Jenneke van der Wal - Linguist

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The language Makhuwa is one of the major languages of Mozambique. It is spoken in the northern provinces Nampula, Cabo Delgado, and Niassa, but also in the south of Tanzania. There are many varieties or dialects of Makhuwa, such as Emeetto, Esaaka, Emarevone, Imithupi. The variant I chose for my doctoral research is called Enahara.


Makhuwa-Enahara is spoken primarily on Ilha de Moçambique and the surrounding coastal area from Nacala to Mogincual. Ilha de Moçambique is an island in the Indian Ocean of 3,500 by 400 meters, connected to the mainland by a bridge. The island has approximately 15,000 inhabitants; the majority speaks Enahara as their first language. It is difficult to estimate how many more people have Enahara as their mother tongue, counting the coast and the island, but Kröger (2005) reports 33,000 to 40,000 speakers of Enahara.



Many islanders characterise Enahara as a mixture of languages. The Arabs, the Swahili, and the Portuguese have not only left their marks in religion and buildings, but also in the language: Enahara has considerably more loanwords from Swahili and Portuguese than the variants spoken in the Interior.


Since Portuguese is the lingua franca in Mozambique, and practically all people on Ilha speak it as a second language, one might think that there is a risk for Makhuwa to be used less and less. Fortunately, there have been several initiatives to keep the language very much alive. Brochures about HIV/Aids or how to raise your child and send him/her to school are now also translated into Makhuwa, there are several communal radio stations transmitting in the Makhuwa-variant spoken in their range of transmission, and there is even television broadcasting in Makhuwa. In 2003 a bilingual education project was started, training young teachers to use Makhuwa in primary school and teaching children how to read and write in their mother tongue. There is also an advanced reading book in Makhuwa (José 2004). Most importantly, however, the language is still the dominant language in the market place, at home, work and in the hospital, and it is also used in churches and mosques.


Makhuwa is a Bantu language (like Zulu and Swahili), which is classified by Guthrie (1948) as P.31. One can also find the name spelt Makua, Macua, or Emakhuwa. Special traits of Makhuwa syntax are the object marking system, the formation of relative clauses and the conjoint-disjoint alternation. The word order in Makhuwa is also of interest, since it is mainly determined by the information structure: topic pre-verbal and focus immediately after the verb.


→ Link to Makhuwa bibliography.


Working with language consultant Ali Pwanale.