The relative clause formation in Zulu

Term Paper 2009 23 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics


Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. The Zulu language and its characteristics
a. Geographical and social facts
b. Grammatical facts

III. The relative clause
a. The different relative clause formation across languages
b. The relative clause formation in German
c. The relative clause formation in Latin
d. The relative clause formation in Spanish
e. The relative clause formation in English

IV. The relative clause in Zulu
a. The agreement system and the relative concords in Zulu
b. Relative clitics in Zulu

V. Conclusion

VI. Bibliography
a. Books
b. Articles
c. Dictionary
d. Internet Resources

I. Introduction

My term paper deals with one of the South African languages, the Zulu language.

In my grammar report, accompanying the seminar, I already dealt with the Zulu language more precisely I tried to explain the phenomenon of the Zulu noun. Besides our seminar, the motivation and idea to deal with this topic has arisen from my personal experiences. Since I lived and worked approximately five months in South Africa last year. The Zulu language aroused my interest because it differs from all languages I know, but nevertheless it includes English words or word parts.

This time, in my term paper, I will try to discuss the way of forming a relative clause in Zulu. This formation usually involves a prefix, also called relative concord, which is attached to the predicate of a relative clause. A relative clause is a subordinate clause that modifies a noun. Generally in most European languages, a relative clause is introduced by a relative pronoun, which belongs to a special class of pronouns.

“In other languages, relative clauses may be marked in different ways: they may be introduced by a special class of conjunctions called relativizers; the main verb of the relative clause may appear in a special morphological variant; or a relative clause may be indicated by word order alone. In some languages, more than one of these mechanisms may be possible.“[1]

Since relative clauses in Zulu were formed in a different way than in most European languages I would like to examine this problem in more detail.

II. The Zulu language and its characteristics

a. Geographical and social facts

South Africa is characterized by its variety of population groups, each with its own language. There are also many dialects especially in the various African languages. This language variety can be presented in four main groups: First of all there would be the Khoisan languages of the African native population. In addition there are the Bantu languages, like Tsonga and Venda and also the Nguni and Sotho language groups.

Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi and Southern Ndebele form a sub-group of the Nguni languages. Among the Sotho languages range Southern Sotho, Northern Sotho and Tswana. The third and fourth language group are represented by the Afrikaans- and English-speaker.[2]

Zulu or also called IsiZulu is one of the official languages of South Africa. It is spoken by approximately 10 million people. Zulu is the most widely spoken home language in South Africa by 24% of the population and it can also be understood by over 50% of the population.[3]

“The Nguni languages are spoken by more than twenty million people, who reside in the south-eastern part of the country, in an area stretching for about 1000 km in a broad coastal belt from Swaziland in the north, right through KwaZulu-Natal, far down into the Eastern Cape in the south.“[4]

In the northern part of this territory Zulu predominates. Zulu and Xhosa are the strongest of the Nguni languages. In 1994 it was the first time when Zulu besides eight other major African languages, Xhosa, Ndebele, Swazi, Tswana, Sotho, Pedi, Venda and Tsonga, were given official recognition and placed on the level of Afrikaans and English, and gained official recognition in South Africa’s first post-apartheid Constitution.[5]

The Zulu nation developed in the fourteenth century. Just as the Xhosa who were already an existing population group in South Africa, the Zulu absorbed many sounds from the San and Khoi languages. It is stated that they were South Africa’s earliest inhabitants. The assimilation of their languages can be identified by the click consonants in Zulu and all of the other indigenous languages were oral languages until missionaries from Europe arrived in the seventeenth century. From this time on Zulu became written as missionaries documented the language and all its interesting facts using the Latin alphabet.[6]

As already mentioned Zulu belongs to the language family of Bantu. The term Bantu is not only used to refer to the Bantu language family but also to the culture they share. In recent years, the term Bantu has increasingly been used as a means of linguistic classification. After the Bantu people migrated from Nigeria southward, already in decades before Christ, they soon splitted into two language groups: Eastern and Western.

Although, the Zulu people derived from the Bantu tribal community they managed to come up with their own language and culture. Today the term “Zulu” can refer to both Zulu-language speakers and to people of native Zulu origin.[7] Although South Africa is a land of such differences, its inhabitants lack a collective identity. South Africa’s cultural mix has its roots in a colonial past.

“The original hunter-gatherer inhabitants of the Cape were joined, about thousand years ago, by migrating Bantu-speakers from the north. As mentioned before, in the seventeenth century, European settlers appeared – first the Dutch, then the British and French – with their slaves from Indonesia, Madagascar and India.“[8]

Settlers and slaves brought with them their traditions and customs. “Religion crosses many of the cultural and social divides. The African independent churches have a large following, as their approach includes aspects of tribal mysticism and a firm belief in the influence of ancestral spirits.“[9]

b. Grammatical facts

Zulu is a particularly challenging language. Not only is Zulu, like many other Bantu languages, tonal with a complex grammar system, but it has also retained the distinctive clicking consonants found in earlier regional languages such as San and Khoi. Because Zulu is written in the Roman alphabet, these click sounds are expressed through unique combinations of alphabetic letters. There are three basic click sounds in Zulu:

c – This dental click resembles the English click of annoyance written as tut-tut.

For example: -cela (request)

q – This alveolar click resembles the sound of drawing a cork from a bottle.

For example: qala (begin, start)

x – This lateral click sound is generally used in urging a horse.

