Southern Sesotho – An Ancient Language

One of the eleven official languages of South Africa, Sesotho is spoken by roughly five million people in the geographical region of South Africa. Sesotho, which can also be called Southern Sesotho to help distinguish it from Northern Sesotho, is also one of the two official languages of the independent Kingdom of Lesotho where it is spoken by approximately 85% of the population. The language is spoken by roughly eight per cent of the population of South Africa and it is widely used all over the country but especially around Lesotho.

The language itself is quite difficult to describe. It is generally regarded as having nine distinct vowels which are collapsed into five letters. This is quite a large amount when compared to other Bantu languages. The spoken language has 35 consonants. These consonants include two semi-vowels, four non-homogenous doubled articulants and three different click consonants. The language can be quite nasal and just a slight fluctuation in pitch or tone (high or low) can give a different meaning to a sentence. Another rather unusual characteristic of the language is that all Sesotho words end in either a vowel or in ‘-ng’.

Sesotho is normally classified as a Bantu language and it is thought to belong to the Niger-Congo language family. It most closely resembles the Setswana, Northern Sotho and Serotse and is most commonly found in the Limpopo Province, Gauteng and Lesotho. While the language might be quite difficult for a foreigner to understand or master, you do not have to be able to speak it in order to appreciate its beauty. As the words flow over the tongues of a Sesotho-speaking person it is easy to note the intricacies in tone and nasalisation. The next time you are in either Lesotho, the Limpopo Province or Gauteng and you hear a Sesotho person speak, take the time to stop and listen to this ancient Bantu language.

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