Bemba - iciBemba

1.  Classification / Classification

Bemba is also known (and spelled) as follows: iciBemba, ciBemba, ichiBemba, chiBemba.

"Bemba belongs to the Bemba Group (Guthrie 1942) of Bantu." (Webbook?)

Ethnologue? gives its classification as: Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, Benue-Congo, Bantoid, Southern, Narrow Bantu, Central, M, Bemba (M.40)

"Bemba is a Central Bantu language. The Bantu language family is a branch of the Benue-Congo family, which is a branch of the Niger-Congo family, which is a branch of Niger-Kordofanian." (Spitulnik and Kashoki 2001; Spitulnik Vidali and Kashoki 2014)

2.  Where Spoken / Localisation géographique

It is spoken in the Northern, Luapula, Copperbelt, and Northwestern Central provinces of Zambia, as well as in southeastern Dem. Rep. of the Congo. (Webbook)

Bemba Online Project reports it is also spoken in border areas of southern Tanzania.

3.  Number of Speakers / Nombre de locuteurs

Numbers are reported variously:

  • "Population total all countries" 4.11 million (of which 3.81 million in Zambia) (Ethnologue).
  • Over 7 million (Bemba Online Project)
  • It is possible the Ethnologue figures do not account for L2? speakers(?)

4.  Dialect Survey / Enquête de dialecte

In addition to the four dialects of Bemba (Ngoma, Lomotua, Nwesi, and Lembue) there is "Town Bemba," which "is to be found everywhere in the (Zambian) copperbelt" (Heine 1970). Although Town Bemba is a lingua franca, derived from Bemba, Richardson (1981) believes it is justified to consider them different languages.(Webbook) Spitulnik (1998) disagrees and presents a sociolinguistic analysis of Bemba language diversity and fluidity.

Ethnologue (accessed 2007) lists twelve dialects as: Chishinga, Kabende, Lembue, Lomotua (Lomotwa), Luunda (Luapula), Mukulu, Ngoma, Ng'umbo, Nwesi, Town Bemba, Twa of Bangweulu, and Unga. "Town Bemba has a Bemba base with heavy codeswitching with English and neighboring Bantu languages."

Spitulnik and Kashoki (2001) & Spitulnik Vidali and Kashoki 2014 list twelve dialects as: Aushi, Bemba, Bisa, Chishinga, Kunda, Lala, Lamba, Luunda, Ng’umbo, Swaka, Tabwa, and Unga. “Because Bemba is such a widely used lingua franca, varieties of the language exist in urban areas. Urban varieties exhibit large lexical input from English and have several names, including: chiKopabeeluti [chiCopperbelt], chiTauni [chiTown], and Town Bemba (Spitulnik 1998).” Also see: Varieties of iciBemba (Bemba Online Project) at

5.  Usage / Utilisation

Bemba is a national (official) language in Zambia and is widely used as a lingua franca, especially in urban areas, in Copperbelt Province, and in radio broadcasts. At least one periodical, Mbila, is known to exist. Mann (personal communication, 1986), citing Zell, ed. (1984), notes: "African Books in Print/Livres africains disponible (3d edition), Mansell Publishing Ltd reports only 29 Bemba titles in print; this probably does not include some titles prepared for and circulated directly to schools but represents a depressing decline in availability." ... Bemba has about 100 titles in print, some of which, reports Mann, "consciously reflect Town Bemba." (Webbook)

Language of wider communication. Town Bemba is a widely used lingua franca in urban, not rural areas, and it has higher social status than other languages except English. Bemba is recognized for educational and administrative purposes. (Ethnologue)

Bemba is the most widely spoken language in Zambia. (Bemba Online Project)

6.  Orthography / Orthographe

6.1  Status / Statut

Although orthographic practices vary widely, reports Michael Mann (personal communication, 1985), there is a set of rules for spelling Bemba. These (entitled Zambia Languages Orthography, by S. Chimuka, 1976) have been published by the Zambian Ministry of Education and Culture as part of a project to standardize the orthography of Zambian languages. (Webbook)

6.2  Sample Alphabet / Alphabet exemple

a b c e f g i j k l m n ŋ o p s sh t u w y
(see Zambia page under Orthographies; not clear if ŋ is actively used) [need more info!]

7.  Use in ICT / Utilisation dans les TIC

7.1  Fonts / Polices

Most fonts with standard European character set will suffice. [verfiy!]

7.2  Keyboard layouts / Dispositions de clavier

7.3  Content on computers & internet / Contenu en informatique et sur l'Internet

Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Several texts with audio files can be found at:

7.4  Localized software / Logiciels localisés

None known.

7.5  Language codes / Codes de langue

Bemba (Zambia):

  • ISO 639-1: -
  • ISO 639-2: bem
  • ISO 639-3: bem

Bemba (DRC)

  • ISO 639-1: -
  • ISO 639-2: -
  • ISO 639-3: bmy

7.6  Locales / Paramètres régionaux

7.7  Other / Autre

Bemba Online Project

8.  Localisation resources / Ressources pour localisation

8.1  Individuals (experts) / Individuelles (experts)

See Bemba Online Project

8.2  Institutions / Institutions

8.3  On the internet / Sur la toile

9.  Comments / Remarques

10.  References / Références

Bemba Online Project

Dwyer, David (1997), Webbook of African Languages, (page on "Bemba," )

SIL International, Ethnologue: Languages of the World, "Bemba,"

SIL International, "ISO 639 Code Tables,"

Spitulnik, Debra. 1998. The Language of the City: Town Bemba as Urban Hybridity. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 8(1):30-59. Also at:

Spitulnik, Debra. 1987. Semantic Superstructuring and Infrastructuring: Nominal Class Struggle in ChiBemba. Studies in African Grammatical Systems, Monograph No. 4. Bloomington: Indiana University Linguistics Club.

Spitulnik, Debra, and M. E. Kashoki. 2001. Facts about the World’s Languages: An Encyclopedia of the World’s Major Languages, Past and Present. J. Garry and C. Rubino, eds. Pp. 81-85. New York and Dublin: H.W. Wilson. Also at:

Spitulnik, Debra, and A. R. M. Kasonde. Bemba. In World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago: World Book Publishing. (reprinted annually)

U.S. Library of Congress, "ISO 639.2: Codes for the Representation of Names of Languages: Alpha-3 codes arranged alphabetically by the English name of language,"

Vidali, Debra Spitulnik, et al, "Bemba Online Project: A Digital Bemba Language Archive,"

Vidali, Debra Spitulnik and Mubanga E. Kashoki. 2014. “Bemba, A Linguistic Profile.” Bemba Online Project. Published June 30, 2014:

Wikipedia, "Bemba language,"

______, "Bemba (langue),"

______, "Kibemba,"

______, "Língua bemba,"íngua_bemba

______, "بيمبا"بيمبا

< Bedawi | Major Languages | Berber >

Categories: Languages, Zambia, SE DRC, SW Tanzania