Venda language

Last updated

Native to
Region Limpopo
Ethnicity Venda people
Native speakers
1.3 million (2011 census) [1]
1.7 million L2 speakers in South Africa (2002) [2]
  • Guvhu
  • Ilafuri
  • Lembetu
  • Manda
  • Mbedzi
  • Phani
  • Tavha-Tsindi
Latin (Venda alphabet)
Venda Braille
Ditema tsa Dinoko
Signed Venda
Official status
Official language in
Flag of South Africa.svg  South Africa
Flag of Zimbabwe.svg  Zimbabwe
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ve
ISO 639-2 ven
ISO 639-3 ven
Glottolog vend1245
S.20 (S.21) [3]
Linguasphere 99-AUT-b incl. varieties
99-AUT-baa to 99-AUT-bad
South Africa Venda speakers proportion map.svg
Geographical distribution of Tshivenda in South Africa: proportion of the population that speaks Tshivenda at home.
South Africa Venda speakers density map.svg
Geographical distribution of Tshivenda in South Africa: density of Tshivenda home-language speakers.
  <1 /km²
  1–3 /km²
  3–10 /km²
  10–30 /km²
  30–100 /km²
  100–300 /km²
  300–1000 /km²
  1000–3000 /km²
  >3000 /km²
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Venda or Tshivenda is a Bantu language and an official language of South Africa. It is mainly spoken by the Venda people in the northern part of South Africa's Limpopo province, as well as by some Lemba people in Zimbabwe. The Venda language is related to Kalanga, which is spoken in Zimbabwe and Botswana. During the apartheid era of South Africa, the bantustan of Venda was set up to cover the Venda speakers of South Africa.


According to the 2011 census, Venda speakers are concentrated in the following areas: Makhado Local Municipality, with 350,000 people; Thulamela Local Municipality, with 370,000 people; Musina Local Municipality, with 35,000 people; and Mutale Local Municipality, with 89,000 people. The total number of speakers in Vhembe district currently stands at 844,000. In Gauteng province, there are 275,000 Venda speakers. Fewer than 10,000 are spread across the rest of the country — for a total number of Venda speakers in South Africa at 1.2 million people or just 2.2% of South Africa's population, making Venda speakers the second smallest minority language in South Africa, after the Ndebele language, which number 1.1 million speakers.

Writing system

The Venda language uses the Latin alphabet with five additional accented letters. There are four dental consonants with a circumflex accent below the letter (ḓ, ḽ, ṋ, ṱ) and an overdot for velar . Five vowel letters are used to write seven vowels. The letters C, J and Q are used only for foreign words and names.

The Venda alphabet
A aB b(C c)D dḒ ḓE eF fG g
H hI i(J j)K kL lḼ ḽM mN n
Ṋ ṋṄ ṅO oP p(Q q)R rS sT t
Ṱ ṱU uV vW wX xY yZ z
letter(s)value(s) in IPAnotes
a[a], [ɔ]
bw[bɣʷ] or [bj]Varies by dialect
dzh[d͡ʒ]Similar to English "j"
e[ɛ], [e]
h[ɦ], [h]Pronounced [h] before e.
hw[ɣʷ], [hʷ]
j[j]In the word Jerusalema
m[m], [m̩]M is syllabic [m̩], when the following syllable begins with m.
n[n], [n̩]N is syllabic when the following syllable begins with n.
o[ɔ], [o]
x[x]Similar to the ch in Scottish loch.


The extra letters have the following Unicode names:

Luṱhofunḓeraru lwa Mibvumo

The sintu writing system Isibheqe Sohlamvu/Ditema tsa Dinoko , known technically in Venda as Luṱhofunḓeraru lwa Mibvumo, is also used for the Venda language.[ citation needed ]

ṱala "divorce"
[t'a:ra] Tala.jpg
tala "draw a line"
[t'a:ra] Tala2.jpg


Venda distinguishes dental ṱ, ṱh, ḓ, ṋ, ḽ from alveolar t, th, d, n, l as well as (like in Ewe) labiodental f, v from bilabial fh, vh (the last two are slightly rounded). There are no clicks; x has the sound of ch in loch or Bach. As in other South African languages like Zulu, ph, ṱh, th, kh are aspirated and the "plain" stops p, ṱ, t, and k are ejective.

There are five vowel sounds: /i ɛ a ɔ u/.

Bilabial Labio-
Dental Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive ejective pʷʼ pʲʼ t̪ʼ tʲʼ
aspirated pʷʰ pʲʰ t̪ʰ
voiced b d ɡ
Nasal m ( ɱ ) n ɲ ŋ ŋʷ
Lateral ( l )
Affricate ejective p̪fʼ tsʼ tsʷʼ tʃʼ
voiced b̪v dz dzʷ
Fricative voiceless ɸ f s ʃ x h
voiced β v z ʒ
Rhotic voiced r
flap ɺ
Semivowel j w

A labiodental nasal /ɱ/ sound appears in prenasalised consonant sounds, and /l/ is often used from loanwords. Labiovelar sounds occur as alternatives to labiopalatal sounds and may also be pronounced /pkʰ pkʼ bɡ mŋ/. [4] Fortition of /ɸ β s ʃ x h l̪ l r w/ occurs after nasal prefixes, likely to [pʰ? b tsʰ tʃʰ kʰ? pʰ d̪ d d b]. [5]


Venda has a specified tone, HIGH, with unmarked syllables having a low tone. Phonetic falling tone occurs only in sequences of more than one vowel or on the penultimate syllable if the vowel is long. Tone patterns exist independently of the consonants and vowels of a word and so they are word tones. Venda tone also follows Meeussen's rule: when a word beginning with a high tone is preceded by that high tone, the initial high tone is lost. (That is, there cannot be two adjacent marked high tones in a word, but high tone spreads allophonically to a following non-tonic ("low"-tone) syllable.) There are only a few tone patterns in Venda words (no tone, a single high tone on some syllable, two non-adjacent high tones), which behave as follows:

WordPatternAfter LAfter HNotes
thamana–.–.–thàmà:nàthámâ:nàUnmarked (low) tone is raised after a high tone. That is, the preceding tone spreads.
dukaná–.–.Hdùkà:nádúkâ:náA preceding high tone spreads but drops before the final high tone.
danána–.H.–dàná:nàdánâ:nàThe pitch peaks on the tonic syllable, and a preceding non-adjacent high tone merges into it.
mádzhieH.–má:dzhíèmâ:dzhìèInitial high tone spreads. With an immediately preceding high tone, that initial tone is lost.
(The preceding tone also spreads but not as far.)

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  1. Venda at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. Webb, Vic. 2002. "Language in South Africa: the role of language in national transformation, reconstruction and development." Impact: Studies in language and society, 14:78
  3. Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  4. Poulos, George (1990). A Linguistic Analysis of Venda.
  5. Jeff Mielke, 2008. The emergence of distinctive features, p 139ff