Journal of Humanities

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Terms for cardinal directions in eastern Bantu languages

Amani Lusekelo


Different languages employ different mechanisms to express cardinal directions. New information on terms for cardinal directions is revealed in many studies by anthropological and cognitive linguists on minority languages of the world. However, there are gaps in studies on nomenclature for cardinal directions in Africa languages which this paper aims to fill by providing a detailed examination of such nomenclature. The paper is based on data from a sample of 42 Eastern Bantu languages. Elicitation and extraction of terms from dictionaries were the main data collection techniques used. The study found out that there are seven sources used to derive terms for cardinal directions namely, names of ethnic groups, names of bodyparts, direction of sunrise and sunset, water-bodies (oceans and lakes), terrain (uphill and downhill), winds, and lexical borrowing. The paper found that reference to terrain (uphill and downhill) and ethnic communities were the most popular sources of cardinal terms in Eastern Bantu. The study also found that naming cardinal direction based on wind, usually associated with coastal Bantu, is also found in the interior of Africa in such languages as Gogo and Ndebele. Finally, contrary to previous studies, the study found that in Eastern Bantu north/south cardinal terms are more prominent than terms for east and west.

Keywords: Anthropological linguistics, cardinal terms, eastern Bantu, lexicography, salience

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