|Native to||Rwanda, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo|
|9.8 million (2007)|
Official language in
Kinyarwanda, also known as Rwanda (Ruanda) or Rwandan, is the official language of Rwanda and a dialect of the Rwanda-Rundi language spoken by 12 million people in Burundi and adjacent parts of southern Uganda. (The Kirundi dialect is the official language of neighboring Burundi.) Speakers of Kinyarwanda are subdivided into three ethnic groups, the Hutu (84%), Tutsi (15%), and Twa (1%), a pygmy people.
Kinyarwanda is one of the three official languages of Rwanda (along with English and French), and is spoken by almost all of the native population. This contrasts with most modern African states, whose borders were drawn by colonial powers and did not correspond to ethnic boundaries or pre-colonial kingdoms.
|Plosive||p b||t d||c ɟ||k ɡ|
|Fricative||f v||s z||ʃ ʒ||ç||h|
The table below gives the vowel sounds of Kinyarwanda.
Kinyarwanda is a tonal language.
|A a||B b||C c||Cy cy||D d||E e||F f||G g||H h||I i|
|J j||Jy jy||K k||L l||M m||N n||Nk nk||Nt nt||Ny ny||O o|
|P p||R r||S s||Sh sh||T t||U u||V v||W w||Y y||Z z|
Except in a few morphological contexts, the sequences 'ki' and 'ke' may be pronounced interchangeably as [ki] and [ke] or [ci] and [ce] according to speaker's preference.
The letters 'a', 'e', or 'i' at the end of a word followed by a word starting with a vowel often follows a pattern of omission (observed in the following excerpt of the Rwandan anthem) in common speech, though the orthography remains the same. For example, Reka tukurate tukuvuge ibigwi wowe utubumbiye hamwe twese Abanyarwanda uko watubyaye berwa, sugira, singizwa iteka. would be pronounced as "Reka tukurate tukuvug' ibigwi wow' utubumiye hamwe twes' abanyarwand' uko watubyaye berwa, sugira singizw' iteka."
In the colloquial language, there are some discrepancies from orthographic Cw and Cy. Specifically, rw (as in Rwanda) is often pronounced /ɾɡw/. The most obvious differences are the following:
Orthog. Pron. rw /ɾɡw/ pw /pk/ bw /bɡ/ mw /mŋ/ my /mɲ/ tw /tkw/ dw /dɡw / cw /tʃkw/ by /bɟ/
Kinyarwanda uses 16 of the Bantu noun classes. Sometimes these are grouped into 10 pairs so that most singular and plural forms of the same word are included in the same class. The table below shows the 16 noun classes and how they are paired in two commonly used systems.
|umu-||1||1||singular||humans||umuntu – person|
|aba-||2||plural||abantu – people|
|umu-||3||2||singular||trees, shrubs and things that extend||umusozi – hill|
|imi-||4||plural||imisozi – hills|
|iri-||5||5||3||singular||things in quantities, liquids||iryinyo – tooth|
|ama-||6||5/8/9||3/8/9||plural (also substances)||amenyo – teeth|
|iki-||7||4||singular||generic, large, or abnormal things||ikintu – thing|
|ibi-||8||plural||ibintu – things|
|in-||9||3||5||singular||some plants, animals and household implements||inka – cow|
|in-||10||3/6||5/6||plural||inka – cows|
|uru-||11||6||singular||mixture, body parts||urugo – home|
|aka-||12||7||singular||diminutive forms of other nouns||akantu – little thing|
|utu-||13||plural||utuntu – little things|
|ubu-||14||8||n/a||abstract nouns, qualities or states||ubuntu – generosity|
|uku-||15||9||n/a||actions, verbal nouns and gerunds||ukuntu – means|
|aha-||16||10||n/a||places, locations||ahantu – place|
All Kinyarwanda verb infinitives begin with gu- or ku- (morphed into kw- before vowels). To conjugate, the infinitive prefix is removed and replaced with a prefix agreeing with the subject. Then a tense infix can be inserted.
|singular||singular before vowels||plural||plural before vowels|
The prefixes for pronouns are as follows:
- 'I' = n-
- 'you' (sing.) = u-
- 'he/she' = y-/a- (i.e. the singular Class I prefix above)
- 'we' = tu-
- 'you' (pl.) = mu-
- 'they' (human) = ba- (i.e. the plural Class I prefix above)
Tense markers include the following.
- Present ('I do'): - (no infix)
- Present progressive ('I am doing'): -ra- (morphs to -da- when preceded by n)
- Future ('I will do'): -za-
- Continuous progressive ('I'm still doing'): -racya-
|Uvuga icyongereza?||Do you speak English?|
|Nzaza ejo||I will come tomorrow|
The past tense can be formed by using the present and present progressive infixes and modifying the aspect marker suffix.
