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Bantu languages are mutually intelligible


Bantu languages are mutually intelligible with red, blue and brown african fabric

The Bantu languages are some of the most widely spoken languages in Africa, and they are used by millions of people. It is one of the largest language families in the world, with over 500 different languages that are spoken across sub-Saharan Africa. Though these languages are all distinct, they share a number of similarities, both in terms of their grammar and their vocabulary. They are all mutually intelligible, which means that speakers of different Bantu languages can understand each other.


For instance, all Bantu languages have noun classes, meaning that words are grouped together based on their meaning. This feature is not found in many other language families. Additionally, many Bantu languages have similar words for common concepts, such as “mother”, “father”, “eat”, and “drink”.

While mutual intelligibility between Bantu languages can vary, there are indeed examples of similar or even identical words that can be found across different Bantu languages. It is worth noting that these similarities are more common within closely related languages or those belonging to the same subgroup or branch.


For example, the word for "water" in Swahili (a prominent Bantu language) is "maji." Similarly, in several other Bantu languages such as Kikuyu (spoken in Kenya) and Chichewa (spoken in Malawi), the word for "water" is also "maji." This similarity in vocabulary demonstrates a shared linguistic heritage among these languages.


Another example is the word for "mother." In Swahili, it is "mama," and the same word is used in many other Bantu languages such as Shona (spoken in Zimbabwe) and Xhosa (spoken in South Africa).



See below for examples of similar or even identical words in the Bantu languages we teach at our language school:

ENGLISH

LINGALA

KIKONGO

KISWAHILI

TSHILUBA

Animal

Nyama

Mbisi

Nyama

Nyama

To close

Kokanga

Kukanga

Kufunga

Kukànga

Basket

Kitùnga

Kitunga

Kitunga

Tshitùnga

Butter

Mantéka

Manteka

Mateka

Màntekè

Chimney

Mombonda

Mumbunda

Mumbunda

Mumbunda

Cook

Molámbi

Mulambi

Mpishi

Mulàmbi

To cook

Kolàmba

Kulamba

Kupika Chakula

Kulamba

To cut

Kokáta

Kuzenga

Kukata

Kukòsa

Dad

Tatá

Tata

Baba

Taatù

​To drink

​Komela

​Kunwa

​Kunywa

​Kunwà

​Dog

Mbwá

Mbwa, imbwa

Mbwa

Mbwa

Drum

Mbonda

Ngoma

Ngoma

Ngoma

To eat

Kolia

Kudia

Kula

Kudyà

To Fry

Kokálinga

Kukalanga

Kukaanga

Kukàlanga

Here

Awa

Awa

Hapa

Apa

To laugh

Koseka

Kuseka

Kucheka

Kuseka

To open

Kofungola

Kukangula

Kufungua

Kunzulula

To make a hole

Kotobola

Kutobula

Kutoboa

Kutùbula

Mum

mamá

mama

mama

maamù



​ENGLISH

​LINGALA

KIKONGO

KISWAHILI

​TSHILUBA

​Path

​Nzela

​Nzila

​Njia

​Njila

To promise

​Kolaka

​Kusila

​Kulaka

​Kulaya

Snake

Nyóka

Nyoka

Nyoka

Nyòka

Suitcase

​Sanduku

​Sanduku

​Sanduku

Musheta wa bilemba

To sleep

Kolála

Kulala

Kulaliya

Ku​lala

​Street

​Bala-bala

​Balabala

​Barabara

Njila

Today

Leló

bubu

Leo

Lèèlù

​Table

​Mésá

​Mesa

​Meza

​Mèèsà

Tail

Mokíla

Mukila

Mkia

Mukìla

​Water

Máyi

Masa

Maji

Mâyi

With

na

na

​War

​Bitumba

Mvita

Vita

Mvita

What

Níni

ínki

nini

​Where

​Wápi

​Wapi

​Wapi

Wapi



However, it is important to recognise that these similarities are not universal across all Bantu languages. As languages evolve independently, they can develop distinct vocabularies and linguistic features. Therefore, while there may be instances of similar or identical words among Bantu languages, it should not be assumed that all Bantu languages are mutually intelligible based solely on these examples. These languages have evolved over thousands of years, and each one has its own unique history and culture.

In conclusion, the concept of mutual intelligibility among Bantu languages is a multifaceted subject influenced by lexical, grammatical, historical, and geographical factors. Understanding these influences provides valuable insights into the interconnected nature of Bantu languages and the dynamics of communication within this diverse language family. If you're looking to learn African languages, one of the Bantu languages may be a good option for you. Learn Swahili, Lingala, Tshiluba or Kikongo with us.



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