26 March 2004

Why Dumela and Lumela?

The development of Sepedi as a written language extends over a period of 100 years, from 1870 to 1967 when the current orthography was finalised. The missionaries, who were to put Sepedi to writing, were members of the Berlin Missionary Society who arrived in South Africa in 1859. To fulfil their mission, they had to devise a writing system for Sepedi, because the translation of the Bible was their ultimate aim.

In the development of Sepedi as a written language a clear distinction must be drawn between the period before October 1929 and the period thereafter. The period before October 1929 may be characterised as one of multiformity. Everyone wrote Sepedi as he thought best, since there was no co-ordinating body to control the development of the written form of Sepedi. The era after October 1929 is marked by the achievement of uniformity and standardisation. During this period an effort was made to create a uniform orthography for the written Sotho languages. At this point in time there were three written Sotho languages, namely, Sesotho (Southern Sotho), Setswana and Sepedi (Northern Sotho).
In the beginning even in each one of these written languages no uniformity in writing was adhered to. A uniform orthography for the three Sotho languages was still a dream to be realised.

In 1947 a last step to fulfil this ideal was taken when the Somersethouse Conference was held in Pretoria. An attempt was made to get the co-operation of the Administration of Lesotho, but in vain. Even though the Sesotho orthography which had been in use since 1906 was being revised at that stage, the Administration of Lesotho did not wish to co-operate, and an orthography for Sesotho in the Union of South Africa was developed. In the end some changes had to be made to this orthography, and the dream of a uniform orthography for the Sotho languages did not come true.
In 1947 a uniform orthography for Sepedi and Setswana was brought into use. In 1972 a revised Sepedi orthography was published, and the main task of the Sepedi Language Committee thereafter was to concentrate on spelling. That was also the duty of the Sepedi Language Board which was to take the place of the Sepedi Language Committee during the seventies. This board, before being dissolved in 1994, decided on the official name, Sepedi, instead of Northern Sotho. [From the JOURNAL FOR LANGUAGE TEACHING, Vol. 33 No. 4, December 1999]

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