Lexical borrowing and the inter-dental fricative challenge in Ndebele.
The Ndebele like other African cultures were hunter gatherers when colonialism came. They however, had their own civilisation and this civilisation was never described in terms that included the inter-dental fricative sounds. White missionaries that had earlier on codified isiZulu in South Africa came to Zimbabwe and came up with a Ndebele orthography. The missionaries did not find any reason to include the inter-dental fricative in the Ndebele orthography as it was not part of spoken Ndebele. The orthography has always had inconsistencies as it was originated by non-native speakers. Discussing Ndebele orthography, Ndlovu (2006:02) submits that:
Ndebele orthography uses an alphabetic system that was compiled in 1863 by the London missionary society (LMS) missionaries, namely John Smith Moffat, William Sykes and Thomas Morgan Thomas. Owing to the inconsistencies and inadequacies that bedevilled the missionaries' alphabet for Ndebele, the writing system was revised in the 1950s. However, the 1950s reforms notwithstanding, Ndebele orthography, especially the spelling system, still exhibit numerous disparities between certain sounds and their orthographic representations.
While Ndlovu's concern is on the disparity between some sounds and their symbols, the inter-dental fricative in Ndebele is a case of a sound without a symbol. The paper posits that since the orthography has been revised and yet there are sounds that are still not accounted for; there is need for another revision that will see sounds like the inter-dental fricatives get working symbols in Ndebele orthography. Spoken Ndebele uses the inter-dental fricative yet there is no way the sounds can be represented in writing. This paper looks at the need for a revision of the orthography by identifying cases that have these sounds in Ndebele and evaluating their popularity and use across Ndebele populations of rural/urban and youth/adult.
Lexemes are words that people use to describe their environment. When the environment changes the lexical stock of a language is affected. When cultures meet they share concepts and the words that describe the concepts are usually exchanged in the process. New words find their way into the lexical stock of a language from another language and this process is usually more pronounced from a prestigious culture to a less prestigious culture. English as a colonial language and the language of a politically powerful culture lent more words to Ndebele than Ndebele did to it. Ndlovu, (2012:49) notes that:
When cultures come into contact with one another, borrowing takes place primarily in the realm of lexical items. In most cases, the borrowing at any given time appears to be primarily in one direction where the culture with the greatest prestige is the primary loaner. Borrowing then becomes language change due to language contact. When there are new concepts in nature, technology, religion and locations there is need to change the language to accommodate them.
New concepts are chief among elements that force languages to change and adopt new words. In the case of Ndebele the technology, religion and locations that came with English created the need for the Ndebele to express some concepts using inter-dental fricative phonemes. Ndebele has some phonemes that are not part of English phonology, such as the click phonemes [!] and [//] but however, the push factor from Ndebele to English was and is not as strong as the push from English to Ndebele; and up to this day the English do not use these clicks. As a result the Ndebele lexical stock is laden with lexical items from English yet English has a lesser number by comparison. Lexical borrowing is necessary and unavoidable in cases of language contact, yet language politicians at times fight a 'language purism' war that is seldom won. There are some elements in Ndebele that have always resisted some phonemes at least in the written medium, describing them as foreign and polluting the language. Some of the phonemes that have been resisted in the past are the alveolar trill and affricate [r] and [dz] respectively. However, language change cannot be stopped when it comes and at times it cannot even be regulated. As such, Ndlovu, (1998:33) avers:
Language change is a universally accepted and attested principle that has long been established by historical linguistics. No language is fixed; all languages undergo constant change over time. New words are constantly coming into use and at the same time old words are gradually dropping out of use.
The new words that come into a language should be accommodated both in the spoken and written mediums. It appears to have been the tendency in African languages Ndebele included that people take time to regulate the disparities between the written and the spoken forms of the same languages. A linguistic and social reality that linguists have to address all the time is the fact that new words come into languages and these have to be taken care of through orthographic reforms.
