Swaziland has been renamed to Kingdom of eSwatini, it is Swazi meaning "place of the Swazi". But I'm pretty interested in the lowercase "e" starting the proper noun of eSwatini. I know in the west we have this with many of our tech pronouns, most notably with apple products like iPhone. But I'm wondering if this is part of Swazi syntax and is common in the language, or that it is a new addition to their written language?

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    I can't speak to Swazi, but I note that it's used with proper names, not just tech stuff, in many European languages - consider the names "van Beethoven", "da Vinci", "von Bismarck", "de Sade", the Dutch city of "'s-Hertogenbosch", and many others. I'll concede that the Swazi use looks odd to my eyes, but I'll start by assuming that it's perfectly reasonable until I study Swazi and discover that it isn't. Apr 19, 2018 at 18:58
  • @JeffZeitlin funny enough i live in 's-Hertogenbosch, which = Des Hertogenbosch (or "the lord's forest"). but does "da" part of "da Vinci" count as part of the pronoun? (i'm not a linguist i just thought this was an interesting question) Apr 19, 2018 at 19:06
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    In the European cases (and in the similar Arabic and Hebrew usages, "al Din", "ibn Auda", "ben Lazar", "bint Fatima", "abu Dhabi"), the lower-case prefix is the translation of "the", "son of", "from", or some similar preposition - given the translation of "eSwatini", I would not be surprised to find the same meaning there. In all of the cases, the capitalised word is the 'important' part of the meaning, with the uncapitalized part being what the IT industry calls "syntactic sugar". Apr 19, 2018 at 19:14
  • Omniglot has a page about "siSwati" which shows that the native name is, in fact, normally written with an initial lowercase letter, and the bottom of that page has some links to information about the language, which may answer your question (I haven't done any digging). I would assume, however, that this is not a new feature of the siSwati orthography. Apr 19, 2018 at 19:21
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    The Celtic languages all modify initial consonsants in certain grammatical contexts. In Welsh orthography, the initial letter is replaced by letters representing the changed sound; but in Irish, in some cases a letter representing the new sound is prefixed to the word without removing the original letter. When this is done to a proper noun, the original initial is capitalised, but not the prefixed letter. Looking at the entry for Baile Átha Cliath (Dublin) in the Irish Wikipedia, I see "na hÉireann" in the first line, and" na nGall" below.
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 19, 2018 at 23:47

1 Answer 1


The common rule for Swati and all of the Nguni languages rule for proper nouns is that you capitalize the initial letter of the "root", not the word. Sentence-initial capitalization on the other hand affects the first letter in the sentence. I put root in quotes because proper names can be formed from inflected verbs, which have subject prefixes, but those inflected verbs are treated as though they are autonomous roots. For example, uSibadle from /si-ba-dle/ "we will eat them". The initial vowel is called the "augment" in Bantu, and it is a feature of the noun class system, found in u-m-fana "boy", ba-fana or e-ba-fana "boys".

In the case of eSwatini, this is a locative, formed by adding e- to the un-augmented noun and suffixing -ini, so indvodza "man", endvodzeni. The suffix part is lexically omittable, e.g. ebusika "in winter", and is commonly left off of place names (eMbabane (the capital)), but not always eZulwini "the heavens").

As far as the history of spelling is concerned, Swati was more recently recognized as different from Zulu, and inherited writing practices from Zulu. Zulu has been written for longer: I don't know anything about the very earliest missionary works, and there are grammars from the mid 19th century. In Bryant's 1848 article "The Zulu language", citation names are given as e.g. Umpandi, Unyokhana, and Grout 1849 "The Zulu and other dialects of southern Africa" likewise gives Untaba, Ubalekhile. This may reflect author idiosyncracy, but today's idiosynracy is tomorrow's policy. In other words, there is some reason to think that the proper name rule is a more recent development, but when exactly is beyond me. The history of this convention is expertly discussed here.

  • really nice answer, thank you. But I'm guessing this way of writing it was introduced into their language, any knowledge on that? (it'll just be cool to know) Apr 19, 2018 at 20:08
  • awesome thank you. i'll wait till the morning to see if any more answers come up before accepting (accidentally clicked on it), but this helps satisfy my curiosity. Once again, thank you. Apr 19, 2018 at 20:51
  • also maybe because of the Switzerland distinction being the reason for change, putting a vowel (which could be added by the rules anyways) helped further distinguish it. Apr 20, 2018 at 3:50
  • This 1882 grammar of Zulu already uses the modern camel-case convention: archive.org/details/firststepsinzulu00coleuoft Apr 20, 2018 at 8:22
  • The 1859 grammar by Grout, on the other hand, still uses the older capitalisation: Udavida not uDavida for David: books.google.com.au/… Apr 20, 2018 at 11:00

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