Date of completion  May  /12  /2000

Respondent’s details
Name:  Petrus Cornelius
Surname: Taljaard

Male  X
Female []

Institution belonged to: National Language Service Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology
Address: Private Bag X195 Pretoria, 0001, South Africa
Telephone: 27 12 337 8366
Fax:  27 12 324 2119

Details of language: Swati/Swazi

Glotonym or name of language on which you are providing data:
Autoglotonym (name given to the language by native speakers):  SiSwati
Heteroglotonym (name given by the non-native community to the language): Swazi

What language group does the language belong to?
Family:  Bantu Language Family
Group:  South Eastern Bantu
Subgroup:  Nguni (Tekela Subgroup)

What type of language is it?
Creole []
Pidgin []
None of the above.

  1. Does this language have other varieties? If so, what are these?

Yes, minor differences that are evident in certain areas. Two of the varieties are called Thithiza and Yeyeza.

  1. Does this language exist in a written form?

Yes. Ever since independence in 1968 the language became the official language of schools, government and religion. Before that Swati was mainly written in religious publications and the Bible.

  1. Is there standardisation of the language?

Yes. (a) In Swaziland there is the Swati Language Board that looks after the language with regard to spelling rules and terminology.
(b) The Swati Language Board in South Africa worked in conjunction with the one in Swaziland and was part of the KaNgwane Homeland government. Since 1994 this task was taken over by the Department of Education of Mpumalanga Province and PANSALB.

  1. Do you consider yourself a member of this linguistic community? If so, why?

No, but the researcher speaks the language and has studied it the past ten years.

  1. Where is this language spoken? What are its geographical boundaries?

*Since this language is spoken in two countries, the data will be divided into (a) and (b) sections.
(a) This language is firstly spoken in the Kingdom of Swaziland. This territory is situated in the eastern part of Southern Africa and borders in the west and south on the Republic of South Africa and in the north on Mozambique.
(b) Secondly the language is also spoken in the Republic of South Africa in the eastern parts of the Mpumalanga Province that borders on Swaziland. This language is mainly spoken in Mpumalanga Province of the Republic of South Africa. Since the borders of the area are not defined, one cannot put a number to the inhabitants (Cf also Question 6 below).  According to the 1996 Census 1 013 193 persons in South Africa indicated that their home language is Swati. The distribution in the provinces are as follows:
1,3% of the population of Gauteng Province, 29,8% (±834 133) of the population of Mpumalanga Province. In the other provinces there are less than 1%. This adds up to 2,5% of the inhabitants of South Africa
(South African Survey, 1999-2000, Millennium Edition. Institute of Race Relations, Braamfontein, Johannesburg).

  1. Have these geographical boundaries changed over the years? If so, how have they altered?

(a) The borders of Swaziland changed a number of times through history. From a small group in the centre of present day Swaziland in the early 18th century, they became an established group in the mid-1700's and this group grew. By 1820 the then King Sobhuza ruled over a large area that stretched from Swaziland to the north and the west and this was extended further into what is now Mpumalanga Province (previously Transvaal and before that the Transvaal Republic) by his successor, Mswati. During his reign, Mswati united all the groups under him, but there were no fixed boundaries to his territory. It is claimed that a treaty was signed in 1846 whereby land of the present-day districts of Lydenburg, Middelburg, Barberton and Carolina was ceded to the Volksraad of the Transvaal Republic. No proof of such a treaty exists and the dispute over the land carried on for many years and is even presently a thorny issue. Only in 1881 were the present day borders demarcated and this gave Swaziland its status as a separate nation and country.

(Matsebula, JSM. 1976. A History of Swaziland, Longman Penguin Southern Africa, Cape Town)
(b) After the establishment of the Swaziland borders, the Swazis outside still considered themselves to be subjects of the king. Their language also remained the same, except for those who were in areas far away where other languages were spoken. The homeland policy of the previous government of the Republic of South Africa (RSA) again opened up the border issue in the 1980's when they tried to establish KaNgwane as an independent homeland stretching in a broad band along the western border of Swaziland. The KaNgwane borders disappeared in 1994 with the coming of power of the ANC government in South Africa.

(Own research)

  1. What is the physical terrain of this area like?

The terrain is mostly mountainous in both areas with some grass plains in Swaziland. Tree plantations cover large areas.