Coming of the Inter-dental Fricative into Ndebele
Inter-dental fricatives are consonants that are produced by pressing the tip of the tongue between the upper and lower front teeth. The consonants appear to be a rare phenomenon in many languages including Ndebele. The sounds are different from dental sounds that are produced by the tip of the tongue and the base of the top incisors. Inter-dental fricative sounds are common in English phonology and it is the contact between English and Ndebele languages that introduced the phonemes in Ndebele through lexical borrowing. The phonemes are two, being reflexes of the same sound the other voiced while the other is voiceless. The inter-dental phonemes can be represented as advanced alveolar sounds [n], but the more precise symbols are [[theta]] as in 'think', for the voiceless inter-dental fricative and [[eth]] as in 'that', for the voiced counterpart.
It is interesting to note that while the sounds were not part of the Ndebele phonology, Ndebele speakers from an early age do not have problems in the production of the sounds. To most Ndebele grade one pupils at seven years the sounds are not a problem. The tendency in Zimbabwe is that urbanites have more contact with English than the rural folk, and it is important to determine the extent of the English influence regarding the inter-dental fricatives on both rural and urban Ndebele mother tongue children. In a random sample of thirty grade one pupils in a Bulawayo urban school and a Silobela rural school, results as tabulated in table 1 indicate that without a speech deformity Ndebele children do not have problems producing both inter-dental phonemes.
The tendency is to replace the inter-dental fricative sound with an alveolar sound in the directions; [[theta]]>[t] and [[eth]]>[d]. However in most Ndebele children this is not the case as represented in table 1. The two pupils in the urban school appeared to have some speech disorder while the one pupil who exhibited the changes in the rural school had no front upper teeth. The phonemes are postulated to have come from the contact with English which uses the phonemes. Dubois and Horvath, (1998:247) observe that,
The inter-dental fricative has been a part of English since its earliest known form. In old English, voicing was totally predictable: [[eth]] occurred only in medial position between voiced sounds, and [[theta]] occurred elsewhere. Borrowing from old French and from Greek have served to extend the distribution of [[eth]] so that it now occurs in initial and final positions.
The inter-dental fricative has had its own evolution within the English language and when it got into contact with Ndebele the sounds were already established in English phonology. To the Ndebele English is a very important language that is learnt from an early age and some even use it at home with their children. It is the language of education and the language of the media and this exposure in both formal and informal settings makes it very easy for English words to get into Ndebele and this cannot exclude lexemes that carry the inter-dental fricative sounds.
In Zimbabwe, English has always enjoyed a prestigious position in both urban and rural areas, mainly because Zimbabwe is a former British colony. Despite the fact that Zimbabwe has enjoyed political independence for 28 years, English has remained the official language. It is still obligatory for social promotion, being associated with prestige (Mabaso, 2009:114). It is the official status of English from colonial times that has given it more influence over Ndebele making it the primary loaner of words. The prestige that English enjoys is a result of colonialism and subsequent language policies, as a result the inter-dental fricative phonemes found their way into Ndebele from English through loan words such as 'theory', 'thermometer' and many more.
Some Realisations of Inter-dental Fricatives in Spoken Ndebele
Ndebele as spoken today contains the inter-dental fricative sounds primarily borrowed from English phonology. Many English words are used as they are and some with some modifications, and these modifications have failed to totally do away with the inter-dental fricative sounds. The loan words follow the English spelling that includes the inter-dental sounds. Ndebele borrows lexical and phonological elements from contact languages. However, due to prestige, colonialism and technological advancement most loans come from English. English and Ndebele both use the Roman alphabet but they differ markedly in their phonological systems (Ndlovu, 2012:47). Ndebele culture has borrowed a lot of elements from English culture and in some cases the cultural and technological elements come with their names.
The unrivalled status that English enjoys today as a global language has brought a proliferation of English borrowings and associated spellings (often nonativised). Many highly regular (roman-based) scripts (perhaps hundreds) are now finding significant numbers of borrowed English spellings in their orthographic lexicon (Share, 2008:604).
