|Central Africa, Southeast Africa, East Africa, Southern Africa|
|ISO 639-2 / 5||bnt|
The Bantu languages shown within the Niger–Congo language family. Non-Bantu languages are greyscale.
The Bantu languages (English: UK: /ˌbænˈtuː/ , US: /ˈbæntuː/ Proto-Bantu: *bantʊ̀)   are a language family of about 600 languages that are spoken by the Bantu peoples of Central, Southern, Eastern and Southeast Africa. They form the largest branch of the Southern Bantoid languages.
The total number of Bantu languages is estimated at between 440 and 680 distinct languages, depending on the definition of "language" versus "dialect".  Many Bantu languages borrow words from each other, and some are mutually intelligible. 
The total number of Bantu speakers is estimated to be around 350 million in 2015 (roughly 30% of the population of Africa or 5% of the world population).  Bantu languages are largely spoken southeast of Cameroon, and throughout Central, Southern, Eastern, and Southeast Africa. About one-sixth of Bantu speakers, and one-third of Bantu languages, are found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The most widely spoken Bantu language by number of speakers is Swahili, with 16 million native speakers and 80 million L2 speakers (2015).  Most native speakers of Swahili live in Tanzania, where it is a national language, while as a second language it is taught as a mandatory subject in many schools in East Africa, and is a lingua franca of the East African Community.
Other major Bantu languages include Zulu with 12 million speakers (South Africa and Zimbabwe), Xhosa with 8.2 million speakers, and Shona with less than 10 million speakers (if Manyika and Ndau are included). Zimbabwe has Kalanga, Matebele, Nambiya and Zulu speakers.   Ethnologue separates the largely mutually intelligible Kinyarwanda and Kirundi, which together have 20 million speakers. 
The similarity among dispersed Bantu languages had been observed as early as the 17th century.  The term Bantu as a name for the group was coined (as Bâ-ntu) by Wilhelm Bleek in 1857 or 1858, and popularized in his Comparative Grammar of 1862.  He coined the term to represent the word for "people" in loosely reconstructed Proto-Bantu, from the plural noun class prefix *ba- categorizing "people", and the root *ntʊ̀- "some (entity), any" (e.g. Zulu umuntu "person", abantu "people").
There is no indigenous term for the group, as Bantu-speaking populations refer to themselves by their endonyms, but did not have a concept for the larger ethno-linguistic phylum. Bleek's coinage was inspired by the anthropological observation of groups frequently self-identifying as "people" or "the true people" (as is the case, for example, with the term Khoikhoi , but this is a kare "praise address" and not an ethnic name). 
The term narrow Bantu, excluding those languages classified as Bantoid by Guthrie (1948), was introduced in the 1960s. 
The prefix ba- specifically refers to people. Endonymically, the term for cultural objects, including language, is formed with the ki- noun class (Nguni ísi- ), as in KiSwahili (Swahili language and culture), IsiZulu (Zulu language and culture) and KiGanda (Ganda religion and culture).
In the 1980s, South African linguists suggested referring to these languages as KiNtu. The word kintu exists in some places, but it means "thing", with no relation to the concept of "language".  In addition, delegates at the African Languages Association of Southern Africa conference in 1984 reported that, in some places, the term Kintu has a derogatory significance.  This is because kintu refers to "things" and is used as a dehumanizing term for people who have lost their dignity. 
In addition, Kintu is a figure in some mythologies. 
In the 1990s, the term Kintu was still occasionally used by South African linguists.  But in contemporary decolonial South African linguistics, the term Ntu languages is used. 
The Bantu languages descend from a common Proto-Bantu language, which is believed to have been spoken in what is now Cameroon in Central Africa.  An estimated 2,500–3,000 years ago (1000 BC to 500 BC), speakers of the Proto-Bantu language began a series of migrations eastward and southward, carrying agriculture with them. This Bantu expansion came to dominate Sub-Saharan Africa east of Cameroon, an area where Bantu peoples now constitute nearly the entire population.   Some other sources estimate the Bantu Expansion started closer to 3000 BC. 
