Bemba Lesson 19 – The Basics of the Bemba Language

Learn Bemba on KitweOnline

Learn Bemba on KitweOnline

Mwaiseni (Welcome)

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As discussed in Lesson 8 – Learn How to Read and Pronounce Bemba Words, the Bemba language uses the same letters of the alphabet as English. Before learning to make sentences in Bemba, you need to know about the building blocks.

This lesson covers

  • Vowels
  • Special vowel sounds (Double vowels)
  • Consonants and
  • Syllables.

The lesson also includes Audio to help you learn the sounds. Once you have mastered the simple basics, you will find it easier to read and write Bemba words and sentences.

VOWELS

Definition:

Vowel = A sound made by allowing air to flow freely through the mouth and throat.

Apart from “O” vowels are pronounced differently in Bemba, compared to English:

A

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E

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I

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O

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U

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While the sound of a vowel can change in English, it does not change in Bemba. As an example, in English the “E” sound is different in the word “End” compared to the word “English.” This does not happen in Bemba. This makes it much easier to read Bemba words.

 

Double Vowels

Bemba is a very musical language. Some words change their meaning merely by the way they are pronounced. The vowels are drawn out to make a different sound. A caret is used to show such vowels. An alternative way is to write the vowel twice to denote the drawn out sound.

â (aa)

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ê (ee)

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î (ii)

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ô (oo)

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û (uu)

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Examples:

â (aa) e.g. Laanga = Show

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ê (ee) e.g. Leenga = Draw

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î (ii) e.g. Fiimba = Cover

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ô (oo) e.g. Boomba = be Wet

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û (uu) e.g. Fuuma = Spray (v.)

 

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CONSONANTS:

Definition:

A consonant is a sound made by the partial or total obstruction of air flow in the mouth and throat. This can be done with the lips (e.g. “B”), the teeth (e.g. “T”), the tip of the tongue or the back of the tongue (e.g. “K”).

  • There are no Bemba words that use the letters J , Q, R, V, X, or Z.
  • The Bemba alphabet is different in another way; it contains a unique letter “ɧ” . To make life easier when typing and writing, this letter can be represented by “N’g”. It is pronounced “”n’g” as in the English word “singer” (soft “G”). The good news is that there are just a small number of words that use this special character sound.

Examples:

    • Ng’anda = House,
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    • Ng’wena = Crocodile,
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    • Ng’uni = Honey bird,
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    • Nang’ana = Be lazy 
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    • etc.
  • Other special consonant features:
    • B – The letter “B” is a soft sound in Bemba.  e.g.
      • Bowa” (Mushroom)

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      • Bomba” (Work)

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      • Kabwe” (Stone)

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    • In every day usage, you will hear the “B” sound used as a hard sound, e.g. in describing the language as “Bemba” or in pronouncing the name “Banda.” These are adapted sounds and are not original Bemba sounds.
    • C – In English, the letter “C” can be a soft sound (e.g. “Church” or a hard sound (e.g. “Candle.” In Bemba, it only exists as a soft sound.
    • D – The letter “D” only exists in combination with a preceding consonant,

e.g. “Ndeya.” (I am going)

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 “Ndusha.” (Bile)

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There are no Bemba words that start with the letter “D.”

    • G – As for the letter “D”, the letter “G” exists only in combination with a preceding consonant and there are no Bemba words starting with the letter “G.”
    • “Hanging” Consonants:

Most Bemba words end with a vowel. As more foreign words are incorporated into the language, you come across adapted words that end with a consonant. The Bemba tend to finish the word off with a vowel.

Examples:

Golf becomes Gofu 

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Salad becomes Saladi

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Scarf becomes Shikafu

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Book becomes Buku

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Abigail becomes Abigelo

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Bell becomes Belu

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Jam becomes Jamu

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Queen becomes Kwini

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Bus becomes Bashi

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SYLLABLES

Definition:

A syllable is made up of letters in a word that are pronounced as one unit

Features:

  • Syllables can be formed by the combination of a consonant and a vowel.

Examples:

Ba

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Be

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Bi

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Bo

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Bu

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  • The sound of the vowel does not change.
  • Syllables can be formed by a combination of two consonants and a vowel.

Examples:

Cha

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Che

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Chi

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Cho

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Chu

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  • Syllables can be formed by a combination of three consonants and a vowel.

Examples:

Mfwa

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Mfwe

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Mfwi

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(Mfwo)

(Mfwu)

 

  • Syllables can be formed by a combination of vowels

Note that vowels, alone, can also make syllables.

 

Reading Exercise: 

For words you are not sure how to pronounce, identify the vowels in the word. Say the vowels out loud and then mix each one with the consonant(s) that come before the vowel. e.g. In “Chibale“, the vowels are “i”, “a” and “e”:

  • Make the “i”  sound and then mix it with the “Ch..” sound.
  • Next, make the “a” sound (there is only one way to pronounce “a” in Bemba) and then mix it with “b” (soft sound for “b”).
  • Finally, make the “e” sound and then mix it with the “L” (once more, there is only one way to pronounce the “e” in Bemba.

Look up some words that challenge your pronunciation and break them up in the same way. You will find it easier to feel your way through each word.

This knowledge of vowels, consonants and syllables forms an important part of the foundation for the forthcoming lessons on How to Construct Sentences in Bemba.

 

Shalenipo (Bye)

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You can silently leave or, better still, you can let me know what you think of this lesson by leaving your comment below.


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  10 comments for “Bemba Lesson 19 – The Basics of the Bemba Language

  1. Roberto s
    March 22, 2016 at 9:58 pm

    I’m just very happy

  2. sean mapalo
    September 18, 2015 at 10:23 am

    Love the lessons, I am very eager to learn but someone in Zambia told me that there is a modern bemba now of which I was learning via this website and was told this is deep bemba

  3. Agatha
    July 21, 2015 at 10:49 am

    Hi John

    Thanks a lot for this program. I only discovered this today 🙂

    I have a similar problem as Denise. Is it possible to make the flashplayer sounds available in other formats?

  4. krista
    November 25, 2013 at 2:51 am

    I want to make children’s books for my daughter in Canada. Her Dad is Bemba.
    He is not willing to teach language or help. 🙁
    Could you help me translate some common children’s stories into Bemba?
    itsy bitsy spider
    Humpty Dumpty
    Little Bo Peep
    and we can make up our own like “Cooking with Mom”
    “Going to the Zoo”
    “First Day at Playschool”

  5. Benedicte
    November 6, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    Could you make a lesson in how to speak to your boyfriend or girlfriend? Like loving words, etc

    And lessons f

  6. Faith Kabwe
    September 22, 2013 at 9:40 am

    Do you have a Bemba Language textbook from which you teach, and if so, where can I buy copy? Thank you.

    • John
      September 26, 2013 at 11:14 pm

      Hi Faith,
      At the moment there is no text book. I am still working on lessons that will form the different sections of the book.

      I will let you know as soon as it is ready. In the mean time, feel free to make suggestions about what you want me to cover in these lessons.

  7. Denise
    September 13, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    My tablet cannot receive these audios which is very disappointing. My son suggested i ask you to zip the files and email them to me. Is that possible?

    • JS
      September 21, 2013 at 12:19 am

      Hi Denise, it may not be possible for me to do this immediately, but I will look into it as soon as I can.
      I’ll keep you posted.

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