How history can contribute to linguistics

March 23, 2014

There is much that linguistics can learn from history. There is also much that historians can learn from linguists. There is even an area of linguistics which attempts to bring together history and linguistics. Such an area is known as historical linguistics. Much of historical linguistics attempts to account for linguistic change. For languages with a writing system this may include studies of changes in the spelling system of the language over time. For instance, in Setswana though the language has a short written history it has already gone through some changes orthographically. One reading the earlier writings of the Batswana finds the name of the Setswana language spelt as Secoana, Sechwana, Secuana, or Sichuana. The 1908 Setswana Bible spell ja “eat” as ya.  Even as recent as some 20 years ago, setshaba was spelt as sechaba. Other historical linguistics studies attempt to describe and account for sound changes of certain words in the language – that is, how certain words have changed pronunciation over the years. From the description of sound change, linguists then develop theories of how and why such changes have occurred. Historical linguistics also deals with the classification of languages – seeing how they are related. For instance, the study of clusters of Bantu languages and conditions which have engendered splits of language communities. Historical linguistics like the general discipline of history attempts to account for the history of certain speech communities. Of general interest to me is the area of the study of the history of words known as etymology. Etymology is a broad area. It has had a great impact in the documentation and representation of meaning in dictionaries. The case in point is the development of the Oxford English Dictionary written on historical principles. Such a dictionary has an ambitious aim of recording each English word from its birth to its death, carefully documenting the development of its shades of meaning over time. Richard Chenevix Trench  therefore considered a dictionary as “an historical monument, the history of a nation contemplated from one point of view; and the wrong ways into which a language has wandered or been disposed to wander, may be nearly as instructive as the right ones in which it has traveled: as much as may be learned, or nearly as much from its failures as from its success, from its follies as from its wisdom”.

An interesting paper on Setswana lexicon was recently published by Morton and Hitchcock (2013). It is published by the South African Historical Journal. It is entitled Tswana Hunting: Continuities and Changes in the Transvaal and Kalahari after 1600. It is about hunting in the Kalahari and Transvaal area as practised by the Tswana. The authors cleverly study the vocabulary from the 1600 which reveal the way of life from the period.  They also look at what the different animals were used for as well as the weapons that were used during the hunts. Some of the vocabulary that they list include: bogale blade of a spear, knife (also ‘anger, sharpness’) bora bow, bora le motswi bow and arrow, digopo hunting blinds, pits, kobe spear with barbed blade, kobi whip snare, lemena game pit (with spikes), lerumo spear, letsomo/letsholo hunting party, lore spear shaft, handle, losane broad-bladed spear, makgolela bow string, mokgotla a trap (falling log), mogotshe bow string, molamu knobkerrie, mosokela-tsebeng bow string, motlhala spoor, motswi arrow/fishing spear/point, mutlwana(e) snare, segae/segai spear, assegai, segole whip snare, selekela game pit, selekelo/telekelo place to which animals chased, sekotlopo quiver for arrows, selatedi pit for trapping ostriches and small game, senya notch in an arrow, setai/serai snare, trap, pit, theko spear handle, shaft, knobkerrie, thipa knife, tlhabadilebanye bowstring, tlhagare small iron arrow tip, tlhobolo quiver for arrows (archaic; adopted for firearm, gun, rifle), tshane broad-bladed spear; sharpened stick used by herdboys, tshosa long spear with large blade.


One impressing thing to note concerning this data is that it demonstrates meaning change. For instance, the word tlhobolo before the advent of firearms used to mean a quiver for arrows and with the advent of guns there was a semantic shift and it was exclusively used to refer to a gun or rifle. Many think that the term mosokela-tsebeng which is now used to mean a telephone (especially a fixed line) is a recent invention. However, mosokela-tsebeng has also undergone semantic shift since it originates from a bow string which used to be pulled to the ear when someone was shooting an arrow. This action is similar to the one where someone pulls a receiver to the ear to listen and speak. Additionally the representation of lemena as game pit (with spikes) brings clarity to the Setswana idiom: go epela motho lemena (literally to dig a game pit for someone). It demonstrates the degree of harm & the murderous action of such an action. Certain words are now archaic such as tshane and tshosa (this word is not to be confused with the verb meaning to frighten but it must be pronounced as the name of the kgotla both in Serowe & Molepolole kwa gooTshosa). Another word which is used differently these days is the word sekotlopo. This word is used when someone swallows a number of objects quickly without chewing them first, we say o di metsa sekotlopo, i.e. he swallows them as a quiver for arrows swallows the arrows. Strangely the meaning of a quiver for arrows is completely lost especially since hunting has diminished.

