oa Nomina Africana: Journal of African Onomastics - Linguistic traces of human settlement patterns in South African place names

Volume 33 Number 2
  • ISSN : 1012-0254
  • E-ISSN: 2070-2639



Numerous studies have shown that the linguistic heritage of place names is an indication of previous population settlements. The current study follows previous studies by Zhu, Zhang, Zhao, Guo, Zhang, Ding and Xiong, Qian, Kang and Weng, and Wang, Hartmann, Luo and Huang, and uses the Southern African Place Names Database, which is based on the Dictionary of Southern African Place Names, to map place names to geographic regions in South Africa. Using a language and language group level classification based on ISO-639 standards, it is shown in this article that place names of Indo-European origin are found throughout South Africa, but are concentrated on the western side of the country, while place names of Niger-Congo origin are concentrated on the eastern side of the country. The origins of languages found in South African place names are also investigated, and it is shown that almost half of South African place names stem from indigenous languages. Suggestions are also made for further research.

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