After observing Ndebele speakers; thirty English words that include the inter-dental fricative sound were gathered. The list is way longer than the thirty, however the thirty are arguably among the frequently used in Ndebele. Some of the concepts are not foreign to Ndebele but the English translation includes an inter-dental fricative sound, while some are totally new concepts with no Ndebele equivalent. Table 2 is a collection of thirty of some of the frequently used English loan words in Ndebele; it also indicates those that have a Ndebele equivalent.
Of the identified thirty (30) English words that are frequently used in Ndebele and include the inter-dental fricative sound twelve (12) have Ndebele equivalents and eighteen (18) do not. The twelve that have Ndebele equivalents are elements of core vocabulary that is usually part of any language and culture and can hardly be borrowed from another language or culture. Language is a very dynamic human resource that changes to accommodate new phenomena and new environments; it also changes as other languages affect it (Ndlovu, 2010:77).
Ndebele as a language has changed at a lexical level to include many English words and these words are adapted into the Ndebele phonological and writing system in the majority, but, there appears to be a challenge when it comes to the inter-dental fricative. Changes that occur through borrowing from other dialects or languages are often quite clearly distinguishable, for a while at least, from changes that come about internally (Wardhaugh, 1986:189). All the English terms in table 2 are still clearly distinguishable as originating from English. It is also interesting to note that even in the case of these terms that have a Ndebele equivalent people may still prefer the English loan to the Ndebele term. A survey of urban and rural people in the variable of youth and adult indicated that people in both urban and rural areas now prefer English loans, this is represented in table 3 below. A total of ten questionnaires were distributed in each area, for the urban sample respondents were taken from the City hall park in Bulawayo and for the rural samples people were taken from Donsa communal area in Silobela. As for the youth the age range is 15-18 years while adults are 40 years and above.
In almost all the cases youths and adults in both urban and rural area preferred the English terms to Ndebele ones. This may mean that even in cases where Ndebele has its own term an English term that carries an inter-dental fricative sound can be predominantly used. In the cases highlighted in table 3, the reason for borrowing is not need feeling but rather it is motivated by the need to communicate fast and conveniently as English terms are shorter and popularly used (2). It can be said that English terms that bare the inter-dental fricative are popular in Ndebele; young children have no problem pronouncing the sounds and the majority of people even prefer the loan words that include the sounds to their own terms in cases where equivalence is achievable.
Even in cases where some people indicated preference for a Ndebele term, the motivation could have been language revivalism not what is obtaining (3). It is interesting also to note that some of the Ndebele terms appeared alien to many a respondent and these include terms like umdango for 'theatre', umhlahlandlela for 'theory' and some were not sure of the direction, ningizimu 'south'. The thirty words and many more are used in Ndebele yet there is still no standard symbol in Ndebele for the inter-dental fricative.
[[theta]] and [eth] Missing Fits in Ndebele Orthography
An orthography of any language should work to create a fit between the spoken and the written language. There should be a correct way of representing sounds not to live any room for chance or speculation. Writing presupposes a universally accepted writing system (Emenanjo, 1998:44). If the function of an orthography is representing the spoken language then the Ndebele orthography certainly needs a revision as far as the inter-dental fricative sounds are concerned. While the common one is the voiceless inter-dental fricative the voiced counterpart needs to be accounted for as well. Hence, Alberts, (2013:03) avers that:
The English 'orthography' dates from the Greek 'orthos' (correct) and 'graphein' (to write). The term 'orthography' refers to the correct or conventional way of spelling and the study or science of spelling.
However, there is no correct and conventional way of representing the inter-dental fricative sounds in Ndebele, in fact, there is no way of representing them at all. The orthography therefore can be declared defective as it cannot allow the speakers of the language to write some sounds. The language accepted the sounds at least in the spoken version a long time ago but up to date there has not been any orthographic reform to address these concerns.