The technical term Bantu, meaning "human beings" or simply "people", was first used by Wilhelm Bleek (1827–1875), as the concept is reflected in many of the languages of this group. A common characteristic of Bantu languages is that they use words such as muntu or mutu for "human being" or in simplistic terms "person", and the plural prefix for human nouns starting with mu- (class 1) in most languages is ba- (class 2), thus giving bantu for "people". Bleek, and later Carl Meinhof, pursued extensive studies comparing the grammatical structures of Bantu languages.
The most widely used classification is an alphanumeric coding system developed by Malcolm Guthrie in his 1948 classification of the Bantu languages. It is mainly geographic. The term "narrow Bantu" was coined by the Benue–Congo Working Group to distinguish Bantu as recognized by Guthrie, from the Bantoid languages not recognized as Bantu by Guthrie. 
In recent times,[ when? ] the distinctiveness of Narrow Bantu as opposed to the other Southern Bantoid languages has been called into doubt (cf. Piron 1995, Williamson & Blench 2000, Blench 2011), but the term is still widely used.
There is no true genealogical classification of the (Narrow) Bantu languages. Until recently[ when? ] most attempted classifications only considered languages that happen to fall within traditional Narrow Bantu, but there seems to be a continuum with the related languages of South Bantoid. 
At a broader level, the family is commonly split in two depending on the reflexes of proto-Bantu tone patterns: Many Bantuists group together parts of zones A through D (the extent depending on the author) as Northwest Bantu or Forest Bantu, and the remainder as Central Bantu or Savanna Bantu. The two groups have been described as having mirror-image tone systems: where Northwest Bantu has a high tone in a cognate, Central Bantu languages generally have a low tone, and vice versa.
Northwest Bantu is more divergent internally than Central Bantu, and perhaps less conservative due to contact with non-Bantu Niger–Congo languages; Central Bantu is likely the innovative line cladistically. Northwest Bantu is clearly not a coherent family, but even for Central Bantu the evidence is lexical, with little evidence that it is a historically valid group.
Another attempt at a detailed genetic classification to replace the Guthrie system is the 1999 "Tervuren" proposal of Bastin, Coupez, and Mann.  However, it relies on lexicostatistics, which, because of its reliance on overall similarity rather than shared innovations, may predict spurious groups of conservative languages that are not closely related. Meanwhile, Ethnologue has added languages to the Guthrie classification which Guthrie overlooked, while removing the Mbam languages (much of zone A), and shifting some languages between groups (much of zones D and E to a new zone J, for example, and part of zone L to K, and part of M to F) in an apparent effort at a semi-genetic, or at least semi-areal, classification. This has been criticized for sowing confusion in one of the few unambiguous ways to distinguish Bantu languages. Nurse & Philippson (2006) evaluate many proposals for low-level groups of Bantu languages, but the result is not a complete portrayal of the family.   Glottolog has incorporated many of these into their classification. 
The languages that share Dahl's law may also form a valid group, Northeast Bantu. The infobox at right lists these together with various low-level groups that are fairly uncontroversial, though they continue to be revised. The development of a rigorous genealogical classification of many branches of Niger–Congo, not just Bantu, is hampered by insufficient data.  
Simplified phylogeny of northwestern branches of Bantu by Grollemund (2012): 
Other computational phylogenetic analyses of Bantu include Currie et al. (2013),  Grollemund et al. (2015),  Rexova et al. 2006,  Holden et al., 2016,  and Whiteley et al. 2018. 
Glottolog (2021) does not consider the older geographic classification by Guthrie relevant for its ongoing classification based on more recent linguistic studies, and Divides Bantu into four main branches (Bantu A-B10-B20-B30, Central-Western Bantu, East Bantu and Mbam-Bube-Jarawan). 
Guthrie reconstructed both the phonemic inventory and the vocabulary of Proto-Bantu. 
The most prominent grammatical characteristic of Bantu languages is the extensive use of affixes (see Sotho grammar and Ganda noun classes for detailed discussions of these affixes). Each noun belongs to a class, and each language may have several numbered classes, somewhat like grammatical gender in European languages. The class is indicated by a prefix that is part of the noun, as well as agreement markers on verb and qualificative roots connected with the noun. Plural is indicated by a change of class, with a resulting change of prefix.   All Bantu languages are agglutinative.
