These things make a bit more sense in the light of day than they did at 6 this morning.

Locative Demonstrative Copulatives, or LDCs, do not occur in English. They don’t occur in any of the Indo-European languages, as far as I’m aware. They are the strange chimeric offspring of Demonstrative Pronouns and Copulatives, and “have Locative import” (according to the sage Professor Doke).

Demonstrative pronouns exist in almost all languages – words like “this” and “those” in English are demonstrative pronouns. They are used to point at things (really or metaphorically), and often morph into articles like “the” or the French “le”.

Copulatives are a very Zulu thing – they do the same work as the verb ‘to be’ in English, in phrases like “it is a boy” and “they are children” – and any noun, pronoun, adjective, enumerative, relative or adverb can become one. They serve the purpose of converting these other parts of speech into things that can then act like verbs – complete with conjugation, tense, mood, implication and manner, as well as subject.

Here is an example:

umuntu – a person (this is a noun)

ngumuntu – it is a person (ng- is the copulative)

ngingumuntu – I am a person (ngi- is the subject concord for the 1st person singular)

uzoba ngumuntu – she will be a person (u- is the subject concord for 3rd person singular, -zo- is the future tense indicator, and -ba is the verb ‘to be’)

So the phrase umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu makes more sense now: a-person is-a-person through-the-people.

Which then leaves the ‘locative’ part of the LDC. For those of you who have no idea, a locative is anything in language which makes reference to place, usually employing a stem-change of the noun in order to do so. Some examples of them follow:

umuntu  >>  kumuntu

a-person >> relative-to-a-person (i.e. at, in, by, from, around etc. a person)

ikhaya  >>  ekhaya

a-home  >>  relative-to-a-home

iTheku >> eThekwini

the-Bay  >>  relative-to-the-Bay (Durban)

So that’s what locatives do. But that still doesn’t explain what LDCs do.

LDCs translate as “here IT is” or “here THEY are”. To see why these might become complicated, mainly because of the 8 different kinds of ‘IT’ or ‘THEY’ in isiZulu, read here. Like all demonstratives in isiZulu, these ones have three degrees of proximity – here, there, and over there. So there are a total of 14 for ‘here it is’, 14 for ‘there it is’ and another 14 for ‘it is over there’ – those of you who are good at maths will have added that up to 42 (Douglas Adams fans look out!).

But the weirdest thing about LDCs is not the numerous forms, or the number of roles it manages to fulfil in a single word – it’s the sound changes that are at its heart.

Enough explaining – examples will show better. The words in CAPS are LDCs

umuntu  >>  NANGU muntu

a-person  >>  here-it-is a-person

abantu  >>  NAMPA bantu

the-people  >>  here-they-are  the-people

umuthi  >>  NANKU muthi

the-medicine  >>  here-it-is the-medicine

imithi  >>  NANSI imithi

the-medicines  >>  here-they-are the-medicines

The rest of them look equally weird – nanti, nanka, nasi, nazi, nansi, nantu, nampu and nakhu – and seem to bear no resemblance to the noun class prefixes except in a few instances. The reason why they don’t is the strange effect that the nasal ‘-n-‘ has on things in Bantu languages – what some grammar books call ‘homorganic nasal influence’.

But these little things, despite their bizarre appearance, fit the nouns that follow them beautifully. The sounds that are created gel perfectly, in the same way that the principles of euphony and sound-change in Gaelic and Ancient Greek (as examples) create some of the sweetest-sounding poetry of all.

And what is really cool, above all of this explanation and linguistic terminology, is that they are entire sentences all on their own:

nanka  >>  here-is-the-fluid-plural-thing (i.e. the water)

nampa  >> here-are-the-human-plural-things (i.e. here they are)

nakhu  >> here-is-the-verbal-thing (e.g. ukudla, the food)

and my personal favourite,

nakho-ke  >> there-it-is-then (used when someone gets a question right, usually at slightly more than double the usual volume).

If this explanation doesn’t make any sense, let me know and I’ll give you some more to chew on. For now, I hope that you’ve enjoyed meeting these strange little linguistic chimerai.