In the study of words – let’s fancifully call it lexical analysis, a distinction is made between a word that has multiple related meanings and multiple words which have the same spelling. When a single word has multiple related meanings, we say such a word is polysemous. Polysemy is a lexical relationship in which one word has multiple related meanings. This is usually exemplified by the word head in English. The word head means “the top part of your body that has your brain, eyes, mouth etc in it”. This meaning of the word head refers to the physical object that is usually seen and touched in animals. However when someone says: “A thought suddenly came to my head” here the word head refers to the mind and thoughts. The word head can also be used to refer to a leader as in a school head. All these meanings are related to the original head-meaning, making the word head polysemous. A distinction must however be made between a word that has multiple related meanings and words which share the same spelling but which have absolutely unrelated meanings. For instance in English we have bank meaning “a financial institution that people or businesses can keep their money in or borrow money from.” There is also another word “bank” which means “a raised area of land along the side of a river”. These two words happen to share the same spelling. They are unrelated. We also have the word bear meaning “to accept a difficult or unpleasant situation, especially without complaining”. A different word bear can mean “to give birth to a child”. There is yet a different word bear meaning “a large wild animal with thick fur.” This state of affairs in linguistics, where different words happen to share the same spelling is called homography [homo meaning same; graphy meaning writing].
In this column we wish to discuss the polysemous meanings of tshwara. It is a peculiar word in that it has a very wide scope of usage. We use tshwara to mean to physically touch something. In this way it is synonymous with the Setswana word kgoma. You can therefore say Ga ke batle a tshwara ngwanake (I don’t want him to touch my child). The sense can be extended to included touching or dealing with a certain topic. Thus you can say: Kgang eo ga o a tshwanela go e tshwara (You are not supposed to touch (deal) with that matter). Tshwara can be used to mean to hold as in to hold a pole (go tshwara pale). This is certainly more than just touching something but it deals with holding something firmly. We use tshwara to mean catch and this is in a variety of ways. If I throw a ball to you, I expect you to catch it – ke solofela gore o e tshware. I can therefore say catch! Tshwara! But we also use Tshwara! when we are not throwing anything to anybody. We instead use it when we are handing something to somebody. Therefore when someone gives you an orange they can say: tshwara! almost synonymous with the English expression: here! or take! Tshwara can also be used mean to work somewhere as in O tshwere kwa Lobatse – “He works in Lobatse”. Sometimes tshwara is repeated into tshwaratshwara as in O tshweretshwere kwa Lobatse. Used in this way there is a sense of diminution in tshwara almost suggesting that the job is nothing much, or is of little value or significance.
You also use the word tshwara to mean to catch up with something. This is in the sense of chasing after something, trapping something or catching up with something in the sense of just catching up with something as you move along. Therefore O ka leleka mmutla o bo o tshwara (chase after a rabbit and catch it) or o ka thaisa nonyane o bo e tshwara (you can set a trap for a bird and catch it) or o ka tshwara motho mo tseleng e e yang masimo (you can find a person on the way to the farms). Tshwara can also be used to mean to possess a skill or knowledge that has been taught to you. Ke ntse ke mo ruta go thaepa jaanong o tshwere (I have been teaching him to type and now he has got it). Tshwara in a related sense means to understand. So if you say ga ke mo tshware you mean I don’t get (understand) him. Tshwara also means to receive a signal by an electronic equipment such as a radio, television or phone. So we can say “the phone cannot receive a signal from here” Mogala o gana go tshwara fa. When someone offers you much needed help o a go tshwara. It is common to hear a sentence such as Re ne re le mo mathateng mme Karabo a re tshwara “We were facing serious problems and Karabo helped us”. When you join things and they hold we say di tshwere. However when we join things and the joint fails to hold we say ga di a tshwara. In Setswana if you are leading an event either as its organiser or as a master of ceremony, ra re o e tshwere, e mo diatleng tsa gago. This could apply to a wedding ke tshwere nyalo ya ga nnake “I am working on my younger brother’s wedding.” We also use tshwara to refer to keeping something to yourself such as a secret and not passing it on. O tshwere sephiri “He is keeping a secret”. We use the word tshwara to refer to taking a certain mode of transport to a place. O ne a tshwara terena a ya Francistown “He took a train to Francistown”. Tshwara is also used to express a general estimate when expressing numbers as in bana ba ka tshwara lesome “about ten children”. Tshwara is used to mean to connect with someone on the phone; to get someone. Ke ne ka mo leletsa mme ka se ka ka mo tshwara “I called his number but I did not get him”. Tshwara can also mean to have a certain illness: as in sehuba se ne sa mo tshwara “he got a flu.” We can also use tshwara to mean to discover an illness or disease in someone. Go ne ga tshwarwa TB mo go ene kwa sepatela “At the hospital they found out that he had TB”. To find someone in the middle of a crime o a mo tshwara, you find them out. This is different from arresting which is also expressed by tshwara. When you get an answer in a test or a class exercise…o a tshwara. I must stop here. There is much to be written about tshwara. I haven’t even started on the idiomatic expressions such as go tshwarwa ke tlala, tshwarwa ke kgakge,tshwara ka letsogo la molema, tshwarisa motho logaga, tshwara logaba, tshwara matletlesi, tshwara mogoma, tshwara motho ka ntsogotlho, tshwara phage ka mangana, tshwara poo, tshwara pelo, tshwara mala ka lebogo and many others. Such is the lexical richness of our tongue.