Date of completion April 30 2000

Respondent’s details

Name: Rosalie
Surname: Finlayson
Male []
Female X

Institution belonged to: National Language Service Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology
Address: Private Bag X195 Pretoria, 0001, South Africa
Telephone: 27 12 337 8366
Fax:  27 12 324 2119

Details of language
Glotonym or name of language on which you are providing data:
Autoglotonym (name given to the language by native speakers): isiXhosa
Heteroglotonym (name given by the non-native community to the language): Xhosa

What language group does the language belong to?
Family: Bantu
Group: South-Eastern Bantu
Subgroup: Nguni

What type of language is it?
Creole check box
Pidgin check box
None of these.

  1. Does this language have other varieties? If so, what are these?

IsiXhosa has dialectal varieties - the most distinct being isiMpondo (isiNdrondroza).  Other dialects which do not have major dialectal distinctions are: Thembu, Bomvana, Mpondimise, Rharhabe, Gcaleka, Xesibe, Bhaca, Cele, Hlubi, Ntlangwini, Ngqika, Mfengu.

Source:  Own research & Pahl, H.W. 1983. IsiXhosa Educum Publishers, Johannesburg

  1. Does this language exist in a written form?

YES, since 1824.  (see detail under question 40)

  1. Is there standardisation of the language?

Yes, although the early missionaries did transcription of Xhosa, not everybody is positive of their attempts at standardisation, referring to them as "clumsy procedures... each working to their own agenda, often basing their orthographies on those of their own languages..." (Bill 1990:108).  The present standardised form is allegedly based mainly on the Ngqika and Gcaleka dialects prescribed by the original Xhosa Language Committee (later to become the Xhosa Language Board) established in 1955 by the Nationalist Government which came into power in 1948.  The main aims of these Language Committees were to standardise the written language by formulating spelling rules, to compile a vocabulary list for schools, to promote writing of books in a standardised form and to oversee the prescribing of school books.  These Language Boards also made recommendations about the highly influential and profitable market of prescribed books for schools, acting as guardian angels over language purity.  As instruments of the government their recommendations were expected to screen out any protest literature with the result that published works in the African languages were restricted to "traditional" themes.  Because of the association with apartheid structures, the standardisation process therefore unfortunately lacked legitimacy.  The standard languages are consistently viewed (Calteaux 1995:36) “as a result of historical accident” and “a direct and deliberate intervention by society.”

Source: Own research & Rosalie Finlayson & Sarah Slabbert: The future of the standard African languages in the multilingual South African classroom. In African Mosaic, Festschrift in honour of JA Louw, Unisa Press, Pretoria
Bill, Mary C, 1990.  Literature, language and politics.  A case study of Tsonga, in Nethersole, R.  (ed) Emerging literatures Bern: Peter Lang.
Calteaux, C. 1995. A sociolinguistic analysis of a multilingual community.  Unpublished doctoral thesis, Johannesburg, Rand Afrikaans University

  1. Do you consider yourself a member of this linguistic community? If so, why?

Yes, the researcher spoke Xhosa before English and identifies fully with its value as a language and its promotion and development. She served on the committee overseeing the compilation of the Greater Xhosa Dictionary (Fort Hare).

  1. Where is this language spoken? What are its geographical boundaries?

In South Africa, but more specifically in the Western Cape Province (18,9%) and Eastern Cape (83,3%), but with speakers also in the Northern Cape (6,3%), Gauteng (7,4%), North-west (5,3%), Northern (0,2%), KwaZulu-Natal (1,6%), Mpumalanga (1,3%) , Free State (9,3%) and Lesotho (approximately 15%).

Ref: South African Survey 1999 - 2000, South African Institute of Race Relations

  1. Have these geographical boundaries changed over the years? If so, how have they altered?

The Xhosa-speaking people were at the forefront of the Bantu-speaking peoples of Southern Africa.  They inhabited the south-eastern part of southern Africa.  With colonisation, they were incorporated into the Cape Province.  Subsequently, with the introduction of the policy of separate development, the Xhosa-speaking people of the Cape Province were allocated their own homelands and were subsequently divided into the Transkei and Ciskei homelands, dependent upon their origins. Nevertheless, they continued to occupy large areas of the Cape Province stretching further into the Western Cape. Since 1994, these homeland boundaries no longer exist but the areas are now included in the Eastern and Western Cape Provinces.

