The 16th Annual International AFRILEX Conference
UNAM, Windhoek, Namibia, 5-7 July 2011

[Abstract:] Zungu, B.: The impact of borrowing as one of the term creation strategies in South African Indigenous languages: The translator’s perspective

Much has been said about the status of African languages in the pre-1994 era, however, today, the focus is on a need to reposition, revalorize and to empower them so that they can be used in wider range of domains i.e. they should be developed for use, particularly in education mass communication, legislature and technology’ (Bamgbose 2008: 1&2). Webb in Webb & du Plessis (2006:156) maintains that: ‘As regards the role of language in the intellectualization of African communities, debates and discussion on issues such as African spirituality, philosophy, theology, systems of government and systems of justice are probably only really possible for a large percentage of African people in an African language, that is in a language that enables its users to debate at an abstract level about’.

Due to technological advancement and innovations that frequently take place today, the demand for appropriate terms for each and every invented object exists. South African indigenous languages were mainly used verbally and this furthered the impediment of the development of their technical terminology. According to Alberts (2008:30) “terminology is a strategic resource regarding the functional development of languages”.

Languages develop or create their terminology by drawing from both internal sources and foreign acquisition/borrowing (Mtintsilana & Morris (1988:110). English and Afrikaans are the primary foreign languages that most African languages resort to when faced with the problem of closing terminological gap in South Africa’, (Mahlangu 2007:1).

Translators who translate from a language such as English into the African languages have to deal with a single biggest problem of the lack of terminology in the African languages in the majority of specialist subject fields’ Gauton et al (2003:00).  The shortage of terminology in the previously marginalized African languages is the main reason for borrowing in these languages. However, words are not borrowed only because there is a hole in the language for a particular object, practice, or idea but others are borrowed for prestige’ (Campbell in Schnoebelen (2005:9).

The concern is that knowledge and the ability to use the native isiZulu terms is inadequate today since the situation demands the knowledge of the foreign equivalent of that particular isiZulu term since the youth is familiar with borrowed words.

Frequent use and preference given to borrowed words over the actual native terms is influenced by their advantage of being understood by a wider audience, shortness and easily remembered due to identified with the foreign term from which they were borrowed.

In translation the accessibility of the source text (ST) to the target readership is imperative. The type of texts that is being translated, as well as the target readership have a great influence on the translator’s choice of words or target text (TT) items for the source text (ST) items. 

The translator can therefore disregard the existing target language term and employ the borrowed word or even go to the extent of paraphrasing that target language equivalent for the source text term for the sake of the accessibility of the text to the target readership. 

The aim of this paper is to critically evaluate the role of borrowing from other languages in the development of indigenous African languages such as isiZulu and also to highlight its impact on this language. 

This paper will therefore argue that a shift from the use of the native words exists in isiZulu. It will be argued further that this is due to the youth and educated people from the urban areas’ exposure to foreign languages. This empowers them with foreign sounds and vocabulary. The impact of giving preference to   borrowed words over the equivalent Zulu words   will be highlighted.

The uncontainable nature of borrowing which is reflected through its ability to change the rules or traditions of a language will be brought to the light. According to Schnoebelen (2005:9) ample borrowing and speakers’ familiarity with foreign languages are responsible for some prohibitions that have been lost in Zulu.

Instances exist in translation where the source text uses different terms which through isiZulu dictionaries or terminology books share similar equivalent.  The example is that of the word green pepper and chilies which share the dictionary equivalent upelepele. The majority of the isiZulu speakers normally use the term upelepele to refer to hot chilies. This indicates that sometimes isiZulu dictionaries are inefficient and can even confuse the users who are non-mother tongue speakers.

According to Gouton et al (2003:00) the significance of terminology theory and practice for translators is apparent when the translator is faced with a situation where he/she can no longer rely on existing knowledge and /or dictionary and has to conduct a research beyond the dictionary.

The paper will conclude by making recommendation that the usage of the standardized Zulu terminology in schools must be encouraged.  Abdulaziz in Onyango (2005:22) is also of the opinion that ‘schools are the most important agent for stabilizing and standardizing language use’.



Alberts, M. 2008. Translation-oriented Terminography in the Electronic Age. A paper presented in AFRILEX Conference in 2008.

Bamgmbose, A . 2008. Vision and mission of the African Academy of languages (Unpublished document)

Gouton, R. & Descreyver, M. 2003.Towards Strategies for Translating terminology into all South African languages; a corpus -based approach. Paper read in TAMA 2003 South Africa Conference proceedings.

Mahlangu, K.S. 2007. Adoption of loan words in isiNdebele. A document submitted in fulfillment for a Degree of Master of Arts in the Department of African languages. University of Pretoria.

Mtintsilana, P.N. & Morris R. 1988. Terminography in African Languages in South  Africa. South African Journal of African Languages Vol. 8, No. 109-113.

Onyango, J.O. 2005. Issues in national language terminology development in Kenya.

Swahili Forum 12 (2005) 219-234.

Schnoebelen. T. 2005. The Shape of Things to Come: The norminal morphology of Zulu loan words.UNISA

Van Hysteen, L. 1999. Problems Regarding Term Creation in South African Languages, with special reference to Zulu. South African Journal of African Languages, Vol. 19, No.: 3: 149-214.

Webb, V. & Du Plessis, T. 2006. The Politics of Language in South Africa. Pretoria: Van Schaik Publishers.