|Native to||Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe|
|12 million (2007)|
| Latin (Chewa alphabet)|
Official language in
| Malawi |
Areas where Chewa is the dominant language (purple). Solid green signifies a nation where Chewa is an official language, striped green signifies a nation where Chewa is a recognized minority language.
Chewa (also known as Nyanja, // ) is a Bantu language spoken in much of Southern, Southeast and East Africa, namely the countries of Malawi and Zimbabwe, where it is an official language, and Mozambique and Zambia where it is a recognised minority language. The noun class prefix chi- is used for languages, so the language is usually called Chichewa and Chinyanja (spelled Cinianja in Mozambique). In Malawi, the name was officially changed from Chinyanja to Chichewa in 1968 at the insistence of President Hastings Kamuzu Banda (himself of the Chewa people), and this is still the name most commonly used in Malawi today. In Zambia, the language is generally known as Nyanja or Cinyanja/Chinyanja '(language) of the lake' (referring to Lake Malawi).
Chewa belongs to the same language group (Guthrie Zone N) as Tumbuka, Senaand Nsenga.
Chewa is the most widely known language of Malawi, spoken mostly in the Central and Southern Regions of that country. [ self-published source? ] It was one of the 55 languages featured on the Voyager spacecraft."It is also one of the seven official African languages of Zambia, where it is spoken mostly in the Eastern Province and Lusaka Province (the Lusaka Nyanja dialect). It is also spoken in Mozambique, especially in the provinces of Tete and Niassa, as well as in Zimbabwe where, according to some estimates, it ranks as the third-most widely used local language, after Shona and Northern Ndebele."
The Chewa were a branch of the Maravi people who lived in the Eastern Province of Zambia and in northern Mozambique as far south as the River Zambezi from the 16th century or earlier.
The name "Chewa" (in the form Chévas) itself is first recorded by António Gamitto, who at the age of 26 in 1831 was appointed as second-in-command of an expedition from Tete to the court of King Kazembe in what is now Zambia. His route took him through the country of King Undi west of the Dzalanyama mountains, across a corner of present-day Malawi and on into Zambia.Later he wrote an account including some ethnographic and linguistic notes and vocabularies. According to Gamitto, the Malawi or Maravi people (Maraves) were those ruled by King Undi south of the Chambwe stream (not far south of the present border between Mozambique and Zambia), while the Chewa lived north of the Chambwe.
Another, more extensive, list of 263 words and phrases of the language was made by the German missionary Sigismund Koelle who, working in Sierra Leone in West Africa, interviewed some 160 former slaves and recorded vocabularies in their languages. He published the results in a book called Polyglotta Africana in 1854. Among other slaves was one Mateke, who spoke what he calls "Maravi". Mateke's language is clearly an early form of Nyanja, but in a southern dialect. For example, the phrase zaka ziwiri "two years" was dzaka dziŵiri in Mateke's speech, whereas for Johannes Rebmann's informant Salimini, who came from the Lilongwe region, it was bzaka bziŵiri. The same dialect difference survives today in the word dzala or bzala "(to) plant".
Apart from the few words recorded by Gamitto and Koelle, the first extensive record of the Chewa language was made by Johannes Rebmann in his Dictionary of the Kiniassa Language, published in 1877 but written in 1853–4. Rebmann was a missionary living near Mombasa in Kenya, and he obtained his information from a Malawian slave, known by the Swahili name Salimini, who had been captured in Malawi some ten years earlier. Kikamtunda, the "language of the plateau", and the Kimaravi dialect spoken further south; for example, the Maravi gave the name mombo to the tree which he himself called kamphoni.Salimini, who came from a place called Mphande apparently in the Lilongwe region, also noted some differences between his own dialect, which he called
The first grammar, A Grammar of the Chinyanja language as spoken at Lake Nyasa with Chinyanja–English and English–Chinyanja vocabulary, was written by Alexander Riddel in 1880. Further early grammars and vocabularies include A grammar of Chinyanja, a language spoken in British Central Africa, on and near the shores of Lake Nyasa by George Henry (1891) and M.E. Woodward's A vocabulary of English–Chinyanja and Chinyanja–English: as spoken at Likoma, Lake Nyasa (1895). The whole Bible was translated into the Likoma Island dialect of Nyanja by William Percival Johnson and published as Chikalakala choyera: ndicho Malangano ya Kale ndi Malangano ya Chapano in 1912. Another Bible translation, known as the Buku Lopatulika ndilo Mau a Mulungu, was made in a more standard Central Region dialect about 1900-1922 by missionaries of the Dutch Reformed Mission and Church of Scotland with the help of some Malawians. This has recently (2016) been reissued in a revised and slightly modernised version.