Ref: own research

  1. What is the physical terrain of this area alike?

From Mediterranean in the Western Cape to tropical in KwaZulu/Natal, to bushveld, semi-desert and grasslands in the other provinces

Ref: own research

  1. Are any other languages spoken within the same territory? If so, what are these?

Yes: with the major languages being:

Western Cape: Afrikaans (58,5%) & English (20,1%)
Eastern Cape: Afrikaans (9,5%) & English (3,7%) & Southern Sotho (2,2%)
N. Cape: Afrikaans (68,7%), Tswana (19,7%), English (2,4%)
Free State: Southern Sotho (61,7%), Afrikaans (14,4%) & Zulu (4,8%)
North West: Tswana (66,8%), Afrikaans (7,4%) & (Northern Sotho (4%)
Northern: Northern Sotho (52,2%), Venda (15,4%), Tsonga 22,4%), Afrikaans (2,2%)
Mpumalanga: Swati (29,8%), Zulu (25,2%), Ndebele (12,4%), Northern Sotho (10,4%), Afrikaans (8,2%), Tsonga (3,5%), English (2,0%)
KZN: Zulu (79,1%), English (15,6%), Afrikaans (1,6%)
Gauteng: All 11 official languages [e.g. Zulu (21,2%), Afrikaans (16,5%), English (12,9%), Southern Sotho (13%)] together with a number of other languages

Ref: South African Survey 1999-2000, Millennium Edition, Institute of Race Relations, Braamfontein, Johannesburg

  1. Could you enclose a sketch or indicate the area in which the language is spoken? (if you wish, you can draw a sketch in the space on the next page)

See Appendix.

  1. What State(s) / country (ies) do/es the territory/ies where the language is spoken belong to?

All 9 provinces in the Republic of South Africa

  1. What is the total number of inhabitants (whether or not they speak this language) of this territory?

The total number of inhabitants of South Africa is 40 583 573. The total number of inhabitants of those provinces with large concentrations of Xhosa speakers are as follows:

Free State: 2 633 504
Eastern Cape: 6 302 525
Western Cape: 3 956 875
Northern Cape: 840 321
Gauteng: 7 348 423

Statistics South Africa 1998. Census in Brief.  The People of South Africa Population Census, 1996, Report no.1:03-01-11(1996).  Pretoria: Stats SA

  1. How many of the inhabitants understand, speak read or write this language?
Home language: 7 196 118
Zulu: 9 200 144
Swati: 1 013 193
Ndebele: 586 961
  17 996 416

This is in South Africa as a whole because these languages all belong to the Nguni language group and these languages are mutually intelligible.

Speak  Home language: 7 196 118
Read 3 606 098  
Write 3 606 098  

 These final two statistics (i.e. ‘read’ & ‘write’) are derived from the total number of Xhosa speakers, minus 40% which constitutes the number of children, and minus the number (19%) of illiterate adults.

Literacy figures based on figures quoted in South African Survey, 1999 - 2000, Millennium Edition, Institute of Race Relations, Braamfontein, Johannesburg

Use this space to draw a map or sketch of the territory where this language is spoken.
See Appendix.

  1. How many of the speakers are monolingual (use only this language)?

The figures below are estimates. No research has yet been undertaken to establish how many Xhosa speakers use only Xhosa.


Eastern Cape:  1 264 083
Free State: 64 591
Gauteng: 91 125
KZN: 31 732
Mpumalanga: 9 325
North west: 48 042
North Cape: 14 606
Northern: 2 297
Western Cape: 136 043
TOTAL:  1 661 844

Ref:  Statistics South Africa.  South Africa Census 96 (Percentage of rural Xhosa speakers aggregated by race & gender)

  1. How many of the speakers are bilingual (use this and another language)? What other language(s) do they speak?

The figures below are estimates and refer to the use of Xhosa and English or Afrikaans. No research has been undertaken to establish how many Xhosa speakers use Xhosa and another language.

Eastern Cape: 1 078 717
Free State: 64 431
Gauteng: 208 910
KZN: 31 904
Mpumalanga: 7 885
North West: 42 250
North Cape: 12 141
Northern: 1 701
West Cape: 252 658
TOTAL:  1 700 597

(Percentage of secondary school Xhosa speakers aggregated by race & gender)

Ref:  Statistics South Africa.  South Africa Census 96
South African Survey 1999 - 2000, Millennium Edition, Institute of Race Relations, Braamfontein, Johannesburg

  1. How many of the speakers are multilingual (speak this and more than one other language)? What other languages do they speak?