The verb has a number of prefixes, though in the western languages these are often treated as independent words.  In Swahili, for example, Mtoto mdogo amekisoma (for comparison, Kamwana kadoko karikuverenga in Shona language) means 'The small child has read it [a book]'. Mtoto 'child' governs the adjective prefix m- (representing the diminutive form of the word) and the verb subject prefix a-. Then comes perfect tense -me- and an object marker -ki- agreeing with implicit kitabu 'book' (from Arabic kitab). Pluralizing to 'children' gives Watoto wadogo wamekisoma (Vana vadoko varikuverenga in Shona), and pluralizing to 'books' (vitabu) gives watoto wadogo wamevisoma. 
Bantu words are typically made up of open syllables of the type CV (consonant-vowel) with most languages having syllables exclusively of this type. The Bushong language recorded by Vansina, however, has final consonants,  while slurring of the final syllable (though written) is reported as common among the Tonga of Malawi.  The morphological shape of Bantu words is typically CV, VCV, CVCV, VCVCV, etc.; that is, any combination of CV (with possibly a V- syllable at the start). In other words, a strong claim for this language family is that almost all words end in a vowel, precisely because closed syllables (CVC) are not permissible in most of the documented languages, as far as is understood.  
This tendency to avoid consonant clusters in some positions is important when words are imported from English or other non-Bantu languages. An example from Chewa: the word "school", borrowed from English, and then transformed to fit the sound patterns of this language, is sukulu. That is, sk- has been broken up by inserting an epenthetic -u-; -u has also been added at the end of the word. Another example is buledi for "bread". Similar effects are seen in loanwords for other non-African CV languages like Japanese. However, a clustering of sounds at the beginning of a syllable can be readily observed in such languages as Shona,  and the Makua languages. 
With few exceptions, such as Kiswahili and Rutooro, Bantu languages are tonal and have two to four register tones.
Reduplication is a common morphological phenomenon in Bantu languages and is usually used to indicate frequency or intensity of the action signalled by the (unreduplicated) verb stem. 
Well-known words and names that have reduplication include:
Repetition emphasizes the repeated word in the context that it is used. For instance, "Mwenda pole hajikwai," while, "Pole pole ndio mwendo," has two to emphasize the consistency of slowness of the pace. The meaning of the former in translation is, "He who goes slowly doesn't trip," and that of the latter is, "A slow but steady pace wins the race." Haraka haraka would mean hurrying just for the sake of hurrying, reckless hurry, as in "Njoo! Haraka haraka" [come here! Hurry, hurry].
In contrast, there are some words in some of the languages in which reduplication has the opposite meaning. It usually denotes short durations, and or lower intensity of the action and also means a few repetitions or a little bit more.
The following is a list of nominal classes in Bantu languages: 
|Singular classes||Plural classes||Typical meaning(s)|
|5||*dɪ-||6||*ma-||Various; class 6 for liquids (mass nouns)|
|7||*ki-||8||*bɪ-||Various, diminutives, manner/way/language|
|16||*pa-||Locatives (proximal, exact)|
|17||*ku-||Locatives (distal, approximate)|
Virtually all Bantu languages have a Subject–verb–object word order with some exceptions such as the Nen language which has a Subject-Object-Verb word order. 
Following is an incomplete list of the principal Bantu languages of each country.  Included are those languages that constitute at least 1% of the population and have at least 10% the number of speakers of the largest Bantu language in the country.
Most languages are referred to in English without the class prefix (Swahili, Tswana, Ndebele), but are sometimes seen with the (language-specific) prefix (Kiswahili, Setswana, Sindebele). In a few cases prefixes are used to distinguish languages with the same root in their name, such as Tshiluba and Kiluba (both Luba), Umbundu and Kimbundu (both Mbundu). The prefixless form typically does not occur in the language itself, but is the basis for other words based on the ethnicity. So, in the country of Botswana the people are the Batswana , one person is a Motswana, and the language is Setswana ; and in Uganda, centred on the kingdom of Buganda , the dominant ethnicity are the Baganda (singular Muganda), whose language is Luganda .
Central African Republic
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Eswatini (formerly Swaziland)
Republic of the Congo (Congo-Brazzaville)
South Africa According to the South African National Census of 2011  [ full citation needed ]
Map 1 shows Bantu languages in Africa and map 2 a magnification of the Benin, Nigeria and Cameroon area, as of July 2017.[ citation needed ]
A case has been made out for borrowings of many place-names and even misremembered rhymes – chiefly from one of the Luba varieties – in the USA. 
