Xitsonga, Ronga, Tshwa

1.  Classification / Classification

Tsonga is an all-inclusive name for the Tswa-Ronga or Tonga Group of Bantu (Guthrie S50). (Webbook?)

For our purposes here we cover Tsonga, Ronga, and Tshwa.

Ethnologue? lists the classification as: Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, Benue-Congo, Bantoid, Southern, Narrow Bantu, Central, S, Tswa-Ronga (S.50)

Although Tsonga is sometimes called Tonga, it should not be confused with the Tonga (Guthrie M60) spoken in Zambia or Tonga (Guthrie S60) spoken in Mozambique. There is a Tonga spoken in Malawi that is apparently different from all the above.

2.  Where Spoken / Localisation géographique

These dialects or languages (see Dialect Survey below) are spoken in Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. (Webbook)

3.  Number of Speakers / Nombre de locuteurs

According to Ethnologue:

  • Tsonga:
    • 1,756,105 in South Africa (1996 census)
    • 1,500,000 in Mozambique (1989 UBS)
    • 19,000 in Swaziland (1993 Johnstone)
    • ? in Zimbabwe
    • Population total all countries: 3,275,105
  • Ronga:
    • 640,947 in Mozambique (2000 WCD)
    • 86,618 in South Africa (2000 WCD)
    • Population total all countries: 727,565
  • Tshwa:
    • 695,212 in Mozambique (1980 census)
    • ? in South Africa
    • ? in Zimbabwe

4.  Dialect Survey / Enquête de dialecte

Baumbach's (1970) thesis describes the dialect situation in Tsonga... (Webbook)

According to Ethnologue:

  • Tsonga
    • Luleke (Xiluleke)
    • Gwamba (Gwapa)
    • Changana
    • Hlave
    • Kande
    • N'walungu (Shingwalungu)
    • Xonga
    • Jonga (Dzonga)
    • Nkuma
    • Songa
    • Nhlanganu (Shihlanganu)
  • Ronga (Partially intelligible with Tsonga and Tswa)
    • Konde
    • Putru
    • Kalanga
  • Tshwa (Partially intelligible of Ronga and Tsonga)
    • Hlengwe (Lengwe, Shilengwe, Lhengwe, Makwakwe-Khambana, Khambana-Makwakwe, Khambani)
    • Tshwa (Dzibi-Dzonga, Dzonga-Dzibi, Dzivi, Xidzivi)
    • Mandla
    • Ndxhonge
    • Nhayi

'Tsonga' is used to describe Changana, Tswa, and Ronga, although it is often used interchangeably with Changana, the most prestigious of the three. All are recognized as languages, although they are inherently intelligible. (Ethnologue)

5.  Usage / Utilisation

Tsonga is an important regional language. (Webbook)

It is an official language in South Africa.

6.  Orthography / Orthographe

6.1  Status / Statut

Shagaan, Tshwa, and Tsonga each have their own orthographies. (Webbook) These are Latin-based orthographies.

6.2  Sample Alphabet / Alphabet exemple

According to the Geonames "Unicode test page...: Tsonga alphabet" http://www.geonames.de/alphtz.html#tso , the alphabet is:
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n (n’) o p q r s t u v w (x) y z

A table at http://www.bisharat.net/A12N/MozaSource.htm gives some information for Xitsonga, Xironga, and Xitshwa (unfortunately the column for the latter is partially missing) in Mozambique

The "Language Museum" site has sample texts for the following:

7.  Use in ICT / Utilisation dans les TIC

7.1  Fonts / Polices

7.2  Keyboard layouts / Dispositions de clavier

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

The South African language site "Batho Portal" http://www.sediba.org.za/ has a section on & in Xitsonga.

Wikipedia in Tsonga at http://ts.wikipedia.org/ (almost no language content as of 5-2007)

7.4  Localized software / Logiciels localisés

The OpenOffice suite of software applications has been localised in Tsonga (South Africa) by Translate.org.za. See http://translate.org.za/content/view/17/54/

There was a suggestion to adapt this localisation for the Tsonga spoken in Mozambique.

7.5  Language codes / Codes de langue

  • ISO 639-1: ts
  • ISO 639-2: tso
  • ISO 639-3: tso


  • ISO 639-3: rng


  • ISO 639-3: tsc

7.6  Other / Autre

8.  Localisation resources / Ressources pour localisation

8.1  Individuals (experts) / Individuelles (experts)

8.2  Institutions / Institutions

Translate.org.za http://translate.org.za/

8.3  On the internet / Sur la toile

AfricanLanguages.com "Xitsonga (Tsonga)" page (info on South Africa only) http://www.africanlanguages.com/tsonga/

9.  Comments / Remarques

This is a cross-border Southern African language that could be one of the first to have localized versions for different countries (notably South Africa and Mozambique). If they are all based on a common version - in this case the one done by Translate.org.za - that would make it easier for the broader user community.

10.  References / Références

Dwyer, David (1997), Webbook of African Languages, http://africa.isp.msu.edu/afrlang/hiermenu.html (page on "Tsonga," http://africa.isp.msu.edu/afrlang/Tsonga_root.html )

SIL International, Ethnologue: Languages of the World, "Ronga," http://www.ethnologue.com/language/rng

______, "Tsonga," http://www.ethnologue.com/language/tso

______, "Tswa," http://www.ethnologue.com/language/tsc

SIL International, "ISO 639 Code Tables," http://www-01.sil.org/iso639-3/codes.asp

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," http://www.loc.gov/standards/iso639-2/php/English_list.php

Wikipedia, "Ronga language," https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronga_language

______, "Tsonga language," https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsonga_language

______, "Tswa language," https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tswa_language

______, "Xitsonga," https://ts.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xitsonga

< Tiv | Major Languages | Tswana >

Categories: Languages, South Africa, Mozambique, Parts of Swaziland, Eastern Zimbabwe