This page was designed by Courtney Dalton, with help from consulant Elizabeth Ndeto, as part of Emily Gasser's Field Methods class at Swarthmore College. It is intended as a prototype of a Kikamba language textbook. Kikamba is a Bantu language spoken in Kenya. Like many Bantu languages, it features numerous noun classes and a rich verbal morphology. The content of this lesson is written at approximately a fifth grade reading level, but the information presented could be used by adolescent and adult learners as well.

Audio Format:

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Lesson 1: Nĩngwona ngitĩ!

Lesson Text

Click the play button to listen to the whole dialogue.

Mwende: Nayũ, Ndũnge.

Ndũnge: Nĩ kũseo, Mwende.

Mwende: Nĩngwona ngitĩ!

Ndũnge: Ngitĩ yĩĩva?

Mwende: Yĩ vaaya.

Ndũnge: Ĩsu ti ngitĩ. Nĩ mbaka yakwa.

Mwende: Ai, mbaka yaku nĩ nene.

Mwende: Hello, Ndũnge.

Ndũnge: Hello, Mwende.

Mwende: I see a dog!

Ndũnge: Where is the dog?

Mwende: It's there.

Ndũnge: That's not a dog. That is my cat.

Mwende: Oh, your cat is big.

Vocabulary List

Word Part of Speech Meaning
nayũ phrase hello
nĩ kũseo phrase hello (lit. "it is good;" response to "nayũ")
-ona verb see
ngitĩ noun (Dog/Cat class) dog
y- prefix Dog/Cat prefix
(NC)ĩĩva pronoun where
(NC)ĩ verb is, are, am
vaaya pronoun there
ĩsu pronoun that (for Dog/Cat class)
ti verb not, is not
(NC)akwa pronoun my, mine
mbaka noun (Dog/Cat class) cat
ai interjection oh
(NC)aku pronoun your, yours
nene adjective big

Grammar Points


In Kikamba, to say hello to someone, you say...


If someone says "Nayũ" to you, you say...

Nĩ kũseo!

Culture Note!

Nayũ and nĩ kũseo are only used between people of similar ages.

two adults can use it two kids can use it an adult and a kid can't use it


An affix is the friend of a word.

In Kikamba, words are a lot like people. Instead of being on their own, they like to be with their friends. The verb -ona means "see," but you would never use -ona on its own. If you want to use -ona in a sentence, you have to stick some "friends" on to it first. These "friends" that stick to words are called affixes. When an affix sticks to a word, it gives more information about the word. Some affixes stick onto the beginning of the word, and they are called prefixes. Other affixes stick onto the end of a word, and they are called suffixes.

In Kikamba, verbs are "sticky." They have a lot of different affixes that can stick onto them. The affixes that stick onto verbs can tell you who did the verb, when the verb was done, and lots of other things. In the lesson text, you might have noticed the word nĩngwona, which means "I see." Nĩngwona is made up of -ona with two prefixes in front of it:

nĩ - ngw - ona

Let's look at what these two prefixes mean.

is a word with several different meanings. On its own, it can mean "is" (later in this lesson, we'll learn about other ways to say "is"). That's why you can say Mbaka yaku nĩ nene, meaning "Your cat is big." However, is also a very common prefix for verbs. When sticks onto a verb, it doesn't really change the meaning of the verb. But some sentences will sound "wrong" if the verb doesn't have as a prefix. To make things even more confusing, sometimes you can't add to a verb. In later lessons, you will learn more about when you should and shouldn't stick onto a verb.


You learned that nĩngwona means "I see." But nĩngwona is only one word—how can it mean both "I" and "see?" This is where the prefix ngw comes in. Ngw is the part of nĩngwona that means "I." Instead of having "I" as a separate word, you just stick it on the verb! But be careful—ngw on its own can't be used to mean "I." It has to be stuck to a verb. In later lessons, you'll learn other ways to say "I" in Kikamba.

English Alert!

English has affixes too! You can add -s to cat to make cats. The -s is a suffix that makes nouns plural.


What class are you in?

Some of the words in the vocabulary list have (NC) at the beginning:

(NC)ĩĩva pronoun where
(NC)ĩ verb is, are, am
(NC)akwa pronoun my, mine
(NC)aku pronoun your, yours

This (NC) isn't actually part of the word, though. It's just there to tell you that something needs to go at the beginning of the word—a prefix! But how do you know what prefix to put in the (NC) place? To understand, you need to know about noun classes. In Kikamba, every noun belongs to a certain noun class. Every noun class has its own prefix. When a word is associated with a noun, that word gets the noun class prefix for that noun stuck onto it. Ngitĩ and mbaka belong to the same noun class. We'll call it the Dog/Cat class, although we will learn many other words that belong to this class besides words for dogs and cats. The noun class prefix for the Dog/Cat class is y-. That's why, if you want to say "my cat," you say mbaka yakwa. You're just taking the word (NC)akwa, which means "my," and sticking the Dog/Cat class prefix y- onto it. You do this because (NC)akwa is associated with mbaka.

Each noun class also has its own way of saying "this" and "that." For the Dog/Cat class, the word for "that" is ĩsu.

There are many noun classes in Kikamba—about seventeen, in fact! We will learn about the rest of the noun classes in later lessons.


What "is" is

You already know that is one way to say "is" in Kikamba. You can use when you're talking about what something is. Here are some examples of this from the lesson text.

Ndũnge: Ĩsu ti ngitĩ. mbaka yakwa.

Mwende: Ai, mbaba yaku nene.

Ndũnge: That's not a dog. That is my cat.

Mwende: Oh, your cat is big.

However, sometimes you have to say "is" in a different way. If you want to talk about where something is, you have to replace the n in with the noun class prefix for that thing. For example, if you want to say "The dog is there," you have to stick the Dog/Cat class prefix y- onto (NC)ĩ. So you would say:

Ngitĩ yĩ vaaya

There are other kinds of sentences where you have to replace the n in with a noun class prefix. We will learn about these other kinds of sentences in later lessons.

You also can't use to talk about what something is not. Instead, you just use ti, which means "is not" or "not." So if you want to say "That's not a dog," you say:

Ĩsu ti ngitĩ


Multiple Choice

Choose the answer that matches the English sentence.

  1. "I see Mwende."
    1. Ona Mwende.
    2. Nĩona Mwende.
    3. Nĩngwona Mwende.
    4. Ngwnĩona Mwende.
  2. C.

  3. "That's not a cat."
    1. Ĩsu ti mbaka.
    2. Ĩsu nĩ mbaka.
    3. Ĩsu ti nĩ mbaka.
    4. Ĩsu ti yĩ mbaka.
  4. A.

  5. "The dog is there."
    1. Ngitĩ nĩ vaaya.
    2. Ngitĩ yĩ vaaya.
    3. Ngitĩ ti vaaya.
    4. Ngitĩ vaaya.
  6. B.

Fill in the Blank

Complete the sentence with the correct noun class prefix.

"The cat is there."

Mbaka ___ĩ vaaya.

Mbaka yĩ vaaya.


Match each English word to a Kikamba word.

where A. ngitĩ
there B. nayũ
your, yours C. (NC)akwa
my, mine D. ai
cat E. mbaka
hello F. (NC)ĩĩva
oh G. vaaya
dog H. (NC)aku









The cat drawing seen in the lesson text is by XXspiritwolf2000XX. It was taken from Wikimedia Commons and is free for use under a Creative Commons Attribution license.