Nzadi language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Native toDR Congo
RegionKasai River
Native speakers
unknown, but probably several thousands (2011)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3nzd

Nzadi is a Bantu language spoken in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, "from Kwamuntu to Ilebo along the north side of the Kasai River in Bandundu Province." The number of speakers of Nzadi is not known, but is estimated to be in the thousands. The Nzadi language has three dialects, Ngiemba, Lensibun, and Ndzé Ntaa.[1]



Nzadi contains seven contrastive vowels, which can be either long or short. The table below shows all the vowel phonemes found in the language:

front central back
high i ii u uu
high-mid e ee o oo
low-mid ɛ ɛɛ ɔ ɔɔ
low a aa


labial alveolar palatal velar labiovelar
stops p b t d k (g) kp (gb)
affricates (pf) bv ts dz
fricatives f v s z
nasals m n
liquids l (r)
glides y w

Syllable Structure[edit]

Unlike other Bantu languages, which favor polysyllablic word stems, Nzadi consists primarily of monosyllabic stems. Bisyllabic stems are also present, but they are primarily borrowings or reduplications.[4]

  • màáŋgǔl 'mango'
  • pɔtpɔ̂t 'mud'
  • kamyɔ̂ 'car' (from French camion 'truck')

All stems necessarily begin with a consonant, and monosyllabic stems take four possible structures: CV, CVC, CVV, or CVVC. In the case of bisyllabic stems, both syllables begin with a consonant, and long vowels never occur in the first syllable, and rarely in the second.

Phonological Rules[edit]

As a result of the systematic shortening of word stems, Nzadi words tend to have more vowel clusters than other Bantu languages, and in many cases adjusts one or more of the adjacent vowels by the following processes.[1]

Vowel Coalescence[edit]

When two different vowels occur in succession, one of three things can happen, depending on several factors:

Coalescence Process Occurs When
(i) V1 deletes without affecting the length of V2 V1 + V2 → V2 V1 is a non-stem vowel
(ii) V1 deletes with compensatory lengthening of V2 V1 + V2 → V2V2 V1 is a stem vowel
(iii) The two vowels can be realized without modification V1 + V2 → V1V2 V1 and V2 meet when two lexical words occur in sequence


Vowel Shortening[edit]

In cases in which coalescence does not occur, a long vowel followed immediately by another vowel will shorten.[1]

ibaa + ikwɔ = iba ikwɔ
esúú na o dzé iba ikwɔ
'the day that the man ate the banana'
ibaa + esaa = iba esaa
esúú na o dzé iba esaa
'the day that the man ate the food'

Vowel Harmony[edit]

Due to the historical word shortening from Proto-Bantu, Nzadi does not have the stem-level vowel harmony that many other Bantu languages do. However, one kind of harmony does present itself: /e-/ or /o-/ noun prefixes will harmonize to ɛ- or ɔ- if the stem has an identical /ɛ/ or /ɔ/ vowel.[1]


Nzadi, like other Bantu languages, has two contrastive tone leves, high (H) and low (L), which can combine to form falling (HL), rising (LH), and rising-falling (LHL) contour tones.[1]

H: nwí 'bee' máán 'wine'
L: bwɔ 'mushroom' bvuur 'load'
HL: kît 'chair' wáàr 'dress!'
LH: bvǐm 'theft' tàá 'father'
LHL: dzǐˋ 'eye' mǎàn 'ground'

Tone in Nzadi conveys important lexical and grammatical information, and can be the only difference between different words and forms, as seen in the minimal quintuplet here:

H: ŋkún 'that very one'
L: okun 'to bury, plant'
HL: ekûn 'firewood'
LH: ikǔn 'trunk'
LHL: kǔˋn 'bury! plant!"


General Tone Rules[edit]

Tone Absorption[edit]

When a contour tone is followed by another tone that begins with the same tone level as the end of the first, the first tone is simplified by dropping the final tone level. For example, a HL contour followed by a L tone will be simplified to H.[1]

/mbéè/ 'friend'
mbéé mǐˋ 'my friend'
mbéé tàá 'the father's friend'

Contour Simplification[edit]

Contour simplification is similar to tone absorption, but occurs when adjacent tone levels are different, as seen in the following possessive constructions:

/mbwɔ̌m okáàr/ mbwɔm okáàr 'the woman's nose'
/mbǔn mbéè/ mbun mbéè 'the friend's forehead'
/ikɔ̌ŋ é ibaa/ ikɔŋ ibáà 'the man's spear'
/ikɔ̌ŋ é mùùr/ ikɔŋ e múùr 'the person's spear'



Despite the functional load of tone in Nzadi, intonation can interact or interfere with lexical tones, particularly when a pause in the utterance is taken. In this case, a H boundary tone is inserted.[1]

L-L mbum 'fruit' mbǔm, mi ó pé mwǎàn 'a fruit I gave the child'
L-LH mbǔm 'maggot' mbǔm, mi ó pé mwǎàn 'a maggot I gave the child'
L-HL mpúù 'rat' mpúù, mi ó pé mwǎàn 'a rat I gave the child'
L-H epúú 'cloth' epúú, mi ó pé mwǎàn 'a cloth I gave the child'


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Crane, Thera (2011). A grammar of Nzadi [B865] : a Bantu language of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. ISBN 9780520098862.
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Nzadi". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  4. ^ Hyman, Larry (June 2012). "Post-Verbal subject in the Nzadi relative clause". Journal of African Languages and Linguistics. 33 (1): 97–117. doi:10.1515/jall-2012-0004.