Northern Sotho, or as an endonym, is a Sotho-Tswana language spoken in the northeastern provinces of South Africa. It is sometimes referred to as Pedi or , its main dialect, through synecdoche. However, there are strong objections to this political synecdoche by most other Northern Sotho dialect speakers, such as speakers of the Modjadji's Lobedu dialect. According to the South African National Census of 2011, it is the first language of over 4,6 million (9,1%) people, making it the 5th most spoken language in South Africa.


The original confusion arose from the fact the Northern Sotho written language was based largely on the Sepedi dialect (from which missionaries first developed the orthography in 1860 by Merensky and others), but has subsequently provided a common writing system for 20 or more varieties of the Sotho-Tswana languages spoken in the former Transvaal.

Other varieties of Northern Sotho

Northern Sotho can be subdivided into Highveld-Sotho, which consists of comparatively recent immigrants mostly from the west and southwest parts of South Africa, and Lowveld-Sotho, which consists of a combination of immigrants from the north of South Africa and Sotho inhabitants of longer standing. Like other Sotho-Tswana people their languages are named after totemic animals and, sometimes, by alternating or combining these with the names of famous chiefs.

The Highveld-Sotho

The group consists of the following dialects: *Bapedi **Bapedi Marota (in the narrower sense) **Marota Mamone **Marota Mohlaletsi **Batau Bapedi (Matlebjane, Masemola, Marishane, Batau ba Manganeng - Nkadimeng Kgaphola, Nchabeleng, Mogashoa, Phaahla, Sloane, Mashegoana, Mphanama) *Phokwane *Bakone **Kone (Ga-Matlala) **Dikgale *Baphuthi *Baroka *Bakgaga (Mphahlele, Maake, Mothapo) *Chuene *Mathabatha *Maserumule *Tlou (Ga-Molepo) *Thobejane (Ga-Mafefe) *Batlokwa, **Batlokwa Ba Lethebe *Makgoba *Batlou *Bahananwa (Ga-Mmalebogo) *Moremi *Motlhatlhana *Babirwa *Mmamabolo *Bamongatane *Bakwena ba Moletjie (Moloto) *Batlhaloga *Bamohlala/ Ba Ga Mohlala, Banareng,Ba Hwaduba Ba Ga Magale and many others.

The Lowveld-Sotho

The group consists of the Lobedu, Narene, Phalaborwa, Mogoboya, Kone, Kgaga, Pulana, Pai, and Kutswe.


Before Moshoeshoe and his Basotho nation of Lesotho, Basotho people were there. Moshoshoe didn't found Basotho, but he founded a nation made up of Sesotho speaking people from different Sesotho speaking clans in which the British imperialist in Southern Africa erroneously called the Basotho nation cutting them off from the rest of other Basothos outside Lesotho in the Orange Free State and Transvaal in present-day South Africa, Botswana as if Moshoshoe and his people were unique from other Basotho people. Basotho people were there before Moshoshoe the son of Mokhachane of another Basotho clan of Bamokoteli clan, united the smaller and vulnerable clans of Basothos under his Bakwena clan leadership during the Shaka wars of difaqane after other Basothos have migrated to different directions from their cradle in Ntswanatsatsi. Moshoshoe and his Bakwena clan and the rest of the other Basotho clan originate from Ntswanatsatsi in present-day South Africa. Families moved away from each other in Ntswanatsatsi and started clans using a totem as a symbol of their clan (like a crocodile (Koena) which Moshoshoe' ancestors used) and different families moved to different directions within precolonial South Africa under different leadership. Under different leadership some settled in the Western side, present-day North West Province others spread around Ntswanatsatsi to the present-day Free State and Lesotho, others to present-day Botswana others to present-day Zambiaothers moved to the present day Gauteng in South Africa and they became patriarchs of the founding fathers of Bakgatla which also gave birth to Northern Sotho which in turn gave birth to different Northern clans with their dialects like BaPedi , Batlokwa, Babirwa, etc and others ended up in inter-marrying with other tribes they moved next to and mingled with like Swatis, Vendas and Tsongas and Ngunis and in some places these Northern Basotho' Sotho was diluted by the influence of these tribe they found in the area, they moved into and lived alongside. This is what happened to a subgroup of Northern Basotho who end up becoming Mapulana with their Sesotho influenced by Swati. Also some of the Northern Basotho having a common denominator of "apa" (meaning talk) with Vendas, I mean Balovedu, BaGubu and Babirwa of Bobirwa in the Southern part of Botswana near the Zimbabwean border. All these Northern Sotho clans have their chief of leader, they never had a paramount king, so, it will be absurd to call them BaPedi because the BaPedi kings have never been their kings. They did their own things from Ramokgopha of Batlhokwa, Malebogo of Bahanawa, Matlala, etc, they were never part of the Pedi kingdom.


Northern Sotho is one of the Sotho languages of the Bantu family. Although Northern Sotho shares the name ''Sotho'' with Southern Sotho, the two groups have less in common with each other than they have with Setswana. Northern Sotho is also closely related to Setswana, sheKgalagari and siLozi. It is a standardised dialect, amalgamating several distinct varieties or dialects. Until recently, ''Lobedu'' (also ''Khilovedu'' or ''Khelobedu'') used to exist only in an unwritten form, and the standard Northern Sotho language (known a
and orthography was usually used for teaching and writing by this language community. As of 2018, a Khilovedu dictionary is being compiled in addition to proper Khilovedu orthography which is also in the process of being developed. The monarch associated with this language community is Queen Modjadji (also known as the Rain Queen). Lobedu is spoken by a majority of people in the Greater Tzaneen, Greater Letaba, and BaPhalaborwa municipalities, and a minority in Greater Giyani municipality, as well as in the Limpopo Province and Tembisa township in Gauteng. Its speakers are known as the Balobedu. Sepulana (also sePulane) exists in unwritten form and forms part of the standard Northern Sotho. Sepulana is spoken in Bushbuckridge area by the MaPulana people. Northern Sotho is also spoken by the Mohlala people.

Writing system

Sepedi is written in the Latin alphabet. The letter ''š'' is used to represent the sound [] ("sh" is used in the trigraph "tsh" to represent an aspirated ''ts'' sound). The [[Circumflex|circumflex accent can be added to the letters e and o to distinguish their different sounds, but it is mostly used in language reference books. Some word prefixes, especially in verbs, are written separately from the stem.




Within nasal consonant compounds, the first nasal consonant sound is recognized as syllabic. Words such as ''nthuše'' "help me", are pronounced as . /n/ can also be pronounced as following a velar consonant. 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.Ethnologue.com: Languages of South Africa


Some examples of Sepedi words and phrases:

See also

*Pedi people *Lebowa *Sekhukhuneland


External links

* *
Online Northern Sotho – English dictionaryOnline Northern Sotho explanatory dictionaryPan South African Language Board
* Audio files in Pedi at Wikimedia Commons


Spell checker for OpenOffice.org and MozillaOpenOffice.orgMozilla Firefox web-browser
Mozilla Thunderbird email program
in Northern Sotho
Project to translate Free and Open Source Software into all the official languages of South Africa including Northern Sotho
Keyboard with extra Northern Sotho characters
{{DEFAULTSORT:Northern Sotho language Category:Sotho-Tswana languages Category:Languages of South Africa