Annotated Swadesh wordlists for the Bantu-S group (Niger-Congo family).

Languages included: Xhosa [bns-xho].



Main source

Fischer 1985 = Fischer, Arnold. English-Xhosa Dictionary. Oxford University Press. // A large and authoritative English-Xhosa dictionary. Xhosa words are transcribed in the official orthography, without tonal marks.

Additional source

Donnelly 2007 = Donnelly, Simon Scurr. Aspects of tone and voice in Phuthi. PhD diss., University of Illinois. // Although this work mainly deals with the Phuthi language, it also contains a comparative Swadesh wordlist for Phuthi, Xhosa, and Sotho, transcribed phonetically and regularly marking out tonal characteristics.


1. General.


The main source for Xhosa entries is Fischer 1985; this English-Xhosa dictionary is, for the most part, sufficient to accurately and reliably fill in most of the positions on the Swadesh wordlist. A few ambiguous cases were verified for peculiarities and frequency of usage on the basis of various Xhosa-language texts and text corpora on the Web. The only flaw of Fischer's dictionary is that, following official orthography, it does not mark tones; for that reason, phonetically transcribed variants in [Donnelly 2007] have been added in the Notes section.

2. Transliteration.


The official Latin-based Xhosa alphabet has multiple differences from the IPA / UTS systems; the principal distinctions are listed in the table below.

Xhosa alphabet UTS system
tsh čʰ
j ǯ
ty ɕ
dy ʓ
tl ƛ
dl Ł
hl ɬ
ny ɲ
c, gc, nc ǀ, ɡǀ, ɳǀ
q, gq, nq !, ɡ!, ɳ!
x, gx, nx ǀǀ, ɡǀǀ, ɳǀǀ
e ɛ (e)
o ɔ (o)


1. The vowels e and o are pronounced as ɛ and ɔ in most contexts, except for certain consonantal environments; there is no phonemic opposition between ɛ and e, or ɔ and o, in Xhosa.

2. Voiced and voiceless lateral affricates ƛ and Ł are positional allophones.

3. Phonetically, unaspirated p, t, k, etc., in Xhosa are usually described as ejectives; to avoid superfluous symbols, we do not mark ejective articulation in the UTS transcription.

4. The two phonemic tones (low and high), as well as their combined contours, are not marked in Fischer's dictionary; we do, however, include tonal transcriptions for most of the items, taken from [Donnelly 2007], in the Notes section.

Database compiled and annotated by: G. Starostin (last update: May 2013).
(The Xhosa wordlist was originally constructed by Ye. Chekmeneva, but seriously revised and re-annotated by G. Starostin).