As you grow up, you primarily learn the names of words for those things closest to you – your parents, things around the house, different relations, foods, animals etc. One of the vocabulary sets you almost unconsciously pick up contains words for parts of your own body.

In English, this represents a dizzying array of words borrowed from Greek, Latin, Old English and French (to name but a few of the donors). In most instances each part of the body has two words for it – there are the imprecise colloquial words (usually of Germanic origin) and there are the precise anatomical ones (usually from Greek or Latin). In most instances, if you dig hard enough, you find in their names archaic metaphors linking to arcane concepts like the four humours, as well as taken-for-granted links to emotions (such as the heart representing love).

In isiZulu, the concepts behind the naming of the parts of the body are clear – the noun classes into which they are grouped, as well as the family of meaning from which each word comes, make perfect sense upon examination. Let me show you.

Let’s look purely at Noun Class, for now. The metaphors and imibhudulo will follow later.

In the NC for static or generic objects (umu- & imi-), there are the following parts of the body:

umlomo (mouth), umphimbo (throat), umhlane (back), umhlathi (jaw), umqala (neck), umkhono (forearm), umunwe (finger), umbala (shin), umlenze (leg), umgogodla (spine), umnqonqo (artery), umsipha (muscle), umuzwa (nerve) and umzimba (body).

In the NC for homogenous fluid or round objects (ili- & ama-) there are the following nouns:

i(li)khanda (head), i(li)so (eye), i(li)khala (nostril), i(li)zinyo (tooth), i(li)hlombe (shoulder), i(li)dolo (knee), i(li)qakala (ankle), i(li)thanga (thigh), i(li)vi (patella), i(li)thambo (bone), i(li)phaphu (lung) and amathumbu (intestines).

The NC for modified or crafted nature contains the following body-parts:

isihlathi (cheek), isilevu (chin), isiphongo (forehead), isandla (hand), isihlakala (wrist), isithupha (thumb), isihluzu (calf), isinqe (buttock), isithende (heel), isibindi (liver), isicubu (muscle), isifuba (chest), isikhumba (skin), isinye (bladder) and isisu (stomach).

The animal NC (still a working title, as I haven’t managed to crack this one yet, with the prefix in- & izin-) doesn’t contain very many words at all:

indlebe (ear), indololwane (elbow), inhliziyo (heart), inso (kidney), inqulu (hip) and ingalo (arm).

Whereas there are a surprising number of nouns from the complex products NC (ulu- & izin-):

u(lu)nwele (hair), u(lu)debe (lip), u(lu)limi (tongue), u(lu)gebhezi (skull), u(lu)zipho (fingernail), u(lu)nyawo (foot), u(lu)zwani (toe), u(lu)bambo (rib), u(lu)khalo (waist) and u(lu)qwanga (cartilage).

Finally, there is only one noun for a body part from the Essences NC (ubu-): ubuchopho (brain).

Check these words against the system I proposed in my previous post on the izigaba zamabizo – I think you’ll find they correlate remarkably well!