Saturday, November 3, 2012


A basic point to note is that Setswana, like other Bantu (now sometimes "Sintu") languages, uses prefixes to indicate singular and plural nouns. Nouns belong to a noun class which Indo-European speakers can think of as rather like a grammatical gender, but with prefixes instead of suffixes. Whereas Indo-European genders are "masculine", "feminine" etc., however, Bantu noun-classes have no relation to sex. Instead they relate to conceptual categories. Thus kinship terms tend to belong to one noun class, inanimate objects to another, abstract concepts to another, etc. This correspondence is not however always consistent (just as in Indo-European languages gender does not necessarily equate to sex). Dr Bruce S Bennett, University of Botswana

This has always been my 'problem'. If you say blue I think of sky then that leads to stars before too long I've either moved on to Cary Grant or the dubious memory of a night spent in a dodgy club named heaven. This word association thingy has me this morning thinking of home because well I miss home. Then I thought about how long its been since I spoke Setswana face to face (it was actually in Pittsburgh where an old school friend came to a reading I was doing there) but the point is this led somewhat logically to thinking about the Setswana language in general - did you know our word for goosebumps, bana ba phefo translates to 'children of the wind' and the word for President is Tautona literally 'Big lion'?

It really is a beautiful language.
What was going on about? yes language and because it all started with home I find myself googling homonyms, I know. And so you see how meticulously and deliberately I go forth in search of riveting content for this blog *haah*

According to Wikipedia, "In linguistics, a homonym is, in the strict sense, one of a group of words that share the same spelling and the same pronunciation but have different meanings.[1] Thus homonyms are simultaneously homographs (words that share the same spelling, regardless of their pronunciation) and homophones (words that share the same pronunciation, regardless of their spelling). The state of being a homonym is called homonymy. Examples of homonyms are the pair stalk (part of a plant) and stalk (follow/harass a person) and the pair left (past tense of leave) and left (opposite of right). A distinction is sometimes made between "true" homonyms, which are unrelated in origin, such as skate (glide on ice) and skate (the fish), and polysemous homonyms, or polysemes, which have a shared origin, such as mouth (of a river) and mouth (of an animal).[2][3]
In non-technical contexts, the term "homonym" may be used (somewhat confusingly) to refer to words that are either homographs or homophones.[1] In this looser sense, the word row (propel with oars) and the American pronunciation of row (argument) are considered homonyms, as are the words read (peruse) and reed (waterside plant)."

What?! oh yes so I've come up with what I hope are a few examples of Setswana homographs and because I am a self confessed sound addict I will indicate which are homo and heterophones
MADI = 1. blood  2. money (homophones)
TSHELA = 1. live /verb/ 2. pour 3. wade ( 1 and 3 homophones)
TLALA = 1. hunger 2. full /as in the cup is full/ (heterophones)
LENTSWE = 1. voice 2. stone //there is a story about a red riding hoodish folktale that has a giant instead of a wolf who swallows a stone to make his voice grandmotherly - long story, literally// (heterophones)

SETHUNYA = 1. Flower (noun) 2. Gun

footnote to the scatterbrain: If I can get them to respond to my emails :) I will ask Dr O and Mr M, both linguists, if Setswana has any polysemes as well, why the link between blood and money for example. But lets let the experts duel it out.
I came across this alphabet man somewhere in Des Moines on my way to Drake University. Isn't he, something?

What I am actually meant to be doing right now is prepping a workshop but you know, that makes me think about work, maybe if I call it a word shop that might...
Good bye for now, try really hard to have the best day possible.


  1. I think you may add Mabele and Mogala

    It is indeed a beautiful language.

  2. Mabele for sorghum and breast? mogala for string/rope/cord and phone? akere? I will definitely do that :) thanks