Ku (fictional language)

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Ku is a fictional language appearing in the 2005 drama/thriller film The Interpreter. In the film, Ku is a language spoken in the fictional African country of Matobo. The constructed language was created for the film by Said el-Gheithy, the director of the Centre for African Language Learning in Covent Garden, London. Commissioned by The Interpreter's director, Sydney Pollack, and Working Title Films, el-Gheithy adapted aspects of Shona[1] and Swahili, languages spoken in Eastern and Southern Africa, to devise the basis of this fictional language. The language has its own internal dictionary and el-Gheithy created a whole culture and history in his mind.[2]

In this context, the actual language spoken by the Tobosa people of the fictional Republic of Matobo, although known as 'Ku' to foreigners, is indigenously known as Chitob uk u which literally means 'the language of the Tobosa people'. Ch'itoboku, then, would be the only surviving ancient Bantu language, and the Tobosa oral traditions indicate that 'Ku' is the root of modern Bantu languages spoken in contemporary Sub-Saharan Africa. There is no gender distinction, hence the word for 'he' or 'she' is the same, 'a'. Verbosity is positively valued in Ch'itoboku, and ordinary speech should approximate the elegance of poetry.

As with most African cultures, Tobosa customs are based on age and gender. Drawing on the historical tradition, elders greet younger generations first, and women speak before men. Greetings are essentially verbal, but are followed by a touching of foreheads. The most common expression in greeting is 'sonna', meaning 'hello', but a more energised greeting is kwambu, and the response is kwamb uk uu, 'and how are you?'

There is not a single word for 'thanks,' but the word tenane is used to show appreciation and is expressed through the clapping of hands. Men clap with their palms and fingers together, while women clap with their hands across each other. During meetings and conversation, sneezing is an indication of disbelief. On leaving, one would say digai, which actually means 'you haven't gone for ever, we will see you again'. The person staying responds by saying digaidigai.

The language and cultures of the Tobosa have been influenced by links with the outside world through colonialism and more recently as a result of processes of globalisation. For example, modern technology has become part of the modern 'Ku' vocabulary, and is now written and pronounced as Kompyutanga. Matobo is currently enjoying more prosperity, not from the usual gas and mineral resources, but rather from its special herbal tea, zingwe, drinking of which is believed to guarantee eternal youth.


"We're kepéla. – It means standing on opposite sides of the river." (Nicole Kidman as Silvia Broome in The Interpreter)


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