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(5) The root of the verb is the second person singular of the imperative.

(6) No sexual gender is recognized in the pronouns and concord. Sexual gender may be indicated by a male "prefix" of varying form, often identical with a word meaning "father," while there is a feminine prefix, na or nya, connected with the root meaning "mother," or a suffix ka or kazi, indicating "wife," "female." The 1st and 2nd prefixes invariably indicate living beings and are Usually restricted to humanity.

The sixteen original prefixes of the Bantu languages are given below in the most archaic forms to be found at the present day. The still older types of these prefixes met with in one or two languages, and deduced generally by the other forms of the particle used in the syntax, are given in brackets. It is possible that some of these prefixes resulted from the combination of a demonstrative pronoun and a prefix indicating quality or number.

Old Bantu Prefixes.

            Singular.             Plural.
Class   1. Umu- (Ñgu-mu-).[1] Class   2. Aba (Mba-ba or Ñga-ba).[1]
"   3. Umu- (Ñgu-mu-). "   4. Imi- (Ñgi-mi-).
"   5. Idi (Ndi-di-). "   6. Ama- (Ñga-ma-).
"   7. Iki- (Ñki-ki-). "   8. Ibi- (Mbi-bi-).
"   9. I-n- or I-ni- (?Ngi-ni-). " 10. Iti-, Izi-, Iti-n-, Izi-n- (?Ñgi-ti-).
" 11. Ulu (Ndu-du-). " 12. Utu (?Ntu-tu-); often diminutive in sense.
" 13. Aka (?Nka-ka-); usually diminutive, sometimes honorific.
" 14. Ubu- (?Mbu-bu-); sometimes used in a plural sense;
          generally employed to indicate abstract


" 15. Uku (?Ñku-ku-); identical with the preposition "to,"
          used as an infinitive with verbs, but also with
          certain nouns indicating primarily functions of the


" 16. Apa (Mpa-pa-); locative; applied to nouns and other
          forms of speech to indicate place or position;
          identical with the adverb "here," as Ku- is with


To these sixteen prefixes, the use of which is practically common to all members of the family, might perhaps be added No. 17, Fi- or Vi-, a prefix in the singular number, having a diminutive sense, which is found in some of the western and north-western Bantu tongues, chiefly in the northern half of the Congo basin and Cameroon. It is represented as far east (in the form of I-) as the Manyema language on the Upper Congo, near Tanganyika. This prefix cannot be traced to derivation from any others among the sixteen, certainly not to No. 8, as it is always used in the singular. Its corresponding plural prefix is No. 12 (Tu-). Prefix No. 18 is Ogu-, which has, as a plural prefix, No. 19, Aga-. These are both used in an augmentative sense, and their use seems to be confined to the Luganda and Masaba dialects, and perhaps some branches of the Unyoro language. These, like No. 17, are regular prefixes, since they are supplied with the concord (-gu- and -ga-). Lastly, there is the 20th prefix, Mu-, which is really a preposition meaning "in" or "into," often combined in meaning with another particle, -ni, used always as a suffix.[2] The 20th prefix, Mu-, however, does not seem to have a complete concord, as it is only used adjectivally or as a preposition and has no pronominal accusative.

The concord may be explained thus:—Let us for a moment reconstruct the original Bantu mother-tongue (as attempts are sometimes made to deduce the ancient Aryan from a comparison of the most archaic of its daughters) and propound sentences to illustrate the repetition of pronominal particles known as the concord.

Old Bantu.
  Babo mbaba-ntu[3] babi ba-bo-ta tu-ba-oga.  
  They these-they person they bad they who kill we fear them.  
Rendered into the modern dialect of Luganda this would be:—
  Bo aba-ntu ba-bi babota tu-ba-tia.  
  They these-they person they bad they who kill we them fear.  
(They are bad people who kill; we fear them.)


Old Bantu.
  Ñgu-mu-ti ñguno ñgu-gwa ku-ñgu-mbona.  
  This tree this here this falls; thou this seest?  
Rendered into Kiguha of North-West Tanganyika, this would be:—
  Umuti guno gugwa ugumona?  
  It tree this here it falls; thou it seest?  
(The tree falls; dost thou see it?)

The prefixes and their corresponding particles have varied greatly in form from the original syllables, as the various Bantu dialects became more and more corrupt. Assuming these prefixes to have consisted once of two distinct particles, such as, for example, Nos. 1 and 3, Ñgu-mu-, or the 6th plural prefix Nga-ma-, the first syllable seems to have been of the nature of a demonstrative pronoun, and the second more like a numeral or an adjective. Mu- probably meant "one," and Ma- a collective numeral of indefinite number, applied to liquids (especially water), a tribe of men, a herd of beasts—anything in the mass.[4] In the corresponding particles of the concord as applied to adjectives, verbs and pronouns, sometimes the first syllable, Ñgu or Ñga was taken for the concord and sometimes the second mu or ma. This would account for the seemingly inexplicable lack of correspondence between the modern prefix and its accompanying particle, which so much puzzled Bleek and other early writers on the Bantu languages. In many of these tongues, for example, the particle which corresponds at the present day to the plural prefix Ma- is not always Ma, but more often Ga-, Ya-, A-; while to Mu- (Classes 1 and 3) the corresponding particle besides -mu- is gu-, gw-, u-, wu-, yu-, ñ-, &c.