It is important that linguists consider the work of historians and learn a thing or two. It will certainly enrich their view of language and therefore gain a better understanding of their discipline, linguistics.

Dependence and not independence is what we should promote

March 22, 2014

The world is intertwined in a complex manner with systems and individuals depending on others now more than at any time before. When one system fails it affects other related and unrelated system dependents elsewhere. Take electricity. When we have power cuts, someone’s dinner doesn’t get cooked, a shirt is not ironed, a story is not written, a newspaper is not printed, bread is not made, meat rots in the fridge and security is compromised. It appears that God’s creation is made with one single purpose: dependence on others and not independence. A plant depends on soil, water and sunshine for its growth. Our livestock depends on grass and water for survival. A child depends on its parents for sustenance and security. A business depends on customers for success. Consumers depend on businesses for their supplies and services. We were created principally for dependence and not independence. This is so entrenched in creation that the greatest sin on earth is man’s estrangement from God: the belief that we can make it on our own. We don’t need anybody’s help. And yet that is what we teach. That is how we raise our children. We encourage them to stand on their own two feet and pull themselves by their bootstraps. We don’t teach them dependency, instead we encourage independence. And yet our societies themselves are fashioned around the concept of dependency and not independence. We know that kgosi ke kgosi ka morafe (A king is a king by his people). Without a principality, a king is only a king by name. Morafe also draws respectability from an honourable king. Not only that, for many years Batswana have known that if a leopard, a lion or a pack of hyenas terrorized a village’s livestock, a group of men had to hunt it down for the protection of the village. No man went to bogwera alone. There are multiple Setswana idioms which demonstrate that the idea of dependency is part of ancient societies as it is of modern ones. The idioms reveal that we can achieve much by working as a team. Moroto wa esi ga o ele, setshwarwa ke ntsa-pedi ga se thata, mabogo dinku a a thebana & tau e senang seboka e siiwa ke none e tlhotsa.

In fact the concept of independence is closer to solitude which is related to individualism, excommunication, isolation, separation, segregation, exclusion, loneliness, seclusion and mental instability.

The concept of self-sufficiency is a mirage; worse, it is a Sisyphean rebellion. All creation is made in, and for, a sophisticated web of inter-dependency. Even the moon, to be seen, it can only reflect the glory of the sun. We as humans are dependent on each other: the husband on the wife; the wife on the husband, the children on the parents. Relatives too depend on each other; they define each other. The relations extend to neighbours who form a kgotla. For a village to exist there must be makgotla which collectively form a village. And a constellation of villages form a morafe. Even our nation has been formed by the idea of dependency. Different merafe came together to form this republic. Yes, I am aware of the chronic dependency on South Africa and China for our goods. But even that demonstrates that countries depend on each other for a plethora of items.  Much of the world depends on the Middle East for oil while much of the world also depends on German and Asian cars for swift mobility. Water that floods the mighty Okavango originates outside Botswana. Without the cooperation of other states, the magnificent Okavango will turn into a pitiful desert. The security of nations depends on the lives of young soldiers who give their lives in the open fields of battle. Why is it then that we do not encourage dependence seeing that the script of humanity is written all over by the story of dependency?

It appears our minds inform us that praise, glory, respect must be self-earned and not shared. To encourage dependency is to remove individualism from the centre; it is to eliminate self-praise and self-centredness. It is to undermine self-elevation. It is to situate the other in the centre. It is to affirm the contribution of others to our wellbeing. It is to introduce gratitude, kindness, respect for other into the affairs of men and women. That Kenyan bright mind, J.M. Njoroge, is right: “it is impossible to be grateful while clinging to self-sufficiency and entitlement at the same time” Dependency confirms and affirms that the self is vulnerable and that alone we can do nothing. The old African story is right; a single stick is easy to snap but a bundle of sticks refuses to be broken. The realities of now call us to reconsider the allures of this century which continuously drag us towards individualism and isolation through the elevation of the self above the communal. We must affirm that the self only flourishes in the communal and not in isolation. The choice is between being our brothers’ keepers and non existence. While states brag of their days of independence, the truth of the matter is that no state is independent. States cannot be independent even if they wished to be. The human story is the tale of dependence. Even the richest state that produces much, it still depends much on other states. When we teach dependence and not independence we will liberate our minds from the web of lies of independence which we have spun for many centuries. True happiness and fulfilment, real economic growth, safety and security of nations and persons and the entire story of humanity is all to be found in dependence and not independence because independence is a lie.

