Language, respect as a culture

TO TALK about hlonipha language is to give a general idea of what in English is called euphemism.

But these two do not mean exactly the same as will be demonstrated in this series. Hlonipha language is culturally charged and goes far beyond mere euphemistic expressions.

For example the common bird ijuba is also called icelegwana.

I never ever heard my mother mention the word ijuba because my grandfather’s name (her father – in-law) was Majuba. She always talked about icelegwana.

The icelegwana word is a hlonipha term and not euphemism. We shall have more to say about this language as culture later.

The Ndebele people, through their language, are a respecting people who in their day to day speech use language carefully to show respect.

Consider this: Udadewethu ukhululekile izolo ntambama. Umntwana uphume kuhle kodwa umnakwabo uke wakhathaza. But you can say comfortably, “ uJolikazi uzele izolo ithole eliduna.

Ike yahlutshwa yingqwatshi ebikade isala ukuphuma. What is the difference? The one is a person and the other is an animal.

The reader will be shocked by the following conversation:

Two young children aged seven and eight were playing just outside their kitchen hut. Soneni was the daughter of MaNcube and Senzeni the daughter of MaMpala the neighbour.

Soneni: Wena Senzeni nguwe osudilize inqumbi yami

Senzeni: Hayi, ulamanga Soneni, kangizange ngiyidilize mina

Soneni: Uyithintile, ha, ngikubonile

Senzeni: Ulamanga Soneni, uyanya angizange ngiyithinte mina. Uphongusuza nje lapha.

The mother of Soneni, MaNcube who was in the kitchen was overhearing all this. She quickly walked out of the kitchen and got hold of Senzeni by her right arm and Soneni by her left arm. English fails to express what followed.

Wafika ekucineni kweguma wakhwixila uswazi lomklampunzi wakuphundla wakuhwahwatha indletshana zakho kokubili.

Mancube: Lina bantwana. Lizalwa ngaphi lina elikhuluma ulimi olubolileyo kangaka? Yi! Kengilizwe futhi lisitsho njalo, ngizalibulala. Sukani lapha.

Senzeni went into a frenzy and went flying to her mother next door crying at the top of her voice. In no time MaMpala was standing and shouting at MaNcube‘s kitchen; MaMpala: Umntanami kayisiyo donki ebhulwa ngoswazi.

Woneni yakho MaNcube? Angithi abantwana bebezidlalela bodwa, wena wasungena njani? Yi! Owami umntwana kenziwa njalo, mani. X!

MaNcube: Hawu, MaMpala! Hatshi bengingazi, mama.

Bengisithi abntwana ngabethu sonke, nxa besona siyabaqondisa.

Bengingazi ukuthi abanye benu selingamakhiwa bona abangafuni ukuthi umntwana athintwe ngomunye umzali.

Phepha, mama.

Ndebele would consider Senzeni’s language crude, uncouth, vulgar and unpolished. Decent children and decent elders do not speak this kind of language.

Even MaMpala herself would not dare say it to another grown up. A decent person, as most Ndebele people are, would not say it even to a child. It is a language for the gutter society.

People like MaMpala are a shame to the Ndebele community in their regard for both language and cultural behaviour.

In Ndebele umntwana ngowethu sonke. Siyamkhuza, siyamqondisa, siyamtshaya nxa kufanele. One is aware that this culture is fast becoming unacceptable to some parents.

Hlonipha language operates at different and various levels.

First let us consider certain vocabulary like umfazi and indoda. These are familiar words but their usage imposes certain restrictions. It jars to say, “Lo ngumfazi wami, or Usuyibonile indoda yakho yini?”

Ndebele prefers the word “umkakho, umkami, umkakhe”. The word ukuloya is not offensive or vulgar, as when you say, “Kuthiwa uMaNyoni uyaloya”.

But Hlonipha language would prefer to say “UMaNyoni bayamkhulumela/ uyakhulunyelwa. Even where the idea is strong and offensive Ndebele tones down the language and says, “Hawu, kawukwazi? UBhajila uhamba lomkaMakhowa.

Some words are known by everybody (except slang) but they are not spoken in everyday speech , like iwule, ikhikhitha, tsheka, dunusa, mpentsha, chema, izibunu and many others which are considered to be in bad taste .

As for anatomical words relating to the hidden geography of the body are never said, at least never in public by decent people. Children and young people are strictly forbidden to say them even amongst themselves.

The verb bhadlaza in Ndebele implies not only to speak directly but to speak obscenely or to use obscene language.
When we say , “Umntwana kaziphathi kuhle” we understand what we mean because ukuziphatha is a mild expression implying good moral character and therefore kaziphathi refers to loose morals.

This is a good example of Hlonipha language.

IsiNdebele esihle kasithi bhadla, kasibhadlazi. Ukubhadlaza inhlamba is unacceptable in Ndebele culture. Hlonipha language also includes status. A child selects special language to address an older person.

If mother says, “Jabu, hambobiza uyihlo aze kudla”, Jabu will say, “Baba, umama uyakucela”, rather than “uyakubiza”.

This includes honorific expressions like, “Litshonile baba?” It is unlikely that a child will say “Utshonile khulu?”.

To a great extent this honorific language has affected legitimate Ndebele speech like, “Sabona. Kunjani?”

This has been /is being replaced by, Salibonani. Linjani”? One cannot legimately allow or disallow such expressions.

Our Partners:   NewsDay   The Independent   TheStandard  MyClassifieds