The Most Spoken Language in South Africa

Written by Isabel Harmse

Zulu, also referred to as isiZulu, is the most widely spoken home language in South Africa according to StatSA. Nationally, just over one quarter (25,3%) of individuals speak isiZulu at home. The Zulu language, of which there are variations, is a Bantu language; more specifically part of the Nguni subgroup. The word Zulu means “Sky” and, according to oral history, Zulu was the name of the ancestor who founded the Zulu royal line in about 1670 ( Understood by over 50% of the population in South Africa, it is the second largest traditional language in Southern Africa after Shona. In 1994, Zulu became the 11th official language of South Africa. The language has been influenced by other traditional languages such as San and Khoi, giving it several unique click sounds.

Similar to all other local South African languages, Zulu was an oral language until it came in contact with the missionaries from Europe who documented Zulu using the Latin alphabet. The foremost Zulu book called Incwadi Yokuqala Yabafundayo was published in 1837 and concentrated on the spellings of Zulu words and the Old Testament’s history. While Zulu is well recognized on radio and television and has established its place in a popular African language newspaper, Ilanga, it has failed to see much progress in the education sector. Although the Zulu language is a subject in school at all levels, it is taught only from Grade 1 to 3 as a medium of instruction (

The Zulu language has nine pairs of singular and plural prefixes. Most words in a Bantu sentence are marked by a prefix indicating the category to which the noun used as the subject of the sentence belongs, and, if there is an object, the words in that noun phrase and the verb are also marked by a prefix determined by the noun class of the object.


Most Zulu words end in a vowel.

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