2023, Volume 20, Issue 2

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Boikanyego Sebina
Thapelo Joseph Otlogetswe

University of Botswana
Gaborone, Botswana

Syllable Structure in Setswana Personal Names

Voprosy onomastiki, 2023, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp. 174–192 (in English)
DOI: 10.15826/vopr_onom.2023.20.2.020

Received on 3 May 2022
Accepted on 22 December 2022

Abstract: The study analyses the characteristics of syllables in personal names of the Setswana (Tswana) language (Sotho subgroup of the Bantu languages, Southern Africa). The authors focus on 1,001 most frequent names extracted from a dataset of 1,093,265 names using Wordsmith Tools. Of all the studied names, 55.5% are male, while 40.2% are female and 4.3% — unisex names. Most Setswana names have three syllables followed by those with four syllables (more than 70% of the studied personal names are either three or four syllable names), five syllable names are the third most common, while six syllable names are rare in Setswana. The study reveals that in female names, the first and penultimate (perceptually most prominent) syllables statistically more often end in front vowels, while in male names, in the same positions, back vowels are more frequent. At the same time, the last phoneme in most female names is a back vowel, while most of male names end in front vowels. Female names also more often terminate in syllabic constants compared to male names. All this suggests that in Setswana, there are distinct patterns for male and female names, which means that Setswana speakers are phonologically aware of the relations between the gender of a person and the phonological form of his or her name. These patterns found in Setswana are compared to what is known about the syllable structure of personal names in English and French. The results demonstrate that the phonological patterns in Setswana personal names may display sound symbolism.

Keywords: Setswana (Tswana); anthroponomy; ethnonym; naming; syllable structure; sound symbolism; phonological typology


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