Varieties of iciBemba

A spectrum of Bemba linguistic varieties exist in Zambia.  The two most commonly referred to varieties are “urban Bemba” (or “town Bemba”) and “rural Bemba” (or “deep or central Bemba”) (Spitulnik 1998; link to article here).  In reality, each of these varieties have a significant amount of variation themselves.  In addition, using sociolinguistic terminology, there is what one would call a “dialect continuum” in Zambia, with a standardized version of the Bemba language typically being used in the school system, printed publications, and mainstream media.

Fieldwork texts and audio of varieties of the Bemba language appear below.  These excerpts are discussed in Spitulnik, Debra (1998): “The Language of the City: Town Bemba as Urban Hybridity.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 8(1):30-59.  “The Language of the City” analyzes Town Bemba and discusses its implications for the study of linguistic heteroglossia and the experience of modernity. The structural, ideological, and sociocultural features of Town Bemba are examined using data from naturally occurring discourse collected in Zambia. The two examples below illustrate some of the differences between rural and urban varieties of Bemba. Most notably, Town Bemba features a high degree of loans from the English language, which enter into popular use through the education system, state politics, international business, and media such as the Internet, television programs, and recorded music. English is the official national language of Zambia.

Central Bemba.  Fieldwork recording by Debra Spitulnik Vidali (1989).
Click on the audio player below to hear Michael Tompwe explain why he likes the popular Bemba radio program Kabuusha Taakolelwe Boowa (‘The inquirer was not poisoned by a mushroom’) in a research interview in Chitimukulu village:

  1. Pantu ifyo natemenwa baKabuusha?
    Why is it that I like Mr. Kabuusha?
  1. Tuleepushako amepusho ifilatwafya saana pamayanda.
    We ask questions about what is bothering us a lot in our homes.
  1. Limbi umukashi wandi aleencusha.
    Maybe my wife is troubling me.
  1. Elyo nomba kanshi tuleepusha kuli baKabuusha pakuti batupandeko amano.
    So now therefore we ask Mr. Kabuusha so that he can give us advice.
  1. Pakuti tuleeikala bwino mung’anda no mukashi wandi uyu.
    So that I am (we are) living well at home with my wife.
  1. Elyo baKabuusha balabwesha amasuko ayasuma saana no kutufunda saana.
    So Mr. Kabuusha replies with very good answers and counsels us a lot.
  1. Kanshi filya tuleekutika ku cilimba filya, no mukashi wandi aleekutika,
    Thus when I (we) listen to the radio just like that, with my wife listening,
  1. alafundwa, tulafundilwa bonse pamo pene.
    she gets counseled, we are both counseled together.
  1. Kanshi baKabuusha balabomba saana.
    Therefore Mr. Kabuusha works well.

Town Bemba. Fieldwork recording by Debra Spitulnik Vidali (1990).
In a research interview at the Lusaka city market, Jackson Kunda reflects on the passing of David Yumba, the popular host of the Kabuusha Taakolelwe Boowa radio program:

  1. Ya so ifi, manje baYumba ifi bafwile, tuli no bulanda saana.
    Yeah so that, now that Mr. Yumba has died, we are filled with great grief.
  1. So tuleefwaya shuwa ukuti ku broadcasting bakabikeko umuntu zoona nga
    So we surely want that at broadcasting they put on a person truly like
  1. filya fine fyali baYumba.
    just the same as Mr. Yumba.
  1. Ukulaasuka na ama-ansa ya bantu filya fine.
    Responding to people’s questions in the same way.
  1. So twaliumfwa saana abansansa. Twaliumfwa saana abansansa.
    So we really felt happiness (enjoyment). We really felt happiness.
  1. Nomba pali shino nshiku tuleeumfwa aba
    However, nowadays, we are feeling —
  1. Tuli ne cililo saana mulandu wakuti baYumba balifwa.
    We are in deep mourning because Mr. Yumba has died.
  1. So nga cakuti umuntu uwo bengacita replace filya ifyali baYumba,
    So if this person they might replace (him) with is like Mr. Yumba,
  1. kuti twatemwa saana.
    then we would be very happy.
  1. Because twalitemwa saana ukulemba amakalata ku broadcast. Ya.
    Because we really liked to write letters to broadcast. Yeah.
Key: Italics Bemba
Underlined English
Underlined Italics Town Bemba or Hybrid forms

Please cite the information from this page responsibly.  Bemba language texts analyzed here appear in  Spitulnik, Debra (1998): “The Language of the City: Town Bemba as Urban Hybridity.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 8(1):30-59.  Copyright © American Anthropological Association. Reprinted with permission.

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