About the Yawo Language

The Yawo people speak a Bantu language known mainly as Chiyao or Ajawa. Spellings of the language name vary widely.

Population total all countries: 3,116,000. 

2,200,000 speakers in Malawi (with literacy rate of 5% in L1, 60% Chichewa). Location: Southern Region, southeast tip of Lake Malawi area, bordering Mozambique. Alternate Names in Malawi: Achawa, Adsawa, Adsoa, Ajawa, Ayao, Ayawa, Ayo, Chiyao, Djao, Haiao, Hiao, Hyao, Jao, Veiao, Wajao.

496,000 speakers in Mozambique (2006). Location: Niassa Province, south and west of Lake Malawi. Alternate Names in Mozambique: Achawa, Adsawa, Adsoa, Ajawa, Ayawa, Ayo, Chiyao, Ciyao, Djao, Haiao, Hiao, Hyao, Jao, Veiao, Wajao Dialects: Chikonono (Cikonono), Machinga, Makale (Cimakale), Mangochi, Massaninga (Cimassaninga), Tunduru Yao.

420,000 speakers in Tanzania (2006). Location: South central, Mtwara Region, Masasi district; Ruvuma Region, Tunduru district, east of Lake Malawi, Mozambique border area. Alternate Names in Tanzania: Achawa, Adsawa, Ajawa, Ayawa, Ayo, Chiyao, Djao, Hajao, Hiao, Hyao, Jao, Kiyao, Veiao, Wajao.

Language Status: 5 (Developing). Writing: Latin script. Classification: Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, Benue-Congo, Bantoid, Southern, Narrow Bantu, Central, P, Yao. Comments: Muslim, Christian, traditional religion. Other Comments: Yao in Tanzania use a different orthography from Malawi; Mozambique Yao also has some differences.” -From SIL’s Ethnologue.com

Published Language & Literacy Materials


A Practical Guide to Understanding Ciyawo
A Practical Guide to Understanding Ciyawo

A Practical Guide to Understanding Ciyawo

by Dr. Ian Dicks & Shawn Dollar

Foreign visitors and Malawian nationals who don’t speak Ciyawo often struggle for years to understand the Yawo language, spoken by over 2 million people in Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania. This 2010 release published by Kachere Press explains the Yawo language in detail and does so in a way that English speakers can understand. This is a language book written specifically to help people who are not language experts, yet who want to understand and learn the Yawo language, Ciyawo.

The book is thorough going, yet easy to read and is a must for anyone who desires to learn Ciyawo, but who has never found the right guide to help them. Each chapter of this 175-page book explores one topic of the language and offers example sentences, methods on constructing different forms, and much more.

Written by Ian Dicks and Shawn Dollar, foreigners themselves who have spent many years immersed in Yawo areas as learners, practitioners and teachers of the Yawo language to others, this book is a groundbreaking resource that seeks to help anyone with initiative learn Ciyawo.

Contents include: Pronunciation, Sound Changes, Noun Classes, Infinitive Tense, Present Continuous Tense (+ & -), Pronouns, Imperative Tense (+ & -), Near Future Tense (+ & -), Conjunctions, Ka & it’s various functions, Modified Stem, Present Perfect Tense (+), Past Tense (+ & -), Adjectives & Determiners, Possessives, Far Future Tense (+ & -), Locatives, Demonstratives, Not Yet Present Tense, Verb To Be, There Is/Are & Has/Have (+), There Is/Are Not & Has/Have Not (-), Habitual/Continuous, Questions, Have You Ever… Questions, Time Markers, Object Markers, Verb Endings Overview, Reciprocal Verb Endings, Causative Verb Endings, Neuter Verb Endings, Static Verb Endings, Applied Verb Endings, Passive Verb Endings, Intensive Verb Endings, Reversive Verb Endings, Adverbs, Numbers, Conditional Present Continuous (+,+) & (-,+) & (+,-) & (-,-), Conditional Past Tense (+,+) & (-,+) & (+,-) & (-,-), Only & Emphasis, Verbs as Nouns, One and Oneself

Visit our Marketplace to reserve your own copy.

Linguas de Mocambique Vocabulario de CIYAO

(from SIL Mozambique) [download here]

U.S. Peace Corps manual

(modified from the Chichewa version)

A Chiyao course in three languages

by David Jones Kaunjika, published by Montfort Media, Balaka, Malawi 2006 [learn more here]

A study of Yao sentences

by Wilfred Howell Whiteley, 1966 [read portions online here]

A dictionary of the Yao language

by George Meredith Sanderson, 1954

A Yao Grammar

by George Meredith Sanderson, 1922 [read online here]

A Handbook of the Yao Language

by Alexander Hetherwick, 1902 [download here] (second edition to the 1889 title below)

Introductory Handbook of the Yao Language

by Alexander Hetherwick, 1889 [download here]

Collections for a Handbook of the Yao Language

by Edward Steere, 1871 [download here]

Yao-English Vocabulary

       by Chauncy Maples, 1880

First and Second Yao-English Primer

       by R.S. Hynde, 1892 and 1894


For Malawi:

The Center for Language Studies, based out of Zomba, Malawi, and the Department of Education (Malawi) have been heavily involved in talks with Mozambican and other Southern African linguistic groups in standardizing an orthography, or way of writing, the language that the Yawo people speak. On this site, we have chosen to follow what the CLS has recommended, some of which is included below as downloadable documents in RTF format.

Pages 6-7 | Pages 8-9 | Pages 10-11 | Pages 12-13 | Pages 14-15

For more information, visit the CLS website or email them at cls(at)unima(dot)wn(dot)apc(dot)org.

New for 2010! The Centre for Language Studies, based at the University of Malawi in Zomba, has released “Amendments and/or Additional Rules to Ciyawo Orthography”. Please find it attached here in PDF form.


For Mozambique:

Work on the Mozambican orthography of Ciyaawo began in the 1980s. Currently, the approved orthography of Ciyaawo (note the double a in Ciyaawo) is found in:

Armindo Ngunga and Osvaldo G. Faquir. 2011. Padronização da Ortografia de Línguas Moçambicanas: Relatório do III Seminário. Maputo: Centro de Estudos Africanos.