30 May 2004


A Message to Southern Africa Web Ring members.

Mekhoa ea ho Ngola (Writing Systems)

Last night I saw a program on TV about David, the statue. What a beautiful example of a writing system! Michaelangelo had one of the best handwritings ever. Picasso wasn't bad, either, and could write about painful things as about any feeling, really. Is art, paintings specifically, a writing system? My parents come from the southern district of Quthing, where Baroa rock paintings abound. Are they part of the Writing Systems of Southern Africa?

If, indeed, they are, are there any parallels to be drawn between Baroa rock paintings and Egyptian hieroglyphics? I think not. Egyptians painted a pharaoh or a pyramid or a bird in flight when they wanted to paint, and they scribbled hieroglyphics when they wanted to write. Why is southern African Baroa art being bundled off as a writing system? I do not think for a minute that those artists who decorated their homes with pictures of animals and people were trying to communicate some primitive, subliminal message, because that is what it boils down to: others can paint, Baroa wrote.
[ This link via Free Morpheme ]

Written language is a also [sic] a human invention, like spoken language, but it is not a universal invention. Few societies have invented a writing system for themselves - most have been borrowed and adapted from the original inventors. Civilisations as advanced as the Incas have had no writing. The civilisations of the written word were limited mainly to Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Writing systems in the New World, the Pacific, and much of Africa were usually primitive. Where no records remain, we do not know what vanished civilisations may have achieved, but into this century many hundreds of languages and societies have remained preliterate. Two thirds of the world's languages are still unwritten, and there are only several hundred different writing systems. Learning to read is not as natural as learning to talk, despite the hopeful notions that it ought to be. [ Source... ]

24 May 2004

Thutiso (Quiz)

"Okay, it's a Sesotho sa Leboa quiz, but so what. Sesotho is Sesotho, is it not?"


"Alright, Smarty-pants, what's the difference, huh?"

"The origin. The initial language may have been the same, but its two offspring evolved differently."


"So it isn't all that easy for a Sesotho-sa-Leboa speaker to communicate with a Sesotho-sa-Boroa (southern Sesotho) speaker."

"You're kidding."

"Give us the damn URL, will you? What difference does it make?"

"But that's exactly what I....fine. Just click on the word quiz. Go on..."

22 May 2004

Chelete (Money)

/CHE-le-te/: A noun whose etymology is unknown to me. When did we start using money? Before the arrival of money as we know it today, did chelete mean something else? Lesotho's currency is the loti (sing.) or maloti (pl.).

"Give me 32-maloti worth of minced meat, please."
Reminder: Sesotho plurals go at the beginning of the word. One loti, two or more maloti; one moshanyana (boy), two or more bashanyana (boys); one ntlo (house), two or more matlo (houses).

One loti is made up of a hundred lisente (of course, we say one sente (cent) and two or more lisente (cents)).

When I was young in Lesotho we had liteke (tickeys) and lisheleng (shillings), which were replaced by South African cents and rands. Maloti were introduced in 1980, were and are used simultaneously with the rand, and remain to this day at a par with their South African counterparts.

Related phrases:

Ke bokae? /KE-bo-ka-E/
How much is it?

E turu /E-TU-ru/
It's expensive.

Mphe chelete /m-PHE-CHE-le-te/
Gimme some money.

Ha kena chelete /ha-KE-na-CHE-le-te/
I haven't got any money.

Ke hloka chelete /ke-hlo-ka-CHE-le-te/
I need money.

21 May 2004

Melumo Sesothong (Tone in Sesotho)

Sesotho is tonal, which means meaning can be influenced by differences in pitch within otherwise similar words or sounds. The simple-looking ke, for example, can have at least two meanings. Ke, whose vowel rhymes with we or he when they're subjects, is the pronoun I. We say, "Ke khathetse" (I'm tired), "Ke rata lipompong" (I like sweets). But Ke, whose vowel rhymes with be or see, means it is + person. We say, "Ke mang?" (Who is it?), "Ke 'na" (It's me).

Tone can be either inherent, semantic or meaning-inspired. Inherent in this case refers to the tone that each and every word has, even in toneless languages. The English word "butter" has a DAda tone, whereas "along" has a daDA tone. Similarly, 'mè (mother) is /m-MEH/, leka (try) is LEHka, and so on.

Semantic tones tell us what two otherwise indistinguishable words mean within a given context. "Ho bua" (to .... the meaning depends on the context and on where the accent is placed, doesn't it) can mean either "to speak" or "to slaughter and cut open an animal." The tone pattern is as follows: /ho-BUA/ is to talk and /ho-bua/ is to slaughter an animal.

And the meaning-inspired tone is useful when two phrases are similar. For example, the two questions O tsamaile joang? (how was your trip?) and O tsamaile joang? (how was his/her trip?) are obviously not the same. But it's hard to tell, until we hear the tone: /o-tsa-MAI-le-joang/ (How was your trip?) or /O-tsa-MAI-le-joang?/ (How was his/her trip?).

Sesotho is therefore not a very easy language to learn, unless the learner takes extra measures to assure adequate practice in both listening and speaking.

