In trying to explain the way that words are modified ngesiZulu, I often find that the words that isiZulu uses for grammatical terms are far more useful than their English equivalents. The two words above both denote ‘suffixal change’, but they have completely different ways of getting there.

isijobelelo – a suffix (literally the modifiable thing that jobelela’s = the thing that joins on to something else, or adds to it, increasing it in size, length or quantity.

The term is derived from joba, a root meaning ‘tack something on to something else’ or ‘add something’.  Jobelela is the perfective form, denoting ‘be tacked on to something else’. It’s a dead-ringer for suffix, which denotes a thing ‘fixed’ on to the end of a word.

The other word, impambosi, is way more interesting (though maybe less precise):

impambosi – a deviation; a side issue; a turning from the usual course; a maze; a labyrinth; a perverting influence; a formation or derivation of a word, like the applied form of a verb.

It’s derived from the isiqu ‘phamba’, an Ur-Bantu word denoting things crossing each other and intertwining. Incidentally, it also denotes playing a trick on someone. In its other forms, it can mean ‘clash with one another’ as well as ‘lie, misstate the truth’. In fact, there are 24 different words related to this isiqu, including the constellation of Orion’s belt (impambano), the crucifix (isiphambano), and retaliation (umphambaniselo).

So next time you want to talk about suffixal change to a verb, you have a choice: tack something on, or digress into the winding woven twistiness of the verb formations.

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