South Africa beginning to lead Botswana in Setswana development

March 22, 2014

During apartheid in South Africa, Setswana was developed largely in the then Bophuthatswana homeland led by Kgosi Lucas Manyane Mangope, a Mohurutshe man, who has strong ties to the Bahurutshe of Manyana and the surrounding areas. At the time, as it is now, the heartland of the Setswana language was Botswana, the former Bechuanaland protectorate. Interestingly Mangope came to power in 1966, the very same year that Botswana attained her independence. Even then Mangope was a leader of the largest group of the Tswana people in the world as most Batswana were concentrated in the North West of South Africa, as is still now, though some Batswana in South Africa were found in the Northern Cape and Bloemfontein areas. While the Bophuthatswana media started well with a strong Setswana language and content, it increasingly became anglicized with Radio Bop and Boptv becoming predominantly English stations. The Botswana media on the other hand was dominated by Radio Botswana with content presented largely in Setswana and the Botswana Daily News writing in both English and Setswana. Botswana was also looked to as the capital of the liberated Batswana. For all Setswana native speakers; Botswana was how Bophuthatswana should be – free from Afrikaaner rule.

The dikgosi rule in Botswana was also regionally highly admired. The rustic life of the Batswana was something to marvel at. Batswana conducted their dances, their music, their weddings, their kgotla meetings, their rearing of cattle, their farming, their hunting, their respect for the elders, largely in the same way that their ancestors had done in centuries past. Yes, there were some changes and dynamism in their culture, but largely the culture had remained intact.

In the 80s and 90s on the language front, two names were particularly significant. One is the Lovedale trained MLA Kgasa, the son of the Reverent Kgasa of the UCCSA in Kanye. In 1976 he published the first Setswana dictionary: Thanodi ya Setswana ya dikole having worked on it for 10 years. This dictionary was later developed and improved by MLA Kgasa and Joseph Tsonope leading to the publication of a larger Setswana dictionary in 1995 by Longman called Thanodi ya Setswana. The publication of these two dictionaries set Botswana as the centre of the Setswana language. Another important person was Kgomotso Mogapi, a Mokwena man from Molepolole who churned out impressive Setswana grammar books called Thutapuo ya Setswana. There were a number of these books which outlined the details of Setswana grammar in the Setswana language. While comprehensive Setswana grammar texts existed before, such as the ones by Jones and Plaatje (1916), Sandilands (1953) and Desmond Cole (1955), all these were written in English. Mogapi’s texts were therefore refreshingly different in that they contributed to the expansion of the Setswana meta-language into the area of linguistics. Mogapi and Kgasa’s texts became widely used not just in Botswana schools. They became the regional sort-after-Setswana books. They brought pride to the Tswana speaking people of Southern Africa.

Since the attainment of independence in 1994 the country has taken some steps to develop the Setswana language. Of major significance is the establishment of a modern radio station Motsweding FM which was developed from the former Radio Tswana during the Mangope era. The country has also established the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) “in terms of the Pan South African Language Board Act 59 of 1995 amended as PANSALB Amendment  Act of 1999. The Board was established according to the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (Act 106 of 1996) in order to: (a) promote, and create conditions for the development and use of official languages, the khoe and San languages and sign language; (b) promote and ensure respect for all languages commonly used by communities in South Africa, including German, Greek, Gujarati, Hindi, Portuguese, Tamil, Telegu, and Urdu and; Arabic, Hebrew, Sanskrit, and other languages used for religious purposes in South Africa.” The Setswana language Board was therefore established to oversee the protection and development of the Setswana language. Additionally, lexicographic units were set up to oversee the compilation of dictionaries. This has resulted with very interesting developments of the Setswana language and culture across in South Africa. From the University of Pretoria to the North West University there has been an impressive explosion of research in the Setswana language. In the public sphere there is an awareness of the need to develop and preserve the Setswana language. There is pride in the language. Contrast this with what is happening in Botswana. In Botswana, the Setswana Language Board which used to provide direction to the Setswana language has collapsed. It was supposed to be replaced by the Botswana Languages Board, but such a board is yet to be established. In Botswana, English has increasingly become dominant in most spheres of human interaction like the media (both print and electronic), parliament, education and other areas.

