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Onomastics and translation: The case of Bette-English translation of death-related names

Issue: Vol 13 No. 2-4 (2019) Special Issue: African anthroponyms: Sociolinguistic currents and anthropological reflections

Journal: Sociolinguistic Studies

Subject Areas: Gender Studies Linguistics

DOI: 10.1558/sols.37821


‘Líwhù’ (meaning ‘death’) as a morpheme in some Bette (Obudu) names has cultural, religious and social relevance. Generally used as variations of allusions to death, it encapsulates the Bette person’s very essence as a being deeply rooted in the existence of spirits and other supernatural forces. This belief is part of a Bette person’s daily life. This article seeks to translate Bette (Obudu) death-related or ‘Líwhù’ names into English with a view to providing acceptable alternative labels in English. Data were collected at random from a sampled population of 40 Obudu indigenes whose names bear a ‘Líwhù’ affix. Of these, nine recurrent ‘Líwhù’ names were retained and organized in five categories, depending on the cultural, religious or social roles they play in the life or lives of the bearer(s). In this study, we translated, analysed and explained the data from three main perspectives, that is, the linguistic, interpretative and semiotic approaches. The paper intends to add to the earlier voices of Asadu and Nzuanke (2014), which stated that most African proper names are translatable because, as symbols or signs, they have meanings that are founded on their particular psycho-spiritual functions in such societies.

Author: Samson Nzuanke, Zana Akpagu

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