Date of completion May 04 2000

Respondent’s details
Name:  Rosemary M H
Surname: Moeketsi

Sex:  Female

Institution belonged to: National Language Service Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology
Address: Private Bag X195  Pretoria, 000, 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
Heteroglotonym (name given by the non-native community to the language): Southern Sotho

What language group does the language belong to?
Family: Bantu Language Family. (WHI Bleek, 1862: “A comparative grammar of South African languages”).
Alternative names that are not quite acceptable replacements, have been suggested in South Africa, viz., Sintu; Kintu; Ntu.
The Nguni nominal stem Bantu, which literally means people, became stigmatised during Apartheid because the government of the day allowed the use of the word for the disparaging of the indigenous African people.
Group:  South - Eastern Bantu (UNISA study guide for SSE301-4:75)
Subgroup: Sotho ( same)

What type of language is it?
Fully fledged (common knowledge)

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

ekgolokwe; Setlokwa; Sekwena; Serotse (Selozi)

(UNISA Study Guide for SSE301-4: Gowlett, D.F. 1964: Morphology of the Substantive in Lozi; Fortune, G. 1977: An Outline of Lozi).

  1. Does this language exist in a written form?

Yes. Sesotho was transmuted into writing by the missionaries Casalis and Arbousset of the Paris Evangelical Mission who arrived at Thaba Bosiu in 1833.

(Casalis, 1861:51: “The Basothos”).

  1. Is there standardisation of the language?

Yes. Compared to the other African languages, there has always been more uniformity in Sesotho mainly because of the geographical isolation of Lesotho as well as the protection provided by Moshoeshoe’s (King of Lesotho) government to the other communities threatened by the Difaqane wars of Shaka and Mzilikazi. Sesotho therefore does not suffer the proliferation of dialects.

(UNISA Study Guide for SSE302-5: 108)

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

Yes, by heritage, because both her parents are members.

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

The whole country.

South Africa:  (The five provinces with the highest percentages)
Free State      62,1%
Gauteng (mainly the Southern parts)   13%
North West (Maboloka area)    5,1%
Mpumalanga (esp. the Standerton area) 3,2%
Eastern Cape; (mainly the Northern parts)  2,2%
Zambia: Over 60 000 people of Sesotho origin
Namibia: the Caprivi region

(Sources: Census, 1996, Table 2.8; Unisa Study Guide for SSE301: 83)

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

Basotho originate in Lesotho from where most speakers fled during the Difaqane wars in the mid-19th century.
The boundaries in South Africa have been broken because Basotho are now to be found in all the provinces of the country. The main reason for this geographical change is economic.

(Own experience)

  1. What is the physical terrain of this area like:

Lesotho is mainly mountainous.
South Africa: The Eastern Free State is mountainous because of the Drakensberg mountain range. Central and Western parts of the Free State and Gauteng are mainly flatlands.

(Personal observation)

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

Setswana  (North West 67,2%; Gauteng 7,9%)
IsiZulu   (KwaZulu-Natal 79,8%; Free State 4,8%; Gauteng 21,5%)
IsiXhosa  (Eastern Cape 83,8%; Gauteng 7,5%)
Siswati   (Mpumalanga 30%)
Afrikaans  (Gauteng 16,7%; Free State 14,5%)
English   (Gauteng 13%; Free State 1,3%)

(Census, 1996, Table 2.8)

(UNISA Study Guide for SSE 302-5)

  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?

South Africa

(UNISA Study Guide for SSE302-5)

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

The total number of inhabitants of South Africa is 40 583 573. The total number of inhabitants of those provinces with the highest concentrations of Sesotho are:
Free State  2 633 504
Gauteng  7 348 423
North West  3 354 825
Eastern Cape  6 302 525

(Census 1996, Table 2.7)

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

The number of Sesotho first home language speakers = 3 104 197
The number of Sesotho second home language speakers is 1 131 999, according to Census 1996.
One can assume that all these speakers can understand and speak Sesotho. One can further assume that the home language speakers of the other two Sotho languages would also be able to understand and speak Sesotho. This would give a total of 10 101 817.
Approximately 60% of this total are adults. Of these adults 76% has had some primary schooling, i.e. they have some degree of literacy. This would give an estimate of 4 606 428 persons that can write Sesotho.
In a country with 11 official languages and the demarcation into language sub-groups that are relatively mutually comprehensible, the meaning of second language is not clear. For instance, I speak Sesotho, Setswana, and Sepedi fluently. I read and write them. I speak, read and write English as I was taught; I taught Afrikaans to Grade 12's for 13 years; I speak, read and write Zulu and Xhosa because I grew up among them.
The question is: Which of these seven languages is my second language?

