31 January 2004

Linguistic Lineage for Northern Sesotho

OK, it's not exactly southern Sesotho but it's Sesotho. British English and American English, if you will. This shows the lineage, from NIGER-CONGO to today's Northen Sesotho. There are ten (10) steps in all between that linguistic ancestor (Niger-Congo) and present-day Northern Sesotho. What about Southern Sesotho? Well, that's the Sesotho I speak, the one I'm desperately trying to teach you. It is spoken in Lesotho and in southern parts of South-Africa, whereas Northern Sesotho is spoken up north in South Africa.

30 January 2004



Number of tries:  Number of Correct: 

28 January 2004

Animal Names












alligator / crocodile




We like short words for animals, don't we? (pere / horse). What I think isn't very easy for the learner is words with two or more consonants together (mpshe). Unfortunately, though, Lesotho doesn't have many animals anymore. Small country, expanding population, space not enough for both.

20 January 2004

How Many? (Tse Kae? Ba Bakae?)

Basotho and others who speak Sesotho tend to use English to count, or to tell the time. It is true that numbers are pre-fixed in relation with the noun they refer to

Twenty houses

Twenty trees

Twenty people
What's more, counting becomes ever more complex the higher the number. And that is due to the fact that we do not have a noun representing a number (Five, for example) IN Sesotho, but a phrase defining the number. Twenty is two tens, twenty-one is two tens and one root, forty-nine is four tens and nine roots.

Now imagine telling the time and getting into how many roots all!

19 January 2004

Friends of Lesotho (Bakhotsi ba Lesotho)

Friends of Lesotho:

"... is a non-profit organization promoting friendship between the peoples of Lesotho and North America. Friends of Lesotho (FOL) is comprised of former Peace Corps volunteers and others who share this desire. FOL provides scholarships and grants to small development projects in Lesotho, assists in locating old friends from Lesotho, and provides information about current events in Lesotho. FOL is affiliated with the National Peace Corps Association."
That's what the opening page of the Friends of Lesotho website says. What goodies does the website hold? Well, you'll just have to pop over and see, but here's an idea of what you'll find:1/ Basotho music. Yes, you can hear it or buy it! 2/ Useful traveller's phrases. How do we say "Thank you" in Sesotho? 3/ Lesotho and Peace Corps news. How are the elections being prepared for? 4/ Information about how you can become a member of FOL and help, for example, a poor family send a kid to school 5/ Maps and Photos of Lesotho, 6/ and tons of other information. I like the idea of referring to joala, the local beer, as a tongue loosener.

I recommend the FOL site to all learners of Sesotho, and to those who may be interested in Lesotho for other reasons. I've often said that language learning cannot be done properlyif it's not intertwined in one way or another with the culture of the target language. This site helps the language learner in that respect as well.

12 January 2004


Morabaraba is a Sesotho boardgame played by shepherds to while away the long hours. They carve it out of flat rock and use coloured pebbles for "cows". I had the priviledge of playing morabaraba extensively at Peka High School, with people who could pick the winner after the first few moves. It is a fun game and I'm happy to see that it isn't dead, like many of our customs. Bravo to those who continue to play it. There's hope.

Download a shareware version of morabaraba. And if you like the game please support the programmer. That's the whole point of the shareware system. I wouldn't wanna have to get my morabaraba from Microsoft for hundreds of Maloti. Bravo to Mpho Mosia for the programming.

Morabaraba has also been compared to the Somali boardgame called Shax, so it'll probably be easier to learn for those who know Shax.

I'd be happy if anybody could tell me about mohobelo and mokhibo (dances), liketo, khati, lesokoana, and other games. Are our children playing them or has Nintendo taken over?

Jako Olivier's Sesotho Pages (Maqephe a Sesotho a Jako Olivier)

One of the most complete resources out there is Jako Olivier's pages. If you haven't yet gone to see and learn, what are you waiting for? Learn forms of greeting, basic phrases, and a lot more. If you have questions, try to write to him here: jako at cyberserv dot co dot za.

