Learn Tumbuka

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About Tumbuka

Tumbuka has no official status in any country but its speakers mostly live in Malawi and Zambia. It is also known as Chitumbuka or Citumbuka - the prefix ‘chi-’ or ‘ci-’ means ‘language’, so the name means 'language of the Tumbuka people'. It is closely related to Chichewa, also spoken in Malawi. Tumbuka shares the feature typical to languages in the Bantu family of having a noun class system: all nouns are classified according to whether they are animate, inanimate, abstract and so on and behave in a sentence according to this classification.

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Fun facts — Tumbuka

  • There's a really useful word called 'ujeni' which you can use instead of any noun, place or person. The English equivalents are 'thingy', 'that place' or 'you know who'.
  • To express a negative you just have to add the word 'chala' or 'yayi' to the end of a sentence.
  • Tumbuka has numbers up to 5, then 6 is 5 + 1, 7 is 5 + 2 etc. This system means that numbers can get quite long so locals tend to use Tumbuka numbers up to about 20, then switch to English.

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