Northern Sotho language

Northern Sotho, or Sesotho sa Leboa as an endonym, is a Sotho-Tswana language spoken in the northeastern provinces of South Africa. It is sometimes referred to as Sepedi or Pedi, its main dialect, through synecdoche.

Sesotho sa Leboa/ Sepedi
Native toSouth Africa
RegionGauteng, Limpopo, parts of Mpumalanga
Native speakers
4.7 million (2011 census)[1]
9.1 million L2 speakers (2002)[2]
Standard forms
Latin (Northern Sotho alphabet)
Sotho Braille
Signed Pedi
Official status
Official language in
 South Africa
Regulated byPan South African Language Board
Language codes
ISO 639-2nso
ISO 639-3nso
Glottolognort3233  Northern Sotho
South Africa 2011 Northern Sotho speakers proportion map.svg
Geographical distribution of Northern Sotho in South Africa: proportion of the population that speaks a form of Northern Sotho at home.
South Africa 2011 Northern Sotho speakers density map.svg
Geographical distribution of Northern Sotho in South Africa: density of Northern Sotho home-language speakers.
  <1 /km²
  1–3 /km²
  3–10 /km²
  10–30 /km²
  30–100 /km²
  100–300 /km²
  300–1000 /km²
  1000–3000 /km²
  >3000 /km²
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
A speaker of the Northern Sotho language

According to the South African National Census of 2011, it is the first language of over 4.6 million (9.1%) people, making it the 5th most spoken language in South Africa. The Sepedi language is spoken most commonly in Mpumalanga, Gauteng and the Limpopo provinces.[4]


The Northern Sotho written language was based largely on the Sepedi dialect. Missionaries studied this dialect the most closely and first developed the orthography in 1860 by Alexander Merensky, Grutzner and Gerlachshoop.[5] This subsequently provided a common writing system for 20 or more varieties of the Sotho-Tswana languages spoken in the former Transvaal, and also helped lead to "Sepedi" being used as the umbrella term for the entire language family. However, there are objections to this synecdoche by other Northern Sotho dialect speakers, such as speakers of the Modjadji's Lobedu dialect.[citation needed]

Other varieties of Northern SothoEdit

Northern Sotho can be subdivided into Highveld-Sotho, which consists of comparatively recent immigrants mostly from the west and southwest parts of South Africa, and Lowveld-Sotho, which consists of a combination of immigrants from the north of South Africa and Sotho inhabitants of longer standing. Like other Sotho-Tswana people their languages are named after totemic animals and, sometimes, by alternating or combining these with the names of famous chiefs.[original research?]

The Highveld-SothoEdit

The group consists of the following dialects:

  • Bapedi
    • Bapedi Marota (in the narrower sense)
    • Marota Mamone
    • Marota Mohlaletsi
    • Batau Bapedi (Matlebjane, Masemola, Marishane, Batau ba Manganeng - Nkadimeng Kgaphola, Nchabeleng, Mogashoa, Phaahla, Sloane, Mashegoana, Mphanama)
  • Phokwane
  • Bakone
    • Kone (Ga-Matlala)
    • Dikgale
  • Baphuthi
  • Baroka
  • Bakgaga (Mphahlele, Maake, Mothapo)
  • Chuene
  • Mathabatha
  • Maserumule
  • Tlou (Ga-Molepo)
  • Thobejane (Ga-Mafefe)
  • Batlokwa,
    • Batlokwa Ba Lethebe
  • Makgoba
  • Batlou
  • Bahananwa (Ga-Mmalebogo)
  • Moremi
  • Motlhatlhana
  • Babirwa
  • Mmamabolo
  • Bamongatane
  • Bakwena ba Moletjie (Moloto)
  • Batlhaloga
  • Bamohlala/ Ba Ga Mohlala, Banareng, Ba Hwaduba Ba Ga Magale and many others.

The Lowveld-SothoEdit

The group consists of the Lobedu, Narene, Phalaborwa (Malatji), Mogoboya, Kone, Kgaga, Pulana, Pai, and Kutswe.