11 January 2004

Estelle MOUZIN, 9 ans, disparue le 09 janvier 2003 à Guermantes, France

On 9 January 2003, 9-year-old Estelle Mouzin was taken away from her family, as she returned from school, by a yet to be found child stealer. She has not been seen or heard from since. Visit the website, get a good look at Estelle, and give the URL [http://www.estelle-mouzin.com/] to someone you know. If you know of or have anything that could help, run to the nearest police station. Thank you.

Le 9 janvier 2003, Estelle Mouzin, une fillette de 9 ans, a été volé de sa famille, en rentrant de l'école, par une personne qui n'a pas encore été identifiée. Depuis, on a pas des nouvelles d'Estelle. Visitez le site web, regardez bien Estelle de façon à pouvoir la reconnaitre, et veuillez passez l'adresse du site [http://www.estelle-mouzin.com/] à quelq'un de votre entourage. Si vous savez ou possède une information quelconque, allez toute suite à votre préfecture. Merci.

Ka la 9 Pherekhong 2003, Estelle Mouzin ea nang le lilemo tse 9 o utsuitsoe ke lesholu la bana tseleng e tlohang sekolong ho leba lapeng la hae. Lesholu leo ha le eso fumanoe. Estelle le ena ha a eso fumanoe. Sheba foto ea Estelle ka hloko, Fana ka aterese [http://www.estelle-mouzin.com/] ena ho bao o ba tsebang. Kea leboha.

09 January 2004

Makoerekoere (non-southern African Africans)

There you go. Another example of the use of onomatoepia in Sesotho. We usually follow what other southern Africans are saying, but those folks from the East or Center or West are incomprehensible to us. All we ever hear is koere-koere-koere-koere, hence Makoerekoere, to designate people from those areas. The term isn't really derogatory, but isn't equivalent to calling them pal either.

Be careful, because this term applies to Africans only. It is in a way like saying African foreigners. Now, if you are a "Lekoerekoere", and a Mosotho unceremoniously lets you know, you can retaliate by saying "Mojapere". It literally means horse-eater, because, yes, we eat horse-meat in Lesotho. When I was at the National University of Lesotho I had several friends from Zimbabwe. I called them Makoerekoere and they would retort with Mojapere.

We in fact dry horse-meat to make lihoapa, more internationally known as biltong.

06 January 2004

Sesotho Story

Depending on how well you speak and understand Sesotho, this exercise might or might not be interesting. In all respects, it'll give you a good visual idea of what Sesotho is. And if you know a native speaker who can read it out to you, then go ahead and ask them. You can also call me at 09 87 65 43 21 and I'll read it for you. And of course I'm only teasing.

Speaking English in Lesotho (Ho bua Senyesemane Lesotho)

As far as I can remember I’ve always spoken English. It is my second language that has now become my first. Sesotho has been dethroned and it doesn’t look like there’s anything it can do about it. I think that that is fundamentally wrong.

It is well and good to speak English, the business lingua franca of our times, or French, or Spanish, but up to a point. And as far as I’m concerned, that point does not go beyond burying one’s own mother tongue. It does not include punishing school children when they communicate in their own mother tongue.

Yes, we were beaten up if we spoke Sesotho at school. The teacher or the principal would elect prefects, who went around with pen and paper writing down names of wrong-doers. And those would duly get whipped, to the glee and mirth of the faultlessly English speaking clique.

I mean, holy *%^+%#&, what the shite was that all about? You mean our teachers and parents and school system were happier when we spoke someone else’s language better than our own? That’s insane! I do not know how the system functions today but if our young country folk are still being terrorised in that fashion then the whole system needs to be chucked out the window and a new one designed.

The last thing we want is little Basotho-cum-Brits running around speaking in tongues and thinking that those tongues are better than their very own, and that those tongues give them some sort of edge over their other Basotho-cum-Basotho country folk who speak good Sesotho and poor English.

