Differences in vocabulary are one aspect of dialect diversity which identifies individuals conspicuously. This is especially obvious through what linguists refer to as cultural vocabulary. A cultural vocabulary is “the lexical stock that a linguistic community develops or adopts through its many cultural experiences after interacting with its physical environment, social milieu and the supernatural world” (Batibo, 1996:4). Lexical variation is a common marker of the differences between geographical areas or regions. Accordingly, lexical differences play a significant role in regional dialectology. For Setswana, not much lexical variation studies have been attempted save for the works of Janson and Tsonope (1991) and Batibo (1996). In this column we investigate some of the lexical variations of the Setswana speaking peoples. Much of the lexical variation characterises the lifestyles that the different groups live or lived. In some instances the same word is used to mean different things across tribes.
When one looks at the food that the different groups eat, in particular, meat, Bangwaketse call pounded meat loswao, a word that is used by Bangwato to refer to the two pronged stick that is used in pounding meat. Bangwato instead call pounded meat seswaa (the thing that pounds), a word which has become very common across different tribes. The same meat amongst the Bakgatla is known as chotlho (that which has been chewed) while Bakwena of Molepolole call it tshwaiwa (that which has been pounded). All the names are related with the exception of t┼íhotlho, though it may still be argued that it still falls within the same semantic cluster as others.
When sorghum is cooked alone, it is called lesasaoka by Bangwato and lehata by Bangwaketse. On the other hand, Bangwato use the word lehata to refer to a mixture of samp/maize and beans. The Bangwaketse and other tribes use the term dikgobe to refer to a mixture of samp/maize/sorghum and beans. Beans can be mixed with other foods to make unique dishes amongst the Batswana. When beans are mixed with lechotlho (previously cooked and then dried maize) they are called dikgobe tsa lechotlho by Bangwaketse and ntshwatshwa by Bangwato. The sour porridge amongst the Bangwaketse and Barolong is known as ting while Bangwato call it leshibishibi.
Other household activities which display lexical variation are activities such as to pound maize or sorghum to make porridge powder. The verb thuga is used for such an activity amongst the Bangwaketse while amongst the Bangwato the verb setla is used. The verb setla is used amongst the Bangwaketse, Bakgatla and Bakwena to mean to beat severely and its use amongst Bangwato is clearly a case of semantic extension. The smallest three legged black pot has various names in different Tswana tribes. It is called mothubane, mothubanyane or mothubatlhogo. The etymology of this word is unknown although it is sometimes speculated. The word mothubatlhogo means “one who breaks a head”. Some have speculated that the name comes from the fact that the pot is so small and light that it could be thrown at someone’s head during a fight. Amongst the Bakwena the smallest three legged pot is known as katsojane or mmadipoto (the mother of all pots). Amongst the Bakgatla it is known as ntontwane or ntonto while Balete call it kamuru.
Another interesting lexical variation is the one that relates to water containers. The term toromole is used by Bangwaketse and Barolong to mean a large metal container of about 200 litres. Bangwato and Bakgatla use the term toromole to mean a tin that is used to draw water from a well or one which is used to boil water on an open fire. Such a container is about 5 to 10 litres. The 20 litre water container is known as phomphokgo amongst the Bakgatla. Bangwato have phoisana which is a 20/25 litre water container with a straight shape from its mouth to its base. The name phoisana is said to be a borrowing from the English word poison, since the buckets were originally used for containing seeds which had a poisonous coloured powder before the villagers used the buckets for collecting water. The 200 litre water container is called kanti by Bangwato. A can or tin is called sebagabiki by Bangwato, mmolopita by Bakgatla and tsiri by Bangwaketse. Bangwato call a 5 litre tin container with four corners lekopokopo. In the past this container was used for consumable oil that was rationed at the government clinics. Another container that is common among the Bangwato is sekoo which is a water container with a small mouth opening.
The makeshift paraffin lamp made of a closed tin and a small rope sticking out of a small hole is called moitaletsi (one who invites himself) by Bangwaketse and kurwana by Bangwato. Amongst the Bangwato the word setapa is ambiguous between a type of traditional dance and a wedding celebration while the term setapa is used by other groups to mean borankana, a type of traditional dance. The concept of a wedding is lexicalized as kemo or tseo amongst the Bangwaketse. The word tseo is a derivative of the verb tsaya (take) while kemo is derived from the verb ema (stand). Amongst the Bangwaketse when an intention to marry is made at the kgotla the groom and bride-to-be are made to stand before the whole kgotla and counselled as well as interrogated. This standing in the kgotla might be where the word kemo originates. Another word related to kemo is moemisi (a groomsman or a bridesmaid) which is also a derivative of ema. Amongst the Bangwaketse, the word moemisi (one who assists another to stand) has largely been replaced by the borrowed term from Afrikaans setoromeisi (from Afrikaans strooimeisie). Still on the subject of wedding, it is common amongst the Batswana to use a traditional doctor to protect the food from dijeso (poisoning) and boloi (witchcraft) (see Dennis, 1978). Amongst the Bangwaketse this doctor is called setimamolelo (a fire-extinguisher). Here the word molelo (fire) is used metaphorically to refer to poisons and witchcraft attacks which the doctor extinguishes. In other tribes such a doctor is known simply as ngaka. During the bogadi negotiations, one who leads a delegation from both the bride and groom’s side is known as mmaditsela amongst tribes such as Bangwato and Bakgatla. Though the noun is feminine, in practice mmaditsela is a man, usually an uncle. Bangwaketse call such persons babuammogo (those who speak together).
There are many terms which are unique to different dialects. For instance the following are distinctive Sengwaketse terms: sekhomba (bomber jacket), sekhakha (plastic bag), perepetsha (a cow given to in reciprocation after the receipt of bogadi), nyena (plural “you”). Sengwato unique words include thaakaa (an exclamation of surprise), sesowa (a round mud hut in which you make an open fire), setopoti (a juice or alcoholic drink made from very ripe melons), mpale (dried water melon skin) also known as longangale in other tribes and ndit┼íhi (a borrowing from the English word dish). Unique Sekgatla words include tana (to climb on) thupetla (well prepared traditional beer), tsorwane (a meat dish made from different small cuts of internal organs of a cow) also known as mothobiso in other Tswana dialects, mmotoro (loose mud), t┼íheret┼íhepa (of clothes, loose), lapa (a home), ge (if; when), kgankgathi (multiple pounding of grain in a mortar), atlholela (to permit or give away a woman in marriage). This word is synonymous with rebolela in other dialects. We also have kgogo (chicken) also known as koko in other dialects, sekholo (porridge cooked in milk) also known as logala in other dialects, pila (good; fine) a word which is commonly realized as sentle/siame in other dialects, satswane (a piece of meat from the grooms family), and molomo (meat which has been treated by a traditional doctor before it is given to newlyweds to eat). The discussion on lexical variation is in no way exhaustive; but demonstrates how diverse lexical variation amongst Tswana speaking people. It proves that though we are one people as Batswana; we are people of different tongues.