Some words from various Bantu languages have been borrowed into western languages. These include:
Along with the Latin script and Arabic script orthographies, there are also some modern indigenous writing systems used for Bantu languages:
Niger–Congo is a hypothetical language family spoken over the majority of sub-Saharan Africa. It unites the Mande languages, the Atlantic-Congo languages, and possibly several smaller groups of languages that are difficult to classify. If valid, Niger-Congo would be the world's largest in terms of member languages, the third-largest in terms of speakers, and Africa's largest in terms of geographical area. It is generally considered to be the world's largest language family in terms of the number of distinct languages, just ahead of Austronesian, although this is complicated by the ambiguity about what constitutes a distinct language; the number of named Niger–Congo languages listed by Ethnologue is 1,540.
In linguistics, a noun class is a particular category of nouns. A noun may belong to a given class because of the characteristic features of its referent, such as gender, animacy, shape, but such designations are often clearly conventional. Some authors use the term "grammatical gender" as a synonym of "noun class", but others consider these different concepts. Noun classes should not be confused with noun classifiers.
Swahili, also known by its local name Kiswahili, is the native language of the Swahili people, who are found primarily in Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique. It is a Bantu language, though Swahili has borrowed a number of words from foreign languages, particularly Arabic and Persian, but also words from Portuguese, English and German. Around forty percent of Swahili vocabulary consists of Arabic loanwords, including the name of the language. The loanwords date from the era of contact between Arab traders and the Bantu inhabitants of the east coast of Africa, which was also the time period when Swahili emerged as a lingua franca in the region. The number of Swahili speakers, be they native or second-language speakers, is estimated to be around 80 million.
Zulu, or isiZulu as an endonym, is a Southern Bantu language of the Nguni branch spoken in Southern Africa. It is the language of the Zulu people, with about 12 million native speakers, who primarily inhabit the province of KwaZulu-Natal of South Africa. Zulu is the most widely spoken home language in South Africa, and it is understood by over 50% of its population. It became one of South Africa's 11 official languages in 1994.
Shona is a Bantu language of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. The term is variously used to collectively describe all the Central Shonic varieties or specifically Standard Shona, a variety codified in the mid-20th century and now based increasingly on Zezuru. Using the broader term, the language is spoken by over 6,000,000 people.
Benue–Congo is a major branch of the Volta-Congo languages which covers most of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Soga, or Lusoga, is a Bantu language spoken by the Soga people of the Busoga region in Eastern Uganda. With over three million speakers, it is one of the major languages of Uganda, after English, Swahili, and Luganda. However, it is largely restricted to the Busoga region, which is mainly within the natural boundaries of Lake Victoria to the south, Lake Kyoga to the north, the Nile river to the west and the Mpologoma ('Lion') river to the east of Namutumba district. It is tonal.
The Tumbuka language is a Bantu language which is spoken in Malawi, Zambia, and Tanzania. It is also known as Chitumbuka or Citumbuka — the chi- prefix in front of Tumbuka means "in the manner of", and is understood in this case to mean "the language of the Tumbuka people". Tumbuka belongs to the same language group as Chewa and Sena.
Northern Ndebele, also called Ndebele, isiNdebele saseNyakatho, Zimbabwean Ndebele or North Ndebele, associated with the term Matabele, is a Bantu language spoken by the Northern Ndebele people which belongs to the Nguni group of languages.
In linguistics, the term nominal refers to a category used to group together nouns and adjectives based on shared properties. The motivation for nominal grouping is that in many languages nouns and adjectives share a number of morphological and syntactic properties. The systems used in such languages to show agreement can be classified broadly as gender systems, noun class systems or case marking, classifier systems, and mixed systems. Typically an affix related to the noun appears attached to the other parts of speech within a sentence to create agreement. Such morphological agreement usually occurs in parts within the noun phrase, such as determiners and adjectives. Languages with overt nominal agreement vary in how and to what extent agreement is required.