The centre of Setswana has now shifted to South Africa, especially with Motsweding FM receiving wide listenership in Botswana. The influence of South Africa on Botswana is in particular obvious in the use of words which were only a few years ago only heard in South Africa, but have now become common in Botswana. Some of these words include ipelaetsa (query), lebogisa (congratulate) and setlha (a season). Botswana’s influence on South Africa has been felt in traditional Setswana music of Machesa, Matsieng and others. Language development structures are weak in Botswana and must be development urgently. Most importantly there is need for collaborative efforts between South Africans and Batswana to work together to develop the Setswana language.

They ripped his heart out and dried his body

March 22, 2014

That is the radical end to a most spectacular life of one consumed by the evangelistic zeal and the passion to open Africa up to the trinity of Christianity, civilization and commerce. That is the life of one David Livingstone. Born on 19th March 1813 Blantyre, Scotland to Agnes and Neil Livingstone, a tailor, a tea merchant, and a Congregationalist, he was destined to be a traveller both as a missionary and an adventurer. This year marks 200 years since his birth and Jeff Ramsay delivered a lecturer at the Livingstone Kolobeng College organized by the Botswana Society last week. The title of his lecture was David Livingstone and the Making of Modern Botswana: Portrait of a Young Radical. I was invited to offer a response to Ramsay’s lecture. Ramsay demonstrated that “the Livingstone who lived among Batswana from 1841-1853 was a far more radical figure than commonly portrayed.  In his early periodical writings, as well as correspondence, all but forgotten, one finds a fierce critic of racism, colonial conquest, and coerced labour.” He also showed “…a militant commitment to the universal right to armed resistance by any people seeking to secure their freedom from oppression.” He was “as scathing in his denunciation of British war crimes against the AmaXhosa as he was of Boer subjugation of BaTswana.”  Ramsay spent some time demonstrating how Livingstone, and to some extent, Robert Moffat, aided persons like Sechele to arm themselves against boer aggression.

But the question that confronts us still remains: What is it that makes David Livingstone a radical? Is it his anti-racist and anti-slavery views? Or perhaps it is his military aid to the Batswana, especially Kgosi Sechele of the Bakwena? It appears to me that we must determine what forms the basis of Livingstone’s conviction to risk his own life, abandon his own wife and children and press into the heart of Africa in a quest to spread the gospel. His passion for Africa is captured in his letters to England where he raises that rhetorical question: “Who will penetrate the heart of Africa?” It appears that Livingstone’s religious conviction was a sufficient driving force and basis for his strong anti-slavery and antiracist position. His commitment to his Christian faith was without question. Henry Stanley sent by James Gordon Bennett to find David Livingstone after spending about three months with Livingstone once remarked: “I challenge any man to find a fault in his character… The secret is that his religion is a constant, earnest and sincere practice.”

Livingstone felt strongly that: “It is my desire to show my attachment to the cause of Him who died for me by devoting my life to His service.” I wish to suggest that it is helpful to consider Livingstone’s unrelenting devotion to the service of Christ as a useful framework that explains his passion for the salvation and emancipation of Africa. This emancipation is not purely from colonial bondage and slavery but also liberty from heathenism and idolatry as he understood the practices that he encountered on the African terrain.

So sensitive to the human condition was Livingstone that on his arrival in Africa, on his way to where Moffat was working, he “…was incensed at the unkind treatment of the natives by Europeans. Mingling freely among them, healing their diseases, disarming their hostilities by interesting them in something unusual, he soon reached the conclusion that a noble and true heart was a better mainspring to overcome and direct raw natives than the abuse heretofore given them. His intense desire that all natives should have an opportunity to embrace Christianity, and his decided preference to labor where no white man had worked, led him to locate at Mabotsa, northward in the interior.”