The second prefix. Ba- or Aba-, is, in the most archaic Bantu speech (the languages of Mt. Elgon), Baba- in its definite form (Ñgaba sometimes in Zulu-Kaffir). The concord is -ba- in all the less corrupt Bantu tongues, but this plural prefix degenerates into Va-, Wa-, Ma-, and A-. The concord of the 4th prefix, Mi-, is gi-, -i-, -ji-, and sometimes -mi-. The commonest form of the 5th prefix at the present day is Li- (the older and more correct is Di-), and its concord is the same; this 5th prefix is often dropped (the concord remaining) or becomes Ri-, I-, Ji-, and Ni-. The 7th prefix, Ki-, in many non-related dialects pursues a parallel course through Ci- into Si- (=Shi) and Si- and its concord resembles it. The 8th prefix is still more variable. In its oldest form this is Ibi- or Mbibi-. It is invariably the plural of the 7th. It becomes in different forms of Bantu speech Vi-, Pi-, Fi-, Fy-, Pši-, Ši-, I-, By-, Bzi-, Psi-, Zwi-, Zi- and Ri-, with a concord that is similar. The 10th prefix, which was originally Ti- or Tin-, or Zi- or Zin-, becomes Jin-, Rin-, Din-, Lin-, θin-, θon-. &c. The n in this prefix is really the singular prefix No. 9, which is sometimes retained in the plural, and sometimes omitted. In the case of the 10th prefix, the concord or corresponding pronoun persists long after the prefix has fallen out of use as a definite article. Thus, though it is absent as a plural prefix for nouns in the Swahili of Zanzibar, it reappears in the concord. For instance:—Ñombe hizi zangu—Cows these mine (These cows are mine), although Ñombe has ceased to be ziñombe in the plural, the Zi- particle reappears in hizi and zangu. In fact, the persistence of this concord, which exists in almost every known Bantu language in connexion with the 10th prefix, shows that prefix to have been in universal use at one time. The 11th prefix -Lu- seems to be descended from an older form, Ndu-. Its commonest type is Lu-, but it sometimes loses the L and becomes U-, and in the more archaic dialects is usually pronounced Du- or Ru-. It is also Nu- in one or two languages. The 12th prefix (Tu-), always used in a diminutive sense, disappears in many of these languages. Where met with it is generally Tu- or To-, but sometimes the initial T becomes R (Ru-, Ro-) or L (Lu-, Lo-) or even Y (Yo-), the concord following the fortunes of the prefix. The 13th prefix (Ka-) is sometimes confused with the 7th (Ki) and merged into it and vice versa. Ka- very often takes the 8th prefix as a plural, more commonly the 12th, sometimes the 14th. This prefix (Ka-) entirely disappears in the north-western section of the Bantu languages. Bleek thought that it persisted in the attenuated form of E- so characteristic of the Cameroon and northern Congo languages, but later investigations show this E- to be a reduction of Ki- (Ke-) the 7th prefix. The 14th prefix Bu- is very persistent, but frequently loses its initial letter B, which is either softened into V or W, or disappears altogether, the prefix becoming U- or O- or Ow-. Sometimes this prefix becomes palatized into By- or even Tš- (C-). The concord follows suit. The 15th prefix, Ku-, occasionally loses its initial K or softens into Hu or χυ or strengthens into Gu. Its concord under these circumstances sometimes remains in the form of Ku-. The 16th, Pa-, prefix is one of the most puzzling in its distribution and its phonetic changes. A very large number of the Bantu languages in the north, east and west have a dislike to the consonant P, which they frequently transmute into an aspirate (H), or soften into V, W, or F, or simply drop out. There is too much evidence in favour of this prefix having been originally Pa- or Mpa-pa to enable us to give it any other form in reconstructing the Bantu mother-tongue. Yet in the most archaic Bantu dialects to the north of the Victoria Nyanza it is nowhere found in the form of Pa-. It is either Ha- (and Ha- changes eastward into Sa-!) or Wa-.[5] But for its existence in this shape in the language of Uganda one might almost be led to think that the 16th locative prefix began as Ha-, and by some process without a parallel changed in the east and south to the form of Pa-. There are, however, a good many place names in the northern part of the Uganda protectorate, in the region now occupied by Nilotic negroes, which begin with Pa-. These place names would seem to be of ancient Bantu origin in a

  1. 1.0 1.1 The full hypothetical forms of(the prefixes as joined with definite articles-Ngumu, Mbaba, Ngimi, Ngama and so on-are added in brackets. Forms very like these are met with still in the Mt. Elgon languages (Group No. 3) and in Subiya group (No. 32).
  2. This is prominently met with in East Africa, and also in the various Bechuana dialects of Central South Africa, where it takes the form of fi at the end of words.
  3. Or perhaps ñga-ba-ntu (afterwards na-ba-, aba-); the form figabantu is actually met with in Zulu-Kafflrz also ngumuntu.
  4. Likewise ba- may have meant “two” (Bantu root Bali=two); a dual first and then a plural.
  5. Wa- in Luganda, In Lusoga (north coast of Victoria Nyanza) Wa- becomes Fa (Gha).