The Zulu language, also known as isiZulu, belongs to the Bantu/Nguni family of languages. The language is spoken in the former Zululand, now known as KwaZulu-Natal Province in South Africa. It is worth to mention that Zulu is considered to be the second most widely used of the Bantu languages, after Shona. About 12 million people in South Africa speak Zulu as a first language and about 16 million as a second language.
The Zulu language is very closely related to such Bantu languages as Xhosa, Swati, and Ndebele. Despite the fact that these languages are considered to be separate languages for some political and cultural reasons, it is worth to mention that they are also considered to be mutually intelligible. For example, if we compare Zulu to Xhosa, we can note that the languages are enough similar linguistically to be considered as dialects of one language. Nevertheless, Zulu and Xhosa people believe that they are different people and speak different languages.
Historically, Zulu people have migrated to the area now known as South Africa from the east coast of Africa and through central Africa. The migration happened before the 16th century. After their migration, Zulu people came into contact with Khoisan-speaking people and adopted some of the vocabulary and the click sounds from this language.
Although today Zulu is mainly spoken in South Africa, there are also Zulu speakers in such countries as Swaziland, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, and Mozambique. The total population of Zulu speakers throughout the world is estimated at nearly 328 million people. The language is also known as a lingua franca from Natal to Zimbabwe.
The status of Zulu in the Republic of South Africa is considered to be quite complex. The language is taught in primary schools up to the 10th grade. Nevertheless, the secondary school’s instructions for Zulu-speaking students are in English. When it comes to the university level, there is no option to study in Zulu as well. Students have to choose between English and Afrikaans.
The first book of Zulu grammar was published in 1859. Later, from 1930, the Zulu language was used in different publications, newspapers, and magazines. The South African Broadcasting Corporation has domestic television and radio in Zulu.
There are two main dialects of Zulu. They are Lala and Qwabe. Also, it is worth to mention that the same to other Southern Bantu languages, Zulu has some borrowings from such languages as English and Afrikaans. The written language uses the Latin script that was adopted in the 19th century thanks to Christian missionaries.