An Analysis of How Language Contact Influenced Changes in Address Norms: The Case of Tshivenda in Zimbabwe.

AuthorHellen, Tlou Prosper
PositionZimbabwe: The Royal Residence - Case study


One of the most significant changes in the history of Tshivenda language is the use of address norms due to modernisation and industrialisation which makes language contact inevitable. Address terms are words and phrases used for addressing a person (Bashir 2015:133). New modern address norms are apparent in everyday life today be it formal or informal. The range of address terms will be extracted and categorised in this study because the study intends to explore and classify address terms used in different circumstances and by different people. The study will be incomplete if we analyse the forms of address and ignore the socio-economic and political circumstances which influenced the contact of languages and different cultures. Among the Vhavenda, a greeting is used in conjunction with an address term. Conversation is initiated by an address term. Address norms among African people have been used as a mode/vehicle of showing politeness, respect, the relationship between addresser and addressee as well as drawing attention or creation of a good pavement for communication to commence smoothly. Bisilki (2017:34) posits that address terms play a very important role in human communication and society. The present paper is concerned with some of the address terms in Tshivenda. These are personal names, endearment names, titles, nicknames, and kinship names.

Orientation to the Problem

Language contact is a function of social, economic and political factors which gives rise to language change. Socially, different ethnic groups meet through intermarriage or other types of family-level intermixing leading to mixing of languages as they interact on give-and-take bases. Pattanaik (2011:172) notes that "the tribe is often so small that intermarriages with alien tribes that speak other dialects or even totally unrelated languages are not uncommon". When large groups of women are incorporated into the community from outside, be it as wives or servants to help raise children, they are bound to influence the change of language. The children raised will be forced to learn the language of those who take care of them and by so doing languages get into contact resulting in language change. Language change can come about because of the proximity in time and space of two or more languages. Ethnic groups living in close proximity often interact in ways that produce language change. Economic factors also play a role in causing language change because in trading and work places which came by as a result of industrialisation, people of different languages get into contact and as they communicate languages influence each other. More often, the influence runs heavily in one direction. The language of a people that is looked upon as a centre of culture and that has been given a better position by the government is naturally far more likely to exert influence on other languages spoken in its vicinity than to be influenced by them. In this case English and Ndebele have influenced changes to Tshivenda because of the position they have in Zimbabwe.

English, Shona and Ndebele were for a long time treated as the only official languages in Zimbabwe, hence creating more room for their dominance upon other languages in Zimbabwe. The supremacy that was allocated to these languages, being a political factor, resulted in some linguistic concepts being incorporated into other subordinate languages amongst which are Tshivenda. Doke's (1931) recommendation on how indigenous languages should be used in Zimbabwe played a bigger role in bringing about language contact which caused language change. Doke in Chimhundu (2005:176) recommends that 'the Western Area Ndebele or Zulu be recognised as the official language...'. Doke on Recommendation 8 stipulated that in Matabeleland South province Ndebele should be used as an official language, and Tshivenda speaking people were forced to learn and use Ndebele thereby bringing new concepts in Tshivenda as a language. The 1987 Education Act aggravated the influence of Ndebele to cause some language changes in Tshivenda. Chimhundu in Royneland (2007:134) notes that 'the Education Act states that either Shona or Ndebele may be used as the medium of instruction in the first grades of school where the language is more commonly spoken and better understood by the pupils, but, from the fourth grade upwards, English becomes the medium of instruction in all the schools while Shona and Ndebele are taught only as subjects'. The language provisions availed a loophole for the official languages to encroach into side-lined languages and their culture. We cannot talk of language that is independent of culture as both are intertwined.

Among Vhavenda addressing one another is an important expectation that should be fulfilled before communication commences which can be taken for a way of asking for permission to communicate with the addressee by the speaker. This is so because after being addressed, if the addressee does not respond, there is no way the conversation can proceed. Khumalo in (Herbert 1992: 345) posits that 'forms of address are of crucial importance in the communicative act since it is common in some communities that before communication takes place the parties involved must first address or salute each other'. Bonvillain (2000:83-89) establishes that address terms play a crucial function in communication, social interaction and cohesion. There are various forms of address that can be used to differentiate people like strangers, friends, elders, relatives and siblings among others and these can be personal names, titles, kinship, nicknames, and terms of endearment depending on the type of relationship between the parties involved in the conversation. The following enlisted forms are used in addresses:

First Names

Traditionally first names are used as address terms among Vhavenda people. First names can be used to anyone regardless of their age; however, the honorific Vho- will be affixed when addressing elderly people. According to Bonvillain (2000:89), honorifics are linguistic makers or forms that signal respect. Matloga (2002:153) notes that the prefix [vho-] is the prefix of class (2b) prefix and is used to indicate respect. The use of honorific vho together with first name in Tshivenda is very old and it is more useful and considerate to Vhavenda people, as observed from SABC 2 Muvhango soapie.

Now because of the language contacts we see that present day Zimbabwean Tshivenda speakers rarely use first names but instead use surnames as address terms especially to adults. Zimbabwean Tshivenda speakers and South African Tshivenda speakers are one people who were affected by the European demarcations to look like different people. In that regard this piece of work will give reference to South African TV drama "Muvhango" which is mostly broadcast in Tshivenda though we have actors who represent different ethnic groups and cultures. Special attention will be given to Tshivenda address terms comparing them with Zulu address terms as they are used in the drama. In Tshivenda ethnic groups it is noticed that among elderly people first names are used in conjunction with a prefix 'Vho-. For example, we have a couple Vho Mushasha the husband and Vho Mukondeleli the wife who have reached the age of being addressed as grannies but reciprocally they call each other by first names together with the prefix Vho- which denotes respect or honour. Teboho who is the daughter in law to Vho Mukondeleli is also addressing her by her first name together with the honorific Vho-. In addition we also witness the wife to the chief in the same drama addressed by her first name Susan with the honorific prefix Vho-. It is only now that the elderly are addressed by...

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