Emory University
Linguistic Anthropology

Bemba Home Page

Mwapoleenipo bonse ! 'Greetings everyone !'

Bemba is a language spoken by 5 to 6 million people in Zambia, and in bordering areas of Tanzania and Congo (DRC). Bemba is one of the eight official languages of Zambia. It is the language of the Bemba people (population est. 1.7 million) and a major lingua franca across Zambia. Bemba is part of the Bantu language family (Guthrie's M.42), which consists of over 500 different languages throughout Central, Eastern, Western, and Southern Africa. Other Bantu languages include Swahili, Zulu, Luganda, Shona, Sesotho, and Kongo. Like 'English', the term 'Bemba' encompasses a range of linguistic variation. Due to the political and economic history of the Bemba people, and their relations to colonial and state power, 'the Bemba language' has become the cover term for what is technically a language/dialect continuum in Northern Zambia. 'Bemba' includes several closely related dialects, including: Aushi, Bemba, Bisa, Chishinga, Kunda, Lala, Lamba, Luunda, and Tabwa.

A distinctly urban and 'modern' form of Bemba, known as Town Bemba, is spoken throughout the country, by people who are ethnically Bemba and by people who speak it as a second or third language (Spitulnik 1998).

Bemba, like other Bantu languages, has an elaborate morphological system of noun prefixing (Spitulnik 1987, 1988). An example of one root word with different prefixes is below:

Bemba language, culture, and/or customs
Bemba people
a Bemba person
the Bemba territory

Click here for examples of Texts and Sound files of Bemba Speech Genres and Varieties:

  • Central Bemba, Commentary within a research interview
  • Town Bemba, Commentary within a research interview

Click here for a Brief Linguistic Profile of Bemba.

Click here for example sentences with audio in Bemba.

Click here for more information about Bemba, from a Bemba speaker's perspective.

Click here for Bemba Resources.

Click here for more information on The Languages of Zambia.

Click here for more information on Zambia.

Back to Linguistic Anthropology Home Page
Back to Debra Spitulnik's Faculty Page

Page design and maintenance by Debra Spitulnik and David Charnon.
Text copyright © Debra Spitulnik.
Copyright © Emory University Atlanta, GA 30322
Last updated April 22, 2000