Terminologia del corpo ed estensioni metaforiche: swahili e zulu a confronto

  • Rosanna Tramutoli University of Naples "L'Orientale"


The aim of this study is to analyse Swahili and Zulu body terminology and conceptualization through the description of linguistic structures, polysemous words and metaphorical extensions. Cross-linguistic studies have shown that the body represents a template for the conceptualization of emotions, topological relations, object descriptions. This study will analyse examples of body terms and metaphorical extensions in two Bantu languages (i.e. Swahili and Zulu) in the framework of the conceptual metaphor theory by Lakoff & Johnson (1980).

It has been shown that body lexicon represents the main source of conceptualization in the description of topological relations in most African languages. However, apart from some anthropological studies on the body in the context of traditional medicine, there are very few specific studies on body terminology and conceptualization in Bantu languages.

This analysis describes common linguistic patterns of body metaphorical expressions in Swahili and Zulu: body terms followed by a modifier, usually a connective (-a) and the metaphorical target term; copulative constructions, idiomatic expressions with polysemous verbs followed by body terms. It has been shown that, although Swahili and Zulu speakers use similar morphological strategies, some body parts (e.g. joints or articulations, arms, fingers and toes) have different categorizations and partonomies. In both languages body parts which are semantically related, are morphologically marked through different noun class assignment. While Swahili body nomenclature includes a great number of compounds or derived terms constructed on the basis of semantic features (e.g. spatial contiguity, shape and structural similarity), Zulu tends to use basic terms or deverbative nouns to refer to specific body parts.

Data were collected both through monolingual and bilingual dictionaries (Swahili-English; Zulu-English) and through interviews with mother tongue speakers.


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Author Biography

Rosanna Tramutoli, University of Naples "L'Orientale"

Rosanna Tramutoli is a Post-Doc research fellow at the University of Naples “L’ Orientale.” Her research focus is Bantu lexical analysis and a comparison of Swahili and Zulu body terminology. In 2018 she completed her PhD at the University of Naples “L’ Orientale,” in a cotutelle programme with the University of Bayreuth, with a dissertation on the linguistic encoding of emotions in Swahili. Among her main research interests are cognitive linguistics, semantic analysis, anthropological linguistics and lexicography. She has published contributions on RAL (Research in African Literatures), Kervan (International Journal of Afro-Asiatic Studies), Africa and Swahili Forum.