The synchronic behavior of basic color terms in Tswana and its diachronic implications


  • Ronald P. Schaefer


Tswana, color terms, semantics, Sotho


The synchronic distributional pattern of potential basic color terms in one dialect of Tswana is examined in a wide range of construction types. From this pattern the non-basic status of the term lephutsi emerges, as well as a constraint requiring the exclusion of animals from the semantic extension of basic terms designating hue. Accepting lephutsi as non-basic, however, leaves a pattern of semantic reference violating a widely assumed universal constraint governing historical stages in the evolution of color names. To resolve this dilemma, a comparative analysis of color term reference in the Sotho languages is undertaken. Based on this analysis, the semantic reference for one basic color term in Tswana is hypothesized to have undergone a historical change, whereby the universal constraints on color naming give way to the constraint governing basic terms for hue.