Thursday, September 11, 2008

About the Macua Language

Macua is the largest African language spoken in Mozambique. The Macua people are the largest single ethnic group in the country and yet, I can find very little information about the language online. So, I'm going to post every single word I know in Macua as reference for anyone who needs it. I got this information in Monapo, Nampula province, but Macua has many variations depending on the region. It is spoken in Cabo Delgado, Nampula, Niassa and Zambezia provinces, and I'm sure there are differences in all these regions.



Macua is a Bantu language with some Arabic influence, like Swahili. I'm not sure if the Arab traders that came to Mozambique Island were true Arabic speakers, or if Macua's Arabic words came to it via Swahili. Swahili, unlike what it says in some literature about Mozambican languages, is not really spoken frequently in Mozambique. Only in the very far north, in northern Cabo Delgado, closest to Tanzania. But there are similarities in northern coastal culture in Mozambique and Swahili culture, especially among Kimwani speakers.



There is also considerable Portuguese influence on the language. My guess is that things that came after the Portuguese needed names in Macua, so they simply Bantu-cized the word. Example: Ephao (the H is an aspiration) for bread. In Portuguese bread is Pão.


A note about spelling: Almost every Macua I met had great difficulty spelling the Macua words I was asking for. Even the word Macua can also be spelled Makua or Emakhuwa. Missionaries seem to be the only people putting Macua down on paper for the sake of translating the Bible. Mozambicans do not learn their native languages in school because it is so important for them to learn Portuguese. So, rarely is their literacy applied to their first language. There is a debate about whether or not Macua should reflect Portuguese usage of letters, or if the phonetic alphabet should be used instead.

My opinion is this: It wouldn't make sense to spell Shona or Makonde using the Portuguese system because those languages overlap with English-speaking countries (Zimbabwe and Tanzania). That would make spelling difficult for speakers of those languages whose spelling system was dependent on English. BUT, Macua is really only spoken within Mozambican borders, so why not let Macua spelling ride on Portuguese spelling? It would make it easier for the students who have just learned to read and write in Portuguese. Unlike English, Portuguese has an efficient and phonetic spelling system. Macua is a much easier word to write than Emakhuwa. The letters K and W don't exist in Portuguese, so a student would have to learn more letters than they learned in school, taking away the motivation to try to spell out their thoughts in their first language.

For more about Mozambican Languages, please look at my page, not Wikipedia's. Wikipedia's information on the subject is way off-base.

Please look at my next post for Macua vocabulary.

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