Northern Sotho language

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Northern Sotho
Sesotho sa Leboa
Native to South Africa
Region Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga
Native speakers
4.7 million (2011 census)[1]
9.1 million L2 speakers (2002)[2]
Pedi (Masemola, Tau, Koni)
Lobedu (Kgaga)
Gananwa (Tlokwa)
Kopa (Ndebele-Sotho)
? Phalaborwa
? Kutswe (East Sotho)
? Pai (East Sotho)
? Pulana (East Sotho)
Latin (Sotho alphabet)
Sotho Braille
Signed Pedi
Official status
Official language in
South Africa
Regulated by Pan South African Language Board
Language codes
ISO 639-2 nso
ISO 639-3 Variously:
nso – Pedi etc.
brl – Birwa
two – Tswapong
Glottolog nort3233  (North Sotho + South Ndebele)[4]
Person Mopedi/Mosotho
People Bapedi/Basotho
Language Sepedi/Sesotho
File:South Africa Northern Sotho speakers proportion map.svg
Geographical distribution of Northern Sotho in South Africa: proportion of the population that speaks a form of Northern Sotho at home.
File:South Africa Northern Sotho speakers density map.svg
Geographical distribution of Northern Sotho in South Africa: density of Northern Sotho home-language speakers.

Northern Sotho (Sesotho sa Leboa, also known by the name of its standardized dialect Sepedi or Pedi) is a Bantu language spoken primarily in South Africa, where it is one of the 11 official languages. According to the 2011 census it was the first language of 4,618,576 people in South Africa, principally in the provinces of Limpopo, Gauteng and Mpumalanga.[5]

Urban varieties of Northern Sotho, such as Pretoria Sotho (actually a derivative of Tswana), have acquired clicks in an ongoing process of such sounds spreading from Nguni languages[citation needed]. The spiritual father of Bapedi is King Sekhukhune who lived from 1814 to 1882.


Northern Sotho is one of the Sotho languages of the Bantu family. Northern Sotho is thus most closely related to Sesotho (Southern Sotho), Setswana, sheKgalagari and siLozi. It has several distinct varieties.

Lobedu (also Lovedu or Selobedu) exists only in an unwritten form, and the standard Northern Sotho language and orthography is usually used for teaching and writing by this language community. The monarch associated with this language community is Queen Modjadji (also known as the Rain Queen). Lobedu is spoken mainly in the area of Duiwelskloof (now called Modjadjiskloof) in the Limpopo Province (former Northern Province). Its speakers are known as the Balobedu.

Sepulana (also sePulane) also exists in unwritten form and forms part of the standard Northern Sotho. Sepulana is spoken in Bushbuckridge area by the Mapulana people.

Confusion of nomenclature with Sepedi

Northern Sotho has often been equated with its major component Sepedi, and continued to be known as Pedi or Sepedi for some years after the new South African constitution appeared. However, the Pan South African Language Board and the Northern Sotho National Lexicography Unit now specifically prefer and endorse the names "Northern Sotho" or "Sesotho sa Leboa".

The original confusion arose from the fact that the (now official) Northern Sotho written language was based largely on Sepedi (for which missionaries first developed the orthography), but has subsequently provided a common writing system for 20 or more varieties of the Sotho-Tswana languages spoken in the former Transvaal (including dialects of Sepedi). The name "Sepedi" thus refers specifically to the language of the Pedi people, while "Northern Sotho" refers to the official language of that name and to all the speech varieties it has been taken to cover. (It should be noted that the ethnic name "Pedi" also refers to a ruling group that established its dominance over other communities in the 18th century and to the culture and lifestyle of that group and of those over whom it ruled.)

