Its impossible to master pronunciation simply by reading about it but we hope that this lesson provide a foundation that you can use to build into you practice of Tshivenḓa pronunciation. A friend who speaks Tshivenḓa will be even more helpful in mastering pronunciations. For audio references to these pronunciation please note that the “Alphabets” section of the app include recorded pronunciations of the individual alphabets.
Vowels (a, e, i, o, u)
For the most part, Tshivenḓa has only the five “pure” vowel sounds like Latin or Spanish or many other languages. However, the e and o sounds will sometimes have a variation. For instance, while the o in matsheloni is the “pure” sound, the o in mishonga is more like English short o sound.
Tshivenḓa has two tones: High and low. Like in English, questions will end with a high tone, unless the sentence ends with naa. If naa is used, the word before it will end in a high tone, and naa itself will have a low tone.
Like Italian, the stress is always on the second to last syllable in the word.
Ndi MatsheLOni aVHUdi.
Capped letters (ḓ, ḽ, ṋ, ṱ)
The cap on the bottom of the letter means that the sound is pronounced with your tongue touching your teeth. In the case of ḽ, this is pretty much resting on the back of your teeth and it will sound as if your tongue isn’t moving right when compared with a regular English “no”.
Aspirated sounds (kh, ph, th, ṱh)
“Aspirated” simply means that air is blown out as the sound is made.
It is important that you don’t confuse the Tshivenḓa “th” with the fuzzy sound those letters make together in English. The sound at the beginning of “throat” doesn’t exist in Tshivenḓa. The “ṱh” is Tshivenḓa sounds more like the “t” at the end of “throat”. Also remember that “ph” does not make the “f” sound like it does in English.
Ejectives (k, p, t, ṱ)
These sounds are crisp compared to English since they aren’t aspirated.
k should sound like a horse cantering on cobblestones, or a fresh slice of an apple being broken in half. It might help to push the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth to make the sound without aspirating.
t is pronounced in a manner similar to k. As in English, the tongue is on the alveolar ridge (the bump between your teeth and the roof of your mouth).
ṱ is like t, except the tip of the tongue is lower. It doesn’t quite sound like d or the English th, but it sounds closer to them than the regular t does.
P is more similar to the p in Spanish in that it’s a crisp sound without much exhaling. Hold your hand in front of your mouth and say “pop”. If you say it as if you’re speaking English, you’ll feel a lot of air against your hand. If you’re saying it right, you’ll feel much less air.
Nasal sounds (m, n,ṋ,ṅ̇)
Sometimes two nasal sounds are put together (such as mm, nn, or nn), and when that happens, the first letter is drawn out as if it’s a syllable. Of course, this will still be followed shortly by a vowel.
M and n are pronounced as they are in English.
N is hard to distinguish from ṋ, but it’s pronounced without moving the tongue much.
ṅ̇ is pronounced by touching the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. It typically comes before a w.
Labiodentals (f, fh, v, vh, bv, pf, pfh)
“Labiodental” simply means that the sound is made with the lips and teeth.
F is a strong sound that should sound like you’re biting back profanities.
Fh is a much more airy sound. Round your lips so it’s like trying to blow out a candle.
V sounds like you’re trying to imitate a race car.
Vh is made with the lips rounded and air being blown out, like “fh”.
As for the consonants that start with b and p, although we don’t see letter combinations like bv and pf very much in English, the sound they make is pretty self-explanatory. Try having your lips closed at the beginning of the sound.
Other consonants (x, s, sh, sw, z, zh, dzh, h, l, r, tsh)
X is the throat-clearing noise that’s found in the Welsh or German “ch”.
S seems a bit more tense than in English. The tongue is raised higher, creating more of a hissing sound.
Sh is pronounced like it is in English, unlike ph or th. This is because of how s is spoken in Tshivenḓa.
Sw sounds harsh like “sh” but the tongue is pulled back to give it that “w” flavor.
Z is unsurprising, and it’s not a common letter in Tshivenḓa by itself. It’s more commonly found with d in front of it.
Zh is pronounced in a manner similar to “sh”. It’s like the s in vision.
Dzh is pronounced like the English j, which is a letter that’s not used in Tshivenḓa writing.
H by itself is often practically silent. Mukalaha (old man) can sound as if it has three syllables instead of four. The only time it’s easy to hear is when it comes in front of e, as in hemmbe (shirt).
L is made by touching your tongue to the roof of your mouth. It sounds similar to n ̇.
R isn’t rolled, but it’s “flapped” so it can’t be sustained like the “r” in English can.
Tsh last but not least, is simply prounounced like the English “ch”.
Like i mentioned in the beginning practicing with a Tshivenḓa speaking friend will provide much more helpful and practical exposure to the pronunciations covered in this lesson.