Shona - ChiShona

1.  Classification / Classification

Shona belongs to the Shona Group of Bantu (Guthrie S10). (Webbook?)

Ethnologue? lists the classification as: Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, Benue-Congo, Bantoid, Southern, Narrow Bantu, Central, S, Shona (S.10)

2.  Where Spoken / Localisation géographique

Shona is spoken by various groups (including Karanga, Makorekore, Manyika, Ndau, and Zezuru), primarily in Zimbabwe but also in western Mozambique (Manyika) and in south central Zambia. (Webbook)

3.  Number of Speakers / Nombre de locuteurs

According to Ethnologue:

  • Shona
    • 10,663,000 in Zimbabwe
    • 30,222 in Zambia (2000 WCD)
    • 11,000 in Botswana (2004 Cook)
    • Population total all countries: 10,704,222
    • 1,800,000 speak Shona as second or third language in all countries (2000 A. Chebanne)
  • Ndau
    • 1,900,000 in Mozambique (2000 Chebanne)
    • 800,000 in Zimbabwe (2000 Chebanne)
    • Population total all countries: 2,700,000
  • Manyika
    • 861,180 in Zimbabwe (2000 WCD)
    • 145,331 in Mozambique (2000 WCD)
    • Population total all countries: 1,006,511

4.  Dialect Survey / Enquête de dialecte

Although there are many dialect differences in Shona, a standardized dialect is recognized. (Webbook)

According to information from Ethnologue:

  • Shona
    • Toko
    • Hwesa
    • Karanga (Chikaranga) - spoken in southern Zimbabwe, near Masvingo
      • Duma
      • Jena
      • Mhari (Mari)
      • Ngova
      • Nyubi
      • Govera
    • Zezuru (Chizezuru, Bazezuru, Bazuzura, Mazizuru, Vazezuru, Wazezuru) - spoken in central Zimbabwe, near Harare
      • Shawasha
      • Gova
      • Mbire
      • Tsunga
      • Kachikwakwa
      • Harava
      • Nohwe
      • Njanja
      • Nobvu
      • Kwazwimba (Zimba)
    • Korekore (Northern Shona, Goba, Gova, Shangwe) - spoken in northern Zimbabwe, near Mvurwi
      • Budya
      • Gova
      • Tande
      • Tavara
      • Nyongwe
      • Pfunde
      • Shan Gwe
  • Ndau (partially intelligible with Shona; Closer to Manyika, and much more divergent from Union Shona ... lexical similarity 74% to 81% between Ndau dialects and Manyika) - spoken in Mozambique
    • Ndau (Cindau)
    • Shanga (Cimashanga, Mashanga, Chichanga, **Chixanga, Xanga, Changa, Senji, Chisenji)
    • Danda (Cidanda, Ndanda, Cindanda, Vadanda, **Watande)
    • Dondo (Cidondo, Wadondo, Chibabava)
    • Gova (Cigova)
    • (Danda and Ndanda may be the same. Gova in Mozambique is closer to Ndau, but in Zambia and Zimbabwe it is closer to Korekore dialect of Shona. Lexical similarity 92% between Danda and Dondo dialects, 85% between Dondo and Shanga)
  • Manyika (A little more divergent from Shona than Karanga, Zezuru, and Korekore. At least partially intelligible with Shona. Manyika has 74% to 81% lexical similarity with Ndau.) - spoken in eastern Zimbabwe, near Mutare
    • Bocha (Boka)
    • Bunji
    • Bvumba
    • Domba
    • Guta
    • Here
    • Hungwe
    • Jindwi
    • Karombe
    • Nyamuka
    • Nyatwe
    • Unyama

5.  Usage / Utilisation

Shona is a language of education in Zimbabwe. Numerous newspapers publish in Shona, and a sizable literature exists. Shona is also heard over the radio. (Webbook)

Shona is the dominant African language of Zimbabwe and is understood by a considerable number. ... It is primarily a spoken language apparently based chiefly on Karanga and Zezuru with lexical items also from Manyika and Korekore. Urban populations tend to speak school or standard Shona. ... Literacy rate ...: 86% in English and Shona. Taught in primary schools. (Ethnologue) Most black Zimbabweans living in Shona-dominated areas will speak Shona, even if it is not their first language.

The first novel in Shona, Solomon Mutswairo's Feso, was published in 1957. It is taught in the schools but is not the general medium of instruction in other subjects. (Wikipedia) This means that some native speakers of Shona, may prefer English when it comes to reading and writing!

6.  Orthography / Orthographe

6.1  Status / Statut

Shona has a standardized orthography. (Webbook)

Shona is a written standard language with an orthography and grammar that was codified during the early 20th century and fixed in the 1950s. (Wikipedia)

6.2  Sample Alphabet / Alphabet exemple

The letters and digraphs of the alphabet as indicated at are:
a b bh ch d dh e f g h i j k m mh n' n o p r s t u v vh w y z

A table at gives some information for Shona in Mozambique (this lists some additional digraphs - not sure how this relates to the Shona standard elsewhere).

A sample text is shown on the "Language Museum" site:

7.  Use in ICT / Utilisation dans les TIC

7.1  Fonts / Polices

Any font suitable for English should suffice.

7.2  Keyboard layouts / Dispositions de clavier

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

Wikipedia in Shona at (not much content as of 5-2007)

Shona dictionary online - has explanations in Shona. Part of the Allex project (which has apparently ended?):

7.4  Localized software / Logiciels localisés

Not aware of any localisation efforts.

7.5  Language codes / Codes de langue


  • ISO 639-1: sn
  • ISO 639-2: sna
  • ISO 639-3: sna


  • ISO 639-3: mxc


  • ISO 639-3: ndc

7.6  Other / Autre

The Open Knowledge Network (OKN) had a Shona version of its project software [seeking more info].

Google has a version localized in Shona -

Pages about Shona:

8.  Localisation resources / Ressources pour localisation

8.1  Individuals (experts) / Individuelles (experts)

Prof. Herbert Chimhundu, University of Zimbabwe

8.2  Institutions / Institutions

8.3  On the internet / Sur la toile

9.  Comments / Remarques

With somewhere around 10 million speakers and an established orthography, Shona would seem like a priority candidate for some localisation effort.

10.  References / Références

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

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

______, "Ndau,"

______, "Shona,"

SIL International, "ISO 639 Code Tables,"

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,"

Wikipedia, "Shona language,"

< Serer | Major Languages | Sidamo >

Categories: Languages, Zimbabwe, Western Mozambique, Southern Zambia, Northern Botswana