Documenting Historical Change in South African languages – UROP Spring Symposium 2021

Documenting Historical Change in South African languages

Ella Simon


Pronouns: she/her

Research Mentor(s): Raevin Jimenez, Assistant Professor
Research Mentor School/College/Department: History, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
Presentation Date: Thursday, April 22, 2021
Session: Session 3 (1pm-1:50pm)
Breakout Room: Room 1
Presenter: 2

Event Link


The history of Africa is as convoluted as the origin of life itself. Filled with over 500 cultures, it is difficult to pinpoint the validity of any historic event because other cultures might speak differently about it. Many historians have dedicated their lives to discovering Africa’s hidden history but there is still a lot of work to be done. Professor Raevin Jimenez is one of these passionate historians and she works to unlock the secrets of Africa’s history. Our project is devoted to finding the linguistic distance between several Bantu languages. These languages are the following; Zulu, Swati, Xhosa, Northern Ndebele, Southern Ndebele, Zimbabwe Ndebele, Phuthi, Mpondomise, Bhaca, Thembu, Hlubi and Mpondo. By using statistical analysis with the linguistic data, we will be able to write about different aspects of the history of South African languages. When we group words that are common in multiple languages, we can use this context to create the travel history of different people. For instance, if Zulu and Xhosa languages share certain farming words, we can write about their shared experiences of farming and how they interacted as two different groups of people. This can also be applied to the time frame of when people traveled and interacted, different gender roles through the different cultures, and any difficulties they may have shared. This process is long and meticulous because it needs to be revised and perfected before shown to the public; results will most likely not be available by the year-end. This information will clarify the unknown history of the Bantu people and help inform the public about the formation of Bantu cultures and the languages they speak today.

Authors: Ella Simon
Research Method: Library/Archival/Internet Research

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