Other varieties of Northern Sotho

Apart from Sepedi itself, the other languages or dialects covered by the term "Northern Sotho" appear to be a diverse grouping of communal speech-forms within the Sotho-Tswana group. They are apparently united by the fact that they are classifiable neither as Southern Sotho nor as Tswana.[6]

Very little published information is available on these other dialects of Northern Sotho, but these have been reported: kheLobedu (khiLobedu or seLobedu), seTlokwa, seBirwa, sePulana, seKhutswe, seTswapo and also SePai (transitional between Sotho-Tswana and Zulu/Swati). The morphological and possible lexical variation among these dialects has led to the above assertion that 'Northern Sotho' is no more than a holding category for otherwise unclassified Sotho-Tswana varieties spoken in northeastern South Africa. Maho (2002) leaves SePhalaborwa and the "East Sotho" varieties of SeKutswe, SePai, and SePulana unclassified within Sotho–Tswana. Their precise classification would appear to be a matter for further research.


Some examples of Northern Sotho words and phrases:

English Northern Sotho
Welcome Kamogelo (noun) / Amogela (verb)
Good day / Hello Dumela (singular) / Dumelang (plural) / Thobela (to elders)
How are you? O kae? (singular) Le kae? (plural, also used for elders)
I am fine Ke gona.
I am fine, thank you Le nna ke gona, ke a leboga.
Thank you Ke a leboga (I thank you) / Re a leboga (we thank you)
Good luck Mahlatse
Have a safe journey O be le leeto le le bolokegilego
Good bye! šala gabotse (singular)/ šalang gabotse (plural, also used for elders)(keep well) / Sepela gabotse(singular)/Sepelang gabotse (plural, also used for elders)(go well)
I am looking for a job Ke nyaka mošomô
No smoking Ga go kgogwe
No entrance Ga go tsenwe
Beware of the steps! Hlokomela distepse!
Beware! Hlokomela!
Congratulations on your birthday Mahlatse letšatšing la matswalo
Seasons greetings Ditumedišo tša Sehla sa Maikhutšo
Merry Christmas Mahlogonolo a Keresemose
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Mahlogonolo a Keresemose le ngwaga wo moswa wo monate
yes ee
no aowa
please hle
thank you ke a leboga
help thušang/thušo
danger kotsi
emergency tshoganetšo
excuse me ntshwarele
I am sorry Ke maswabi
I love you Ke a go rata
Questions / sentences Dipotšišo
Do you accept (money/credit cards/traveler's cheques)? Le

amogela ( tshelete/.../...)?

How much is this? Ke bokae?
I want ... Ke nyaka...
What are you doing? O dira eng?
What is the time? Ke nako mang?
Where are you going? O ya kae?
Numbers Dinomoro
1 one -tee
2 two - pedi
3 three - tharo
4 four - nne
5 five - hlano
6 six - tshela
7 seven - šupa
8 eight - seswai
9 nine - senyane
10 ten - lesome
11 eleven - lesometee
12 twelve - lesomepedi
13 thirteen - lesometharo
14 fourteen - lesomenne
15 fifteen - lesomehlano
20 twenty - masomepedi
21 twenty one - masomepedi-tee
22 twenty two - masomepedi-pedi
50 fifty - masomehlano
100 hundred - lekgolo
1000 thousand - sekete
Days of the week Matšatši a beke
Sunday Lamorena
Monday Mošupologo
Tuesday Labobedi
Wednesday Laboraro
Thursday Labone
Friday Labohlano
Saturday Mokibelo
Months of the year Dikgwedi tša ngwaga
January Pherekgong
February Hlakola
March Hlakubele
April Mmase
May Motsheanong
June Phupjane
July Phupu
August Phato
September Loetse
October Mphalane
November Pudungwana
December Tshitwe or Ngwêtabošego
Computers and Internet terms
computer khomphutara
e-mail imeile
e-mail address aterese ya imeile
Internet Inthanete
Internet café khefi ya Inthanete
website wepsaete
website address aterese ya wepsaete


  1. Pedi etc. at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Birwa at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Tswapong at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Webb, Vic. 2002. "Language in South Africa: the role of language in national transformation, reconstruction and development." Impact: Studies in language and society, 14:78
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  4. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "North Sotho + South Ndebele". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Census 2011: Census in brief (PDF). Statistics South Africa. 2012. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-621-41388-5. Retrieved 6 September 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. See Doke, Clement M. (1954). The Southern Bantu Languages. Handbook of African Languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press

External links

Audio files in Pedi at Wikimedia Commons