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Naming of plants in Nyamwezi and Sukuma societies of Tanzania

Amani Lusekelo
Halima Mvungi Amir


Since research has shown that the classification of plants into noun classes varies from one Bantu language to another (Legère, 2020), the present article contributes to the formation of the canonical noun classes for plants in the Nyamwezi and Sukuma languages in Tanzania. The data was gathered in Mwanza, Shinyanga, Simiyu and Tabora regions mainly through elicitation, revealed that the language has developed a lexicon of plant names based on four word formation strategies: (i) assignment of plant names to canonical tree noun classes 3/5 and 5/6, event for reduplicated, compounded and borrowed nouns; (ii) compounding of verbs and nouns to derive plant names; (iii) reduplication of verbs and nouns to derive plant names, and (iv) lexical borrowing from Swahili and English. The abundance of nouns in classes 5/6 suggests innovation in that classes 3/4 are being replaced by classes 5/6. Also, the paper shows that under the compounding, reduplication and phrasal mechanisms of nouns formation, many plant names express: (a) the structure and physiology of the plants, e.g. scent, softness or hardness; (b) physical environment where plants flourish, e.g. on mountain tops; (c) the berries and tubers produced by the plants; (d) the (gender) sex of the plants, and (e) the scent/smell produced by the plants. Based on the findings, it becomes plausible to establish that the Nyamwezi and Sukuma people employ both linguistic resources and physical and natural environment in assigning names to plants. This is a testimony that plants have formed a central part in the ethno-cultural practises of this community.

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eISSN: 0856-552X
print ISSN: 0856-552X