  1. Are any other languages spoken within the same territory? If so, what are these?
  1. Yes, English is the other official language of Swaziland. In the south a lot of Zulu is spoken and in the north a little Tsonga.
  2. Yes, English and Afrikaans are spoken throughout the territory in the RSA with a little Tsonga and Northern Sotho in the northern parts. The further west and south one moves, the more the language changes to Zulu. In Mpumalanga Province where the largest concentration of Swati speakers is, the following languages are also spoken:
Zulu    25,2%
Northern Sotho 10,4%
Afrikaans 8,2%
Tsonga 3,5%
Tswana 2,7%
English  2,0%

In the other provinces the percentages are less than 2% or too small to record.

(South African Survey, 1999-2000, Millennium Edition. Institute of Race Relations, Braamfontein, Johannesburg).

  1. Could you enclose a sketch or indicate the area in which the language is spoken? (if you wish, you can draw a sketch in the space on the next page)

See Appendix.

  1. What State(s) / country (ies) do/es the territory/ies where the language is spoken belong to?
  1. The Kingdom of Swaziland.
  2. Mpumalanga Province of the Republic of South Africa (RSA).
  1. What is the total number of inhabitants (whether or not they speak this language) of this territory?
  1. 1 082 000 in Swaziland
  2. The total number of inhabitants of South Africa is 40 583 573 (Census 1996). The total number of inhabitants of Mpumalanga Province where the highest concentration of Swati speakers are to be found is 2 800 711
  1. How many of the inhabitants understand, speak, read or write this language?


  1. Swaziland

Understand 1 082 000 - 5% = 973 800
(Only 15% of the population are non-Swazi but 10% understand the language)
Speak  973 000 - 5% = 925 110
(50% of non-Swazis also speak the language)
Read  925 110 - 15% = 786 344
Write     786 344
(Based on an illiteracy figure of 15%)

  1. RSA

Understand  Home language  1 013 193
Zulu        9 200 144
Xhosa       7 196 118
Ndebele       586 961
17 996 416*
*This is in South Africa as a whole because these languages all belong to the Nguni group and are mutually intelligible. A more realistic figure will be reached if the Nguni languages in Mpumalanga (Mpu.) are combined because they are in closer contact with Swati than e.g. the Xhosa in the Eastern Cape and people there will therefore have more opportunities to hear the language. The speaking, reading and writing figures will therefore only be based on the Mpumalanga statistics where this language is relevant.
Home language (Mpu.) 834 612
Zulu (Mpu.)   700 180
Ndebele (Mpu.)  347 288
Others     2 000*
1 883 070
(Census 1996)

Speak   Home language  834 612
Others   ±2 000*
1 034 612
*This figure is an estimation of the number of non-Swazis understanding and speaking the language, Zulu’s and Ndebeles excluded. These people would include European/Indian farmers and businessmen.
Read  459 037 home language users (based on 45% illiteracy in Mpumalanga). When this is related to the inhabitants of Mpumalanga, then the numbers for Zulu and Ndebele have to be added because the literate among them will also be able to read Swati:

Home language: 459 037
Zulu: 385 099
Ndebele: 322 829
1 221 294

Write  459 027 (based on the premise that the 55% that can read, also studied the language at school and can therefore also write it) The figure for Mpumalanga will then also be 1 221 294.

(Literacy figures for Mpumalanga for age 20 and older as quoted in South African Survey, 1999-2000, Millennium Edition. Institute of Race Relations, Braamfontein, Johannesburg).

Use this space to draw a map or sketch of the territory where this language is spoken.
See Appendix.

  1. How many of the speakers are monolingual (only use this language)?
  1. Swaziland: 216 400 (20%)
  2. RSA: 151 980 (15%)
  1. How many of the speakers are bilingual (use this and another language)? What other language(s) do they speak?
  1. Swaziland: 708 710 (80%)
  2. RSA: 490 044 (50%)*

*These are estimates since most speakers of the indigenous languages of South Africa are multilingual.

  1. How many of the speakers are multilingual (speak this and more than one other language)? What other languages do they speak?
  1. Swaziland: 103 200 (10%) English, Zulu, Tsonga.
  2. RSA: 378 900 (30%) Zulu, English, Afrikaans, Northern Sotho.*

*These are estimates since most speakers of the indigenous languages of South Africa are multilingual.

