Pidgin Zulu
Region Southern Africa
Native speakers
Several hundred thousand L2 speakers each in South Africa and Zimbabwe (1975)[1]
  • Chilapalapa
  • Cikabanga
Language codes
ISO 639-3 fng
Glottolog fana1235[2]
Linguasphere 99-AUT-fh

Fanagalo is a pidgin (simplified language) based primarily on Zulu, with English and a small Afrikaans input. It is used as a lingua franca, mainly in the gold, diamond, coal and copper mining industries in South Africa and to a lesser extent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Although it is used as a second language only, the number of speakers was estimated as "several hundred thousand" in 1975. As with India, once the British went, English became the lingua franca enabling different tribes in the same country to communicate with each other, and Fanagalo use declined.

Fanagalo is the only Zulu-based pidgin language, and is a rare example of a pidgin based on an indigenous language rather than on the language of a colonising or trading power.

The variety in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) is known as Chilapalapa and is influenced by Shona, while the variety in Zambia (Northern Rhodesia), called Cikabanga[4] (pronounced, and sometimes spelt, Chikabanga), is influenced by Bemba.


The name "Fanagalo" comes from strung-together Nguni forms fana-ga-lo meaning "like + of + that" and has the meaning "do it like this", reflecting its use as a language of instruction.

Other spellings of the name are Fanakalo and Fanekolo. It is also known as Isikula, Lololo or Isilololo, Piki or Isipiki, and Silunguboi.

In the Nguni tongues, the prefix Mu- or Ma- implies the singular, while Bu- or Ba- signifies the plural – hence Muntu = a man; Bantu = men, particularly when applied to tribes, e.g. Ma-tabele. Similarly, the prefix Chi- or Si- indicates the language spoke by that tribe. e.g. men of the Lozi tribe are called Ba-rotse, and they speak Si-lozi; Bembas speak Chiwemba; Tswanas live in Botswana, or as it used to be called, Bechuanaland.

Chi-lapa-lapa thus is the "language" derived from lapa = "there", with repetition for emphasis.

History and usage

Fanagalo is one of a number of African pidgin languages that developed during the colonial period to promote ease of communication. Adendorff (2002) suggests that it developed in the nineteenth century in KwaZulu-Natal Province as a way for English colonists to communicate with their servants and was also used as a lingua franca between English and Dutch/Afrikaans speaking colonists.

Fanagalo was used extensively in gold and diamond mines because the South African mining industry employed workers on fixed contracts from across southern and central Africa: including Congo, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Malawi and Mozambique. With workers originating from a range of countries and having a vast range of different mother tongues, Fanagalo provided a simple way to communicate and is still used as a training and operating medium. Fifteen hours instruction was considered sufficient for an initiate to become reasonably fluent. See Witwatersrand Native Labour Association.

Adendorff describes two variants of the language, Mine Fanagalo and Garden Fanagalo. The latter name refers to its use with servants in households. It was previously known as Kitchen Kaffir. The word "Kaffir" is the Arabic word for an unbeliever, i.e. non-Muslim, and was used by Arab slavers to refer to the indigenous black people of Africa. It thence became a common word used by early European settlers to refer to the same people, and in the 19th century was a term for the Nguni languages, as well as an inclusive term to describe South African shares on the stock-market. Through time "Kaffir" tended, in Southern Africa, to be used as a derogatory term for black people, and is now considered extremely offensive.

In the mid-20th century in South Africa there were Government efforts to promote and standardise Fanagalo as a universal second language, under the name of "Basic Bantu".

Mining aside, Adendorff suggests that Fanagalo has unfavourable and negative connotations for many South Africans. However, he raises the point that Fanagalo is sometimes used between white South Africans, particularly expatriates, as a signal of South African origin and a way of conveying solidarity in an informal manner. That role has of late largely been taken over by Afrikaans; even among English speaking South African expatriates.

In the latter half of the 20th century, holiday makers from the Rhodesias often used to go on holiday to Lorenco Marques in Mocambiques (Portuguese East Africa), where most people spoke Portuguese – but most also spoke a form of Fanagalo.

All three languages are currently experiencing a revival in their popularity as a lingua franca, now freed from connotations of "colonialism" and valued for their intrinsic usefulness.[5]

Rhodesian comedian Wrex Tarr was famous for routines that make extensive use of Chilapalapa.

Language features and variants

Mine Fanagalo in South Africa and Zimbabwe is based mostly on Zulu vocabulary (about 70%), with English (about 25%) and some words from Afrikaans (5%). It does not have the range of Zulu inflections, and it tends to follow English word order.

Adendorff describes Mine Fanagalo and Garden Fanagalo as being basically the same pidgin. He suggests that Garden Fanagalo should be seen as lying towards the English end of a continuum, and Mine Fanagalo closer to the Zulu end.

Pronouns are mina, tina, wena, ena "I, we, you, he/she/it/they". The past tense of verbs is marked by the suffix -ile (amba "I go, go!", ambile "I went"), and the future with the modal azi (azi amba "will go").

Here are two examples (all letters are pronounced):-

Koki Lobin
Cock Robin

Zonke nyoni lapa moyo ena kala, ena kala
All birds of air, they cried, they cried
Ena izwile ena file lo nyoni Koki Lobin
They heard the death the bird Cock Robin
Ena izwile, ena file, ena izwile ena file Cocky Lobin.

Kubani ena bulalile Koki Lobin?
Who they killed Cock Robin
Mina kruma lo Sparrow
Me, said the sparrow
Na lo picannin bow and arrow kamina
With the little bow & arrow of mine
Mina bulalile Koki Lobin.
I killed Cock Robin

(The Lord's Prayer)

Baba ga tina, Wena kona pezulu,
Father of ours, You are above
Tina bonga lo Gama ga wena;
We thank (for) the name of you
Tina vuma lo mteto ga wena Lapa mhlaba, fana na pezulu.
Niga tina namuhla lo zinkwa yena izwasisa;
Give us today etc., etc...
Futi, yekelela masono gatina,
Loskati tina yekelela masono ga lomunye.
Hayi letisa tina lapa lo cala; Kodwa, sindisa tina ku lo bubi,
Ndaba Wena kona lo-mteto, lo mandla, na lo dumela, Zonkeskat. Amen.

See also


  1. Fanagalo at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Fanagalo". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online

External links

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