Section One - Grammar and Spelling
1. Gender: masculine and feminine. There are few cases in Sesotho where a particular conventional form is adopted, except for actual names of animals/living things. We do not make much of the differentiation in sex when writing, for example in pronouns, etc. We only refer to sex differentiation where it bears more importance to the content of the message. For example, we will make it clear that we are referring to a woman in salutation. However we will make no further reference to this unless where such differentiation bears direct reference to the message, e.g. when something can only be done by women, etc.
2. Plural: the form of indicating plural words is varied and not uniform. For example nouns beginning with a particular letter will adopt a certain letter to turn plural. For example "motho" = (person) will become "batho" = (people). Those beginning with "s" will begin with "d" in plural form. There are many other forms of indicating plural which bear no uniformity to the above though.
Section Two - Measurements and Abbreviations
1. Measurements: As a substantially underdeveloped language Sesotho tends to follow the English system of measurement. Thus any item of measurement that is adopted in English is directly applicable and exactly compatible in our language regardless of whether for volume, length, height density, etc. All we do is localise the language.
Numbers: The South African system uses commas to separate decimals for thousands, millions, billions etc. The dot is used for the lesser units (e.g. R1, 589.00) = One thousand, five hundred and eighty nine rands.
Time: We use both 12 and 24 hour clock depending on the preference (am/pm and e.g. 13 h 20 are both used). We have no abbreviations inour own language at this stage.
Date: We again have a tendency to simply adopt the English style for expediency, however we would write out our date in a more verbal form (e.g. 2004-03-08 would be written out as "la 8 Tlhakubele 2004"). Of course we have our own names for the months although nothing differs for the numerals.
We do not keep a space between figure and measurement abbreviation (20cm). However, it would be too insignificant a difference to argue either way because we do not have an original format derived from our own language rules).
We have a pathetic dearth of formularised language for the reasons given above, therefore most of the abbreviations taken for granted in English still create problems for us in that we have to literally write out the message in most of such abbreviations. However, there are a few established ones such as given below:
jj. (jwalo jwalo) = etc.
No. = Nmr. (Number)
e.g. = mohlala (this is written out - although not the worst case by any means)
The tragedy of our underdeveloped language would mean that under normal circumstances we leave this formula as is: WxLxHxD = LxLxHxP.
However if we really have to translate it for fuller clarity we would have to give full word translations for these symbols. The determining factor is the extent of literacy of one's readership in the final analysis.
For all the below abbreviations we would normally write out the translation in full and give the acronym in brackets. (We are restricted from formulating our own acronyms lest there be confusion resulting from non-conventionally recognised acronyms and the need to make language readily available to a largely semi-literate vernacular readership):
(Mokgatlo wa Moruo wa Dinaha tsa Europa) = EEC
DTP = Not even a properly standardised translation for it at this stage (we localise to give meaning of the acronym)
NB: In general our language is not as yet sufficiently amenable to abbreviations owing to its low level of development.
Section Three - Hyphenation
Hyphens are used to link compound terms and verb pronouns, e.g. tlhahisoleseding. This is a term used to localise a relatively shorter term "information".
There are differing approaches to the use of the hyphen. Some people are more comfortable with writing words in combined form even where one would foresee a use for a hyphen. For example the above example is written in combined form by a lot of people. This is a moot point in our language at this stage, particularly because even the English approach to the use of the hyphen is more an issue of in-house rules.
Section Four - Miscellaneous Peculiarities
Names are localised in accordance with the way they sound (our syllables are not complete without a vowel). However some are well enough established to have an original form. For Example, France is referred to as "Fora", whereas Germany is referred to as "Jeremane". The need for localised names dictates a more adapted approach to localising names (usually in accordance with the closest form of phono possible in our language).
We follow the conventional way of writing names and surnames. However there are various emerging forms of writing out some titles; for example some people would write "moprofesara" for professor, others would write it out as "moProfesara" unless it appears at the beginning of a sentence where in both these examples upper case would be used to begin.
NB: This example refers only to cases where the title immediately refers to the bearer's name, otherwise the first example is used by all for all other occurrences.
Section Five - Geographic Distribution
Sesotho is a relatively minority language specie belonging to a general group called Sotho languages. These include two main languages (Sesotho and Sepedi, as more recently, and constitutionally named). These languages are still sometimes referred to by their colonial names; Southern and Northern Sotho respectively. The Sotho languages have a lot in similarity with the Tswana group languages, in comparison to the other languages and groups in the country. We understand one another with much ease across these groups.
Sesotho consists of two orthographic forms. One is used in Lesotho while the other is used in South Africa. Sesotho is spoken over a wide area in South Africa ranging from the principal province of Free State and reaching out in three main directions; firstly towards the South Western Free State where it meets with the Xhosa speaking people there, and in the North Eastern Free State direction where it meets with the Zulu speaking people there. The main route of the three is towards the north to Gauteng where the Free State Province meets with Gauteng; one of the principal Sesotho speaking provinces.
The language is the same in all respects but with minor orthographical differences. These include, for example, differences in writing out a name, e.g.: South African Sesotho = Gauteng and Lesotho Sesotho = Khauteng. There are numerous other differences, but all are really superficial. The Lesotho orthography is regarded as the more ancient one while the South African orthography is regarded as the more developed and evolving one. The South African orthography is without doubt influenced by the multilingual nature of the environment in which the language is spoken. This is especially so in the many metropolitan regions such as Johannesburg.
As already mentioned, the language is still highly underdeveloped, presumably as a casualty of colonial and apartheid oppression which was suffered by all local languages. However, the main restricting factors are twofold: It is a minority language, spoken (in South Africa only) by less that 3 million people and is too similar to other languages to really attract that much attention. The South African environment is such that there is an everincreasing need to become multilingual, thus the fact that the languages are mostly easily comprehensible to most people tends to discourage efforts to develop them. People would rather much spend their time learning a totally different language such as Zulu.
However, all is not lost. A lot of literary works have been published in proper language and there are attempts to rejuvenate language development powered by a government policy of recognition of all 11 official languages in the country.