Sotho

Sotho language

Classification
 
Sotho is a Southern Bantu language, belonging to the Niger–Congo language family within the Sotho languages branch of Zone S (S.30). It is most closely related to other major languages in the Sotho–Tswana language group: Tswana (Setswana), the Northern Sotho languages (Sesotho sa Leboa), Kgalagari (SheKgalagari) and Lozi (Silozi). Sesotho is, and has always been, the name of the language in the language itself, and this term has come into wider use in English since the 1980s, especially in South African English and in Lesotho. Sesotho is the autoglottonym or name of the language used by its native speakers as defined by the United Nations. Sotho is the heteroglottonym. It is also sometimes referred to as Southern Sotho, principally to distinguish it from Northern Sotho.
 
The Sotho languages are in turn closely related to other Southern Bantu language groups, including the Venḓa, Tsonga, Tonga, and Nguni languages, and possibly also the Makua languages of Tanzania and Mozambique
 
Dialects
 
Except for faint lexical variation within Lesotho, and except for marked lexical variation between the Lesotho/Free State variety, and that of the large urban townships to the north (e.g. Soweto) due to heavy borrowing from neighbouring languages, there is no discernible dialect variation in this language.
 
However, one point which seems to often confuse authors who attempt to study the dialectology of Sotho is the term Basotho, which can variously mean "Sotho–Tswana speakers," "Sotho and Northern Sotho speakers," "Sotho speakers," and "residents of Lesotho." The Nguni language Phuthi has been heavily influenced by Sotho; its speakers have mixed Nguni and Sotho–Tswana ancestry. It seems that it is sometimes treated erroneously as a dialect of Sotho called "Sephuthi." However, Phuthi is mutually unintelligible with standard Sotho, and thus cannot in any sense be termed a dialect of it. The occasional tendency to label all minor languages spoken in Lesotho as "dialects" of Sotho is considered patronising, in addition to being linguistically inaccurate, and in part serves a national myth that all citizens of Lesotho have Sotho as their mother tongue.
 
Additionally, due to being derived from a language or dialect very closely related to modern Sotho, the Zambian Sotho–Tswana language Lozi is also sometimes cited as a modern dialect of Sotho named Serotse or Sekololo.
 
The oral history of the Sotho and Northern Sotho peoples (as contained in their diboko) states that Mathulare, a daughter of the chief of the Bafokeng nation (an old and respected people), was married to chief Tabane of the (Southern) Bakgatla (a branch of the Bahurutse, who are one of the most ancient of the Sotho–Tswana tribes), and bore the founders of five tribes: Bapedi (by Mopedi), Makgolokwe (by Kgetsi), Baphuthing (by Mophuthing, and later the Mzizi of Dlamini, connected with the present-day Ndebele), Batlokwa (by Kgwadi), and Basia (by Mosia). These were the first peoples to be called "Sotho", before many of their descendants and other peoples came together to form Moshoeshoe I's nation in the early 19th century. The situation is even further complicated by various historical factors, such as members of parent clans joining their descendants, or various clans calling themselves by the same names (because they honour the same legendary ancestor or have the same totem).
 
An oft-repeated story is that when the modern Sotho nation was established by King Moshoeshoe I, his own "dialect" Sekwena was chosen over two other popular variations Setlokwa and Setaung, and that these two still exist as "dialects" of modern Sotho. The inclusion of Setlokwa in this scenario is confusing, as the modern language named "Setlokwa" is a Northern Sotho language spoken by descendants of the same Batlokwa whose attack on the young chief Moshoeshoe's settlement during Difaqane (lead by the famous widow Mmanthatisi) caused them to migrate to present day Lesotho. On the other hand, Doke & Mofokeng claims that the tendency of many Sotho speakers to say e.g. ke ronngwe instead of ke romilwe when forming the perfect of the passive of verbs ending in -ma (as well as forming their perfects with -mme instead of -mile) is "a relic of the extinct Tlokwa dialect."
 
Geographic distribution
 
According to 2001 census data, there were almost four million first language Sotho speakers recorded in South Africa — approximately eight per cent of the population. Sotho is also the main language spoken by the people of Lesotho, where, according to 1993 data, it was spoken by about 1,493,000 people, or 85% of the population. The census fails, unfortunately, to record the at least five million further South Africans for whom Sotho is a second or third language. Such speakers are found in all major residential areas of greater Johannesburg, Soweto and Tshwane, where multilingualism and polylectalism are very high.
 
Official status
 
Sotho is one of the eleven official languages of South Africa, and one of the two official languages of Lesotho.
 
Derived languages
 
Sotho is one of the many languages from which the pseudo-language Tsotsitaal is derived. Tsotsitaal is not a proper language, as it is primarily a unique vocabulary and a set of idioms but used with the grammar and inflexion rules of another language (usually Sotho or Zulu). It is a part of the youth culture in most Southern Gauteng "townships" and is the primary language used in Kwaito music.
 
Phonology
 
The sound system of Sotho is unusual in many respects. It has ejective consonants, click consonants, a uvular trill, a relatively large number of affricate consonants, no prenasalized consonants, and a rare form of vowel-height (alternatively, advanced tongue root) harmony. In total, the language contains some 39 consonantal and 9 vowel phonemes.
 
It also has a large number of complex sound transformations which often change the phones of words due to the influence of other (sometimes invisible) sounds.
 
Grammar
 
The most striking properties of Sotho grammar, and the most important properties which reveal it as a Bantu language, are its noun gender and concord systems. The grammatical gender system does not encode sex gender, and indeed, Bantu languages in general are not grammatically marked for gender.
 
Another well-known property of the Bantu languages is their agglutinative morphology. Additionally, they tend to lack any grammatical case systems, indicating noun roles almost exclusively through word order.
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