Other languages spoken by Xhosa speakers: English, Afrikaans, and depending, on provinces, a number of the predominant languages of the province/ area.
Multilingualism has been based on those Xhosa speakers of the age of 20+ who are bilingual and live in the urban concentrations.

Eastern Cape: 394 810
Free State: 44 200
Gauteng: 202 643
KZN: 13 751
Mpumalanga: 3 083
North west: 14 745
North Cape: 8 511
Northern: 187
West Cape: 224 613

Ref:  Statistics South Africa.  South Africa Census 96
South African Survey, 1999 - 2000, Millennium Edition, Institute of Race Relations, Braamfontein, Johannesburg
South Africa: Inter-provincial Comparative Report, Development Paper 139, DIBU, DBSA, January 2000

  1. Are speakers of this language dispersed throughout the territory, or are they concentrated in specific population centres?

Yes, they are dispersed in all provinces with larger concentrations in Gauteng, Free State, Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape but most highly concentrated in Eastern & Western Cape.

Western Cape: 18,9%
Eastern Cape: 83,3%
N. Cape: 6,3%
Free State:  9,3%
North West: 5,3%
Northern: 0,2%
Mpumalanga: 1,3%
KZN: 1,6%
Gauteng: 7,4%

Ref: South African Survey 1999-2000, Millennium Edition, Institute of Race Relations, Braamfontein, Johannesburg

  1. How has the number of speakers of this language evolved over time (increased, decreased or remained stable)?

Increased in terms of population growth.

  1. Is the language passed down from generation to generation? If not, why not? What language is replacing it?

Yes, passed down from generation to generation, but a measure of encroachment is taking place in terms of English and codeswitching with other languages dependent upon the area concerned.

  1. Could you indicate how often the members of each generation use the language with other generations (old people with old people, young people with old people, etc) in their informal contacts (in the street, at home, in leisure time,…)?


     … Speak the language with

The people... Elderly Men Elderly Women Adult Men Adult Women Young Men Young Women Boys Girls
Elderly Men 5 5 5 5 4 4 4 4
Elderly Women 5 5 5 5 4 4 4 4
Adult Men 5 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
Adult Women 5 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
Young Men 4 4 4 4 3 3 3 3
Young Women 4 4 4 4 3 3 3 3
Boys 4 4 4 4 4 4 3 3
Girls 4 4 4 4 4 4 3 3

Specify the frequency: 5 = always in this language; 4 = more in this language than others; 3 = equally often in either language; 2 = more in other languages than in this one; 1 = always in other languages.

  1. Do the speakers of other languages speak this language? In what circumstances?

Yes, where they reside in the larger urban centres and where members of households practise migrant labour

  1. Is there any historical, political or economic factor which has affected the situation of this linguistic community?

Politicisation - historically the Eiselin Line (Coloured Preference Area Legislation 1955), giving preference to coloured people in the Eastern & Western Cape Provinces. This encouraged bilingualism and a denial of identity and home language by Xhosa-speaking people in order that they should acquire jobs and residential rights.

Ref:  own research

  1. Has any other factor directly influenced the growth or threatened the future of the language (migration, temporary labour, deportations, wars…)?

Migratory labour system, coloured preference area legislation (as above).

  1. Is the language currently threatened? If so, what is the cause?

No, although growing interest in literacy in English has tended to reduce the perceived relevance of Xhosa.

  1. Is the community which speaks this language in danger? If so, what is the cause?


  1. Is there any internal migration (movement of the population within the territory)? Is there any external migration (movement out of the territory to others)? If so, what is the cause?

Urbanisation with its associated migration patterns - For example, migration towards Cape Town of Xhosa-speaking households reached rates of 6,5% per annum in the 1990s, with the highest levels being recorded early in this decade.  Moves were by no means all directly from rural sending areas to Cape Town; on-migration within the Western Cape of Xhosa-speaking households was identified as 5% per annum.
Migration into Outeniqua and into the non-metropolitan Boland region of Xhosa-speaking Eastern Cape households was also high, with George and Mossel Bay leading with 6% in recent years.
Migration towards Cape Town in the Western Cape is long distance, resulting in a larger and more telling loss of ties and social support from ancestral tribal communities.  As a consequence, though circulatory migration within the Eastern Cape system was found to be low at 6%, no case of return migration from Cape Town was recorded and corroborative 1996 census data confirm that return migration among Xhosa-speaking households from Cape Town and the Western Cape is minimal.
Job opportunities in nearby cities have caused small external migration of people, mostly men and young people, although increasingly more women are migrating in search of jobs.  However, the return to their original homes is very common where job seekers are inclined to retain and maintain their home structures in the rural areas.

