The MSS team has always prided itself in celebrating a multitude of languages and cultures. Towards the end of 2014, the team proudly added two more languages to their in-house team. “Djavo” and “Sawubona” can now be heard in the morning, as the two new project managers greet the team in their home languages: Serbian and Zulu.
The new project manager; Brian Khumalo and the team’s accounting officer; Gcina Mahonga, whose mother tongue is Xhosa, attempted on several occasions to have a conversation in their home languages. Zulu and Xhosa are closely related, so it should not pose any challenges, right? Well, the two soon realized that sometimes their conversations got “lost in translation” so to speak.
Both isiXhosa and isiZulu are Nguni languages that are widely spoken in southern Africa by Nguni people. The two languages are closely related and even mutually intelligible. Xhosa is spoken by approximately 7.6 million people. It is the second most common home language in South Africa as a whole. Zulu on the other hand is the most widely spoken home language in South Africa, and the second most spoken indigenous language after Shona. Although these languages are quite similar, at times both Xhosa and Zulu use the same words, however with different meanings.
Here are a few interesting examples:
Xhosa / English meaning / Zulu / English meaning
• ukudinwa to be tired ukudinwa to be angry
• phuza to kiss phuza to drink
• nzima heavy nzima difficult
• sela to drink sela a thief
• thetha to talk thetha to shout
• cinga to think cinga to search
• ncokola to chat ncokola to tease
With such close similarities, who could blame the two for having problems when engaging in simple small talk?
Just one more interesting fact about Xhosa and Zulu:
Both languages have two different ways of saying goodbye.
Xhosa Zulu English
o sala kahle sala kakuhle stay well.
o hamba kahle hamba kakuhle go well.
Indeed a beautiful way of saying your farewells, although it does get difficult to choose which one to use when you are talking over the phone.