Sesotho in 2016
Welcome to the second of Bangula’s language blogs, exploring South Africa’s diverse range of official languages and their current state of development.
Each blog will also be released in a translated version as we hope to encourage the use South Africa’s official languages.
The Sesotho language, also known as Southern Sotho, is part of the Sotho language group, along with Western Sotho (Setswana) and Northern Sotho (Sepedi). According to the 2011 census, it is spoken by 7.6% of the country’s population, or 3.8-million people. The history of the Sotho people dates back as far as the first century and lays claim to an intriguing past that is still celebrated in the oral and literary traditions today.
It is the language of the Free State, which borders the kingdom of Lesotho, a country entirely surrounded by South African territory. Sesotho is spoken by 62.6% of the Free State population, with almost half of all Sesotho-speaking South Africans living there. It is also found in Gauteng, where it is spoken by 11% of the provincial population, which is more than a third (36%) of all Sesotho-speaking South Africans. In North West it is spoken by 5.7% of people who live there.
Sesotho is classified as a member of the Sotho group of the South-eastern subgroup of the Bantu language family, which includes an estimated 500 languages. The Bantu languages belong to the Benue-Congo division of the Niger-Congo family of languages. Sesotho is most closely related to Setswana or Tswana (also known as Western Sotho) and Sepedi (also known as Northern Sotho or Sesotho sa Leboa), the other two languages that share the Sotho linguistic classification.
It was one of the first African languages to be rendered in written form, and it has an extensive literature. Sesotho writing was initiated by the missionaries Casalis and Arbousset of the Paris Evangelical Mission, who arrived at Thaba Bosiu in 1833.The original written form was based on the Tlokwa dialect, but today is mostly based on the Kwena and Fokeng dialects, although there are variations. The first work of Sesotho literature was Thomas Mofolo’s classic novel Chaka, which was completed in 1910 and published in 1925, with the first English translation produced in 1930. The book reinvents the legendary Zulu King Shaka, portraying him as a heroic but tragic figure, a monarch to rival Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Development of the Written Sesotho Language
The Sesotho language was first translated into written form thanks to the work of French missionary Eugene Casalis, who came to modern-day Lesotho in 1833.Casalis compiled the first Sesotho grammar book, “Etudes sur la Langua Sechuana,” which appeared in 1841. Casalis’s work was carried on by the Reverend A. Mabille, who compiled the first known list of Sesotho language words and is also responsible for establishing a printing press in Morija, Lesotho, which is still there today.
A number of other missionary efforts helped to further the development of the written Sesotho language. In 1872, a Sesotho language translation of John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” appeared. A Sesotho language translation of the Bible, completed by missionaries in the mid-19th century, utilised the Kwena dialect, which subsequently became the standard for the written Sesotho language.
Home language to: 7.6% of the population (3 849 563 people)
Linguistic lineage: Niger-Congo > Atlantic-Congo > Volta- Congo > Benue-Congo > Bantoid > Southern > Narrow Bantu > Central > S group > Sotho-Tswana > Sotho > Sesotho
Alternate and historical names: Suto, Suthu, Souto, Sisutho, Southern Sotho
Dialects: Sesotho, Sepedi and Setswana are largely mutually intelligible, but have generally been considered separate languages.
Statistics SA and Ethnologue
Zwivhuya Matidza, Bangula Language Manager
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