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

A maximum of 3 104 197 (monolingual speakers of the language will not be more than the number of native speakers). Exact figures are not known. One could however expect that monolingualism in use would correlate with low educational levels and living in the remote rural areas.

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

A minimum of 4 236 196 (This figure equals first home language speakers plus second home language speakers).

(Census 1996)

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

A minimum of 4 236 196 (This figure equals first home language speakers plus second home language speakers).
The other languages spoken by this group will presumably be any of the other South African languages, bearing in mind of course that some of the speakers are monolingual.

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

Lesotho: The whole country
South Africa:
Free State    52,4% of the total Sesotho population
Gauteng (mainly the Southern parts)   30,7%
North West (Maboloka area)    5,5%
Mpumalanga (esp. the Standerton area) 2,9%
Eastern Cape; (mainly the Northern parts) 4,5%
Northern Province     1,8%
Northern Cape       0,2%
KwaZulu-Natal     1,5%
Western Cape       0,5%

Namibia: The Caprivi

(Sources: Census, 1996, Table 2.11;  Unisa Study Guide for SSE301:83)

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

Increased as the population grew.

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

It is passed down from generation to generation.
There is an interference of English where young learners attend English-medium schools and are therefore exposed to very little Sesotho during their formative years.

  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,…)?

This is of another of the almost impossible questions to answer, because most of the social variables that influence communication cannot be kept constant in everyday speech.
For instance, speakers in rural areas and/or areas where contact with speakers of other languages is restricted, tend to communicate more in this language.
Furthermore, speakers in urban areas and/or those speakers who have been exposed to other languages tend to mix this language with any other(s).
The speakers’ social relations e.g. employer/employee, teacher/student, doctor/patient, determines the use of the language even if the contact is merely informal;
The purpose of using the language is also a determining factor.
These, and many other variables cannot be explained in the 5,4,3,2,1 grid below. However, the following response may provide an indication:

     … Speak the language with

The people... Elderly Men Elderly Women Adult Men Adult Women Young Men Young Women Boys Girls
Elderly Men 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
Elderly Women 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
Adult Men 4 4 3 4 3 4 4 4
Adult Women 4 4 4 3 4 4 4 4
Young Men 4 4 4 4 2 4 3 4
Young Women 4 4 4 4 3 4 4 4
Boys 4 4 4 4 3 4 3 3
Girls 4 4 4 4 4 4 3 3

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, either for convenience or where it is expedient in various social contexts. This is the reason there are concepts such as 2nd or 3rd language speakers.

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

Historical factors: The Difaqane wars of Shaka and Mzilikazi in the mid 19th century had the most influence; cf. 3 above.
Economic factors: Migrant labour brought Basotho of Lesotho to work in the mines of South Africa. Furthermore, labourers migrate from rural areas to the more urban Gauteng to find employment.

(General knowledge)

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

Political factors: Forced removals of the Apartheid government compelled people to live where government chose.
Bantustan policies removed people from urban areas to the “homelands” according to the sound of their names. If your name sounded Sesotho, e.g. Molefe, you would be relocated to a Sesotho Homeland whether or not you were Mosotho.
Political refuge in Lesotho allowed non-Basotho South Africans to learn and attend Sesotho schools and universities.
Religious factors: Missionaries were the first to reduce the language to writing, therefore, reading and writing was encouraged from that stage.

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

Not at all. There is, however, a proliferation of English where young learners attend English-medium schools and are therefore exposed to very little Sesotho during their formative years.

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

Not at all.

  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?

