The shared multifunctionality (or polysemy) of grammatical elements across Ethiopian languages has been the topic of a research project that I carried out in the months before I started my Baskeet documentation project. I was (and still am) especially interested in the many functions of the morpheme ‘like’ (= ‘in the same manner as’) in Ethiopian languages.

However, during my fieldwork in Baskeet I do not only keep an eye on the core and extended functions of linguistic elements that I find in the texts that I record but I also love to see in which contexts – other than the originally intended contexts – material objects are used. Here are two examples: the multifunctionality of crown caps (bottle caps) and glass bottles.

Crown caps of soft drink and beer bottles are collected and used, among others, to produce support rings for coffee pots (the caps are threaded on a wire), as washers (in the technical sense of the word) and as tokens of games (e.g. draughts). I took the following picture in a coffeehouse:

Playing draughts in Balts'a

Playing draughts in Balts'a (Melo)

All over Ethiopia, glass bottles are used in many different secondary functions. Here are some examples from the Baskeet area:

– Short beer bottles (stubbies) are the default measurements for milk in Baskeet. If you have a monthly milk contract, you are delivered a stubbie full of milk every morning. (The milk is poured into one of your vessels and the stubbie is immediately returned to the cow owner.)

– Damaged brandy bottles are hung up on poles and used as signs for bars – see this post on symbols.

– The upper parts of damaged bottles are used as embouchures of bamboo trumpets (zaya):

Bamboo trumpets

Bamboo trumpets (zaya)

The longest and the shortest bamboo trumpet on the picture have an embouchure made from a glass bottle, as the enlargement reveals:

Embouchure of a bamboo trumpet

Embouchure of a bamboo trumpet

I hope to get some other pictures of multifunctional objects and record some other interesting multifunctional linguistic elements during my next fieldtrip(s). I’d also be happy to receive some feedback on unusual secondary uses of material objects that you have observed in Ethiopia. Don’t hesitate to post a comment.

This entry was posted in Games, Material Culture, Musical instrument and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Multifunctionality

  1. Pingback: Musical instruments: Bamboo trumpets | Basket to Ethiopia

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