The word ‘mmata’ is not originally Setswana

Whenever you use the word “mmata” (as in “Heela mmata, kana …” or translated into English; “Hey, mate!”), has it ever occurred to you that the word is derived from an Afrikaans word whose roots can be traced back to 12th Century Germany? I have always taken for granted that it came from the English word ‘mate’. But it looks like I wasn’t 100% right!

English 19th Century explorer, William Burchell provides the first half of the explanation, while the well-respected Facebook page, Culture Botswana , provides the second. Burchell wa an English traveller who acquainted the world with early 19th Century Dithakong. Upon sojourning in this Batlhaping town, in present-day Northern Cape, Burchell found that some of the residents were friendly and would exchange visits with Khoikhoi people from a neighbouring town. The Batlhaping referred to their Khoikhoi friends as “mmata”, a corrupted version of “maat”, the Dutch (Afrikaans today) that the Khoikhoi themselves had first used with them. With the passing of time, “mmata” became a Setswana word.

“Mmata” is also very closely related to the English word “mate” and its use, as it exists in Botswana’s public lexicon today, can be traced back to Batswana who studied in the United Kingdom at the turn of the Century. Interestingly, the relationship between these words largely remains vague and not widely understood. 

Etymologically, “mmata” started as “gemate”, derived from an early form of German that was called Middle Low German. The latter was the leading written language in the northern part  of Central Europe, served as a lingua franca in the northern half of Europe and was also used alongside Medieval Latin for purposes of diplomacy and deeds.

Who knew! We learn something every day, that’s for sure.

Source: Culture Botswana 2.0

About Culture Botswana 2.0 A unique nation-building tool, Culture Botswana 2.0 champions cultural diversity, inclusion, equality and visibility through indigenous-culture journalism that documents and dignifies all of Botswana’s indigenous cultures. Culture Botswana 2.0 has a Facebook page of the same name.

4 weeks ago

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