Language Primer: Xangana / Shangana / Changana

The reader who’s spent any time in southern Africa will no doubt have come away with a head left slightly spinning by the sheer depth and breadth of languages and dialects in the region. Read on to learn more about one such vernacular.

As visitors to Maputo will attest, it’s useful to know a certain amount of Xangana / Shangana / Changana. A colourful language and one of Mozambique’s indigenous Bantu tongues, the dialect seems to encapsulate its mother city. The beat is rhythmic and the pulse smooth, held together by a thin veneer of chaos. Unlike Portuguese – the country’s accepted lingua franca – which writhes as though borne of smoke, Xangana is an altogether bouncier option that’s surprisingly easy to pick up.

Marketplace, Maputo

Xangana’s usefulness stems not from any sense of necessity. Mozambique is, after all, a multilingual country, and its capital city is no different. A smidgen of English with a smattering of Portuguese should more than suffice for those passing through.

No, where Xangana excels is its barrier-breaking. Try deploying a few phrases hither and thither. Like countless other places, it opens most unexpected doors and fosters a keener understanding of one’s surroundings. It’s also a polite thing to do. The key to travel is making the effort, and at least attempting to pick up the vernacular is no exception.

Read more: Visiting northern Mozambique? It might be worth learning a little Enahara before you go.

‘Understand the language,’ no-one ever said, ‘to understand the heart.’ While we don’t necessarily agree with this invisible aphorism, we should like to expand on it. Simply put, Xangana is the key to unlocking the brightest of smiles in Mozambique’s southern citadel.

(Transparency Editor: At this point, we’d be remiss to class this list as ‘definitive’. It’s not. We gleaned it from an afternoon exploring Maputo and present it as is, inevitable mistakes included. If you’ve come here in search of a complete Mozambique travel guide, don’t be fooled: this isn’t one of them.)

EnglishChangana / Shangana / Xangana
You (pl.)Wona
He / She / ItYena
You! (greeting)Hawen!
Good morningDzixlie (di-chi-li)
Good afternoonInlekani
GoodbyeHambani / Nofomba
Thank youKanimambu
How are you?U bom?
I’m OKNi bom
I’m not OKA ni bom
What’s your name?Mane vitou dzaku / sago?
My name is (Tom)Vitou dzanga hi (Tom)
Nice to meet youNe no shile
You not buy?Hou chave?
I’m just lookingNo la vise
I like your noseMina nakukuna saiy

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