His commitment was so intense to the gospel that Livingstone “…sickened at heart when he heard of well-fed Christians at home engaged in hair-splitting discussions over doctrinal themes when millions were dying without the Gospel where he was.” His passion was for the ceaseless march of the gospel. He once wrote that “I place no value on anything I have or possess except in relation to the kingdom of Christ.” He also observed that: “As for me, I am determined to open up Africa or perish.” This opening of Africa was not just for the gospel but it was opening Africa for Christianity, civilization and commerce. “Livingstone conceived the idea that, if a way were opened from the interior to the coast, Christianity, civilization and commerce would move freely to these benighted people”

He faced disease – malaria and fever on his route to St. Paul de Loanda (modern Luanda, Angola). Often he was destitute of food and especially of the kind needed for his sickly condition. He confronted the horrors of polygamy, incest and cannibalism on his route. The cruelties of slavery, bodies of those that perished from indescribable brutalities, lying by the wayside or their skeletons hanging from trees, while others were floating in the river all tortured his travels across Africa

To preach, heal and help the African, and not to give up his missionary purposes, was still the impelling motive of all his efforts.

The day before he died he rested quietly on the 30th ; but at four on the morning of May 1,1873, the boy who slept at Livingstone’s door woke up and saw his master. “By the candle still burning they saw him, not in bed; but kneeling at the bedside, with his head buried in his hands upon the pillow. The sad, yet not unexpected truth soon became evident; he had passed away on the furthest of all his journeys, and without a single attendant. But he had died in the act of prayer; prayer offered in that reverent attitude about which he was always so particular; commending his own spirit, with all his dear ones as he was wont, into the hands of his Savior; and commending Africa, his own dear Africa, with all her woes and sins and wrongs, to the Avenger of the oppressed and the Redeemer of the lost.”

They removed the heart from his body as he had requested, and buried it under a tree near where he died. They dried the body in the sun, tied it to a pole and after nine months’ march reached the coast and shipped it to England. On April 18, 1874, he was buried amidst greatest honors, in Westminster Abbey, London.

So, we reeturn to the question we raised: What was so radical about David Livingstone? He was radical in his life in the way he dealt with his family. He was radical in his dealings with the LMS. He was radical with the Royal Geographical Society. He died a radical death on his knees. And even after his death, he was radical. His heart was ripped out and now lies buried in Africa while his body was ferried to England. Mr Livingstone was not just radical as a young man, but he was a radical in his entire life.

Opposition parties must be afraid, they must be very afraid!

March 22, 2014

Mekaloba e ole! E mengwe e santse e tlaa wa! That is the gleeful declaration of commentators – some serious, some humorous.  What a privilege it is for one not to be a politician at this period that leads to the 2014 general elections. The analyses of the results of the BDP primaries have been most predictable and some have bordered on the preposterous. What has interested me most is what I have heard from members of the opposition parties. Some have ululated and danced at the ultimate collapse of the mighty BDP! What a load of rubbish! What I have heard has informed me that there are many in the opposition parties whose primary source of delight is the misfortune of some in the BDP and not so much the success of their own opposition political parties. They draw great delight in seeing certain BDP members suffering defeat and not so much in seeing their own parties advance. They also misinterpret the primary election loss of some of the MPs and ministers. They mistake these losses to have implications on the fortunes of the opposition parties. I think that is stretching it. Let us admit it: the results of the primaries have been most shocking. We have never had so many MPs and ministers lose primary elections. And the slaughter is not even over yet – we are still to have primary elections of the southern region. But let us not forget that the primary elections were and will be between members of the BDP. Those who won and those who lost during the BDP primaries are members of the BDP. They are not members of any of the opposition parties. Their victory is not for opposition parties. The primary interest of the victors is actually to see their party strengthened into a formidable force to defeat the opposition parties. So, while there might be some on the opposition party bench who are celebrating the defeat of some incumbent MPs and ministers, their jubilation is only with an arm of the ruling party, which seeks the demolition of the opposition parties.

