Sotho-Tswana languages

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South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana
Linguistic classification Niger–Congo
Glottolog soth1248[1]

The Sotho-Tswana languages are a group of closely related Southern Bantu languages spoken in Southern Africa. The Sotho-Tswana group corresponds to the S.30 label in Guthrie's (1967–1971) classification[2] of languages in the Bantu family.

The group is divided into two branches, Tswana (or Tswanaic) and Sotho, as follows:

  • Tswanaic (also Western Sotho)
    • Tswana (Setswana), with dialects: Hurutshe, Kgatla, Kwena, Lete, Melete, Ngwaketse, Ngwatu, Rolong, Tawana, Thlaro, Tlahaping, Tlhaping, Tlharo, Tlokwa
    • Kgalagadi, with dialects: Nuclear Kgalagadi (Kgalagadi proper), Balaongwe, Kenyi, Khakhae, Koma, Ngologa, Pedi, Phaleng, Rhiti, Shaga, Siwane
  • Sotho
    • Sesotho-Lozi
      • Southern Sotho or Sotho proper (Sesotho) : Phuthi, Taung
      • Lozi (Silozi or Rozi)
    • Northern Sotho (Sesotho sa Leboa)
      • Birwa
      • Sepedic: includes Pedi and Tswapong:
        • Pedi: Gananwa, Kgaga, Khutswe, Kone, Kopa, Lobedu, Masemola, Matlala-Moletši, Pai, Phalaborwa, Pulana, Tlokwa, Tšhwene
        • Tswapong
      • South Ndebele

The various dialects of Tswana (Western Sotho), Southern Sotho and Northern Sotho are mutually intelligible.[citation needed][clarification needed] On more than one occasion, proposals have been put forward to create a unified Sotho-Tswana language.[3][4]

Northern Sotho, which appears largely to be a taxonomic holding category for what is Sotho-Tswana but neither identifiably Southern Sotho nor Tswana,[5] subsumes highly varied dialects including Pedi (Sepedi), Tswapo (Setswapo), Lovedu (Khilobedu), Pai and Pulana. Maho (2002) leaves the "East Sotho" varieties of Kutswe, Pai, and Pulana unclassified within Sotho-Tswana.

Lozi is spoken in Zambia and northeastern Namibia (in the Caprivi). It is distinct from the other Sotho-Tswana languages due to heavy linguistic influences from Luyaana, and possibly other Zambian and Caprivi languages. In the Guthrie work—as is now widely acknowledged[6]—Lozi was misclassified as K.21.

Writing System[edit]

The sintu writing system, Ditema tsa Dinoko (also known in Zulu as Isibheqe Sohlamvu), for Southern Bantu languages, is used to represent all Sotho-Tswana languages consistently under one orthography.[7] This includes those marginal languages that have never been standardised in the Latin alphabet, such as the "East Sotho" varieties (Pulana, Khutswe and Pai). For example, it contains a specific grapheme indicating retroflex or "cerebral" consonants, such as the retroflex ejective affricate occurring here in Pai:

English place
Pai itzau


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Sotho-Tswana (S.30)". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  2. ^ Guthrie, Malcolm (1967-1971). Comparative Bantu: An Introduction to the Comparative Linguistics and Prehistory of the Bantu Languages. (Volumes 1-4). Farnborough: Gregg International, cf. the CBOLD Guthrie name list
  3. ^ Eric P. Louw (1992). "Language and National Unity in a Post-Apartheid South Africa" (PDF). Critical Arts. 
  4. ^ Neville Alexander (1989). "Language Policy and National Unity in South Africa/Azania". 
  5. ^ See Doke, Clement M. (1954). The Southern Bantu Languages. Handbook of African Languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  6. ^ Gowlett, Derek. (2003). Zone S. In D. Nurse & G. Philippson (eds.), The Bantu Languages, 609-638. London: Curzon/Routledge
  7. ^ (2015). "Isibheqe Sohlamvu/Ditema tsa Dinoko".