Northern Sotho / Sepedi


Date of completion    MAY   12  2000

Respondent’s details
Name:  Deborah Maphoko
Surname: Mampuru

Sex:  Female

Institution belonged to: National Language Service Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology
Address: Private Bag X195 Pretoria, 0001, South Africa
Telephone: 27 12 337 8366
Fax:  27 12 324 2119

Details of language

Glotonym or name of language on which you are providing data:
Autoglotonym (name given to the language by native speakers): SESOTHO SA LEBOA
Heteroglotonym (name given by the non-native community to the language):NORTHERN SOTHO

What language group does the language belong to?
Family: Bantu Language Family
Group: South Eastern Bantu
Subgroup: Sotho Languages

(Ref: Northern Sotho Study Guide - NSE301-3 1996)

What type of language is it?
Creole check box
Pidgin check box
None of the above.

  1. Does this language have other varieties? If so, what are these?

Northern Sotho is a standardised language. It has six dialect clusters. The dialects of each cluster will appear in brackets. The dialect clusters are: South Central (Kopa, Ndebele Sotho), Central (Pedi, Tau, Kone), North Western (Tlokwa, Hananwa, Matlala, Moletši, Mamabolo), North Eastern (Lobedu, Phalaborwa, Kgaga, Dzwabo) Eastern (Pai), and East Central (Pulana, Kutswe).

(Reference: Northern Sotho Study Guide UNISA 1996).

  1. Does this language exist in a written form?

Yes the language does exist in a written form.
The Berlin Lutheran missionaries played a major role in converting Northern Sotho to a written language. Their endeavours laid a sound foundation for subsequent creative writings in this language. At that point their primary aim was to enable members of their congregations to read the Bible and other religious writings.

(Reference: own knowledge through studies)

  1. Is there standardisation of the language?

Yes there is. The different dialects of Northern Sotho make use of a standardised written language. This standardised language is referred to as standard Northern Sotho. This standardised Northern Sotho is mainly based on the Pedi dialect, but other dialects such as Kopa and dialects of the Pietersburg area have also contributed to its development. The practical orthography of the standard language does not necessarily reflect all the differences in the pronunciation of the dialects.

(Reference: own knowledge through studies)

  1. Do you consider yourself a member of this linguistic community? If so, why?

Yes, the researcher does consider herself as a member of this linguistic community because she was born of parents who are both mother tongue speakers of Northern Sotho and she grew up in Pietersburg among Northern Sotho speakers. She is also involved in various ways in the development of the language for example as a teacher, an author, editor, examiner, moderator, translator etc.

(Reference: own)

  1. Where is this language spoken? What are its geographical boundaries?

This language is spoken mainly in parts of the Northern Province. The geographical boundary of the Northern Sotho area may be indicated by an imaginary line drawn from Pretoria, through Middelburg, Groblersdal and Lydenburg, to Sabie. From there along the Sabie River, and then north through Bushbuckridge and Klaserie, across the Olifants River, then westwards as far as Louis Trichardt, and northwards again as far as Messina. From there it moves westwards to the border of Botswana, and thence southwards through the Potgietersrus district, through Warmbaths and back to Pretoria (Ref: Northern Sotho study guide UNISA). This language, as already mentioned, is predominantly spoken in the Northern Province (52,2%) and the others are Mpumalanga (10,4%), Gauteng (9,4%) and North West (4%), Free State (0,2%). Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape’s numbers are too small to record in percentage form.

(Ref: SAIRR 1999/2000 Survey)

  1. Have these geographical boundaries changed over the years? If so, how have they altered?

The geographical boundaries as outlined in 5 above have not changed. However, the provincial borders within which the geographical area falls, have been changed. Between 1910 and 1994 South Africa had 4 provinces and since 1994 it has 9 provinces. The area referred to in question 5 previously fell within the borders of the Transvaal province.

(Ref: own)

  1. What is the physical terrain of this area alike?

This area is mountainous and it has valleys, rivers, bushes and forests.

(Ref: own)

  1. Are any other languages spoken within the same territory? If so, what are these?

Yes, other languages are spoken in the Northern Province. These languages are: Tsonga (22,4%), Venda (15,4%), Afrikaans (2,2%), Ndebele (1,5%), English (0,4), Sesotho (1,1%), Swati (1,2%) and Tswana (1,4%).

