Mmegi Blogs :: Unveiling the etymology of prefixes and suffixes (Part 2)
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Thursday 22 February 2018, 17:30 pm.
Unveiling the etymology of prefixes and suffixes (Part 2)

Last week, we looked at a number of English prefixes and suffixes and showed that these could be related to Setswana. In short, we demonstrated that they work in exactly the same way and do the same job as in Setswana.
By L M Leteane Fri 10 Jun 2016, 12:44 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Blogs :: Unveiling the etymology of prefixes and suffixes (Part 2)

We even went as far as showing that the very terms ‘prefix’ and ‘suffix’ can be directly related to Setswana…or rather to Bantu languages in general – all against the grain of conventional linguistics’ supposition that Indo-European bears no genetic relationship with any other language family. Instead, I have unearthed signs that there was once indeed a single global language, just as averred in Genesis 11.

To recap on the terms ‘prefix’ and ‘suffix’ themselves, we noted that the base word is ‘fix’ (make [something] adhere to a contact point). We related it to the Nguni term fikisa (now fitlhisa in Setswana) meaning ‘make arrive’ or ‘help reach a [contact] point’. We then sought to find out how the prefix pre can also be related to Setswana. Pre (‘before’) relates to the proto-term pere (before) which in turn relates to pele in Setswana, after duly factoring in the linguistically well-known sound-shift from l to r and vice-versa. As for the prefix su in ‘suffix’, this was a little more complicated. Su means ‘under’ (e.g. sous in French, pronounced ‘soo’) or, indeed, ‘after’, as in ‘suite’, and its old Setswana equivalent is s’oo – ‘selo’ (‘thing’) in full: se (it is like) + lo (you are) – thus something like, or after the fashion of’.

 We had also discussed more prefixes than suffixes last week, so to balance matters we will now do more suffixes. Let us begin with the English suffix ‘ise’ (American English: ‘ize’) as in ‘computerise, neutralise, paralyse, etc. (Technically, the ‘yse’ in ‘paralyse’ is the same suffix as ‘ise’.) What do we get a sense of when the suffix is appended to a word? We get the sense that something is transformed to become like whatever the base word conveys.

Thus to ‘computerise’ something is ‘to take it to a form suitable for computers’; to neutralise’ is to ‘take to’, or ‘transform into’, a neutral form, and so forth. What is its equivalent suffix in Setswana? The term isa is literally ‘take to’ in Setswana. What this means is that to ‘transform something into having a particular attribute’, or to ‘make something be like’ is to ‘take it’ there! It is an active term which involves an active process:  one cannot neutralise something without taking the process there. Similarly, duedisa means make something pay; gorogisa is make something arrive. We will contrast this with a more passive suffix that only comments, as it were, on the appearance of things – thus an adjective.

‘Ic’ is such a suffix. When we say something is genetic, we mean that it exhibits the characteristic of genes or is actually from genes. When someone is Icelandic he either exhibits characteristics of people from Iceland, or he actually is from that place.

What the Setswana equivalent of ‘ic’? E ka means ‘it is like’. In both Sesotho and Setswana, e ka is typically used with re so that the phrase becomes ‘e ka re’. Let us get a sense of what re alone means. It means ‘we are’. Example: re


a tsamaya (we are going). It also means ‘say’:  e re “blah, blah”. Thus, when added to e ka, it has a sense of both of these. The full sense is ‘It is like we are saying…’, or, ‘it is like we are saying that he/she/it is…. E ka re mo Sudan: “It is like we are saying [that] he is Sudanese”.

Now that we see that ise is like isa, ic is just like e ka, we can now use this to better discern the term ‘Sudanese ‘(we could have used Chinese, Japanese, Congolese, etc.). Ese actually relates to e se (it is like) which in turn is only a variation of ‘ish’. We thus have Icelandic, Japanese, English. The rule as to which suffix is used where (i.e. there is no ‘Chinic’ or ‘Englese’, or Congolish) partly depends on the structure of the term, but mostly it has simply to be learnt. And in Setswana, although some will say “e se English”, others are aware that it is a double-application of suffixes and prefer to say “e se England”).

The last suffix we will look at is ‘ive’. Unlike ic, ish and ese, it is more definite in tone. By this I mean that, for example, the adjective ‘positive’ means ‘it has arrived at that characteristic [of positivity]’. Thus, to be ‘combative’ means ‘having arrived at that trait’, and thus showing the full-blown characteristic of that trait. And yet, unlike isa, it does not result in a verb, a ‘doing’ word. So, what is its discernible Setswana equivalent? In Setswana, the ‘arrived at’ is even more emphatic: ‘ive’ is e fa (‘it has arrived [at]’). Thus, tlhalefa means ‘arriving at, or having arrived at, cleverness’. Though both are more positive and definite, we can easily discern that tlhalefa in Setswana is a verb…unlike its Indo-European counterpart ‘ive’ which tends to result in an adjective. In Setswana, if we want to create an adjective, we mostly append the term bo as a prefix, as in botlhale – thus, “o botlhale”, and we thus describe something – as adjectives do. (Of course, there is the noun botlhale as well.)

Now, two suffixes that do not share the same sound and yet mean exactly the same are the Indo-European suffix ‘ate’ and the Setswana suffix ‘ala’. But both find their true roots in Setswana. ‘Ate’ is ata in Setswana (expand into, or get/grow something to reach [a given state or condition]), as in ‘culminate, dominate, suffocate’, etc. and this is also the exact meaning of ala as in hiihala, tlhokafala, ntsihala, etc. Ala, indeed, means ‘spread out’ as in ala dikobo. So, although these two terms do not sound the same, Setswana reveals that they actually derive from the same broad meaning.

There are a lot more obviated prefixes and suffixes in my not-yet-published Dictionary of Protolanguage Terms, but we have surely caught a glimpse of what I mean when I say that something old and fundamental connects even so-called unrelated language families.

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