Before Moshoeshoe and his Basotho nation of Lesotho, Basotho people were there. Moshoshoe didn't found Basotho, but he founded a nation made up of Sesotho speaking people from different Sesotho speaking clans in which the British imperialist in Southern Africa erroneously called the Basotho nation cutting them off from the rest of other Basothos outside Lesotho in the Orange Free State and Transvaal in present-day South Africa, Botswana as if Moshoshoe and his people were unique from other Basotho people. Basotho people were there before Moshoshoe the son of Mokhachane of another Basotho clan of Bamokoteli clan, united the smaller and vulnerable clans of Basothos under his Bakwena clan leadership during the Shaka wars of difaqane after other Basothos have migrated to different directions from their cradle in Ntswanatsatsi. Moshoshoe and his Bakwena clan and the rest of the other Basotho clan originate from Ntswanatsatsi in present-day South Africa. Families moved away from each other in Ntswanatsatsi and started clans using a totem as a symbol of their clan (like a crocodile (Koena) which Moshoshoe' ancestors used) and different families moved to different directions within precolonial South Africa under different leadership. Under different leadership some settled in the Western side, present-day North West Province others spread around Ntswanatsatsi to the present-day Free State and Lesotho, others to present-day Botswana others to present-day Zambia, others moved to the present day Gauteng in South Africa and they became patriarchs of the founding fathers of Bakgatla which also gave birth to Northern Sotho which in turn gave birth to different Northern clans with their dialects like BaPedi , Batlokwa, Babirwa, etc and others ended up in inter-marrying with other tribes they moved next to and mingled with like Swatis, Vendas and Tsongas and Ngunis and in some places these Northern Basotho' Sotho was diluted by the influence of these tribe they found in the area, they moved into and lived alongside. This is what happened to a subgroup of Northern Basotho who end up becoming Mapulana with their Sesotho influenced by Swati. Also some of the Northern Basotho having a common denominator of "apa" (meaning talk) with Vendas, I mean Balovedu, BaGubu and Babirwa of Bobirwa in the Southern part of Botswana near the Zimbabwean border. All these Northern Sotho clans have their chief of leader, they never had a paramount king, so, it will be absurd to call them BaPedi because the BaPedi kings have never been their kings. They did their own things from Ramokgopha of Batlhokwa, Malatji of Phalaborwa, Malebogo of Bahanawa, Matlala, etc, they were never part of the Pedi kingdom.


Northern Sotho is one of the Sotho languages of the Bantu family.

Although Northern Sotho shares the name Sotho with Southern Sotho, the two groups have less in common with each other than they have with Setswana.[citation needed][6]

Northern Sotho is also closely related to Setswana, sheKgalagari and siLozi. It is a standardised dialect, amalgamating several distinct varieties or dialects.

Most Khelobedu speakers only learn to speak Sepedi at school, as such Sepedi is only a second or third language and foreign to them like English and Afrikaans. Khelobedu is a written language. Khilovedu dictionary, THALUSAMANDWI YA KHILOVEDU was published in 2018 by Kgothatso Seshayi. The first KhiLovedu Novel, LEKHEKHESHA was published in 2018 by Eliya Monyela. The first KhiLovedu poetry book, ZWIRETO ZWA KHELOBEDU was published and launched in 2020 by KhiLovedu poet Makgwekgwe Waa-Mampeule. As of October 2021 a translation of the Christian Bible is being undertaken by VALODAGOMA SOCIETY (BaLobedu think tank) and PANSALB (Pan South African Languages Board).

The monarch associated with this language community is Queen Modjadji (also known as the Rain Queen). Lobedu is spoken by a majority of people in the Greater Tzaneen, Greater Letaba, and BaPhalaborwa municipalities, and a minority in Greater Giyani municipality, as well as in the Limpopo Province and Tembisa township in Gauteng. Its speakers are known as the Balobedu.

Sepulana (also sePulane) exists in unwritten form and forms part of the standard Northern Sotho. Sepulana is spoken in Bushbuckridge area by the MaPulana people.

Northern Sotho is also spoken by the Mohlala people.

Writing systemEdit

Sepedi is written in the Latin alphabet. The letter š is used to represent the sound [ʃ] ("sh" is used in the trigraph "tsh" to represent an aspirated ts sound). The circumflex accent can be added to the letters e and o to distinguish their different sounds, but it is mostly used in language reference books. Some word prefixes, especially in verbs, are written separately from the stem.[7]



Northern Sotho vowels
Front Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a


Northern Sotho consonants
Labial Alveolar Post-
Velar Glottal
plain prepalatal alveolar plain lateral
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Plosive ejective pʃʼ psʼ tlʼ
aspirated pʃʰ psʰ tlʰ
Affricate ejective tsʼ tʃʼ
aspirated tsʰ tʃʰ kxʰ
Fricative voiceless f fs s ɬ ʃ h~ɦ
voiced β βʒ ʒ ɣ
Rhotic r ɺ
Approximant w l j

Within nasal consonant compounds, the first nasal consonant sound is recognized as syllabic. Words such as nthuše "help me", are pronounced as [n̩tʰuʃe]. /n/ can also be pronounced as /ŋ/ following a velar consonant.[8]

Urban varieties of Northern Sotho, such as Pretoria Sotho (actually a derivative of Tswana), have acquired clicks in an ongoing process of such sounds spreading from Nguni languages.[9]


Some examples of Sepedi words and phrases:

