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.


Stephen Bess said...

Dumela natate! I've been practicing saying words with my wife and daughter. They are pleasantly surprised whenever I say them. It catches them off guard. lol! I'll copy and practice this. Thanks again.



Rethabile said...


That's exactly the way to go about it. Keep going at it, and at them, phrase after phrase, and you'll start feeling more at ease, especially if at some point you happen to go "home."


Anonymous said...

ke kopa sepontu! kea leboha.

ntate bess, ho joang? O lekhoa? O nyala motsoho kapa joang? hobaneng O rata ho makatsa lelapa la hau? khotso, pula, ping-pong!!!

Sam Dorrington said...

You've gotta love "Ke kopa pampiri"

That could be a life saver! lol