I will attempt to explain but before I do that I must give a disclaimer that I have only started learning Swahili yesterday. That being said, I am a native speaker of one of the Bantu languages and speak several of them. So , many concepts are similar. Having said that, here is my attempt to make things clearer; "Habari ya asubuhi ?" literally means "News of morning ?" , which you can correctly guess to mean "How is your morning? " or better still, "Good morning" "Habari za asubuhi ?" also literally means "News of morning ?" What?! Wait a minute! So what is this "ya" vs "za" thing ? Simple answer: ya = "of" singular za = "of" plural How? But I thought news was uncountable? Yes it is uncountable in English but you can count it like "a piece of news", "three news items" It is this type of "counting" that is implied by the Swahili "Habari za asubuhi ?"
It may also help to think about news not as news but stories, in which case you can either have one story or many stories. I hope this helps to clear up some doubts.
You are welcome. I don't want to scare you or the world here by the number :) .
Edit: It seems some people didn't like my initial joke about scaring frankk1m with the number so let me try to explain.
Ndau : native fluency, Shona: native fluency, Ndebele: native fluency, Zulu: speaking in Ndebele but understand Zulu well (90% plus) , Xhosa: can understand some basics(need a teacher), Nyanya/Bemba: learnt it a long time ago (need a partner to practice), Kinyarwanda/Kirundi: very limited. Trying to teach myself from YouTube music videos. I will appreciate native speakers' help. , Swahili: picking it up pretty fast.
I really don't think that this list is impressive at all because I am practically only fluent in 3 languages. I know a lot of my South African friends who fluent in 6 languages.
I really love learning languages. So if any of you guys here are native speakers of any of those languages I would be honoured to be connected with you. Even if you don't speak any of those languages I would still want to know something about your language. Thanks in advance.
Learning closely related languages at the same time can be confusing. That's why you need to reach a certain level before attacking a new language. At least that's the case with me. I would say, finish all the grammar topics before you start a very closely related language. If the languages are totally different, you can attack them at the same time. Good candidates would be learning Japanese and Ukrainian. But avoid learning Ukrainian and Russian or in your case Italian and Spanish at the same time, for example.
Ngwarai, your English is very impressive as well! I heard recently that in other parts of the world it is not impressive to "only" know one or two other languages, whereas in the US, people are impressed if you're fluent in two. Of course, Americans as a whole are a rather ignorant bunch, soooo... (As an American, I can say this from personal experience.)
In this case, I believe the use of ya or za with Habari depends on the country. Ya /za should agree with the preceding noun in this case habari (news). Habari is an N class noun. Therefore, za should be used grammatically speaking since ya is for singular N class nouns and za is for plurals.
However, in Kenya, this rule is not followed. In Kenya, they say habari ya jioni, mchana, asubuhi, etc. I am told that in Tanzania the grammatically correct za is used. But, if you use za in Kenya they will understand what you mean. You will just sound like a tourist, which is fine.
Some people explain that za is used for general politeness and ya is used when you really want to know what's going on. See website below. http://www.learnswahili.net/swahilicourse/learnswahilicourse_lesson2.html
And, perhaps this is why even Duolingo uses ya and za at different times. What is the news of the day? (General) vs. What's your news of the day. (Personal)
So maybe Kenyans choose to be less formal and that's why it is commonly used in Kenya. I don't know. I just know Kenyans say Ya even though it should be za if you are following the rule.
One disclaimer: It could also depend on where in Kenya. I stayed primarily in Nairobi where most of my friends live or work.
Congolese Swahili definitely has a simplified noun class system. In Kenya you can find a big difference between the Nairobi variety, and the coastal variety. As in all capital cities in Africa (and other countries around the world where different languages and/or dialects are spoken in a country) the Nairobi version is really a blend of the language spoken throughout the country, and a special variety called Sheng exists, which is a mix of English and Swahili. The coastal Swahili would be very similar to the rest of coastal Swahili from South Somalia down to Northern Mozambique, aka Kiswahili sanifu - the standard / clean Swahili. Both Tanzania and Kenya have Swahili as (among their) national language(s), it being taught in school.
asubuhi is a class 9 noun, and the ya/za is actually the root -a (meaning 'of') with y-, z- etc being added depending on which noun class you're talking about. So ya is used because y- is for noun classes 4,6 and 9. za is used for class 10 nouns, which is the plural of class 9 nouns. That's why you see both and both can be correct. Does that make sense?
there was originally 18 noun classes, but now there are only 15. Most of them are also paired, with one being the singular and the other plural form e.g. mtu (person) is class 1 and watu (people) is class 2. So I guess the 'use' of these noun classes is to mark singular or plural, and to tell you which prefix you need to add to possessives, determiners, adjective, verbs etc. so that they agree with the noun (because they have to grammatically agree).
Ya/za is not an article, it's called an associative. They're used to describe a type of possession ‘X of X’. So 'Habari ya/za asubuhi' means 'news of (the) morning'. This associative has to agree with the noun it's talking about, and it does so by adding the appropriate prefix (y- or z-) to the root -a.
So, already in this lesson set we have been told that this sentence is the equivilant of "Good Morning," even though it literally means "news of the morning," and can also be accurately translated as "How is your morning?" and this was reiterated by Ngwarai's comment...and yet, Duo is marking "Good morning" as wrong. Please change, Duo, you already counted it right in a different lesson set! (Or maybe it was evening or afternoon, but whichever, same difference.)
I think this literally translates to something like 'the news of the morning?' But we don't say that in English, so to make it make more sense in English, one could translate it as 'How is your morning?' because 'the morning' still doesn't quite sound right in English. I think it is the Swahili version of 'good morning'.
Of course, I could be wrong; I'm new to the language too. I'm just guessing based on the offered translations and other people's comments.