Some segmental phonological processes involving vowels in Nambya: a preliminary descriptive account.

Author:Kadenge, Maxwell

Finally, this study is expected to provide an impetus for further descriptive and theoretical exploration of these processes and other aspects of Nambya grammar. This is important considering the fact that the United Nations (UN) is currently advocating the promotion of all world languages for the betterment of their speakers. This recommendation concurs with the Pan African ideals espoused by the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC)'s Language and Cultural Charters.

Introduction: The Origins, Sociolinguistic Status and Genetic Affiliation of Nambya

This study explores some segmental phonological processes involving vowels in Nambya. However, before a detailed qualitative analysis of the phonological processes a discussion of the origins, sociolinguistic status and genetic affiliation of this language is in order. Nambya is a community or minority Southern Bantu language that is predominantly spoken in the Matabeleland North province of Zimbabwe. This is the geographical area which was demarcated by the Government of Zimbabwe as the area where Nambya should be taught from Grade 1 to Grade 3. Furthermore, the Nambya people, with a total population of about 100 000 (Hachipola, 1998), are found in large numbers in the Hwange district of Zimbabwe under Chiefs Hwange, Shana, Mweemba and Nekatamba. Also, the Nambya people are the traditional inhabitants of the area around Hwange National Park. Hwange which is formerly Wankie was named after a revered local traditional Chief called Hwange and is 100 km from the resort town of Victoria Falls in the far North West of the Matabeleland North province.

In addition, some Nambya people migrated and settled in and around Victoria Falls in search of opportunities that this resort town presents. In this regard, the majority of Nambya people are self-employed and they provide services like curio carvings and traditional dances. Some native Nambya speakers are found in Binga, Nyamandlovu and Tsholotsho areas. However, the majority of people who are in these areas are largely Kalanga speaking. During interviews with Nambya speaking people I gathered that historically the Nambya people came from South Africa and some of them settled in Hwange on their way to Namibia. However, I also established that the majority of the Nambya youth do not know much about their history. Much of the information concerning the history and culture of Nambya people was from the elderly people, especially village headmen and traditional Chiefs.

After analyzing a sample of data that I collected as part of my pilot study for this study I discovered that Nambya shares many of its structural characteristics with typical Southern Bantu languages such as Shona, Kalanga and Ndebele. These features include the fact that Nambya is tonal and has a simple, symmetrical, unmarked phonemic five vowel system comprising /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/ and /u/ and a typical Bantu consonant-vowel (CV) syllable structure. Although Nambya has onsetless syllables, their occurrence is restricted to the word-initial position (see Kadenge, 2007). Therefore, Nambya is typically a Southern Bantu language. Also, like many other Bantu languages, Nambya has a highly agglutinative morphology.

Guthrie (1948) classifies Nambya as belonging to Zone S.10 under the Shona group of languages. In this regard, he treats it as a dialect of Kalanga, which he also classifies as a Shona dialect (also see Chabata, 2007). Other scholars of Southern Bantu languages who treat it as a dialect of Kalanga are Doke (1931), Kangira (2001), Wentzel (1983), Evans (1991) and Chebanne et al. (1995). In this context, Doke (1931) categorises Nambya as a dialect of Kalanga together with other varieties such as Nyai, Rozvi, Talahundura, Lilima and Peri. This is the same approach that Fortune (1967) adopts when he says that Kalanga comprises Nanzva (Nambya), Lilima, Twamamba, Rozvi and Lemba. Also, it seems Wentzel (1983) and Fortune (1967) treat Nambya and Kalanga as having the same status. If this is acceptable then it becomes logical not to take Nambya as a dialect of Kalanga, but as a separate variety that shares a lot with the latter (Chabata, 2007).

While Doke (1931), Guthrie (1948) and Kangira (2001) classify Nambya as a dialect of Kalanga, there are a number of historical and socio-cultural reasons that justify the treatment of these two as separate languages. For example, Chigwedere (1985), Hayes (1977) and Chabata (2001) note that the Nambya people and the Kalanga people have two different cultures although their languages are closely related. Furthermore, my observation and findings suggest that the Nambya people maintain that their cultures, that is, dances, beliefs, value systems and sensibilities are different from those of the Kalanga people. They actually argue that their variety is a separate language and not a dialect of any other language. Furthermore, according to the Zimbabwean constitution, especially the Education Act, as amended in 1990, Nambya and Kalanga are officially recognized as separate indigenous languages alongside Tonga, Venda, and Shangani/Changani. Therefore, Nambya is clearly a separate language with its own distinct linguistic features.

It is also noteworthy that, in Zimbabwe, Nambya is officially regarded as a minority language. It is considered a minority language because its speakers are fewer than the speakers of Shona and Ndebele, which are the main official indigenous languages in Zimbabwe. Its minority status can be explained by the fact that Doke (1931) recommended that Shona shall be the official language for the Mashonaland parts of Zimbabwe while Ndebele shall be the official language for Matabeleland. Again, in Doke's (1931) recommendations, minority languages such as Nambya and Kalanga are marginalized and documenting them was discouraged. In this regard, Doke (1931:100) recommends that "no school books or other books be published in the Lilima or Nambzya dialects."

Although the Zimbabwe Education 1987 Act (as amended in 1990) in Section 55 of Part X1 has provisions for the teaching of minority languages in areas where they exist, very little is actually being done. Furthermore, in Zimbabwe, there is very limited electronic broadcasting and print media which is being done in Nambya. However, this study argues that it is high time Zimbabwean minority languages such as Nambya are studied, developed and documented. This will allow teaching on and in these languages since the teaching of minority languages is being hampered by lack of textbooks and other teaching resource materials.

This recommendation is in line with Hyman's (2003:1) observation that "all of linguistics seems now to accept, if not enthusiastically encourage, the study of 'endangered languages' as well as 'minority languages', or what are generally referred to as 'unempowered' languages." The promotion of minority indigenous languages such as Nambya is in line with the requirements of the SADC Protocol on Culture, Information and Sport, which in Article 12 under language policy formulation says:

1) Member States shall formulate and implement language policies that will aim at promoting indigenous languages for socio-economic development, where such languages exist.

2) Member States shall institute and put into practical effect policy measures that will aim at encouraging the learning and wider use of the official languages of the Member States and the working...

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