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Sotho–Tswana languages

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, south-western Zambia, Caprivi Strip
Linguistic classificationNiger–Congo

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

  • Tswanaic (also referred to as Western Sotho)
    • Tswana (Setswana), with dialects: Hurutshe, Kgatla, Kwena, Lete, Ngwaketse, Ngwato, Rolong, Tawana, Tlharo, Tlhaping, Tlharo, Fokeng, 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 (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
  • Sepitori

The various dialects of Tswana, Southern Sotho and Northern Sotho are highly mutually intelligible.[3] On more than one occasion, proposals have been put forward to create a unified standardisation and declare a Sotho–Tswana language.[3][4][5]

Northern Sotho, which appears largely to be a taxonomic holding category for what is Sotho-Tswana but neither identifiably Southern Sotho nor Tswana,[6] 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 north-eastern 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[7] – Lozi was misclassified as K.21.


  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. ^ a b Leketi Makalela (2009). "Harmonizing South African Sotho Language Varieties: Lessons From Reading Proficiency Assessment". International Multilingual Research Journal. 3 (2): 120–133. doi:10.1080/19313150903073489.
  4. ^ Eric P. Louw (1992). "Language and National Unity in a Post-Apartheid South Africa" (PDF). Critical Arts.
  5. ^ Neville Alexander (1989). "Language Policy and National Unity in South Africa/Azania".
  6. ^ See Doke, Clement M. (1954). The Southern Bantu Languages. Handbook of African Languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  7. ^ Gowlett, Derek. (2003). Zone S. In D. Nurse & G. Philippson (eds.), The Bantu Languages, 609-638. London: Curzon/Routledge