The current spelling system for the Zimbabwean Ndebele language is characterised by numerous inconsistencies and inadequacies. Most of the glaring inadequacies can be noted in the absence of a 'fit' between the spelt versions of lexical items and their phonological forms (Ndlovu, 2006:01).
There is no way in Ndebele that the terms borrowed from English containing the inter-dental fricatives can be spelt in a manner that corresponds to the phonological forms. The only other reform that was done way back never catered for the sounds in question and they remain in the language but outside the writing system, a situation that creates problems for writers, teachers, students and many who write in Ndebele.
It would appear that it is the tendency in Ndebele to avoid accepting new sounds by replacing them with other sounds already accepted in the language and symbols for the sounds used to represent the new sounds. This move could be aimed at purifying the language yet in fact it is turning out to make it inadequate in its written form. White missionaries who started orthographic work in Ndebele accepted some sounds that had come into the language earlier on and created symbols in Ndebele orthography to represent those. For instance,
With regard to the bantu languages of southern Africa, it has long been recognised that the click consonants are not reflexes of inherited elements; rather, the clicks were 'borrowed' from Khoisan contact languages and incorporated within bantu phonological systems at some point during the prehistory of southern Africa (Herbert, 1990:296).
The click consonants as they are used in Ndebele today are not originally Ndebele sounds but are a result of lexical borrowing like the inter-dental fricative consonants. If the missionaries did it and it worked for click sounds the overwhelming number of English loans used in Ndebele that contain the inter-dental fricative sounds should be considered and an orthographic review has to be done to include these. Language purists appear to be gate keeping on the Ndebele orthography and the gate keeping is affecting written Ndebele yet spoken is not affected. Originally the Ndebele phonological system did not have the voiced alveolar trill [r], it is now part of Ndebele at least spoken due to influence from languages like English, Shona, Sotho and Venda; instances of the alveolar trill in Ndebele are irori 'lorry' and irabha 'rubber'. Another sound that is still controversial in Ndebele is the voiced alveolar affricate [dz], in some Ndebele words such as iziwidzi 'sweets' it is replaced by /j/ to be iziwiji, (Hadebe, 2006:178). The two sounds noted by Hadebe are now part of the Ndebele writing system a further indication that need at times has to be considered ahead of purism.
The tendency to change a foreign phoneme to another in both spoken and written language also occurs on the inter-dental fricative sounds in Ndebele. The inter-dental fricatives are usually changed in the order of change; [[theta]]>[t] and [[eth]]>[d]; the voiceless is at times changed to a voiceless alveolar affricate [ts]. Ndebele lecturers and students at Great Zimbabwe University were given the thirty loan words in table 2, and asked to make replacements with [t], [d] and [ts] where possible. There is no [[eth]] sound so the replacement is on [[theta]]. Table 4 below indicates some of the replacements that the students and lecturers concurred were possible and used in spoken Ndebele.
In the above table nineteen (19) terms could be spoken with the inter-dental fricative replaced with a [t] sound, while nine (9) could not have a replacement sound and only two (2) could be changed to the affricate [ts]. While the nineteen cases of replacing with [t] can lead people to conclude that this is the solution even in writing, some think this is a ridiculous way of speaking and no one speaks like that except children learning how to speak (4). It is important to also note that
from observing speakers none spoke replacing [[theta]] with [t], and this may rule out this replacement as a solution leaving the need for specific and distinctive symbols for the inter-dental fricative sounds. The change to [ts] however, appears to be assimilatory; it is primarily a change to [t] that assimilates [s] in a progressive manner. In birth certificate for example [[theta]] changes to [t] and is assimilated to [s] in [sethifikat]. The people who speak the language should be given a chance to create an orthography that will help them write their language the way they speak it. Alberts, (2013:03) argues that:
Language users are involved in any changes that may occur in the spelling and orthographic system. Since language is dynamic, it is quite natural for the vocabulary, spelling and orthography of the language to change. These changes are mirrored especially in the way that the spelling system of the language adapts according to development and modernisation.