(Ref SAIRR 1999/2000 Survey )

  1. Could you enclose a sketch or indicate the area in which the language is spoken? (if you wish, you can draw a sketch in the space on the next page)

See Appendix.

  1. What State(s) / country(ies) do/es the territory/ies where the language is spoken belong to?

The territories belong to South Africa (RSA).

  1. What is the total number of inhabitants (whether or not they speak this language) of this territory?

The total number of inhabitants in South Africa is: 40 583 573 (CENSUS: 1996).
The total number of inhabitants of the four provinces that have a large number of Northern Sotho speakers are: Northern Province (4 929 368), Mpumalanga (2 800 711), North West (3 354 825) and Gauteng (7 348 423).

(Ref: Stats in brief 2000)

  1. How many of the inhabitants understand, speak, read or write this language?

Understand   10 101 817
Speak    10 101 817
These totals are based on the total number of home language speakers of the Sotho group.
The figures given above have been worked out from Stats in brief 2000 and South African Institute of Race Relations 1999/2000 Survey.
The total number of the inhabitants who understand and speak the language is     10 101 817. This figure is the total number of the three Sotho languages that are so closely related that they are mutually intelligible to the speakers. The referred languages are: Northern Sotho (3 695 846), Sesotho (3 104 197) and Tswana         (3 301 774). When we subtract 40% of children, which is 4 040 726, we remain with 60% of adults and the figure is 6 061 090. 24% of the adult group cannot read nor write. The total number of those who can read and write Setswana is therefore 4 606 428.
NB. The figures given above are estimates.

Use this space to draw a map or sketch of the territory where this language is spoken.
See Appendix.

  1. How many of the speakers are monolingual (use only this language)?

The Sotho languages are so closely related that they are mutually intelligible to the speakers. No Sepedi speakers are therefore monolingual in terms of ability. It is not known how many Sepedi speakers are monolingual in terms of use, i.e. use only Sepedi and no other language. 92% of the African/Black population of the Northern Province, the province with the highest concentration of Northern Sotho speakers, have indicated that they do not have a second home language. They are therefore monolingual in terms of language use in the home.

  1. How many of the speakers are bilingual (use this and another language)? What other language(s) do they speak?

In terms of ability, no Sepedi speakers are bilingual in the sense that they are all multilingual. This means that speakers can use Sepedi and at least the other two Sotho languages.

  1. How many of the speakers are multilingual (speak this and more than one other language)? What other languages do they speak?

An estimated 60% of the total adult population of Northern Sotho speakers actually use Northern Sotho/Sepedi and at least two other languages. Cf. question 12. The other languages that they use are: Venda, Tsonga, English, Tswana, Ndebele, Zulu, South Sotho and Afrikaans.

(SAIRR 1999/2000 Survey).

  1. Are speakers of this language dispersed throughout the territory, or are they concentrated in specific population centres?

The speakers of this language are concentrated more in the Northern Province (69,6% of Northern Sotho speakers) followed by Mpumalanga (7,9%), Gauteng (18,6%) and then North West (3,6%) with some in the other remaining provinces.

(Ref: Stats in Brief, Table 2.11)

  1. How has the number of speakers of this language evolved over time (increased, decreased or remained stable)?

The number of speakers has increased. The 1991 Census gives a total population of 2 633 421 while the 1996 one gives the total as 3 695 846.

  1. Is the language passed down from generation to generation? If not, why not? What language is replacing it?

The language is definitely passed down from generation to generation. As a spoken language it is definitely not replaced by any other language, English included.

  1. Could you indicate how often the members of each generation use the language with other generations (old people with old people, young people with old people, etc) in their informal contacts (in the street, at home, in leisure time…)?

     … Speak the language with
The people... Elderly Men Elderly Women Adult Men Adult Women Young Men Young Women Boys Girls
Elderly Men 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5
Elderly Women 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5
Adult Men 5 5 5 5 4 4 4 4
Adult Women 5 5 5 5 4 4 4 4
Young Men 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
Young Women 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
Boys 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
Girls 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4

Specify the frequency: 5 = always in this language; 4 = more in this language than others; 3 = equally often in either language; 2 = more in other languages than in this one; 1 = always in other languages.

  1. Do the speakers of other languages speak this language? In what circumstances?

Yes, they do speak the language, especially those who reside, marry and trade in the territory of this linguistic community. This is observed in places such as hospitals, clinics, police stations, churches, shops as well as in other social circles in the community. When they are in their own homes they use their own mother tongue.

