Bantu languages

Narrow Bantu, KiNtu, Ntu
EthnicityBantu peoples
Africa, mostly Southern Hemisphere
Linguistic classificationNiger–Congo
ISO 639-2 / 5bnt
African language families.png
Map showing the distribution of Bantu vs. other African languages. The Bantu area is in orange.[citation needed]

The Bantu languages (English: /, Proto-Bantu: *bantʊ̀) or Ntu languages (/ⁿtu/), technically the Narrow Bantu languages, as opposed to "Wide Bantu", a loosely defined categorisation which includes other "Bantoid" languages, are a large family of languages spoken by the Bantu peoples throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.

As part of the Southern Bantoid group, they are part of the Benue-Congo language family, which in turn is part of the large Niger–Congo phylum.

The total number of Bantu languages ranges in the hundreds, depending on the definition of "language" versus "dialect", and is estimated at between 440 and 680 distinct languages.[2]The total number of Bantu speakers is in the hundreds of millions, estimated around 350 million in the mid-2010s (roughly 30% of the total population of Africa, or roughly 5% of world population).[3]Bantu languages are largely spoken east and south of Cameroon, throughout Central Africa, Southeast Africa and Southern Africa. About one sixth of the Bantu speakers, and about one third of Bantu languages, are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone (c. 60 million speakers as of 2015). See list of Bantu peoples.

The Bantu language with the largest total number of speakers is Swahili; however, the majority of its speakers use it as a second language (L1: c. 16 million, L2: 80 million, as of 2015).[4]

Other major Bantu languages include Zulu, with 27 million speakers (15.7 million L2), and Shona, with about 11 million speakers (if Manyika and Ndau are included).[5][6] Ethnologue separates the largely mutually intelligible Kinyarwanda and Kirundi, which, if grouped together, have 12.4 million speakers.[7]


The similarity between dispersed Bantu languages had been observed as early as in the 17th century.[8] The term "Bantu" as a name or the group was coined (as Bâ-ntu) by Wilhelm Bleek in 1857 or 1858, and popularised in his Comparative Grammar of 1862.[9] The name was coined to represent the word for "people" in loosely reconstructed Proto-Bantu, from the plural noun class prefix *ba- categorizing "people", and the root *ntʊ̀ - "some (entity), any" (e.g. Zulu umuntu "person", abantu "people"). There is no native term for the group, as Ntu-speaking populations refer to themselves by their endonyms but did not have a concept for the larger ethno-linguistic phylum. Bleek's coinage was inspired by the anthropological observation of groups self-identifying as "people" or "the true people" (as is indeed the case, for example, with the term Khoekhoe, which is really a kare "praise address" and not an ethnic name.).[10]

The term "narrow Bantu", excluding those languages classified as Bantoid by Guthrie (1948), was introduced in the 1960s.[11]

The prefix ba- specifically refers to people, not language. Endonymically, the term for cultural objects is formed with the ki- noun class (Nguni ísi-), as in Kiswahili "coast language and culture" and isiZulu "Zulu language and culture".

There was a suggestion in South Africa to refer to these languages as "KiNtu" in the 1980s. However, the word kintu exists in some places, meaning "thing" with no relation to the concept of "language",[12] it was also reported by delegates at the African Languages Association of Southern Africa conference in 1984 that in some places, the term 'Kintu' has a derogatory significance,[13] that is, kintu refers to "things" and is used as a dehumanizing term of people who have lost their dignity.[14] In addition, Kintu is a figure in some mythologies.[15]

The term "Kintu" apparently still saw occasional use in the 1990s in South Africa.[16] In contemporary decolonial linguistics, however, the term "Ntu languages" is used, which avoids all the above pitfalls.

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Bantoetale
العربية: لغات البانتو
azərbaycanca: Bantu dilləri
беларуская: Банту (мовы)
brezhoneg: Yezhoù bantouek
čeština: Bantuské jazyky
chiShona: ChiBantu
dansk: Bantusprog
Deutsch: Bantusprachen
Esperanto: Bantua lingvaro
français: Langues bantoues
客家語/Hak-kâ-ngî: Bantu ngî-chhu̍k
한국어: 반투어군
hornjoserbsce: Bantuske rěče
hrvatski: Bantu jezici
Bahasa Indonesia: Rumpun bahasa Bantu
íslenska: Bantúmál
italiano: Lingue bantu
עברית: שפות בנטו
ქართული: ბანტუს ენები
Kiswahili: Lugha za Kibantu
Кыргызча: Банту тилдери
latviešu: Bantu valodas
lietuvių: Bantų kalbos
македонски: Банту-јазици
Malagasy: Fiteny banto
Bahasa Melayu: Bahasa Bantu
Nederlands: Bantoetalen
Nordfriisk: Bantuspriaken
norsk nynorsk: Bantuspråk
occitan: Lengas bantos
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Bantu tillari
português: Línguas bantas
română: Limbi bantu
Runa Simi: Bantu rimaykuna
русский: Банту (языки)
Simple English: Bantu languages
slovenčina: Bantuské jazyky
српски / srpski: Банту језици
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Bantu jezici
svenska: Bantuspråk
Türkçe: Bantu dilleri
українська: Банту (мови)
Tiếng Việt: Nhóm ngôn ngữ Bantu
粵語: 班圖語族
中文: 班图语支