Internal migration happens mostly towards the urban areas where there is a possibility of better living standards. It happens also towards the rural areas where elderly speakers require a more peaceful life.
Education is another reason for mainly internal migration.
The economy of South Africa is better than that of Lesotho; thus, the external migration by Lesotho migrant workers enriches the Sesotho spoken in South Africa.
Inter-marriages cause both forms of migration.

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

Basically the same as that of the general population of South Africa.
Labour: mines, farms, domestic;
Professional: Education, health, medicine, law, politics;
Civil Service

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

Many members have converted to Christianity; many more practice traditional forms of religion that revere God and recognise ancestors as mediators.
A small number are Muslim.

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

Official in South Africa since 1994 (Act No. 108 of 1996).

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

Written and spoken.
With the advent of independence, there is a political drive towards the use of the language in all spheres of human operation, viz., administrative, legal, political, economic, etc.

  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 in education both as a subject of study and as a medium of instruction.
It is used in its spoken and written forms in all the spheres of education from kindergarten to doctoral studies.
It is still difficult, though, to use it as a technical language in commerce, IT, science, mathematics, law and other such scientific disciplines.

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

Radio Lesedi is a 24-hour Sesotho radio station of the SABC, broadcasting solely in Sesotho. There are regional stations as well in the Qwaqwa area.
The television is lagging behind in its broadcasts in Sesotho. There are about 4 weekly news-slots of 15 minutes and an odd programme here and there per week.
The new e-tv seems to be producing more and more news programmes in the African Languages in general.
Newspapers: There are no fully fledged newspapers in Sesotho except for regional news-letters in Qwaqwa, Fouriesburg, Ficksburg and possibly other Free State towns.
Magazines: “Bona” seems to be the only one. It is a monthly magazine.

  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.

Yes, in both its written and oral forms.
The Bible has long been translated into Sesotho.
There are hymnbooks and prayer books as well.

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

Yes. South African labour is mainly African. Sesotho is therefore the lingua franca in Sesotho-speaking regions. In cases where business and labour relations cannot be discussed in Sesotho, there is a possibility of interpreting facilities.
Many businesses are gradually providing important policy and other documents in Sesotho.

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


  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 and the Pan South African Language Board are jointly responsible for linguistic policy and planning with respect to all official languages.

  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?

LESIBA:  (Lekgotla la Basotho le ikemetseng la Bangodi- Independent Board  of Basotho Authors) It organises educational meetings and conferences to teach and promote the writing of the different literary genres in Sesotho.
ALASA: (African Languages Association of Southern Africa) It stimulates academic debates on matters concerning linguistic and literary studies and research of African languages.
SAFOS: (South African Folklore Society) promotes the oral tradition.
AALRDISA: A new association for the development of African languages.

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

The language has a very strong literary tradition.
Thomas Mofolo’s epic, "Chaka", has been translated into several languages including English and German.
ZD Mangoaela’s “Lithoko tsa Marena a Basotho”, published in 1921 by Morija is a collection of praises of Basotho chiefs.
DP Kunene’s “Heroic Poetry of the Basotho” (Oxford: 1971) is a critical analysis of Basotho poetry.
Folklore occurs in both the oral and written forms.
Traditional poetry, songs and dramas are still performed during ceremonies such as wedding celebrations.
Praise poetry is used even in political meetings and other government occasions.
Tales and riddles is still an important form of education-through-entertainment.

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

The attitude of the majority has always been positive.
The general attitude has since become more positive as the members of the community are more determined than before to affirm themselves by using their language more. For instance, they insist on speaking and being spoken to in their language. They insist on using their Sesotho names for formal and informal business.

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

Generally positive.
Those who share borders tend to acquire a variety that overlaps Sesotho and that neighbouring community.
Sesotho belongs to the Sotho language group; thus, for the other members of that group, the languages are, to a great extent, mutually intelligible.
Social factors such as inter-marriages tend to bring the African languages closer together.

  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 language still lacks the following:

The present author, R H Moeketsi, is accumulating a multilingual legalese and has already compiled over two thousand entries.
She has also contributed the following word-lists:
The Readers’ Digest Multilingual Dictionary of S.A. (1989)
Concise Trilingual Dictionary (AD Donker) (1990)
Multilingual Dictionary (A D Donker) (1991)