A diachronic onomasiological approach to early Bantu Oil Palm vocabulary

Koen Bostoen


Despite its ancient and long-lasting importance to sub-Saharan African economies, there has been no systematic attempt to reconstruct Proto-Bantu vocabulary referring to the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis Jacq.). Scholars have identified four common noun stems for 'oil palm', i.e. *-bida (cl. 5/6, 7/8), o_bd (cl. 5/6), *-gadi (cl. 9/10), and *-tende (el. 3/4) but determined the stems' geographic distributions within the Bantu domain to be insufficiently widespread to reflect a Proto-Bantu origin. From the wider perspective of Niger-Congo, certain of these nouns undoubtedly reconstruct to a level higher than Narrow Bantu. This paper presents an onomasiological approach to the earliest Bantu 'oil palm' vocabulary, offering a diachronic semantic analysis of the main noun stems, and an evaluation of the historical implications of their current-day distribution, both with respect to each other and in the light of the available Niger-Congo data.

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