IsiZulu, a major language of South Africa, is not a static monolith, except as some people’s ideologies of language have so imagined it. This presentation traces some major historical events and changes, starting in the early nineteenth century, that have affected Zulu ways of speaking and in which they have been entangled, including the identification of “Zulu” as a unity distinct from cognate linguistic varieties in the region.
Judith Irvine first considers the dramatic expansion of a powerful Zulu kingdom under Shaka Zulu, from 1818. Shaka’s language policy was tied to the centralization of the Zulu state, and had consequences for dialectology, standardization, and ethnicity, especially as interpreted by missionaries in their own linguistic projects. Judith then turns to the forms of respect vocabulary and honorific utterance, with their specific principles of linguistic construction.
These deference forms were entwined with the role of language in the Zulu army, and involved both men and women. Yet, after the British annexation of Zululand in 1887 and the subsequent intensification of colonial rule, the colonizers identified these forms of verbal deference with folklore and gendered social roles. Comparing indigenous and colonizers’ varying conceptions of what language is and how to enlist it in social projects – their ideologies of language – can help bring out some sociolinguistic aspects of the colonial encounter and its aftermath.