Bangala or Mɔnɔkɔ na bangála is a Bantu language spoken in the northeast corner of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it is also spoken in parts of South Sudan and some speakers are still found in the extreme western part of Uganda. A sister language of Lingala, it is used as a lingua franca by people with different languages and rarely as a first language. In 1991 there were an estimated 3.5 million second-language speakers. It is spoken to the east and northeast of the area where Lingala is spoken. In Lingala, Bangala translates to "People of Mongala". This means people living along the Mongala River. Across Bas-Uele Province, Bangala speakers have to a great extent adopted Lingala.
The Ekoid languages are a dialect cluster of Southern Bantoid languages spoken principally in southeastern Nigeria and in adjacent regions of Cameroon. They have long been associated with the Bantu languages, without their status being precisely defined. Crabb (1969) remains the major monograph on these languages, although regrettably, Part II, which was to contain grammatical analyses, was never published. Crabb also reviews the literature on Ekoid up to the date of publication.
Tswa (Xitswa) is a South-Eastern Bantu language in Southern Mozambique. Its closest relatives are Ronga and Tsonga, the three forming the Tswa–Ronga family of languages.
Yao is a Bantu language in Africa with approximately two million speakers in Malawi, and half a million each in Tanzania and Mozambique. There are also some speakers in Zambia. In Malawi, the main dialect is Mangochi, mostly spoken around Lake Malawi. In Mozambique, the main dialects are Makale and Massaninga. The language has also gone by several other names in English, including chiYao or ciYao, Achawa, Adsawa, Adsoa, Ajawa, Ayawa, Ayo, Ayao, Djao, Haiao, Hiao, Hyao, Jao, Veiao, and waJao.
The Grassfields languages are a branch of the Southern Bantoid languages spoken in the Western High Plateau of Cameroon and some parts of Taraba state, Nigeria. Better known Grassfields languages include the Eastern Grassfields languages Bamun, Yamba and the Ring language, Kom, Nso, Oku, Bali, Bafut. Almost all of these languages are closely related, sharing approximately half of their vocabulary.
Sukuma is a Bantu language of Tanzania, spoken in an area southeast of Lake Victoria between Mwanza, Shinyanga, and Lake Eyasi.
Hehe, also known by its native name Kihehe[kihehe], is a Bantu language that is spoken by the Hehe people of the Iringa region of Tanzania, lying south of the Great Ruaha River. It was reported to have "Ngoni" features, that is, words of a Zulu-like language introduced when conquered by a Nguni or Zulu-like people in the early 19th century. However, other "Ngoni" speeches seem to have lost most of these distinctive features over the past 150-odd years, the language more resembling those of the neighbouring peoples. In 1977 it was estimated that 190,000 people spoke Hehe. There has been some Bible translation. Hehe may be mutually intelligible with Bena.
Rangi or Langi is a Bantu language of spoken by the Rangi people of Kondoa District in the Dodoma Region of Central Tanzania. Whilst the language is known as Rangi in English and Kirangi in the dominant Swahili spoken throughout the African Great Lakes, the self-referent term is Kilaangi.
The Bantu peoples, or Bantu, are an ethnolinguistic grouping of approximately 400 distinct ethnic groups who speak Bantu languages. They are native to 24 countries spread over a vast area from Central Africa to Southeast Africa and into Southern Africa. There are several hundred Bantu languages. Depending on the definition of "language" or "dialect", it is estimated that there are between 440 and 680 distinct languages. The total number of speakers is in the hundreds of millions, ranging at roughly 350 million in the mid-2010s. About 60 million speakers (2015), divided into some 200 ethnic or tribal groups, are found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone.
Proto-Bantu is the reconstructed common ancestor of the Bantu languages, a subgroup of the Southern Bantoid languages. It is thought to have originally been spoken in West/Central Africa in the area of what is now Cameroon. About 5,000 years ago, it split off from Proto-Southern Bantoid when the Bantu expansion began to the south and east. Two theories have been put forward about the way the languages expanded: one is that the Bantu-speaking people moved first to the Congo region and then a branch split off and moved to East Africa; the other is that the two groups split from the beginning, one moving to the Congo region, and the other to East Africa.
"Here we go looby-loo; here we go looby-la (or looby-light) / Here we go looby-loo; all on a Saturday night!" Both of these Luba words, lubilu (quickly, in a hurry), and lubila (a shout) are words still in common usage in the Republic of Zaïre.