(Ref: own observation)

  1. Is there any historical, political or economic factor which has affected the situation of this linguistic community?

The policy of separate development during the Nationalist Government did affect the situation of this community. The language was not funded along the same lines as Afrikaans and English and this retarded its development. Urbanisation - some people in the urban areas who are Northern Sotho speakers do sometimes speak a mixture of languages and this affects the purity of language, for example Schuring (1985) discusses Pretoria Sotho which has some words which are not Northern Sotho words.

  1. Has any other factor directly influenced the growth or threatened the future of the language (migration, temporary labour, deportations, wars…)?

Migration and temporary labour do not threaten the future of this language. Urban areas are good examples of this. Who would have ever imagined that Northern Sotho could be spoken in KwaZulu-Natal? Integration has influenced the growth of the language, for example, in Pretoria we find people of other languages speaking Northern Sotho as well.
As a spoken language it is definitely not threatened. As an academic subject it is growing because many institutions which were teaching it through the medium of English are now using it as medium of instruction. This is a positive move because new terminology does emerge out of this practice. There is however a concern regarding the drop in student numbers particularly in all African Languages at various academic institutions. There is a draw back when it comes to schools concerning this language as a medium of instruction. Most schools for example have opted to teach grades 1 - 7 through the medium of English instead of Northern Sotho like it used to be in the past. In these grades, Northern Sotho is only taught as a subject. Lastly the Nationalist government did not fund it like they did with Afrikaans in its developmental stages.

(Ref: own knowledge)

  1. Is the language currently threatened? If so what is the cause?

The language is only under threat as an academic subject, because of the drop in student numbers at tertiary institutions, but not as a spoken language. Some people believe that studying Northern Sotho as a subject is a waste of time and energy as it does not offer employment opportunities like other subjects do.

(Ref: own observation)

  1. Is the community which speaks this language in danger? If so, what is the cause?

The community that speaks this language is not in danger. It is only in the urban areas where multilingualism is the order of the day where purity of the language is affected.

(Ref: own observation)

  1. Is there any internal migration (movement of the population within the territory)? Is there any external migration (movement out of the territory to others)? If so, what is the cause?

Yes. There is both internal and external migration in this territory. This has been made easy by the abolition of the Group Areas Act, which made it possible for people to work where they wish. Some move because of marriage.
(Ref: own observation)

  1. What is the main economic activity of this community?

The main economic activity, for example in the Northern Province, is farming, while in Mpumalanga it is farming, tourism and mining.
(Ref: own observation)

  1. What is the influence of religion on this community?

Most members of this community are Christians and there are also those who practice African religion, in other words ancestor worship. There are those who practice the two beliefs.

(Ref: own observation)

  1. Does the language have any official status (official, joint-official language, acceptance ...)?

Yes, the language does have official language status because it is one of the eleven official languages in South Africa (RSA).

  1. Is the language in contact with the administration? Indicate whether its use in the administration is in spoken and/or written form.

The language is in contact with the administration both in spoken and written form. In the Northern Province Legislature, for example, it is used as one of the official languages both in spoken and written form.

  1. Is this language used in education (whether as the teaching medium or as a subject of study)? Indicate whether there is spoken and/or written use of the language in elementary and higher education.

The language is used as a subject of study in senior primary schools, secondary schools and tertiary institutions. The subject statistics for the senior certificate for the years 1998 and 1999, as given by the Department of Education, indicates that Northern Sotho was registered as a subject by 84 346 and 78 055 candidates respectively. According to the Department of Education the use of Northern Sotho as a medium of instruction is 4%. In some schools it is used as medium of instruction from Grade 1 to Grade 3 while others use English as medium of instruction. There is also some code switching in classes during teaching.

(Ref: own, other educators and Department of Education Statistics, December 1999)

  1. Is this language used in the media (radio, newspapers and television…)?

This language is used on radio (Thobela FM which in the past was known as Radio Leboa) and on television only, and not in newspapers. It is a great pity that we do not have a newspaper that is published in Northern Sotho.
(Ref: own)

  1. Is this language used in religious services and ceremonies? Indicate whether there is spoken or written use of the language in religious services and ceremonies.

Christians use the language in religious services and ceremonies in both written and spoken forms. Sermons are conducted in Northern Sotho. The hymns as well as the Bible are written in this language. Traditional ceremonies are orally conducted.