English Sepedi
Welcome Kamogelo (noun) / Amogela (verb)
Good day Dumela (singular) / Dumelang (plural) / Thobela and Re a lotšha (to elders)
How are you? O kae? (singular) Le kae? (plural, also used for elders)
I am fine Ke gona.
I am fine too, thank you Le nna ke gona, ke a leboga.
Thank you Ke a leboga (I thank you) / Re a leboga (we thank you)
Good luck Mahlatse
Have a safe journey O be le leeto le le bolokegilego
Good bye! Šala gabotse (singular)/ Šalang gabotse (plural, also used for elders)(keep well) / Sepela gabotse(singular)/Sepelang gabotse (plural, also used for elders)(go well)
I am looking for a job Ke nyaka mošomô
No smoking Ga go kgogwe (/folwe)
No entrance Ga go tsenwe
Beware of the steps! Hlokomela disetepese!
Beware! Hlokomela!
Congratulations on your birthday Mahlatse letšatšing la gago la matswalo
Seasons greetings Ditumedišo tša Sehla sa Maikhutšo
Merry Christmas Mahlogonolo a Keresemose
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Mahlogonolo a Keresemose le ngwaga wo moswa wo monate
Expression Gontsha sa mafahleng
yes ee/eya
no aowa
please hle
thank you ke a leboga
help thušang/thušo
danger kotsi
emergency tšhoganetšo
excuse me ntshwarele
I am sorry Ke maswabi
I love you Ke a go rata
Questions / sentences Dipotšišo / mafoko
Do you accept (money/credit cards/traveler's cheques)? O amogela (singular) / Le

amogela ( tshelete/.../...)?

How much is this? Ke bokae e?
I want ... Ke nyaka...
What are you doing? O dira eng?
What is the time? Ke nako mang?
Where are you going? O ya kae?
Numbers Dinomoro
1 one -tee
2 two – pedi
3 three – tharo
4 four – nne
5 five – hlano
6 six – tshela
7 seven – šupa
8 eight – seswai
9 nine – senyane
10 ten – lesome
11 eleven – lesometee
12 twelve – lesomepedi
13 thirteen – lesometharo
14 fourteen – lesomenne
15 fifteen – lesomehlano
20 twenty – masomepedi
21 twenty one – masomepedi-tee
22 twenty two – masomepedi-pedi
50 fifty – masomehlano
100 hundred – lekgolo
1000 thousand – sekete
Days of the week Matšatši a beke
Sunday Lamorena
Monday Mošupologo
Tuesday Labobedi
Wednesday Laboraro
Thursday Labone
Friday Labohlano
Saturday Mokibelo
Months of the year Dikgwedi tša ngwaga
January Pherekgong
February Dibokwane
March Tlhakola
April Moranang
May Mopitlo
June Phupu
July Mosegemanye
August Phato
September Lewedi
October Diphalane
November Dibatsela
December Manthole
Computers and Internet terms Didirishwa tsa khomphutha le Inthanete
computer sebaledi / khomphutara
e-mail imeile
e-mail address aterese ya imeile
Internet Inthanete
Internet café khefi ya Inthanete
website weposaete
website address aterese ya weposaete
Rain Pula
To understand Go kwešiša
Reed Pipes Dinaka
Drums Meropa
Horn Lenaka
Colours Mebala
Red/Orange Hubedu
Brown Tsotho
Green Talamorogo
Blue Talalerata
Black Ntsho
White šweu
Yellow Serolwana
Gold Gauta
Grey Pududu
Pale Sehla or Tshehla
Silver Silifere

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Sepedi at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Webb, Vic. 2002. "Language in South Africa: the role of language in national transformation, reconstruction and development." Impact: Studies in language and society, 14:78
  3. ^ Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  4. ^ "SEPEDI - South African Language Sepedi". Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  5. ^ Rakgogo, Tebogo Jacob; van Huyssteen, Linda (3 July 2019). "A constitutional language name, lost in translation and its impact on the identity of the first language speakers". South African Journal of African Languages. 39 (2): 165–174. doi:10.1080/02572117.2019.1618015. ISSN 0257-2117.
  6. ^ "Sepedi First Language". Career Times. Retrieved 21 February 2020.
  7. ^ Pukuntšu ya polelopedi ya sekolo: Sesotho sa Leboa/ Sepedi le Seisimane: e gatišitšwe ke Oxford = Oxford bilingual school dictionary: Northern Sotho and English. De Schryver, Gilles-Maurice. Cape Town: Oxford University Press Southern Africa. 2007. pp. S24–S26. ISBN 9780195765557. OCLC 259741811.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  8. ^ Louwrens, Kosch, Kotzé, Louis J., Ingeborg M., Albert E. (1995). Northern Sotho. München: Lincom. pp. 4–11.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ " Languages of South Africa". Archived from the original on 10 April 2017.

External linksEdit