Therefore, instead of celebrating the fall of the so-called mekalobe, opposition party members better sleep with one eye opened. They better be afraid; and they better be very afraid because once the new BDP victors have dispensed of their intra-party mekalobe, they are coming after opposition MPs and wannabe MPs like 18-wheeler juggernauts. They are now emboldened. If they can win against their internal formidable incumbents; how much more can they achieve against the poorly resourced members of the opposition parties plagued by internal squabbles and strife. What is happening in the BDP may just be a rebirth of a more forceful BDP and not its demise. BDP e a iphalatsa; what is likely to result is a more dynamic stronger party. And instead of giggling, members of the opposition parties better strategize how they will handle their young and energized opponents.

Let us remember that opposition parties are yet to hold their primaries. A more tragic circus may just be ahead of us. Mekaloba e santse e ka wa mo opposition unless some dodge primaries for internal party stability. Even more disturbing, we are aware that there are some in the BNF who do not want the BNF to be part of the UDC – the so called umbrella party. They argue that their key contention is, and has always been, the preservation of the BNF as a party and brand and that the establishment of the UDC is a threat to the entity called the BNF. This position is fuelled by some in the BCP who abhor a stable BNF and a credible UDC. These cantankerous BNF characters have no restraint and are willing and ready to drag the integrity of the BNF and that of the opposition parties, especially the UDC in the streets. The blood and guts from the UDC primaries are yet to be seen littered in the streets. The same cannot be said of the BCP. Its strategy is fairly simple: to portray a united front regardless of internal strife. Those who like Seabelo Thekiso find such a scenario unbearable may finally leave and find a political home elsewhere, as it has happened in recent past with some councillors.

Obviously there are those on the opposition bench who hope to harvest the disgruntled remnants of the BDP elements who have lost in the primaries. Again that is stretching it. If members believe their representative lost fairly then they are more likely to rally behind the winner. This is much more likely to happen within the ranks of a ruling party more than within the ranks of an opposition party. A ruling party has incumbency as its strength. If put to use wisely; incumbency can be used to soothe the battle wounds of the vanquished. While those on the opposition may be looking to benefit from the losses of the BDP primaries, they must remember to also watch their tails. In the past three years, the BDP has benefitted from the opposition disorganization than the opposition had benefitted from the disgruntlement of the BDP members. Following the formation of the BMD, many of those who matter, with the exception of Hon Mangole & Hon Wynter Mmolotsi, have returned to the BDP. The BDP appears a more formidable force than any of the opposition parties. Truth be told the opposition parties are to blame for this sorry state of affairs. They messed up unity talks. Between now and the 2014 elections the BCP and UDC will be at each other’s throat. Additionally, members of the BNF will be killing each other while the BMD will be trying to face its proper initial test at a general election.

Although many incumbents have lost in the BDP primaries, let us remember that their loss was to a much stronger, more organized and lethal BDP representative. This more refined BDP representative is the one that opposition parties will have to contend with in a general election in 2014. Now that he has dispensed of the intra-party mokalobe, he is now coming after opposition MPs and wannabe MPs. They better sleep with one eye opened. They better be afraid and be very afraid.

The state addresses the nation in words

March 22, 2014

By the time you read this column the critics, scoffers and nay-sayers would have poured scorn on The State of the Nation Address. Repeatedly you would have heard he should have said this and that; we wish he had said that. Yes there would also be those who would say: “Nothing has changed in this speech; the speech is the same every year”. Obviously they would be wrong in such a claim; but their criticism would have also certainly stayed static. There would also be the praise singers wishing to put it on record that his was the best speech ever!

This year’s speech was delivered in about 15,194 words, of which only 2,946 were unique words and 12,248 words were repetition from somewhere in the speech. This means that the speech had low lexical density; put differently, the speech did not use many different complex words; something which is excellent for addressing the general public. The speech was crafted for information and not to impress. Perhaps it is no wonder it is entitled: Real leadership for real delivery. The speech used 826 numbers. Of these 203 were mere paragraph numbers of the speech making the real delivery of real numbers to be 623. Some of the numbers were not really numbers, but just years such as 2016, 2012, 2013 and 2014. Numbers are obviously important to bring specificity to a speech. Other numbers were percentages such as in “…archival collections increased by 46% … the number of archives users grew by 4.3% while the number of documents used increased by 21.5%.” Other numbers were specifically used to demonstrate how close or indeed how far we are to a specific target. For instance: “Today marks 1061 days before the Golden Jubilee Celebrations for our country.” We are today 1061 days from Friday, September 30, 2016. The president has also announced “our theme for the celebrations” which is “Botswana First – Botswana Pele”. The theme is appropriate in the face of competing narrow tribalistic identities and interests which sometimes threaten to derail the unity of the nation.