Another early grammar, concentrating on the Kasungu dialect of the language, was Mark Hanna Watkins' A Grammar of Chichewa (1937). This book, the first grammar of any African language to be written by an American, was a work of cooperation between a young black PhD student and young student from Nyasaland studying in Chicago, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, who in 1966 was to become the first President of the Republic of Malawi.This grammar is also remarkable in that it was the first to mark the tones of the words. Modern monographs on aspects of Chichewa grammar include Mtenje (1986), Kanerva (1990), Mchombo (2004) and Downing & Mtenje (2017).
In recent years the language has changed considerably, and a dichotomy has grown between the traditional Chichewa of the villages and the language of city-dwellers.
Chewa has five vowel sounds: /a, ɛ, i, ɔ, u/; these are written a, e, i, o, u. Long or double vowels are sometimes found, e.g. áákúlu 'big' (class 2), kufúula 'to shout'. When a word comes at the end of a phrase, its penultimate vowel tends to be lengthened, except for non-Chewa names and words, such as Muthárika or ófesi, in which the penultimate vowel always remains short.[ citation needed ] The added 'u' or 'i' in borrowed words such as láputopu 'laptop' or íntaneti 'internet' tends to be silent or barely pronounced.
Chewa consonants can be plain (i.e. followed by a vowel), labialised (i.e. followed by w), or palatalised (i.e. followed by or combined with y):
In this scheme, the place of bya is taken by the palatalised affricate bza, and the place of gya is taken by ja, and sya is replaced by sha.
Another way of classifying the consonants is according to whether they are voiced, unvoiced, aspirated, nasal, or approximant:
Voiced and aspirated consonants, as well as [f] and [s], can also be preceded by a homorganic nasal:
The possible consonant combinations can thus be arranged on a table as follows:
|voiced||unvoiced||aspirated||nasalised voiced||nasalised aspirated||nasal||approximant|
The spelling used here is that introduced in 1973,which is the one generally in use in the Malawi at the present time, replacing the Chinyanja Orthography Rules of 1931.
Notes on the consonants
Like most other Bantu languages, Chewa is a tonal language; that is to say, the pitch of the syllables (high or low) plays an important role in it. Tone is used in various ways in the language. First of all, each word has its own tonal pattern, for example:
Usually there is only one high tone in a word (generally on one of the last three syllables), or none. However, in compound words there can be more than one high tone, for example:
A second important use of tone is in the verb. Each tense of the verb has its own characteristic tonal pattern (negative tenses usually have a different pattern from positive ones).For example, the present habitual has high tones on the initial syllable and the penultimate, the other syllables being low:
The recent past continuous and present continuous, on the other hand, have a tone on the third syllable:
Tones can also indicate whether a verb is being used in a main clause or in a dependent clause such as a relative clause:
A third use of tones in Chewa is to show phrasing and sentence intonation. For example, immediately before a pause in the middle of a sentence the speaker's voice tends to rise up; this rise is referred to as a boundary tone.Other intonational tones are sometimes heard, for example a rising or falling tone at the end of a yes-no question.
