Lesotho is a landlocked country located in southern Africa. Beginning around 1822, present-day Lesotho was part of the kingdom of Chief Moshoeshoe I, who fought against other tribes to maintain its unity. British and Dutch colonists from nearby Cape Colony were influential in shaping the country, fighting over rights to the land for many years. In 1869, the Chief signed a treaty with England, ceding half of his kingdom to the country. Lesotho won its independence in 1966. This history of colonialism along with the history of the ruling indigenous class have shaped the culture of the country today. The languages spoken here reflect that history.
National And Official Languages Of Lesotho
Today, the national and official languages of Lesotho are English and Sesotho. These languages were nominated as such in 1966 at the time of the country’s independence. The distinction was further enforced by the 1993 Constitution which states that these two languages are official and that no transaction conducted in English or Sesotho may be declared invalid.
English is generally spoken in government offices and official business. For educational purposes, it becomes the language of secondary school after the 5th year of instruction. Being able to communicate in English is seen as a necessity for obtaining a job and for conducting business.
Sesotho, also known as Sotho, is the native language of the Basotho ethnic group. It belongs to the Sotho-Tswana subgroup of the larger Niger-Congo language family and is commonly referred to as a Bantu language. It is the language of instruction for primary education, which is the first four years of school. Although the country encourages bilingualism, many individuals are only able to complete primary school and do not go on to learn English. Estimates suggest that between 85% and 90% of the population speaks Sesotho as a first language and 59% of the adult population is literate in the language. Because of its widespread use, Sesotho is becoming more common in printed and broadcast media, religious services, and even politics.
Minority Languages Of Lesotho
The minority languages of Lesotho are Zulu, Phuthi, and Xhosa. Each of these is considered a Bantu language.
Zulu is the Zulu ethnic group's native language and is spoken by approximately 248,000 people in Lesotho. However, it is also spoken throughout Africa by a total of 12 million individuals.
Phuthi is considered an endangered language and is thought to have only 20,000 speakers in numerous communities along the border between Lesotho and South Africa. It is the native language of the Nguni indigenous peoples. Linguists believe that Sesotho and Xhosa have influenced Phuthi, although it possesses its unique grammar.
The Xhosa language is spoken by both the Amaxhosa and Amabhaca ethnic groups, who live in both Lesotho and South Africa. Approximately 600,000 people speak Xhosa in Lesotho. This language utilizes the phenomenon of click consonants.
Main Immigrant Languages Of Lesotho
The most common language of immigrants in Lesotho is Afrikaans, a West Germanic language that evolved out of the Dutch language subgroup. It is most commonly spoken in South Africa and Namibia. This language has been influenced by Bantu languages, Malay, Portuguese, and German, but maintains a vocabulary that is between 90% and 95% Dutch-based.
About the Author
Amber is a freelance writer, English as a foreign language teacher, and Spanish-English translator. She lives with her husband and 3 cats.
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