The speech uses 412 one letter words; 2,640 two letter words; 2,644 three letter words; 2,003 four letter words, 1,327 five letter words; 1,093 six letter words; 1,417 seven letter words; 1,136 eight letter words; 907 nine letter words and 721 ten letter words. The twenty longest words used in the speech, starting with the longest word, are: telecommunications, commercialization, decentralization, entrepreneurship, responsibilities, competitiveness, computerization, concessionaires, diversification, internationally, notwithstanding, professionalism, rationalisation, recommendations, underemployment, accountability, administration, administrative, authentication and communications. Of all these long words diversification is used most. It appears nine times in the speech; followed by competitiveness which is used five times. The twenty shortest words in the speech are: I, am, an, as, at, AU, be, by, do, EU, go, ID, if, in, is, it, me, mw, my, and no. Of the words used in the speech the following are the most common words in the speech: the, of, to, and, in a, as, for, our, with, is, has, have, are, government, this, been, we, that and by. Most of these with the exception of government what in linguistics are called functional words. They are not content words. Their function in the speech is grammatical and cohesive – aiding the speech to hang together and flow. The 20 most frequent content words are the following: government, year, madam, speaker, Botswana, youth, sector, national, public, country, total, programme, continue, million, services, number, private, international, management and local  . Content words are important since they reveal the key issues in a speech. I was rather struck by the frequent use of the word total in the speech and wished to inspect its context. It is used 34 times in the speech accounting for 0.22% of the speech. And here it is: in 2012/13 a total of goods and services…, …a total of 789 enterprises have…, …a total investment worth…, …enterprises with a total value of…, …new enterprises with a total monetary… Having inspected the data it appears to me the word total has been overused, perhaps even misused. I can imagine almost all of the usages without the word total and yet without a change in meaning. For instance there is absolutely nothing wrong in saying …789 enterprises have… instead of …a total of 789 enterprises have… or …investment worth… instead of…a total investment worth… Something also tells me that there may have been unintended meanings through the use of the word total. For instance an expression such as “a total investment worth just over P1 billion was realized” may imply wrongly that the investment was only of monetary value while the same investment may be measured not just financially but using other yardsticks. Amongst the rarest words are: abject, absolute, absorb, abundance, abuse, abused, abusive, academic, academy, accessible, accessing, achievers and achievements. All these occur only once in the speech.

Let us look at the distribution of the initial-word letter usage in the speech. Only 6 words in the speech begin with Z. These are Zutshwa, zone, Zimbabwean, zero and Zambezi. 11 words begin with Y. 74 words begin with W; 36 words begin with V; 53 words begin with U; 139 words begin with T; 253 words begin with S; 217 words begin with R; only 8 words begin with Q; 249 words begin with P; 98 words begin with O; 58 words begin with N; 150 words begin with M; 93 words begin with L; 18 words begin with K; 18 words begin with J; 152 words begin with I; 63 words begin with H; 79 words begin with G; 131 words begin with F; 181 words begin with; 167 words begin with D; 317 words begin with C; 130 words begin with B while 240 words begin with A.

I leave the critics and the political analysts to deal with the politics.

Words are like people; they rarely occur in isolation

March 22, 2014

Words are like people; they rarely occur in isolation. Like tribes, each word belongs to a large semantic domain. For instance there are religious terms and health terms. And just like every tribe has its own makgotla, words also within a specific domain cluster around certain themes and semantics concepts. For instance, amongst health terms there are HIV terms, TB terms etc. Like individuals have their own buddies, words also have their associates, that is, their preferred terms of association. This linguistic reality is behind Firth’s 1957 claim that you shall know a word by the company it keeps which echoes another maxim: you shall know a man by the company he keeps. It is not really possible to talk about the meaning of the word in isolation – it only has a particular meaning when it is in a particular environment. For instance the word bank can mean a financial institution or the side of a river based on its context, that is, on the company that it keeps. MWEs therefore include idioms, phrasal verbs, proverbs, compound words, etc. English examples of MWE include by and large, kick the bucket, in step, take up, take off, shake up, telephone booth, pull strings, fresh air, fish and chips, salt and pepper, etc. Setswana examples are solegela molemo (benefit), kukega maikutlo (be upset), iphaga dikoro (involve oneself in other people’s business), tsholetsa maoto/dinaô (walk faster), opisa tlhogo (cause trouble), tsaya karolo (participate), tsaya tsia (pay attention), nna le seabe (take part), ja monate (enjoy), etc.