For example: xoxa (chat, converse)[10]

These click sounds can have several variants such as being voiced, aspirated or nasalised so that there are a total of about 15 different click sounds in Zulu. The same sounds occur in Xhosa, where they are used more frequently than in Zulu.

Morphologically, Zulu is an agglutinative language with a nominal class system and is to class in the sub-group of the Nguni linguistic family within the Bantu languages. Agglutinative languages are “attaching” languages. According to Bernard Comrie,

“in an agglutinating language, a word may consist of more than one morpheme, but the boundaries between morphemes in the word are always clear-cut; moreover, a given morpheme has at least a reasonably invariant shape, so that the identification of morphemes in terms of their phonetic shape is also straightforward.“[11]

Within this type elements step as suffixes to stem- and root-element. Thereby, the delimitation of the elements remains however completely clear. Thus prefixes or suffixes, which possess only one grammatical function and meaning, step to the morphologically constant root.

“A striking feature of Zulu (...) is the fact that their nouns are classified into various categories or noun classes. There are eighteen such noun classes in Zulu, of which some are singular and others are plural. There are also two neutral classes which are neither singular nor plural. Each noun class has what is known as a class prefix which is a formative that is attached to the beginning of the noun, in fact, to the noun stem. The class prefix indicates to which noun class a noun belongs and at the same time also whether a noun is a singular, plural or a neutral noun. In most instances these prefixes operate in pairs, one being the singular prefix and the other the plural prefix.“[12]

There is a close connection between the noun class system and the agreement system in Zulu. In this system some specific words such as verbs and adjectives are linked to the nouns with which they occur. This agreement can be identified in the form of a so-called concord. I will amplify this agreement system later in the term paper when I concentrate on the formation of the relative clause in Zulu in consideration of Jochen Zeller’s investigation on the relative concords in Zulu. To give a brief impression of how the subject concord acts as a link between the subject noun and the verb, here are a few examples:

(a) In-gane iyakhala na? The baby he/ she-is crying?

Is the baby crying?

(b) Um-fowethu usebenza edolobheni My brother he-works in town

My brother works in town[13]

III. The relative clause

a. The different relative clause formation across languages

In order to form relative clauses there exist many different rules in different languages. In a set of languages the case of the relative pronoun must correlate with the case, which the matrix verb demands for the NP, where the relative clause arises. These so-called “matching effects“, however, do not exist in all languages. There are languages, in which matching is generally not or under certain conditions not necessary. German usually is rated among languages, in those relative clauses must exhibit matching-effects.[14]

In the following I will try to give a brief definition of the relative clause formation in different languages with the main focus on German and English.

b. The relative clause formation in German

German has a multiplicity of subordinate clauses. The relative clause represents an important subordinate clause type. According to the DUDEN the relative clause is a subordinate clause, which is introduced by a relative pronoun or by a relative adverb. A common position between main clause and subordinate clause, which attaches the two subsets, is distinctive of the relative clause.[15]

Although the German relative clauses have highly inflected forms, their formation is less complicated than English ones. There are two different possibilities to form a relative clause. The first and more common one is based on the definite article der, die, das, but with distinctive forms in the genitive (dessen, deren) and in the dative plural (denen). Actually this can be related to English that.

The second, which is usually used for emphasis, is the relative use of welcher, welche, welches, comparable with English which. As in most Germanic languages, including Old English, both of these inflect according to gender, case and number.[16]

For Example:

(a) Dies ist der Tisch, den ich kaufen möchte This is the table which I like to buy
(b) Das ist der Junge, der mich bestohlen hat This is the boy who has robbed me


[1] Cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relative_clause.

[2] Cf. Arnett Wilkes/ Nicholias Nkosi, Zulu. Teach yourself. London, 2003, p. 1 (in the following cited as: Wilkes, Zulu).

[3] Cf. http://www.sa-venues.com/language-zulu.htm.

[4] Wilkes, Zulu, p. 3.

[5] Cf. Anand Singh, Language Policy and Communication in Post-Apartheid Education – Towards a Theory of “Lingocide”. Kamla-Raj, 2009, p. 127 (in the following cited as: Singh, Language policy).

[6] Cf. http://www.sa-venues.com/language-zulu.htm.

[7] Cf. http://www.alsintl.com/resources/languages/Zulu/.

[8] Michael Brett/ Brian Johnson-Barker/ Marielle Renssen, Eyewitness Travel Guides. South Africa. London, 2005, p. 17 (in the following cited as: Brett, South Africa).

[9] Brett, South Africa, p. 17.

[10] Wilkes, Zulu, p. 6f.

[11] Bernard Comrie, Language universals and linguistic typology. Syntax and morphology. Oxford, 1981, p. 40 (in the following cited as: Comrie, Language universals).

[12] Wilkes, Zulu, p. 20.

[13] Wilkes, Zulu, p. 52.

[14] Cf. Karin Pittner, Freie Relativsätze und die Kasushierarchie, erschienen in: Elisabeth Feldbusch, Reiner Pogarell und Cornelia Weiß (eds.), Neue Fragen der Linguistik. Akten des 25. Linguistischen Kolloquiums, Paderborn 1990. Band 1. Tübingen: Niemeyer, 341-347. (Linguistische Arbeiten 270), p. 341 (in the following cited as: Pittner, Freie Relativsätze).

[15] Cf. Duden: Grammatik der deutschen Gegenwartssprache, 1998, p. 759 (in the following cited as: Duden).

[16] Cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relative_clause.


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University of Freiburg – English Seminar
Grammaticalization Zulu Afrika Sprache relative clause



Title: The relative clause formation in Zulu