Chewa nouns are divided for convenience into a number of classes, which are referred to by the Malawians themselves by names such as "Mu-A-", bánki 'bank', which takes the concords of class 9 in the singular, has a plural mabánki (class 6).but by Bantu specialists by numbers such as "1/2", corresponding to the classes in other Bantu languages. Conventionally, they are grouped into pairs of singular and plural. However, irregular pairings are also possible, especially with loanwords; for example,
When assigning nouns to a particular class, initially the prefix of the noun is used. Where there is no prefix, or where the prefix is ambiguous, the concords (see below) are used as a guide to the noun class. For example, katúndu 'possessions' is put in class 1, since it takes the class 1 demonstrative uyu 'this'.
Some nouns belong to one class only, e.g. tomáto 'tomato(es)' (class 1), mowa 'beer' (class 3), malayá 'shirt(s)' (class 6), udzudzú 'mosquito(es)' (class 14), and do not change between singular and plural. Despite this, such words can still be counted if appropriate: tomáto muwíri 'two tomatoes', mowa uwíri 'two beers', malayá amódzi 'one shirt', udzudzú umódzi 'one mosquito'.
Class 11 (Lu-) is not found in Chewa. Words like lumo 'razor' and lusó 'skill' are considered to belong to class 5/6 (Li-Ma-) and take the concords of that class.
Pronouns, adjectives, and verbs have to show agreement with nouns in Chichewa. This is done by means of prefixes, for example:
Class 2 (the plural of class 1) is often used for respect when referring to elders. According to Corbett and Mtenje, a word like bambo 'father', even though it is singular, will take plural concords (e.g. bambo anga akuyenda, ndikuwaona 'my father is walking, I see him'); they note that to use the singular object-marker -mu- would be 'grossly impolite'.
The various prefixes are shown on the table below:
There are 17 different noun classes, but because some of them share concords there are in fact only 12 distinct sets of prefixes.
In the examples below, the concords are illustrated mainly with nouns of classes 1 and 2.
The shortened forms are more common.
Prefixed by a supporting vowel, or by ná 'with' or ndi 'it is', these make the pronouns 'he/she' and 'they':
For classes other than classes 1 and 2, a demonstrative is used instead of a freestanding pronoun, for example in class 6 ichi or icho. But forms prefixed by ná- and ndi- such as nácho and ndichó are found.
The three pronominal adjectives yénse 'all', yékha 'alone', yémwe 'that same' (or 'who') have the same pronominal concords yé- and (w)ó-, this time as prefixes:
In classes 2 and 6, ó- often becomes wó- (e.g. wónse for ónse etc.).
The commonly used word álíyensé 'every' is compounded from the verb áli 'who is' and yénse 'all'. Both parts of the word have concords:
As with other Bantu languages, all Chewa verbs have a prefix which agrees with the subject of the verb. In modern Chewa, the class 2 prefix (formerly ŵa-) has become a-, identical with the prefix of class 1:
The perfect tense (wapita 'he/she has gone', apita 'they have gone') has different subject prefixes from the other tenses (see below).
The relative pronoun améne 'who' and demonstrative améneyo use the same prefixes as a verb:
The use of an object infix is not obligatory in Chewa (for example, ndagula means 'I have bought (them)'). If used, it comes immediately before the verb root, and agrees with the object:
The object infix of classes 16, 17, and 18 is usually replaced by a suffix: ndaonámo 'I have seen inside it'.
The same infix with verbs with the applicative suffix -ira represents the indirect object, e.g. ndamúlembera 'I have written to him'.
Numeral concords are used with numbers -módzi 'one', -wíri 'two', -tátu 'three', -náyi 'four', -sanu 'five', and the words -ngáti? 'how many', -ngápo 'several':
The class 1 prefix m- becomes mu- before -wiri: tomáto muwíri 'two tomatoes'.
The number khúmi 'ten' has no concord.
The demonstrative pronouns uja 'that one you know' and uno 'this one we are in' take the concords u- and a- in classes 1 and 2. For semantic reasons, class 1 uno is rare:
The same concords w- (derived from u-) and a-, combined with the vowel a, make the subject prefix of the perfect tense. In the plural the two prefixes a-a- combine into a single vowel:
The concords w- (derived from u-) and a- are also found in the word á 'of':
The same concords are used in possessive adjectives -ánga 'my', -áko 'your', -áke 'his/her/its/their', -áthu 'our', -ánu 'your (plural or respectful singular), -áwo 'their'/'his/her' (respectful):
-áwo 'their' is used only of people (-áke is used for things).
