Where Southern Sesotho Is Spoken?

May 10th, 2014
Where Southern Sesotho Is Spoken? | One Hour Translation

The Sesotho language is spoken in just a small area of the world, but has a large impact in that area due to geographic and economic features.

Language is a messy discipline. It would be nice to think that in the modern age we’ve cleaned up linguistics and today stand astride a clear path of understanding of all languages, but that’s far from the truth. Even language translation professionals and academics who study language for a living often only have an imperfect grasp on a particular language, and our overall macro-understanding of language – how it develops and its convoluted history – remains largely mysterious to us even today.

A good example of this is the Sotho, or Sesotho language. It’s considered a “minor” African language despite having about 5 million native speakers and perhaps twice that many overall speakers, and being the official language of two nations. But once you go down the rabbit hole of investigating this language you begin to realize there are more questions than answers – a state that’s true about an unfortunately large number of languages out there in the world.

Sesotho Basics

Sesotho and Sotho are interchangeable terms for the same language, which can be a bit confusing. The term Sesotho is an internal reference to the Sesotho language – that is, Sesotho means “the Sotho language” or “the Sesotho language.” It is spoken primarily in the very southern region of Africa, almost exclusively in the countries of South Africa and Lesotho. There are about 4 million native speakers in South Africa and perhaps 1.5 million more in Lesotho. It’s estimated that another 5 million people in South Africa speak Sesotho as a second or even third language, as it’s a useful language for business in South Africa. There’s practically no Sesotho diaspora to speak of – all the speakers of this language reside in this one small area of the world.

The Kingdom of Lesotho and South Africa

Still, in this tiny area of the world Sesotho has an outsize influence and importance, and even drives a bit of translation services work due to the economic relationship between Lesotho and South Africa.

Interestingly, Lesotho is entirely surrounded by South Africa – officially known as an enclave, a country with no direct access to the sea and with only a single border with one other country. This is the result of colonial machinations by the British and the Dutch in previous centuries (Lesotho only attained complete independence from Britain in 1966). Clearly, the modern borders don’t accurately reflect the ancient lands used by Sesotho speakers, resulting in the split between the two countries.

As a result of this geographical oddity, Sesotho is just as important to South Africa as it is to Lesotho; the two countries are absolutely intertwined by economic relationships. This has driven Sesotho to perhaps a greater prominence in South Africa than it otherwise would have attained. Lesotho hasn’t been then most stable of countries since its independence, either, and no doubt South Africa has a vested interest in monitoring its surrounded neighbour.

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