Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Culture | Homonyms In African languages

Homonyms refer to sets of words having the same spelling but different meanings (and origins). In many an African language, there exist words that are either spelled or sound the same, but have different meanings.

Cameroonian-born Swiss footballer, Breel Donald Embolo, cannot have his surname comfortably pronounced in certain Bantu dialects in certain parts of East and Central Africa.

In Swahili and a number of other Bantu dialects, it refers to male genitalia – the phallus, in particular. Back home amongst the Bulu people in his native Cameroon, it’s a form of greeting. Like “Hello”. Or “How are you?”

A Cameroonian friend of mine is usually teased whenever he is in the company of Ugandans by asking him to greet the ladies in his local language.

In eastern Uganda, the Bamasaba (or Bagisu as they are commonly known) say “Wanyala (nabi)” to mean thank you (very much). In south-western Uganda, this would translate to “You just peed (the ‘l’ is replaced with ‘r’)”.

In Lingala (DR Congo), “Ngai” refers to the pronoun “Me”. Amongst the Kamba and Kikuyu (Kenya), “Ngai” means “God”.

In Runyankole/Rukiga (Western Uganda), the verb “Okusitama” means “To sit”. In Luganda (Central Uganda), it means “to squat”.

In Chinyanja/Chichewa (Malawi/Zambia), the verb “Kufuna” means “To want/need”. In Luganda (Uganda), it translates to “To get/obtain”.

These, and many more. What homonyms do you know? Please share the same with us.  

Dan A.

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