Wá 'of' can be combined with nouns or adverbs to make adjectives:
In the same way wá 'of' combines with the ku- of the infinitive to make verbal adjectives. Wá + ku- usually shortens to wó-, except where the verb root is monosyllabic:
The same w- and a- concords are found with the words -ína 'other' and -ení-éní 'real'. In combination with these words the plural concord a- is converted to e-:
Certain adjectives (-kúlu 'big', -ng'óno 'small'; -(a)múna 'male', -kázi 'female'; -táli 'long', 'tall', -fúpi 'short'; -wisi 'fresh') have a double prefix, combining the possessive concord (wá-) and the number concord (m- or mw-):
Early dictionaries, such as those of Rebmann, and of Scott and Hetherwick, show that formerly the number of concords was greater. The following changes have taken place:
In addition, classes 4 and 9, and classes 15 and 17 have identical concords, so the total number of concord sets (singular and plural) is now twelve.
Tenses in Chichewa are differentiated in two ways, by their tense-marker (or tense-infix), and by their tonal pattern. Sometimes two tenses have the same tense-marker and differ in their tonal pattern alone. In the following examples, the tense-marker is underlined:
One tense has no tense-marker:
Tenses can be modified further by adding certain other infixes, called 'aspect-markers', after the tense-marker. These are -má- 'always, usually' -ká- 'go and', -dzá 'come and' or 'in future', and -ngo- 'only', 'just'. These infixes can also be used on their own, as tense-markers in their own right (compare the use of -ma- and -dza- in the list of tenses above). For example:
Compound tenses, such as the following, are also found in Chichewa:
Chichewa verbs (with the exception of the imperative mood and infinitive) begin with a prefix agreeing grammatically with the subject.This prefix is referred to by some grammarians as the 'subject-marker'.
The subject-marker can be:
An example of a locative subject-marker is:
Both the 2nd and the 3rd person plural pronouns and subject-markers are used respectfully to refer to a single person:
Except in the perfect tense, the 3rd person subject marker when used of people is the same whether singular or plural. So in the present tense the 3rd person subject-marker is a-:
But in the perfect tense wa- (singular) contrasts with a- (plural or respectful):
When the subject is a noun not in class 1, the appropriate class prefix is used even if referring to a person:
An object-marker can also optionally be added to the verb; if one is added it goes immediately before the verb-stem. -ni after the verb:The 2nd person plural adds
The object-marker can be:
When used with a toneless verb tense such as the perfect, the object-marker has a high tone, but in some tenses such as the present habitual, the tone is lost:
With the imperative or subjunctive, the tone of the object-marker goes on the syllable following it, and the imperative ending changes to -e:
Chewa has a large number of tenses, some of which differ in some respects from the tenses met with in European languages. The distinction between one tense and another is made partly by the use of infixes, such as -na- and -ku-, and partly by the intonation of the verb, since each tense has its own particular tonal pattern.
There are five time-frames (remote past, near past, present, near future, and remote future). The distinction between near and remote tenses is not exact. The remote tenses are not used of events of today or last night, but the near tenses can sometimes be used of events of earlier or later than today:
Another distinction is between perfect and past.The two perfect tenses imply that the event described had an outcome which still obtains now. The two past tenses usually imply that the result of the action has been reversed in some way:
Recent time (today):
Remote time (yesterday or earlier):
When used in narrating a series of events, however, these implications are somewhat relaxed: the Remote Perfect is used for narrating earlier events, and the Recent Past for narrating events of today.