The teaching of new vocabulary must also be done in context so that learners can be made aware of the grammar and collocations of new words and phrases.

There are areas of linguistics which focus on the study of word clusters. Different strategies are used to study how words cluster together. The computational measure that is used in corpus linguistics is known as the Mutual Information (MI) measure

A mutual information (MI) score relates one word to another. For example, if problem is often found with solve, they may have a high mutual information score. Usually, the will be found much more

often near problem than solve, so the procedure for calculating Mutual Information takes into account not just the most frequent words found near the word in question, but also whether each word is often found elsewhere, well away from the word in question. Since the is found very often indeed far away from problem, it will not tend to be related, that is, it will get a low MI score. This study of word cluster has been used extensively in dictionary making processes to identify clusters such as those of multi-word expressions such as mother-in-law.

Lately, we have been most fascinated by exploring the way Setswana words cluster together. Our obvious fascination relates to how the results of our study could be applied to Setswana dictionaries, an area of our principal interest. In our study, we found out that the word pula is statistically associated with different words. First, there are high frequency words that are found in the vicinity of a word under investigation which are nevertheless not immediately critical to the meaning of a headword. Second, multi-word units (e.g. pula ya matlakadibe: a vicious rainy storm, pula ya sephai: the first rain of the season; pula ya kgogolamoko: the first rain after harvest etc) are unearthed. Third, a word’s valency is revealed. For instance the noun pula ‘rain’ can take certain Setswana terms such as verbs and adjectives that characterise the type, intensity, end or beginning of the rain. For instance words that express the sense of heavy rain are: ‘tsorotla’, ‘porotla’, ‘bokete’, ‘kgolo’, ‘tshologa’, ‘gosomana’ ‘maswe’ and ‘tsora’. ‘sarasara’, ‘komakoma’ and ‘rotha’ all express a ‘light showers’. ‘thiba’ expresses impending rain while ‘simolola’, ‘itelekela’, and ‘kgomoga’ all indicate the start of rain with ‘kgomoga’ implying the beginning of a heavy rain or an unexpected rain. ‘kgaotsa’, ‘didimala’, and ‘ema’ relate to the sense of ‘stop raining’. Information relating to category one above may be treated in large Setswana dictionaries. Category-two information is lexicalised and should be included either as independent headwords or as dictionary subentries. Category three collocations are what could be added as part of a dictionary’s usage notes to illustrate the natural collocates of a headword. This will aid users, particularly users of an active dictionary to produce ‘natural-sounding’ pieces of large units of language.

More examples of the word pula’s valency include: na, nele, tla, kgolo, namagadi, ntsi, tshologa, tshweu, tswa, boutsana, simolotse, tona, kgaotsa, bokete, phaila, porotla, rotha, tsorotla, utlwala, duma, goroga, ntlha, tsheola, dikgadima, selemo, tla, tshologa, simolola, mariga, matlotlo, morago, morwalela, ngwaga, ditladi. The verb tshwara on the other hand’s valency includes the following terms: bothata, sentle, sepe, diphuthego, legodu, letsogo, thata, terena, boroko, phuthego, ntlha, phage, dithuto, dipuisano, pitso, mafoko, botlhaswa, kgaisano. The word associations lead to the following multiword expressions:  maru ga se pula, mosi ke molelo, nesa ke pula, mosele wa pula o etšwa go sa le gale, kgole ya pula e bošwa e bofologa, pula ya medupe, pula ya tsheola, pula ya sephai, pula ya kgogolamoko, pula ya maebana, pula e namagadi, pula e tshweu. The verb tshwara’s word associations lead to the following multiword expressions: tshwara ditlhapi, tshwara pelo, tshwara logaba, tshwara bothata, tshwara phage ka mangana, tshwara thipa ka fa bogaleng, tshwara mala ka letsogo and tshwara poo.

There is still much to learn about word clusters. What is not in dispute is that words are like people; they rarely occur in isolation.


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