Southern Sotho in Southern Africa

Written by Isabel Harmse

Sesotho, or Southern Sotho, is a Bantu language that originated in the Bantu-Nguni era, with dialects originating from Sotho, Pedi and Tswana. However, these are all considered to be separate languages. Sesotho is primarily spoken by the Basotho in Lesotho, neighbouring country to South Africa. The Basotho made their way down south as various tribes settled in different parts of the country. Some groups settled in the west, whereas others settled in the east and further south. Today Sesotho is one of South Africa’s 11 official languages and spoken by about five million people in Lesotho, Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zambia. 

Sesotho was one of the first African languages to be reduced to writing, and it has an extensive literature. Describing the language is not easy, as it has nine vowels, which are collapsed into five letters each. Compared to other languages of this nature, this is quite a large number. The language consists of 35 consonants, which include two semi-vowels for non-homogenous doubled eloquent and a tri-click ( The Basotho of Lesotho and South Africa speak the same language. However, the two countries do not use the same orthography when writing Sesotho. The differences in the Lesotho and South African orthographies are centred mainly around the choice of letters. The words are pronounced the same, it’s just the spelling that differs and, to a small extent, the word division also differs.

While this complicated language will be foreign to most, its true beauty can be appreciated with a little effort. The words have a melodic flow when spoken fluently. Listeners are encouraged to pay attention to the intricacies in tone as well as the nasalisation. In this language, the words for father – ntate – and mother – mme – are also used to address elders as a sign of respect for them. Children are encouraged to have good manners, be polite and always be eager to learn about and demonstrate their values. The overall attitude that this culture has toward the growing youth is “Lefura la ngwana ke ho rungwa”, which, when translated, means “children benefit from serving their elders” ( 


Sesotho is also known as Suto, Souto, Sisutho, and Suthu.

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