  1. Are speakers of this language dispersed throughout the territory, or are they concentrated in specific population centres?
  1. Swaziland: Dispersed throughout the territory.
  2. RSA: Dispersed with concentrated population centres in Mpumalanga around Nelspruit, Barberton and Badplaas.
  1. How has the number of speakers of this language evolved over time (increased, decreased or remained stable)?

Not taking the very early history into consideration, the number of speakers has increased over time according to population growth.

  1. Is the language passed down from generation to generation? If not, why not? What language is replacing it?

The language is passed down from generation to generation, although there is a tendency among a few speakers to replace Swazi with English.

  1. Could you indicate how often the members of each generation use the language with other generations (old people with old people, young people with old people, etc) in their informal contacts (in the street, at home, in leisure time,…)?

     … Speak the language with

The people... Elderly Men Elderly Women Adult Men Adult Women Young Men Young Women Boys Girls
Elderly Men 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5
Elderly Women 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5
Adult Men 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5
Adult Women 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5
Young Men 5 5 5 5 4 4 4 4
Young Women 5 5 5 5 4 4 4 4
Boys 5 5 5 5 4 4 4 4
Girls 5 5 5 5 4 4 4 4

Specify the frequency: 5 = always in this language; 4 = more in this language than others; 3 = equally often in either language; 2 = more in other languages than in this one; 1 = always in other languages.

  1. The above figures mainly displays the situation in Swaziland where Swazi is the medium of informal communication between almost 100% of the speakers.
  2. The figures for the RSA will differ from area to area, depending on the composition of the population in a specific area. In the traditional Swazi areas the figures will be the same as for Swaziland. In areas where there is a mixture of speakers of other languages the frequency will go down to 4, 3 and even 2 among young people. The trend is more towards English in a mixed group.
  1. Do the speakers of other languages speak this language? In what circumstances?

In Swaziland, and to a lesser degree in the RSA, many English and/or Afrikaans speaking businessmen and farmers speak Swati out of necessity. Marriages between Swazi speakers and speakers of other languages may force the latter to speak Swati. Zulu speakers would normally not speak Swati, even if the speaker knows that his/her audience is Swati speaking because the languages are mutually intelligible to a certain degree.

  1. Is there any historical, political or economic factor which has affected the situation of this linguistic community?

The migration of workers to the mines in the RSA brought many males into contact with other languages and cultures and they may have introduced new (foreign) elements on their return. This has however, not affected the situation of the linguistic community as a whole.

  1. Has any other factor directly influenced the growth or threatened the future of the language (migration, temporary labour, deportations, wars,…)?

Cf. 21 above.

  1. Is the language currently threatened? If so, what is the cause?

The only threat, if any, comes from the growing popularity of English and this is more evident in the RSA than in Swaziland.

  1. Is the community which speaks this language in danger? If so, what is the cause?


  1. Is there any internal migration (movement of the population within the territory)? Is there any external migration (movement out of the territory to others)? If so, what is the cause?

No. Cf question 21.

  1. What is the main economic activity of this community?
  1. In Swaziland it is mainly farming (grain, sheep, cattle), forestry and a growing light industry.
  2. In the RSA it is as diverse as the economy of the country and encompasses the whole spectrum.
  1. What is the influence of religion on this community?
  1. In Swaziland it played a major role in their history. In the 19th century missionaries were seen as bearers of knowledge and for this reason they were welcomed by King Mswati. All Swazis claim to be Christians and belong to some or other denomination. Although the traditional belief in the ancestors is still strong they have achieved a working marriage of the two that is acceptable to both the traditionalists and the Church. In this way religion brought literacy and contact with the outside world to Swaziland.
  2. The above also applies to the Swazis of the RSA, except that many of them have lately joined the Christian Zionist Church which has an enormous following in the RSA. The rest are all Christian and belong to a variety of denominations, some very informal.
  1. Does the language have any official status (official, joint-official language, acceptance…)?

Swati has joint-official status both in Swaziland and in the RSA.

  1. Is the language in contact with the administration? Indicate whether its use in the administration is in spoken and/or written form.
  1. In Swaziland it is used in spoken and written form.
  2. In the RSA it is at the moment only used in spoken form.
  1. Is this language used in education (whether as the teaching medium or as a subject of study)? Indicate whether there is spoken and/or written use of the language in elementary and higher education.

