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What Language Is Spoken in ‘Black Panther’?

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will hit theaters in November of 2022, and Marvel fans will finally get to revisit the reclusive, technologically-advanced African nation, and see it open its doors to the rest of the world. Out of all the settings in the MCU, Wakanda might be the most detailed and well-rendered, with beautiful and varied landscapes, several distinct tribes who engage in intertribal conflict, and a bustling capital city. One of the most interesting details about Wakanda, for language nerds, is the language we hear its people speak. In the MCU, that language is simply called Wakandan, but it’s actually a real language.

Fictional Worlds, Real Languages

Many fantasy and sci fi franchises create fictional languages for its characters to speak, but Marvel tends to use real languages instead. For example, in Loki, Loki sings a drinking song in Asgardian. However, the song is actually in Norwegian. The choice makes sense: Norse gods originated in Scandinavia, so the use of a real Norse language is an homage to the character’s origins.

2018’s Black Panther made the same stylistic choice with Wakandan. The language T’Challa and his fellow Wakandans speak is Xhosa, one of the official languages of South Africa and Zimbabwe. Xhosa, one of the Bantu languages of the people of Central, Southern, and Southeast Africa, is the first language of about 8.2 million people, with about 19 million speakers total. It utilizes both tones and clicks, with 2 tones and 18 click consonants.

With so many African languages to choose from, how did the filmmakers settle on Xhosa? In an interview with Slate, Black Panther dialect coach Beth McGuire explained that the director, Ryan Coogler, wanted to honor the “genealogy” of the movie:

T’Challa’s father, T’Chaka, played by John Kani, is in the previous film. John Kani is from South Africa and he’s Xhosa, and he’s playing the king of Wakanda. So, Ryan and I went back-and-forth and talked about it, and I said it just makes sense. If that’s who you started with, that’s your king of Wakanda, that’s who it is, that’s the language. And so we did. We chose Xhosa, and it’s a very challenging accent, but it was kind of the kosher thing to do if we’re going to look at the genealogy of who they started with in the Marvel story.

The filmmakers also created a written script for Wakandan based on Nsibidi, a writing system that originated in what is now southern Nigeria. You can see the script on the walls behind T’Challa in this poster from 2017.

Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa, seated on a throne in the Wakandan throne room.
King T’Challa. (image: Marvel)

Black Panther is currently streaming on Disney Plus, and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever hits theaters on November 11.

(featured image: Marvel)

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Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and she consumes massive amounts of Marvel media, folk horror, science fiction, fantasy, and nature writing. She lives in Los Angeles, where she reads tarot and makes yarn on her spinning wheel. You can check out more of her writing at https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/, or find her on Twitter at @juliaglassman.