When one language comes into contact with another, the collision or contact results in certain changes – new words are adopted from either side of the binary, usually to represent concepts that didn’t occur before the contact. In the case of isiZulu, the verb ukusonta is one of them.

Ukusonta means ‘attend a Christian religious service, usually on a Sunday’. The verb is derived from the Afrikaans Sondag, which also gives isiZulu the word for both Sunday and a church – i(li)sonto. It is also used as a word for ‘week’ alongside the equally common i(li)viki (derived from the word ‘week’ in Afrikaans). Since the amaZulu used a lunar calendar prior to the arrival of the Abelungu, the idea of ‘week’ or ‘seven-day quarter of a month’ was not something with which they concerned themselves.

However, sometimes the words that are borrowed come very close to words already existing in the language – such as ukusonta.

With no change in tone, the verb ukusonta means “twist”, as well as “misstate, distort, twist words or misrepresent”. Related words include the verbs ukusontana (twist or distort one another, get intertwined, warp, walk with a swaying movement) and ukusontiza (twist, wring), as well as the nouns insontane (a twisted or warped object), insonte (anything twisted, such as kudu horns or woollen thread), insontela (a beast with twisted horns, a mouth twisted to one side), umsonti (a yellow-wood tree), insonto (a rope of twisted calf skin worn by men around the body as an ornament, or woollen thread) and the hlonipha term u(lu)sonto (for unwele, meaning ‘hair’).

Now it’s not hard to see why the word might have been borrowed into isiZulu in this form, fully cognizant of its double meaning, given the illustrious history of missionaries and other christians in South Africa.

So if you are going to sonta today, do it in full awareness of the way that the amaZulu originally perceived the whole process.

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