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The Sotho–Tswana languages are a group of closely related Southern Bantu languages spoken in Southern Africa. The Sotho–Tswana group corresponds to the S.30 label in Guthrie's (1967–1971) classification[2] of languages in the Bantu family.

South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana
Linguistic classification Niger–Congo
Glottolog soth1248[1]

The group is divided into two branches, Tswana (or Tswanaic) and Sotho, as follows:

  • Tswanaic (also Western Sotho)
    • Tswana (Setswana), with dialects: Hurutshe, Kgatla, Kwena, Lete, Melete, Ngwaketse, Ngwatu, Rolong, Tawana, Thlaro, Tlahaping, Tlhaping, Tlharo, Tlokwa
    • Kgalagadi, with dialects: Nuclear Kgalagadi (Kgalagadi proper), Balaongwe, Kenyi, Khakhae, Koma, Ngologa, Pedi, Phaleng, Rhiti, Shaga, Siwane
  • Sotho
    • Sesotho-Lozi
      • Southern Sotho or Sotho proper (Sesotho) : Phuthi, Taung
      • Lozi (Silozi or Rozi)
    • Northern Sotho (Sesotho sa Leboa)
      • Birwa
      • Lovedu
      • Sepedic: includes Pedi and Tswapong:
        • Pedi: Sehananwa (GaMmalebogo-Makgababeng), Sekgaga (Greater Lebowakgomo), Sekhutswe, Sekopa, Masemola (GaMasemola), Sekone (GaMatlala-Moletši), Sepai, Phalaborwa, Sepulana/Sepulane (Mashishing-Bushbuckridge), Setlokwa (Botlokwa and GaManthata), Tšhwene (GaTšhwene)
        • Tswapong

The various dialects of Tswana, Southern Sotho and Northern Sotho are mutually intelligible.[citation needed][clarification needed] On more than one occasion, proposals have been put forward to create a unified Sotho–Tswana language.[3][4]

Northern Sotho, which appears largely to be a taxonomic holding category for what is Sotho-Tswana but neither identifiably Southern Sotho nor Tswana,[5] subsumes highly varied dialects including Pedi (Sepedi), Tswapo (Setswapo), Lovedu (Khilobedu), Pai and Pulana. Maho (2002) leaves the "East Sotho" varieties of Kutswe, Pai, and Pulana unclassified within Sotho-Tswana.

Lozi is spoken in Zambia and northeastern Namibia (in the Caprivi). It is distinct from the other Sotho-Tswana languages due to heavy linguistic influences from Luyaana, and possibly other Zambian and Caprivi languages. In the Guthrie work—as is now widely acknowledged[6]—Lozi was misclassified as K.21.

Writing SystemEdit

The sintu writing system, Ditema tsa Dinoko (also known in Zulu as Isibheqe Sohlamvu), for Southern Bantu languages, is used to represent all Sotho-Tswana languages consistently under one orthography.[7] This includes those marginal languages that have never been standardised in the Latin alphabet, such as the "East Sotho" varieties (Pulana, Khutswe and Pai). For example, it contains a specific grapheme indicating retroflex or "cerebral" consonants, such as the retroflex ejective affricate occurring here in Pai:

English place
Pai itzau


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Sotho-Tswana (S.30)". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  2. ^ Guthrie, Malcolm (1967-1971). Comparative Bantu: An Introduction to the Comparative Linguistics and Prehistory of the Bantu Languages. (Volumes 1-4). Farnborough: Gregg International, cf. the CBOLD Guthrie name list Archived 2006-11-30 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ Eric P. Louw (1992). "Language and National Unity in a Post-Apartheid South Africa" (PDF). Critical Arts. 
  4. ^ Neville Alexander (1989). "Language Policy and National Unity in South Africa/Azania". 
  5. ^ See Doke, Clement M. (1954). The Southern Bantu Languages. Handbook of African Languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  6. ^ Gowlett, Derek. (2003). Zone S. In D. Nurse & G. Philippson (eds.), The Bantu Languages, 609-638. London: Curzon/Routledge
  7. ^ (2015). "Isibheqe Sohlamvu/Ditema tsa Dinoko".