South African Journal of African Languages

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An analysis of the status of the secondary noun prefixes in Ndebele

Progress Dube, Lickel Ndebele, Mbulisi Ndlovu


The article probes into the nature of secondary noun class prefixes in the morphology of some Nguni languages and Ndebele in particular. The secondary prefixes are known as commentary prefixes mainly because they carry overtones of sarcasm, criticism and caricature among other elements, through loading an implied meaning onto a noun construction. The overtones in reference are a reflection of how people view each other and how they evaluate other objects in their immediate environment. In some African languages like Shona, these overtones are embedded in the noun class prefixes, that is, the basic prefix. It is alleged that Ndebele, along with other Nguni languages, do not have secondary prefixes. It is argued that the semantic overtones are entrenched in the augmentative and diminutive suffixes. Contrary to what we find in Nguni literature, however, Ndebele speakers also use evaluative (commentary) prefixes to express semantic values of contempt and endearment. Consequently, this paper confirms the presence of commentary secondary prefixes in Ndebele on the one hand and discusses their categorical status in the noun classification system on the other.

South African Journal of African Languages 2014, 34(2): 145–149

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