Kinyarwanda employs the use of periphrastic causatives, in addition to morphological causatives.
The periphrastic causatives use the verbs -teer- and -tum-, which mean cause. With -teer-, the original subject becomes the object of the main clause, leaving the original verb in the infinitive (just like in English)::160–1
(1a.) Ábáana b-a-gii-ye. children they-PST-go-ASP "The children left."
(1b.) Umugabo y-a-tee-ye ábáana ku-geend-a. man he-PST-cause-ASP children INF-go-ASP "The man caused the children to go.
In this construction, the original S can be deleted.:161
(2a.) Abanntu ba-rá-bon-a. people they-PRES-see-ASP "People see"
(2b.) Ku-geenda gu-teer-a (abaantu) ku-bona. INF-go it-cause-ASP (people) INF-see "To travel causes to see."
With -túm-, the original S remains in the embedded clause and the original verb is still marked for person and tense::161–2
(3a.) N-a-andits-e amábárúwa meênshi. I-PST-write-ASP letters many "I wrote many letters.
(3b.) Umukoôbwa y-a-tum-ye n-á-andik-a amábárúwa meênshi. girl she-PST-cause-ASP I-PST-write-ASP letters many "The girl caused me to write many letters."
Derivational causatives use the instrumental marker -iish-. The construction is the same, but it is instrumental when the subject is inanimate and it is causative when the subject is animate::164
(4a.) Umugabo a-ra-andik-iish-a umugabo íbárúwa. man he-PRES-write-CAUE-ASP man letter "The man is making the man write a letter."
(4b.) Umugabo a-ra-andik-iish-a íkárámu íbárúwa. man he-PRES-write-INSTR-ASP pen letter "The man is writing a letter with the pen."
This morpheme can be applied to intransitives (3) or transitives (4)::164
(3a.) Ábáana ba-rá-ryáam-ye. children they-PRES-sleep-ASP "The children are sleeping."
(3b.) Umugóre a-ryaam-iish-ije ábáana woman she-sleep-CAUS-ASP children "The woman is putting the children to sleep."
(4a.) Ábáana ba-ra-som-a ibitabo. children they-PRES-read-ASP books "The children are reading the books."
(4b.) Umugabo a-ra-som-eesh-a ábáana ibitabo. man he-PRES-read-CAUS-ASP children books "The man is making the children read the books."
However, there can only be one animate direct object. If a sentence has two, one or both is deleted and understood from context.:165–166
The suffix -iish- implies an indirect causation (similar to English have in "I had him write a paper), while other causatives imply a direct causation (similar to English make in "I made him write a paper").:166
One of these more direct causation devices is the deletion of what is called a "neutral" morpheme -ik-, which indicates state or potentiality. Stems with the -ik- removed can take -iish, but the causation is less direct::166
-mének- "be broken" -mén- "break" -méneesh- "have (something) broken" -sáduk- "be cut" -sátur- "cut" -sátuz- "have (something) cut"
Another direct causation maker is -y- which is used for some verbs::167
(5a.) Ámáazi a-rá-shyúuh-a. water it-PRES-be warm-ASP "The water is being warmed."
(5b.) Umugóre a-rá-shyúush-y-a ámáazi. woman she-PRES-warm-CAUS-ASP water "The woman is warming the water."
(5c.) Umugabo a-rá-shyúuh-iish-a umugóre ámáazi. man he-PRES-warm-CAUS-ASP woman water. "The man is having the woman warm the water.
- Nationalencyklopedin "Världens 100 största språk 2007" The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007
- Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
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- "Rundi", Ethnologue, 16th Ed.
- Boyd, J. Barron (December 1979). "African Boundary Conflict: An Empirical Study". African Studies Review 22 (3): 1. ISSN 0002-0206. JSTOR 523892.
- Kinyarwanda: Kimenyi, Alexandre (1980). A Relational Grammar of Kinyarwanda. University of California Press. p. 160–72.
- Habumuremyi, Emmanuel et al. (2006). IRIZA-STARTER 2006: The 1st Kinyarwanda–English and English–Kinyarwanda Dictionary. Kigali: Rural ICT-Net.
- Jouannet, Francis (ed.) (1983). Le Kinyarwanda, langue bantu du Rwanda (in French). Paris: SELAF.
- Kimenyi, Alexandre (1980). A Relational Grammar of Kinyarwanda. University of California Press.
- Kinyarwanda.net Kinyarwanda–English dictionary and grammar reference
- Kinyarwanda phonology case study by University of Texas
- PanAfrican localisation page on Kinyarwanda and Kirundi
- Kinyarwanda–English Dictionary by Betty Ellen Cox[dead link]