Ref: Own research & Simon Bekker & Catherine Cross 1999. Urban factors in land reform. Unpublished research programme.  Development Bank of South Africa.

  1. What is the main economic activity of this community?

Diverse - from rural subsistence agriculture - to industry, mining, public service and commerce in urban concentrations and mining areas (depending upon each province).

  1. What is the influence of religion on this community?

No apparent marked influence other than support for and growth of religious movements.  Wesleyan (Methodist) predominates.  The language of the traditional doctor and soothsayer still plays a role.

Ref: own research

  1. Does the language have any official status (official, joint-official language, acceptance…)?

Yes, one of the eleven official languages in South Africa - particular emphasis exists in Eastern and Western Cape in terms of education and local government.

  1. Is the language in contact with the administration? Indicate whether its use in the administration is in spoken and/or written form.

Used jointly with English in Eastern Cape, for government service both local and provincial in both written and spoken form.
Used jointly with English and Afrikaans in Western Cape for similar purposes.

Ref: own research

  1. Is this language used in education (whether as the teaching medium or as a subject of study)? Indicate whether there is spoken and/or written use of the language in elementary and higher education.

It is used both as a medium of instruction and as a subject of study.  Statistics from Dept of Education showed that most used medium of instruction at public ordinary schools (1997) in South Africa the use of Xhosa was in primary (9%), secondary (1%).

Statistics from Dept of Education

  1. Is this language used in the media (radio, newspapers and television…)?

Yes, print & electronic media such as daily broadcasts on radio (Umhlobo Wenene & some local community radio stations), newspapers (Imvo), magazines (Bona) and television (SABC TV1 shared with Nguni languages)

Ref: own research

  1. Is this language used in religious services and ceremonies? Indicate whether there is spoken or written use of the language in religious services and ceremonies.

Yes, spoken and written in both traditional and western ceremonies.

  1. Is the language used in business and labour relations? Indicate whether the use is spoken and/or written.

Yes, spoken most common but also written to a lesser degree depending on the locality and bilingual/multilingual nature of the organisation/s involved, unions are especially important.

Ref: own research

  1. Are there any other areas in which this language is used in its written form?

Education and government - public service, agriculture & poverty reduction, government letterheads and official documentation together with English (& Afrikaans in the Western Cape).  Brochures & posters in Xhosa only on such aspects as “Know your human rights” and HIV/Aids awareness communication.

Ref: own research

  1. Is there any organisation or body responsible for linguistic policy and planning with respect to this language? What kind of activities does this perform?

The Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology and the Pan South African Language Board are jointly responsible for linguistic policy and planning with respect to all official languages.

  1. Is there any kind of cultural or linguistic organisation or body which promotes the knowledge and/or use of the language? What kind of activities does this perform?

ALASA - African Language Association of Southern Africa for the improvement of the research and technical aspects of the language
AALRDISA - All African Languages Re-development Institute of Southern Africa for the promotion of the use of the disadvantaged languages especially with regard to the translation of literary works for its promotion
SAFOS - South African Folklore Society for the promotion of the traditional literary genres in the African Languages

  1. Does the language have a literary tradition? If so, please give some information about this literary tradition.

Yes, a very strong literary tradition.  John Bennie’s Xhosa Reading sheet printed at Twali in 1823 is the oldest piece of printed continuous Xhosa known.  This set the scene for the establishment of a printing press at Lovedale (Tyhume) and an established literature emerged.  In 1824, in co-operation with Reverend John Ross, a mission for the Glasgow Missionary Society was established near the Tyhume River in the Eastern Cape Province which was called Lovedale, after Dr John Love, secretary of the Mission.  This became the acknowledged Lovedale Press.  This established a literary tradition for a number of illustrious Xhosa authors.  Famous Xhosa writers such as Rubusana, Soga, Mqhayi, Jordan, Jolobe and Sinxo to name but a few have had their works translated into a number of languages.  Classics such as Ingqumbo yeminyanya i.e. “The Wrath of the Ancestors” by AC Jordan deserve special mention.  However, there are many others which could be cited.

