South African Journal of African Languages

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Cattle and their colours: A synchronic investigation of cattle colour terminology in Northern Sotho

Elsabé Taljard


In Northern Sotho, a separate colour lexicon is distinguished, containing terms which are believed to be used exclusively as colour terms to describe not only the colours, but also the colour patterning found among domestic animals, particularly cattle. According to current literature, the use of these terms is restricted to the description of cattle and/or other domestic animals. This study, which is corpus-based, investigates the metaphorical extension of these terms which widens their descriptive scope to include objects other than cattle. It is furthermore argued that these terms have unique grammatical features, found nowhere else in the grammatical system of Northern Sotho. Lastly, the metaphoric link between these colour and colour-pattern terms and similar sounding words designating other animals, birds or everyday objects is investigated. It is concluded that this particular colour lexicon is of an ambivalent nature: on the one hand it is an indigenous knowledge system which is clearly in decline, mostly due to non linguistic factors, but simultaneously, its ability to be extended to the description of other objects points towards a certain measure of vitality.
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