22 July 2006

How to learn Sesotho

You were wondering about what it takes to learn Sesotho, right? Well, using the wiki program through Wikihow ("The How-To Manual That Anyone Can Write or Edit"), I've managed to put it all down in black and white. So, finally, here's how to learn Sesotho.

The steps are a mixture of my experience as a language learner (especially of French), as a paedagogue and as a native speaker of Sesotho. Good luck.

16 July 2006

How to say please in Sesotho

In Sesotho, the toilet is ntloana (or boithomelo, if you want to be uppity about it). Ntloana literally means a small house. When you gotta go, you gotta go, right? But how do you declare such an intention? How do you ask those around you to show you where the small house is? Nothing simpler. Remember the following language practices, however: [1.] In Sesotho you add -ng or -eng or -ing to a noun, if you want to turn the noun into "the place of + that original noun." Here are a few examples:

  • bolo (ball), bolong (stadium);
  • joala (alcohol), joaleng (bar/pub/shebeen);
  • leloala (mill), leloaleng (at the miller's);
  • lebota (wall), leboteng (on the wall);
  • 'mele (body), 'meleng (on the body);
  • ntloana (toilet), ntloaneng (at/to/in the toilet);
  • khauta or gauta (gold), Khauteng or Gauteng (a South African province where there are gold mines);
  • mokhoro (Basotho hut), mokhorong (at the hut).
The second thing to remember is that [2.] Politely does it. Ke kopa ... is the formula you want to learn, and use over and over when asking for things. Say it like this: / key-coop-uh / It is the equivalent of "May I..." or "Please..." One day we will look at how you can say, "give it the f*ck to me!" But not right away, ahem.
  • Ke kopa metsi. May I have some water?
  • Ke kopa lijo. May I have some food?
  • Ke kopa ho ea ntloaneng. May I go to the toilet?
  • Ke kopa thuso. I need help.
  • Ke kopa pampiri. May I have some paper?
  • Ke kopa ho tsamaea. May I go?
  • Ke kopa ho shoa / schwa /. May I die?
There is also ak'u mphe..., another polite phrase when asking for things. It is rather informal when compared to ke kopa ..., and sounds something like /AH-comb-PAIR/. AH-comb-PAIR pampiri, or "can you give me some paper?" If you learn some verbs, you can take this quite far, indeed.

Ak'u mphe lijo (please give me food),
Ak'u nkise sepetlele (take me to the hospital please),
Ak'u nthuse (please help me),
Ak'u thole (please be quiet).

You can literally ak'u anything. Toilets are often plain outhouses in the smaller villages of Lesotho (hence the name of small house, of course). In America they call them outhouses. Modern toilets with running water are a city luxury. There are no taboos that I can think of regarding toilets and toilet-going. Basotho regard toilet-going as something essential that has to be carried out, full-stop. Hey, when you gotta go, you gotta go. Here are the two phrases to remember: key-coop-uh and ah-comb-pair.
Anothing thing to remember is that the /k/ and /c/ sounds in these two phrases are exactly the same. I have made them different because I wanted to use recognisable English words for the purposes of facilitating memory. But they are the same, and are a hard /k/ sound with as little aspiration (or expiration, you know, that little air that escapes when you say /c/ in English) as possible. If you say them like the English words they are, everyone will understand you, but you'll sound like a foreigner.

01 July 2006

Nyala, o tla nyela

Many white South Africans still hold misinformed perceptions about living with black people in a black township. To counter that misconception, Fanie Kruger left his family in Pienaarspoort and moved in with black people in the Mamelodi township.

Fanie Kruger has been living in Mamelodi for the past twenty years and still enjoys every moment of his stay. 'Bra Fannie', as many people call him, says he cannot believe how quickly he managed to learn the Sotho language in the first year of living there. By the sound of his accent, it is not easy by any stretch of imagination to think he is not an original Sotho speaking person.

"I enjoy my life and staying here and everybody loves me," says Fanie. He is a mechanic by profession. "I do not like working for other people, I enjoy working for myself," he says. He works from his home in Mamelodi East where he repairs vehicles with engine and break problems. "I like working with people but the problem is that most people here like to complain, especially when I have to charge them a fee after repairing their vehicles. I then just laugh and finally we have to reach a compromise."

He says he grew up on a farm in Pienaarspoort where most of his friends were black people. "With that background, it was easy for me to adapt to the lifestyle of the people in Mamelodi," he says. About his personal life, Fanie says he has been blessed with a child with his black girlfriend. "I am not planning to rush into marriage yet," he says adding that ba boletse bare, nyala o tla nyela, which means life turns out to be a bit more difficult when you are married. [www.rekord.co.za]

Editor's note: the verb ho nyala means to marry, whereas the verb ho nyela means to defecate. It is common in Sesotho to say U tla nyela, playfully or aggressively, to convey a message similar to the English "I'm gonna beat the shit out of you." The phrase literally says, "You'll shit." The less literal but more contextual meaning would be the one suggested in the article above, "Life turns out to be a bit more difficult when you are married."