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Kinyarwanda Grammar - Gender

Hi Kinyarwanda learners! 😊
In this lesson, we will learn about gender in Kinyarwanda Grammar. As you may know, gender is a common feature in many languages around the world, and it is essential to understand how it works in Kinyarwanda. We will cover the basic concepts of gender, including the distinction between classes and gender, noun prefixes, and agreement rules. We will also learn some interesting facts about the cultural significance of gender in Kinyarwanda. Are you ready? Let's get started!

Consider exploring these related pages after completing this lesson: Conditional Mood & Negation.

Understanding Gender in Kinyarwanda[edit | edit source]

Gender is a grammatical feature that divides nouns into classes or categories, based on their semantic, phonological or morphological features. In Kinyarwanda, gender is not the same as biological sex but is based on noun classification.

In Kinyarwanda, there are 16 classes of nouns, which are divided into two genders: animate and inanimate. Each of these classes is identified by a specific prefix, which is added to the beginning of the noun stem. For instance, the class 1 noun prefix is "u-", while the class 2 noun prefix is "i-".

It is important to note that Kinyarwanda is not the only language to distinguish between classes and gender. For instance, in Swahili, another Bantu language spoken in East Africa, there are similar systems of noun classification based on prefixes.

Let's take a look at some examples of Kinyarwanda nouns, classified by gender and class:

Gender Class Kinyarwanda Pronunciation English
Animate 1 Umwana /umwaːna/ Child
Animate 2 Intwari /intʷari/ Warrior
Inanimate 7 Ijuru /idʒuru/ Sky
Inanimate 8 Ibiro /ibiɾɔ/ Land

In the table above, we can see that there is a distinction between animate and inanimate gender, based on the noun's ability to move or not. In addition, the different classes of nouns have different prefixes, such as "um-" or "in-" for animate nouns, and "ki-" or "ibi-" for inanimate nouns.

Noun Prefixes[edit | edit source]

One of the most important features of Kinyarwanda grammar is the use of noun prefixes to indicate gender and class. Prefixes are added to the beginning of the noun stem and change according to the gender and class of the noun.

In Kinyarwanda, there are different prefixes for animate and inanimate nouns. Animate nouns are further divided into different classes, depending on their semantic features. Here are some examples of Kinyarwanda noun prefixes:

Gender Class Prefix
Animate 1 Um-
Animate 2 In-
Animate 3 Im-
Animate 4 Igi-
Animate 5 Uru-
Animate 6 Ama-
Animate 7 Uku-
Animate 8 Ibi-

As we can see in the table, each class has a specific prefix that is added to the noun stem to indicate its gender and class. For example, the word "umwana" (child) has the prefix "um-", which indicates that it is an animate noun of class 1.

Inanimate nouns, on the other hand, have different prefixes based on their semantic features, such as size, shape, or location:

Gender Class Prefix
Inanimate 7 Ij-
Inanimate 8 Ibi-
Inanimate 9 In-
Inanimate 10 Am-
Inanimate 11 Ubu-
Inanimate 12 Igi-
Inanimate 13 Ima-
Inanimate 14 Uru-
Inanimate 15 Uwa-
Inanimate 16 Igis-

The prefixes for inanimate nouns also change according to their class. For instance, the word "ijuru" (sky) has the prefix "ij-", which indicates that it is an inanimate noun of class 7.

Agreement Rules[edit | edit source]

In Kinyarwanda, the agreement between nouns and other elements of the sentence (such as adjectives, verbs, and pronouns) depends on the gender and class of the noun. The agreement rules are complex, and they can vary depending on the context and the speaker's choices.

In general, the agreement rules are based on the principle of concordance, which means that the elements of the sentence must agree with each other in gender, class, and number. For instance, if we have an animate noun of class 1, such as "umwana", and we want to use an adjective to describe it, such as "mwiza" (beautiful), we need to add the prefix "mu-" to the adjective, to indicate that it agrees in gender and class with the noun:

  • Umwana mwiza. (A beautiful child.)

Similarly, if we want to use a pronoun to refer to the same noun, we need to use the appropriate pronoun that agrees in gender and class:

  • Umwana yagize amazina ye. (The child said his name.)

In this sentence, the pronoun "ye" agrees in gender and class with the noun "umwana" (animate, class 1).

Cultural Significance of Gender in Kinyarwanda[edit | edit source]

Gender is an essential feature of Kinyarwanda culture, and it reflects many aspects of the society's beliefs, rituals, and traditions. For instance, there are specific nouns that are considered sacred or taboo, and they are subject to strict gender and class rules. In addition, there are many folktales, proverbs, and riddles that use gender-based concepts and metaphors, to convey different meanings and values.

If you want to learn more about the cultural significance of gender in Kinyarwanda, you can explore the different sources available online, such as:

Examples in Dialogue[edit | edit source]

To see how gender works in context, here is a simple dialogue between two speakers:

  • Person 1: Ishyamba ry'umwana ririmo urutoki. (The child's book has a pencil.)
  • Person 2: Urutoki ruzwi nini? (What color is the pencil?)
  • Person 1: Urutoki rwanjye rwibwira. (My pencil is red.)

In this dialogue, we can see how the agreement rules work between the noun "urutoki" (pencil) and the adjective "rwibwira" (red). Both elements use the prefix "ru-" to indicate that they belong to class 3, and they agree in number and gender.

Sources[edit | edit source]

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