Another important distinction in Chewa is between perfective and imperfective aspect. Imperfective tenses are used for situations, events which occur regularly, or events which are temporarily in progress:
In the present tense only, there is a further distinction between habitual and progressive:
One future tense not found in European languages is the -ká- future, which 'might presuppose an unspoken conditional clause':
There are also various subjunctive and potential mood tenses, such as:
Negative tenses, if they are main verbs, are made with the prefix sí-. They differ in intonation from the positive tenses. The negative of the -ná- tense has the ending -e instead of -a:
Tenses which mean 'will not' or 'have not yet' have a single tone on the penultimate syllable:
Infinitives, participial verbs, and the subjunctive make their negative with -sa-, which is added after the subject-prefix instead of before it. They similarly have a single tone on the penultimate syllable:
The tenses used in certain kinds of dependent clauses (such as relative clauses and some types of temporal clauses) differ from those used in main clauses. Dependent verbs often have a tone on the first syllable. Sometimes this change of tone alone is sufficient to show that the verb is being used in a dependent clause.Compare for example:
Other commonly used dependent tenses are the following:
There is also a series of tenses using a toneless -ka- meaning 'when' of 'if', for example:
After the verb stem one or more extensions may be added. The extensions modify the meaning of the verb, for example:
The extensions -ul-/-ol- and its intransitive form -uk-/-ok- are called 'reversive'. They give meanings such as 'open', 'undo', 'unstick', 'uncover':
Most extensions, apart from the reciprocal -an- 'one another', have two possible forms, e.g. -ir-/-er-, -idw-/-edw-, -its-/-ets-, -iz-/-ez-, -ul-/-ol-, -uk-/-ok-. The forms with i and u are used when the verb stem has a, i, or u. u can also follow e:
The forms with e are used if the verb stem is monosyllabic or has an e or o in it:
Extensions with o are used only with a monosyllabic stem or one with o:
The extension -its-, -ets- with a low tone is causative, but when it has a high tone it is intensive. The high tone is heard on the final syllable of the verb:
The applicative -ir-, -er- can also sometimes be intensive, in which case it has a high tone:
Verbs with -ik-, -ek-, -uk-, -ok- when they have a stative or intransitive meaning also usually have a high tone:
However, there are some low-toned exceptions such as on-ek-a 'seem' or nyam-uk-a 'set off'.
The following have written published stories, novels, or plays in the Chewa language:
|ISO 639-3||None (|
An urban variety of Nyanja, sometimes called Town Nyanja, is the lingua franca of the Zambian capital Lusaka and is widely spoken as a second language throughout Zambia. This is a distinctive Nyanja dialect with some features of Nsenga, although the language also incorporates large numbers of English-derived words, as well as showing influence from other Zambian languages such as Bemba. Town Nyanja has no official status, and the presence of large numbers of loanwords and colloquial expressions has given rise to the misconception that it is an unstructured mixture of languages or a form of slang.
The fact that the standard Nyanja used in schools differs dramatically from the variety actually spoken in Lusaka has been identified as a barrier to the acquisition of literacy among Zambian children.
The concords in Town Nyanja differ from those in Chichewa described above. For example, classes 5 and 6 both have the concord ya- instead of la- and a-; class 8 has va- instead of za-; and 13 has twa- instead of ta-.In addition, the subject and object marker for "I" is ni- rather than ndi-, and that for "they" is βa- (spelled "ba-") rather than a-.
|English||Chewa (Malawi)||Town Nyanja (Lusaka)|
|How are you?||Muli bwanji?||Muli bwanji?|
|I'm fine||Ndili bwino||Nili bwino / Nili mushe|
|What's your name?||Dzina lanu ndani?||Zina yanu ndimwe bandani?|
|My name is...||Dzina langa ndine...||Zina yanga ndine...|
|How many children do you have?||Muli ndi ana angati?||Muli na bana bangati? ('b' = [ŵ])|
|I have two children||Ndili ndi ana awiri||Nili na bana babili|
|How much is it?||Ndi zingati?||Ni zingati?|
|See you tomorrow||Tionana mawa||Tizaonana mailo|
|I love you||Ndimakukonda||Nikukonda|
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