Don't get me wrong, I like English. It’s a fun language. Through it I’m able to talk to millions (precisely what I’m trying to do at this very moment), but I like Sesotho more. (It's more fun and it sounds better and tones), and it is all mine! Nobody can say a word about how I pronounce it or don't pronounce it. And when I speak Sesotho, I feel whole and on a par with anybody else. I do think there are serious repercussions to forcing people to abandon their mother tongue or not to speak it as well as they should. Inferiority complex is one such repercussion. You're doing your darndest to speak someone else's language, but you'll always be a step or two behind in the meeting, at the restaurant during a heated discussion, at the job interview, and so on. And you know it. The crunch comes when you realise that you don't really master your mother tongue either.

Listen to anybody in Lesotho speak Sesotho and you'll soon realise that everybody is speaking a mixture of English and Sesotho and Afrikaans. I'm sure if ntate Moshoeshoe the First came back today he'd be stumped! He wouldn't know what the hell we were talking about.


Sethuthuthu is Sesotho for Motorcycle. Can't you just hear it? Toot-toot-tooting down the road?

05 January 2004


Is that how that is spelled? Well...

Here is a Sesotho word: Sethuthuthu. What do you think it means? It's a word that comes completely from the sound made by...that would be telling you, wouldn't it? And don't go looking in the glossary we previously spoke about, because this word isn't in it yet. Sethuthuthu. It's exacltly what it sounds like.

I'll post the answer tomorrow, although I'm sure you will have found it.

04 January 2004

Counting (Palo)

Sesotho is a relatively young language, so everything still means what it is supposed to mean. What I mean by that is, like, forenames. My forename, Rethabile, is a full sentence that means We are happy. I guess my folks couldn't contain their joy when I arrived. In older languages, English for example, James and Elizabeth and Richard, etc., used to have specific, contemporary meanings that are no longer meaningful today, unless one buys a special book of meanings of names.

But this phenomenon is not only apparent with forenames. Here is how we count in from 1 to 10 in Sesotho:

1 = 'Ngoe ( 2 syllables /NG-wee/)
2 = Peli
3 = Tharo
4 = 'Ne ( 2 syllables /N-eh/ )
5 = Hlano
6 = T'selela
7 = Supa
8 = Robeli
9 = Robong
10 = Leshome

Ho t'sela (6) is the verb to cross, and that's when we cross from one hand to the other when counting. Ho supa (7) is to point, and that's the finger we point with. Robeli (8)means break two, and two fingers are indeed down for eight. Robong (9) is break one. Eleven for instance, is literally Ten with one root (leshome le motso o mong).

01 January 2004

English Lacks Many Phonemes

The McGraw-Hill Online Learning Center says, "When you hear Japanese-born people speak English poorly, they make similar mistakes. Why?
Japanese characters are a staple on American TV, and so most Americans are familiar with what a "Japanese" accent is like. More specifically, we are familiar with the speech patterns of native Japanese speakers when they learn English later in life. One common mispronunciation is confusing the "r" sound and the "l" sound such as in "craw" and "claw." This mispronunciation is made because there is no distinction between the "r" sound and the "l" sound in Japanese. Linguists refer to these sounds as phonemes, and would talk about the r and l phoneme as /r/ and /l/. These sounds are actually very closely related, and it is only through training and the fact that the sounds are important for distinguishing between the meanings of certain words that English speakers learn to differentiate between them. As it turns out, English has about 35 phonemes, but there are many phonemes not used in English that native English speakers have a hard time recognizing. For example, native English speakers have a hard time hearing the difference between the [ph] in pin and the [p] in spin which is important in Hindi (spoken in India) or Sesotho (spoken in South Africa)."

Correction: Sesotho is spoken in South Africa and in Lesotho! I demand recognition for Lesotho. Hey, can you hear me? Hello?

Back to the post. This phenomenon can be seen in the following words:


The difference also exists with [t] and [th] sounds.