In both countries Swati is used in education as a medium of instruction and as a subject in primary (elementary) and secondary schools. The RSA had 100 primary (elementary) schools, 3 secondary schools and 4 combined schools using Swati as medium of instruction in 1997.  In 1999 in the RSA 12 300 students wrote the senior certificate examinations (matric). In higher education it is offered as a subject for degree purposes by the University of Swaziland, the University of South Africa and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (in the latter case only up till 1998).

 (Source: Central Statistical Services)

  1. Is this language used in the media (radio, newspapers and television…)?
  1. In Swaziland it is used in all the media but to a lesser degree in newspapers - there is only one Swati newspaper with several English ones. On radio it is used 18 hours per day by Radio Swati. On national television Swati shares with English. Socio-cultural events, especially where the king is present, and internal official news are all presented in Swati.
  2. In the RSA it is used on radio for 18 hours per day, but there are no newspapers in Swati and on television there are weekly regional broadcasts of one half-hour by the SABC.
  1. Is this language used in religious services and ceremonies? Indicate whether there is spoken or written use of the language in religious services and ceremonies.

Spoken and written use of Swati in religion is used all the time and has been for a very long time. In the RSA Zulu has been used a lot because the Bible was at first only available in Zulu.

  1. Is the language used in business and labour relations? Indicate whether the use is spoken and/or written.
  1. In the farming business spoken Swati is used exclusively while dealings with industry and labour relations will be spoken Swati and written English.
  2. Spoken Swati is used only in business between Swati speakers. Otherwise English or Afrikaans are used in spoken and written form.
  1. Are there any other areas in which this language is used in its written form?


  1. Is there any organisation or body responsible for linguistic policy and planning with respect to this language? What kind of activities does this perform?
  1. The Swati Language Board is keeping watch over the language and its future.
  2. The Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology as well as the Pan South African Language Board are looking after the interests of all the languages of South Africa on an ongoing basis.
  1. Is there any kind of cultural or linguistic organisation or body which promotes the knowledge and/or use of the language? What kind of activities does this perform?
  1. In Swaziland there is a cultural forum that liaises with the Royal House in organising a variety of cultural events where the language is used exclusively.
  2. The Department of Arts and Culture in Mpumalanga is responsible for cultural events. Many of the events are staged for tourists and do not promote the language specifically.
  1. Does the language have a literary tradition? If so, please give some information about this literary tradition.
  1. In 1968 with independence the written language received a major boost. Books were needed for the schools and a fairly large number of literary works was published. Prose, poetry and drama books were written but were exclusively aimed at the school market. Before that the only written Swati was religious.
  2. In the RSA the same situation occurred in the early 1980's when the KaNgwane Homeland was founded. Mother tongue tuition as well as a subject at school necessitated the production of books and a number of prose, poetry and drama works were published. In 1991 the University of South Africa started teaching Swati as a subject and this opened up another avenue for aspirant writers. The volume is small because of the restricted market and the lack of a tradition of reading among Swati speakers.
  1. What is the attitude of the majority of the members of this community towards the knowledge and use of this language?
  1. In Swaziland the language is not an issue since all the speakers use it everyday in all walks of life and they accept it as part of their heritage and culture. Therefore they expect it to stay that way.
  2. In the RSA in the rural areas the situation is the same as in Swaziland, but in other areas the feeling is that not enough is being done to promote use of the language and that it will, in the end, be replaced by English in all public walks of life.

(Own research, PANSALB communications)

  1. What is the attitude of the majority of the members of the neighbouring communities towards the knowledge and use of the language?
  1. In Swaziland it is again not an issue and it is accepted as an integral part of the country that should be respected.
  2. Fairly neutral, with a section feeling that use of the language by them should be promoted. Often this is only for financial reasons.
  1. PLEASE ADD ANY OTHER DETAILS REGARDING THE SITUATION OF THE LANGUAGE WHICH YOU CONSIDER OF INTEREST. At the same time, we would be grateful if you could send us any statistics, reports, assignment or research that might help us to understand the situation of this language. It would also be very helpful if you could provide references of the sources consulted and the addresses of any individuals or bodies that may be able to offer further data about this language.