There is need to engage Ndebele speakers in a quest to solve the inter-dental fricative challenge. The phonemes are not only a problem in Ndebele only but Shona has had a similar problem. Another weakness of the Shona spelling system is that it does not accommodate sounds that have come into the language as adoptives or downloads, such as: thimomita 'thermometer', thiyori 'theory', thisisi 'thesis' (Magwa, 2002:07). Shona had to adopt these alien sounds as they are. To solve the problem of lack of a fit between spoken and written Shona the symbol /th/ is used for [[theta]]. In complex situations where there are no direct correspondences, alien sounds from the loaner language are adopted as they are into the Shona language. The postulated changes in these loanwords from English are that the voiceless inter-dental fricative [[theta]] has been incorporated into Shona in the borrowing process (Zivenge, Mheta and Kadenge, 2010:712). In the case of Shona which did not use the aspirated voiceless alveolar stop symbol /th/, the symbol is used for [[theta]]. However, for Ndebele aspiration is already used on the stop and it may create ambiguities.
All loan words are adapted into the Ndebele orthography and phonology but this adaptation can never be adequate if there remains no clear symbol in the Ndebele orthography to represent the inter-dental fricative sounds. People speak using the inter-dental sounds, the replacements are not practical and are to some; even ridiculous in the spoken form. It is high time Ndebele had an orthography review to factor in the inter-dental fricative sounds and create the much needed fit between spoken and written Ndebele. The language can even employ diacritic signs; this is usually discouraged, but, discouraged as it is; it is better than having no symbol at all. Another option which can be less complicated is using double consonants to represent the sounds in the order [[theta]]>/tt/ and [[eth]]>/dd/. The use of distinctive symbols for the sounds is what Ndebele needs in its written form because in speaking the sounds appear to have been part of the language for some time now.
The inter-dental fricative sound in Ndebele is a result of contact between the Ndebele and English. The contact came through colonialism and language policies that favoured and continue to favour English; as a result English became a prestigious language and loaned many words that include lexemes with inter-dental fricative sounds to Ndebele. Inter-dental fricative sounds have been part of spoken Ndebele yet there is no symbol to represent them. Efforts at changing the sounds to alveolar stops and affricates are not adequate and are ridiculed by many as artificial and not representative of the spoken form. While language purists may take issue with the inclusion of new symbols in Ndebele orthography to represent the inter-dental fricatives, it may be unfair to the language and its speakers to sacrifice practicality on the altar of language purism. There is an urgent need for a Ndebele orthography review to consider appropriate symbols to represent inter-dental fricative sounds.
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Great Zimbabwe University
(2) Mr Moyo indicated in an interview in Bulawayo 17 April 2014.
(3) Ms Ncube indicated after filling in the questionnaire for table 3, at Donsa communal area.
