Venda language

Not to be confused with Vedda language.
Native to South Africa, Zimbabwe
Region Limpopo Province
Native speakers
1.3 million (2011 census)[1]
1.7 million L2 speakers in South Africa (2002)[2]
Latin (Venda alphabet)
Venda Braille
Signed Venda
Official status
Official language in
South Africa
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ve
ISO 639-2 ven
ISO 639-3 ven
Glottolog vend1245[3]
S.20 (S.21)[4]
Linguasphere 99-AUT-b incl. varieties
99-AUT-baa to 99-AUT-bad

Geographical distribution of Tshivenda in South Africa: proportion of the population that speaks Tshivenda at home.

Geographical distribution of Tshivenda in South Africa: density of Tshivenda home-language speakers.
  <1 /km²
  1–3 /km²
  3–10 /km²
  10–30 /km²
  30–100 /km²
  100–300 /km²
  300–1000 /km²
  1000–3000 /km²
  >3000 /km²

Venda, also known as Tshivenḓa or Luvenḓa, is a Bantu language and an official language of South Africa. It is mainly spoken by the Venda people in the northern part of South Africa's Limpopo Province, as well as by some Lemba people in Zimbabwe. The Venda language is related to Kalanga (Western Shona, different from Shona, official language of Zimbabwe) which is spoken in Botswana and Zimbabwe. During the Apartheid era of South Africa, the bantustan of Venda was set up to cover the Venda speakers of South Africa.

Distribution of Venda speakers

According to the 2011 census, Venda speakers are concentrated in the following areas: Makhado Local Municipality, with 350,000 people; Thulamela Local Municipality, with 370,000 people; Musina Local Municipality, with 35,000 people; and Mutale Local Municipality, with 89,000 people. The total number of speakers in Vhembe district currently stands at 844,000. In Gauteng province, there are 275,000 Venda speakers. Fewer or less than 10,000 people are spread across South Africa and that makes total number of Venda speakers in South Africa at 1.2 million people or just 2.2% of South Africa's population, making Venda speakers the second smallest minority language in South Africa, after the Ndebele language, which number 1.1 million speakers.

Writing system

The Venda language uses the Latin alphabet with five additional accented letters—there are four dental consonants with circumflex below the letter (ḓ, ḽ, ṋ, ṱ) and an overdot for velar . Five vowel letters are used to write seven vowels. The letters C, J and Q are used only in quoting foreign words and names.

The Venda alphabet
A a B b (C c) D d Ḓ ḓ E e F f G g
H h I i (J j) K k L l Ḽ ḽ M m N n
Ṋ ṋ Ṅ ṅ O o P p (Q q) R r S s T t
Ṱ ṱ U u V v W w X x Y y Z z

Luṱhofunḓeraru lwa Mibvumo

The sintu writing system Isibheqe Sohlamvu/Ditema tsa Dinoko, known technically in Venda as Luṱhofunḓeraru lwa Mibvumo, is also used for the Venda language.

ṱala "divorce"
tala "draw a line"


Venda distinguishes dental ṱ, ṱh, ḓ, ṋ, ḽ from alveolar t, th, d, n, l, as well as (like the Ewe) labiodental f, v from bilabial fh, vh (the latter are slightly rounded). There are no clicks; x has the sound of ch in loch or Bach. As in other South African languages like the Zulu, ph, ṱh, th, kh are aspirated, p, ṱ, t, k ejective.

t̪ʰ kʷʰ
t̪ʼ pʷʼ
b d ɡ
pfʰ tsʰ tsʷʰ tʃʰ
bv dz dzʷ
ɸ f s ʃ x h
β v z ʒ
m n ɲ ŋ ŋʷ
j w

There is fortition of /ɸ β s ʃ x h l̪ l r w/ after nasal prefixes, likely to [pʰ? b tsʰ tʃʰ kʰ? pʰ d̪ d d b].[5]

letter(s) value(s) in IPA notes
a [a], [ɔ]
b [b]
bv [b̪v]
bw [bɣw] or [bj] Varies by dialect
d [d]
dz [d͡z]
dzh [d͡ʒ] Similar to English "j"
dzw [d͡zw]
e [ɛ], [e]
f [f]
fh [ɸ]
g [a]
h [f], [h] Pronounced [h] before e.
hw [ɣw]
i [i]
k [kˀ]
kh [kʰ]
khw [kʰw]
l [ɭ]
m [ɭ], [m̩] M is syllabic, [m̩], when the following syllable begins with m.
n [n], [n̩] N is syllabic, when the following syllable begins with n.
ng [ŋɡ]
ny [ɲ]
nz [nd͡z]
ṅw [ŋw]
o [ɔ], [o]
p [pˀ]
ph [pʰ]
pf [p̪f]
pfh [p̪fʰ]
r [ɾ]
s [s]
sh [ʃ]
sw [ʂ]
t [tˀ]
th [tʰ]
ts [t͡s]
tsh [t͡ʃʰ]
tsw [t͡sw]
ty [c]
ṱh [t̪h]
u [u]
v [v]
vh [β]
w [w]
x [ɸ] Similar to the ch in Scottish 'loch.'
xw [xw]
y [j]
z [z]
zh [ʒ]
zw [ʐ]


Venda has a single specified tone, HIGH, with unmarked syllables having a low tone. Phonetic falling tone occurs, but only in sequences of more than one vowel, or on the penultimate syllable, where the vowel is long. Tone patterns exist independently of the consonants and vowels of a word: that is, they are word tones. Venda tone also follows Meeussen's rule: when a word beginning with a high tone is preceded by that high tone, the initial high tone is lost. (That is, there cannot be two adjacent marked high tones in a word, though high tone spreads allophonically to a following non-tonic ("low"-tone) syllable.) There are only a handful of tone patterns in Venda words—no tone, a single high tone on some syllable, two non-adjacent high tones—which behave as follows:

WordPatternAfter LAfter HNotes
thamana –.–.– thàmà:nàthámâ:nà Unmarked (low) tone is raised after a high tone. That is, the preceding tone spreads.
dukaná –.–.H dùkà:nádúkâ:ná A preceding high tone spreads, but drops before the final high tone.
danána –.H.– dàná:nàdánâ:nà The pitch peaks on the tonic syllable; a preceding non-adjacent high tone merges into it
phaphána –.H.– phàphá:nápháphâ:nà
mádzhie H.– má:dzhíèmâ:dzhìè Initial high tone spreads; with an immediately preceding high tone, that initial tone is lost.
(The preceding tone also spreads, but not as far.)
dákalo H.–.– dáká:lòdákà:lò
khókholá H.–.H khókhô:lákhókhò:lá


The extra letters have the following Unicode names


  1. Venda at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Webb, Vic. 2002. "Language in South Africa: the role of language in national transformation, reconstruction and development." Impact: Studies in language and society, 14:78
  3. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Venda". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  5. Jeff Mielke, 2008. The emergence of distinctive features, p 139ff
Venda edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



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