The Origin and Evolution of Setswana Culture: A Linguistic Account

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Herman M Batibo


Language is one of the important means by which all cultural experiences, both conceptual and material, are accumulated, stored and transmitted either vertically from generation to generation or horizontally from one ethnolinguistic group to another. In most societies such accumulation, storage and transmission
are done by way of narration, stories, fables, proverbs, idioms, sayings, riddles, songs, totems and education. The most important form of transmission is done through education, whether formal or informal. Language is, therefore, both the means and the custody in cultural accumulation and transmission. Although a language’s sound system and grammar may refl ect societal cultural characteristics, it is the lexical stock or vocabulary which is the most important custodian of cultural experiences in a given ethnolinguistic group. This study uses Setswana speakers’ cultural vocabulary to trace the evolution of this
ethnolinguistic group from its ancestral Bantu origins to its present state. It is based on the assumption that the current Batswana’s lexical stock is a refl ection of the cultural experiences which have been accumulated over several millennia following a series of complex group’s interactions with the physical environment, social milieu and the supernatural world, during the Bantu movements from their cradle in what is now Cameroon. These interactions gave rise to physical adaptations, innovations and adoptions which moulded the current Setswana language and culture.

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