(Ref: own observation)

  1. Is the language used in business and labour relations? Indicate whether the use is spoken and/or written.

The use of the language in business and labour relations is minimal.  English and Afrikaans are still dominating. Very few documents in these categories are translated from English into Northern Sotho.

(Ref: own and from other colleagues)

  1. Are there any other areas in which this language is used in its written form?

No, this language is only used in South Africa (RSA).

(Ref: own)

  1. Is there any organisation or body responsible for linguistic policy and planning with respect to this language? What kind of activities does this perform?

The Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology is responsible for linguistic policy and language planning. In the past the former Northern Sotho Language Board used to be responsible for the creation of new terminology, orthography and the screening of literary books from publishers as well as the prescription of books for schools.
At the moment the Pan South African Language Board is the mother body for all languages.

(Ref: own and from colleagues)

  1. Is there any kind of cultural or linguistic organisation or body which promotes the knowledge and/or use of the language? What kind of activities does this perform?

At the moment, there are bodies and organisations that promote the knowledge and/or use of the language. The Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology is engaged in the translation of Government documents and literary material from English or other languages into the language, and they also render terminology services. PANSALB has established a Lexicography Unit, which will work on a dictionary in the language. The African Languages Association of Southern Africa and the African Association for Lexicography carry out research on the development of this language and other languages. Radio Thobela and some programmes on SABC 2 do promote the use of the language.

(Ref: own and from other colleagues)

  1. Does the language have a literary tradition? If so, please give some information about this literary tradition.

The language has a literary tradition. The Northern Sotho people did have their own oral literature, which was practised by the community itself as part and parcel of their daily rituals and ceremonies. They had prose narratives, stylised sayings, praise poems and songs. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the missionaries reduced Northern Sotho to writing by translating the Bible into Northern Sotho. Many books on different genres have been published since then. Serudu in Ge’rard AS: Comparative Literature and African Literatures gives a survey of Northern Sotho literature from the early endeavours of the missionaries to the modern Northern Sotho literature 1940 - 1989. The literary works in the language include novels, dramas, short stories, essays, poetry, traditional literature, grammar manuals and dictionaries. In 1935 EM Ramaila’s Tša bophelo bja Moruti Abram Serote and DM Phala’s Kxomo 'a thswa were published. The works laid the foundation on which later writers like P Mamogobo, OK Matsepe and SPP Mminele built.

(Ref: own and Serudu in Ge'rard)

  1. What is the attitude of the majority of the members of this community towards the knowledge and use of this language?

The majority is proud of being Northern Sotho speakers and they use it openly. The only problem that has recently emerged is that of naming the language Sepedi instead of Northern Sotho which is accommodative of all the dialects of this language. Sepedi stands in the English text of the Constitution, while in its translated version Sesotho SA Leboa is given as the name of this language.  This is a problem that needs urgent attention, since other dialect speakers are of the opinion that their dialects have been marginalised. Pedi is a dialect like all other dialects, and it should not be elevated above other dialects. Concerns about this issue have been written to the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology and to the Pan South African Language Board by some academics and other people in the community. Some of these reports can be found in the Supplementary Documentation.

(Ref: own, newspapers and other concerned speakers of the language)

  1. What is the attitude of the majority of the members of the neighbouring communities towards the knowledge and use of the language?

Some communities like the Venda, Tsonga, Afrikaans, English, Tswana, Xhosa, Zulu and Ndebele speakers do speak the language and even study it at school and at tertiary level as their second language.
(Ref: own)

  1. PLEASE ADD ANY OTHER DETAILS REGARDING THE SITUATION OF THE LANGUAGE WHICH YOU CONSIDER OF INTEREST. At the same time, we would be grateful if you could send us any statistics, reports, assignment or research that might help us to understand the situation of this language. It would also be very helpful if you could provide references of the sources consulted and the addresses of any individuals or bodies that may be able to offer further data about this language.

The designation of this language is a burning issue that needs some urgent attention. Institutions to be approached in this regard are UNISA (Mampuru and Boshego), UNIN (Makgamatha and Chokoe), University of Pretoria (Mojalefa) and the SABC (Lemekwana) to give but a few.

Sources which can be consulted are:
Mphahlele MCJ, 1978 Unpublished D Ed Thesis (UNIN)
Mokgokong PC, 1966 Unpublished MA Dissertation (UNISA)
Mojela VM, 1999 Unpublished DLitt et Phil Thesis (UNISA)