17 May 2004

Lithothokiso (Praise Poems)

Katiba ea Puo, or Language hat, has a nice rundown on Jack Mapanje, a Malawian poet who was thrown in jail because of his thorny poetry. Didn't know the fella, but I feel like an oaf as a result. Where was I? Kamuzu Banda, Malawi's dictator, was a pal of Lesotho's dictator, Leabua Jonathan. Within the turbulent atmosphere of post-1970 Lesotho we hated both Banda and Jonathan. The latter, on the other hand, targetted journalists more than he did creative artists. He killed Edgar Motuba.

En lien avec la maison d'édition de la LEC à Morija, les MPW impriment aussi le journal de l'Eglise, "Leselinyana" ("Petite lumière du Lesotho"). Combatif et courageux, ce journal a su être la voix des plus pauvres, pour plus de justice et de vérité. En 1981, son directeur, Edgar Motuba a été assassiné. En 1987 les envoyés du DM-échange et mission ont été obligés de quitter le pays après avoir été menacés et agressés dans leur maison. Mais "Leselinyana" continue de paraêtre et à être aussi distribué aux mineurs basotho qui travaillent en Afrique du Sud. [ Source... ]
One of the biggest writers in Lesotho was and still is Makalo Khaketla, who wrote the well-documented and osé "Lesotho, 1970: an African Coup Under the Microscope". He has written oodles of other books, mainly poetry in Sesotho. But from what I remember of those works, there was little political suggestion. Under the circumstances, I feel I should have at least heard of Jack Mapanje, from the discussions we sometimes held or from some newspaper article talking about Banda's debaucheries in Malawi.

Puns and riddles exist in Sesotho, but I can't say they do more than in English or in French. It is also a question I've never studied. In Sesotho we have Lithothokiso, or Praise Poems, which serve to ..... praise some public figure. Lithothokiso are a performance. The Serêti (Praise Poet) will sometimes go on, non-stop, and roll out imagery after metaphor after simile. Such poems last quite a long time and thus require that level of variation to maintain interest. Sometimes the same royal exploit is recited many times within the same poem, and each time a different poetic tool may be used. That, then, could be "the layers of meaning" mentioned by a contributor in Language Hat's comment section.

King Moshoeshoe I, the founder of the Basotho nation, for example, was famous for shaving his enemies, which was in fact rustling their cattle. I'm sure you can see the image there. It went as far as having his name changed by Praise Poets from Lepoqo to Moshoeshoe, in a bid to reproduce the shushing sound of shaving. Onomatopoeia! Thank you, Language Hat, for the post.

10 May 2004

Basali (Women)

Mosali (woman), 'mè (mother), mofumahali (lady, Mrs.) ngoanana (girl, maiden), mohatsa (spouse), ausi (sister), morali (daughter) are some of the words we use to talk about women. Women make up about 54% of the total adult population of Lesotho, but remain largely under-represented in the government and private job sectors, although, it must be said, Lesotho is one of only two countries where women actually have a higher literacy rate than men. In other words, in Lesotho more women can read and write than men! This post first appeared in my Lesotho A to Z pages, which is also where I list documents related to women in Lesotho.

I might just want to add that, on a personal basis, I have always been repulsed by a word -- yes, a word -- and an idea that we use in Lesotho to say that an unmarried woman is pregnant. We say, "So and so o senyehile" which literally translates into, "So and so has been spoilt", as in, "Not good anymore." Nothing similar applies to the guy who got her pregnant. I think that's awful, and we should cease using the word and attaching that particular idea to pregnant, unmarried women. Unless, of course, we start calling the guy who got her pregnat "bastard" (I like "bastard". It has a nice ring to it) or something similar. The day we do that I'll tender my sincere apologies to all our national "bastards", and ask them to forgive me for not being aware of their "bastard" status.

What have we got to remember? We've got to remember that in southern Sesotho (Sesotho of Lesotho) "li" is pronounced /di/ and "lu" is pronounced /du/. The word mosali is thus pronounced /mos-AH-di/. We must also remember that 'mè is two syllables, and is pronounced /m-MEH/.

05 May 2004

Mabitso (Names)

I back-checked the tracks of a visitor to On Sesotho, and ended up reading this article. It is accurate and informative, but I felt compelled to add to it, nevertheless.

It is true that in southern Africa, not only in Zimbabwe, name-givers "are more adventurous, but just as literal." My own name, Rethabile, is a full sentence with subject (re/we) and verb (thab../being happy): We are happy. That's my name. In Lesotho a name is meaningful and usually reflects the parents' temperament or the country's situation. My late brother's name was Khotsofalang, a phrase that means be satisfied, literally.

Other common names are Palesa (flower), Lipalesa (flowers), Thabo (happiness--yes, as in Thabo Mbeki), Thabang (be happy--see the language trend: Khotsofalang, Thabang?), Khotso (peace), Katleho (success), Nthabiseng (make me happy--no, not make my day), but also Ntja (dog) or Lefu (death) for the less common ones.

I once asked my mum why anyone would name their kid Ntja or Lefu, and apparently it's almost always after the death of the sibling immediately before. In naming the younger sibling in such a way, parents cheat death by making him/her/it think they dislike the child, in which case death spares the child.

03 May 2004

Ithute Sesotho (Learn Sesotho)

Here is a list of references for learners. I have handled some of the books before, but don't remember enough about them to give you valuable pointers. Here is the list in question. Go and learn Sesotho. I'm willing to answer a reasonable answer of questions about learning or teaching Sesotho, so keep asking. But as usual, if you can easily find it (like meanings of common words) I will not reply. But otherwise I'll be happy to.