The Xhosa language, along with such languages as Sesotho, Zulu, and Ndebele, is considered to be a member of the Southeastern or Nguni group of the Bantu language group. The term “Xhosa” can be used both to refer to the language and its native speakers, known as Xhosa people of South Africa.
The Xosa language has an intriguing history, including the struggle against racial segregation during the 20th century. The most famous Xhosa-language speaker who played one of the key roles in this fight is Nelson Mandela. Nevertheless, to understand the history of the language, it is worth to learn about its very beginning.
The history of the language started with Xhosa people. They were one of many groups that descended from the Bantu and to develop their own language and culture. Historically, Xhosa people lived in a patriarchal society of pastoral nomads. Traditionally, the land in the Xhosa society passed down from father to son. It is worth to mention that tribal sons would often break away from the reigning chieftain and start their search of new lands where they could establish new chieftaincies. That is why quite often Xhosa people had to fight for land with European colonial powers. As the result of struggles with Briitish and Dutch settlers, the period from 1778 to 1878 is known as the period of Cape Frontier Wars. It is also known that Xhosa people were defeated and their territory was annexed by the colonial powers.
It is worth to mention that exactly this period is now associated with the development of written Xhosa language. It was the time when the first known example of written Xhosa appeared. It was written using a Latin-based script. Also, this period is associated with some other developments, including translation of the Bible into Xhosa, the establishment of the Lovedale Press and the established of a number of journals and magazines, such as “Isitunywa Senyana” magazine and “Indaba” newspaper.
Only in 1994, the decades of oppressive apartheid regime ended with Nelson Mandela becoming the first president of South Africa. Because of the history full of struggles, Xhosa literature often addressed political issues such as colonialism, urbanization, and apartheid.
The spoken Xhosa language is known as the language of a number click sounds. It is also considered to be a tonal language where tone plays a key role in differentiating between identical words.
Today, the language is used in such countries as South Africa, with a number of dialects spoken between the Natal and Eastern Cape. Totally, there are about 7 million Xhosa language speakers in the country.