I’ve just been reading a journal article: Basque Language: History and Origin by John D. Bengtson.  

It is a labyrinthine exploration of the intricate and sometime alien language that is Basque. Something caught my eye, though, on the third page:

hand

“According to George Starostin (Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow) the 50 most basic and persistent words are:

we, hand, one, mouth, leaf, two, what, tooth, ear, kill, I, die, new, bird, foot, eye, heart, dry, bone, horn, thou, drink, eat, sun, hear, who, dog, tail, smoke, meat (as food), fire, louse (head), hair (of head), tree, egg, tongue, moon, water, ashes, black, stone, fingernail, nose, rain, head, name, blood, not, star, night

(G. Starostin 2010).”

This got me thinking – what are these words in isiZulu, and how persistent are they in the other isiNguni languages (as well as Bantu languages in general)?

  1. we = si- / thina
  2. hand = isandla
  3. one = -nye / -dwa
  4. mouth = umlomo
  5. leaf = i(li)khasi
  6. two = -bili
  7. what = yini?
  8. tooth = i(li)zinyo
  9. ear = indlebe
  10. kill = -bulala
  11. I = ngi- / mina
  12. die = -fa
  13. new = -sha
  14. bird = inyoni
  15. foot = unyawo / izinyawo
  16. eye = i(li)so / amehlo
  17. heart = inhliziyo
  18. dry = -omile
  19. bone = i(li)thambo
  20. horn = impondo
  21. thou = u- / wena
  22. drink = -phuza
  23. eat = -dla
  24. sun = i(li)langa
  25. hear = -lalela
  26. who = ubani?
  27. dog = inja
  28. tail = umsila
  29. smoke = inthuthu
  30. meat (as food) = inyama
  31. fire = umlilo
  32. louse (head) = intwala
  33. hair (of head) = u(lu)nwele
  34. tree = isihlahla / umuthi
  35. egg = amaqanda
  36. tongue = u(lu)limi
  37. moon = inyanga
  38. water = amanzi
  39. ashes = imilotha
  40. black = -mnyama
  41. stone = i(li)tshe
  42. fingernail = u(lu)zipho
  43. nose = i(li)khala
  44. rain = imvula
  45. head = i(li)khanda
  46. name = i(li)gama
  47. blood = i(li)gazi
  48. not = a-STEM-i
  49. star = inkanyezi
  50. night = ubusuku

Please feel free to comment and add to the list from the Bantu languages that you know – I’m hoping to create an online reference of shifts between the families.