(4) Indicated by Mr Ndlovu
Mr Sambulo Ndlovu is a lecturer in orature and language in the Department of African Languages and Literature at Great Zimbabwe University, in Zimbabwe. Bom in 1981, he is a holder of a Master's degree in African languages and literature from the university of Zimbabwe. His research interests are sociolinguistics and oral literature, he has published and presented papers in Zimbabwe and internationally on the two areas. He has published with international journals like SAJAL, NAWA, MULP, Nomina Africana, Africana journal and presented academic papers in Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Romania and Germany. of Donsa communal areas in an interview--20 April 2014
Table 1: Pronunciation of inter-dental fricatives by urban and rural Ndebele children Primary Proper Proper Substitution of school pronunciation pronunciation [[theta]] by [t] of [[theta]] of [[eth]] Urban School 29 28 1 Rural School 29 29 1 Primary Substitution of Total number school [[eth]] by [d] of grade 1 pupils Urban School 2 30 Rural School 1 30 Table 2: Some loan words from English that carry an inter-dental fricative English Words with Ndebele term inter-dental fricative 1. Three Thathu 2. Thirteen Tshumi lantathu 3. Thirty Amatshumi amathathu 4. Thursday Olwesine 5.Thermometer -- 6. Theory Umhlahlandlela? 7. Thousand Inkulungwane 8. Stethoscope -- 9. Theatre Umdango 10. Things(type of chips) -- 11. Thong(type of panties) -- 12. Thesaurus -- 13. Maths -- 14. Birth certificate -- 15. North Inyakatho 16. South Iningizimu 17. Anthem Ingoma yesizwe 18. Earthquake Ukuzamazama komhlaba 19. Anthology -- 20. Catholic -- 21. Arthritis -- 22. Athletics -- 23. Length Ubude 24. Pathologist -- 25. Orthography -- 26. Growth -- 27. Pathfinders -- 28. Apathy -- 29. Radiotherapy -- 30. Ethanol -- Table 3: Preferences between English loans and Ndebele terms English and Ndebele Urban Rural Urban Rural total terms Youth Youth Adult Adult 1a. Three 10 8 7 5 30 1b. Thathu 0 2 3 5 10 2a. Thirteen 10 10 9 8 37 2b. Tshumi lantathu 0 0 1 2 3 3a. Thirty 10 10 9 9 38 3b. Amatshumi 0 0 1 1 2 amathathu 4a. Thursday 8 6 8 4 26 4b. Olwesine 2 4 2 6 14 5a. Thousand 10 10 10 9 39 5b. Inkulungwane 0 0 0 1 1 6a. Theory 10 10 10 10 40 6b. Mhlahlandlela 0 0 0 0 0 7a. Theatre 10 10 10 10 40 7b. Umdango 0 0 0 0 0 8a. North 10 7 8 6 31 8b. inyakatho 0 3 2 4 9 9a. South 10 10 10 7 37 9b. Iningizimu 0 0 0 3 3 10a. Earthquake 10 10 10 5 35 10b. Ukuzamazama 0 0 0 5 5 komhlaba 11a. Anthem 10 10 9 9 38 11b. Ingoma yezwe 0 0 1 1 2 12a. Length 7 7 6 7 27 12b. Ubude 3 3 4 3 13 Table 4: Replacement of some inter-dental fricative sounds in Ndebele English Words with inter- Replacement Replacement dental fricative with [t] with [ts] 1. Three Tri 2. Thirteen Tetini 3. Thirty Teti 4. Thursday tezideyi 5. Thermometer temomitha 6. Theory tiyori 7. Thousand tawuzenti 8. Stethoscope stetoskopu 9. Theatre 10. Things(type of chips) 11. Thong(type of panties) 12. Thesaurus tesarasi 13. Maths metsi 14. Birth certificate bhetsethifikhethi 15. North 16. South 17. Anthem antem 18. Earthquake 19. Anthology antoloji 20. Catholic katolika 21. Arthritis atrayithisi 22. Athletics atilethiki 23. Length 24. Pathologist phatolojist 25. Orthography otograf 26. Growth 27. Pathfinders patifayinda 28. Apathy 29. Radiotherapy rediyoteraphi 30. Ethanol etanol English Words with inter- Non dental fricative replaceable 1. Three 2. Thirteen 3. Thirty 4. Thursday 5. Thermometer 6. Theory 7. Thousand 8. Stethoscope 9. Theatre Theatre 10. Things(type of chips) Things 11. Thong(type of panties) Thong 12. Thesaurus 13. Maths 14. Birth certificate 15. North North 16. South South 17. Anthem 18. Earthquake earthquake 19. Anthology 20. Catholic 21. Arthritis 22. Athletics 23. Length Length 24. Pathologist 25. Orthography 26. Growth Growth 27. Pathfinders 28. Apathy Apathy 29. Radiotherapy 30. Ethanol
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|Publication:||Nawa: journal of language and communication|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2014|
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