Ref: own research &
Doke, C.M. 1940. Bantu language pioneers of the nineteenth century. In Bantu Studies, University of the Witwatersrand Press, Johannesburg, September (207 - 246)

  1. What is the attitude of the majority of the members of this community towards the knowledge and use of this language?

Varied, although there is great pride in its literary tradition and its adaptability to the changing circumstances.

Ref: Own research

  1. What is the attitude of the majority of the members of the neighbouring communities towards the knowledge and use of the language?

The language enjoys some prestige on account of its association with the liberation movement/struggle and political figures both past and present.

Ref: Own research

  1. PLEASE ADD ANY OTHER DETAILS REGARDING THE SITUATION OF THE LANGUAGE WHICH YOU CONSIDER OF INTEREST. At the same time, we would be grateful if you could send us any statistics, reports, assignment or research that might help us to understand the situation of this language. It would also be very helpful if you could provide references of the sources consulted and the addresses of any individuals or bodies that may be able to offer further data about this language.

The earliest serious student of Xhosa was John Bennie, who, “On the 18th November, 1824, ... reported to his Presbytery his design of entering upon the compilation of an extended and systematic vocabulary of the Kafir language.” (Doke, 1940: 217). Bennie published through Lovedale Press a number of vocabulary lists as well as a grammar dealing mainly with pronunciation.  While he could have been the one to identify the alliterative concord and the tonal nature of the Bantu languages, for which they have become known, he never actually explicitly noted these issues.  He was the first person to use the word “class” to refer to the class concords and the nouns of Xhosa.  Bennie left manuscript portions of a Kafir-English Dictionary which were incorporated into the 2nd edition of Kropf’s Dictionary of 1915.  The first published grammar of a Bantu language in South Africa “Grammar of the Kafir Language” has been credited to William B Boyce, of the Wesleyan Mission.  This comprises 54 pages and was published by the Wesleyan Mission Press in Grahamstown in 1834. Boyce was the first to note the alliterative concord in Xhosa.  A second edition of this grammar was published by William J Davis in 1844.  John Appleyard followed this tradition in 1850 with his Grammar of Xhosa.  Davis acknowledged both Boyce and Appleyard in his edition of 1872 of the Grammar of the Kaffir Language in which he rectified many of the mistakes of the earlier works and Davis was the author of the first real “Dictionary of the Kaffir Language” in the same year.
Two traditional Xhosa speech forms, which are worthy of note and which have been subjected to immense change over the years, are the so-called women’s language of respect Isihlonipho sabafazi and the language of the initiates isikhwetha.  Urban and rural dialects of Xhosa have developed almost independently and yet, as migrant workers returned to their homes, so cross-pollination has occurred and traditional linguistic customs have changed with circumstances.
The impact of western literature, education, religion and politics on spoken and written Xhosa has undoubtedly influenced attitudes regarding the standard and other varieties of Xhosa.  As noted by Slabbert & Finlayson (1998: 291) “The Xhosa people ... were at the forefront in contact with the European settlers.  In contrast to the Zulu people they functioned as separate strong clans, but what united them was their conflict against the settlers.  In fact a 100-year war raged from 1756 - 1856, battling over frontier boundaries.  Ironically, one of the results of contact with the Europeans was that the first missionaries established prestigious colleges of education and the first printing press in Southern Africa [RF: see the note regarding Lovedale Press above] for African people.  As a result of this the educated Xhosa people became prominent in the struggle against white domination.  This in turn has contributed to the standing of the Xhosa people in South Africa.”  [See also the comments above]

Information generated through personal contact must be credited to the members of the Xhosa section of the Dept of African Languages at the University of South Africa.

Doke, C.M. (1940) Bantu language pioneers of the nineteenth century. In Bantu Studies, University of the Witwatersrand Press, Johannesburg, September (207 - 246)

Finlayson, R (1993) The Changing Fact of Xhosa, in African Studies Forum Volume II, eds: R Hill, M Muller, M Trump, HSRC, Pretoria (175 - 194)

Slabbert Sarah & Rosalie Finlayson (1998) Comparing Nguni and Sotho: a sociolinguistic classification, in Language History and Linguistic Description in Africa eds: I Maddieson, T Hinnebusch, Africa World Press, Trenton NJ, (289 - 306)