Bantu-speaking peoples appear to have originated in the region of Cameroon. In the structure of their languages, bases and affixes play a pre-eminent role: for example, from the base Tswana are formed Batswana the Tswana people (formerly rendered in English as Bechuana), Motswana an individual Tswana, Botswana land of the Tswana, and Setswana the Tswana language. Bantu loanwords in English are relatively few. Among them are: the animal names impala, zebra; boma a thorn-bush enclosure; (Zulu) impi regiment, indaba gathering, conference; (Swahili) uhuru freedom. English words associated with the Bantu-speaking peoples can be etymologically deceptive: Swahili bwana (master, boss) is from Arabic abuna (our father); assegai (spear, lance) has passed from Berber into Arabic and thence to Southern Africa; kraal is from PORTUGUESE through AFRIKAANS, and is a doublet of corral. Bantu languages have borrowed extensively from English, especially in South Africa: for example, Zulu ikhalenda calendar, ukheroti carrot, ukholiflawa cauliflower; Xhosa ibhentshi bench, ikati cat, ukubhaptiza to baptise. See AFRICAN LANGUAGES, BORROWING.


views updated May 09 2018

Ban·tu / ˈbantoō/ • n. (pl. same or -tus) 1. a member of an extensive group of native peoples of central and southern Africa.2. the group of languages spoken by these peoples.• adj. of or relating to these peoples or their languages.


views updated May 21 2018

Bantu Group of African languages generally considered as forming part of the Benue-Congo branch of the Niger-Congo family. Swahili, Xhosa, and Zulu are among the most widely spoken of the several hundred Bantu languages spoken from the Congo Basin to South Africa, and almost all are tone languages. There are more than 70 million speakers of Bantu.