is a Bantu
language written in the
. English is the
national and majority language of Botswana, whose
people are the Batswana (singular
Motswana). Although English is the official language of
majority of speakers also understand Setswana. There are also
speakers in Zimbabwe, Namibia. and
there are about 4 million speakers. Before South Africa became a
multi-racial democracy, the bantustan
was set up to cover
the Tswana speakers of South Africa.
Tswana is a Bantu language
belonging to the Niger-Congo
. It is most closely related to two other
languages in the Sotho language
and Northern Sotho
(Sesotho sa Leboa
). It has also been known as Beetjuans,
Chuana (hence Bechuanaland
Cuana, and Sechuana.
Tswana has the following consonant inventory.
- The sound appears as an allophone of
when followed by or . It is now represented as a in current
orthography as well (unlike for similar cognates in Sotho).
fricative is represented orthographically as , as in Botswana's
capital Gaborone. It
may be realised as a velar fricative ( ) by some speakers, and is
described as such in some learning materials.
Tswana has nine vowel sounds, which can be resolved into seven
- The close lax vowels and open and tense slightly to provide
allophones and in stressed position; eg koloi "wagon".
- The mid vowels can be distinguished from the close lax vowels
in writing by use of the circumflex, so is while <ê> is
.</ê> <ê>Unfortunately for the learner, this
distinction is not usually maintained in modern writing, except in
some dictionaries and learning materials, or if there would
otherwise be confusion.</ê>
Tswana is a tonal language, with a distinction between high tone
and the more common "null" or low tone. Tone is phonemic,
distinguishing between words on a lexical level, as well as having
a grammatical function.
Tswana is a fixed-stress language, with stress always falling on
the penultimate syllable of a word.
Syllables must end in a vowel (unless they are syllabic
consonants), and there are no diphthongs: thus dia
"to delay" is bisyllabic ; and
Some simple Tswana phrases
- Dumela, rra/mma - Hello, Sir/Madam.
Formal inquiry after health:
- O tsogile jang?—How are you? (literally, 'how did you
- Ke tsogile sentle, rra/mma. Wena, o tsogile
jang?—I'm well, Sir/Madam. How are you? OR I'm well/okay. How
Informal inquiry after health:
- Le kae?—How are you? (literally translated Le
kae? also means Where are you? when referring to more
than one person)
- Re teng, rra/mma—We're well, Sir/Madam. (Ke teng,
rra/mma for I am well.)
- O a re eng? (pronounced wah-reng)—How's it going?
- Ga ke re seppe. (pronounced hah kay ray seppay)—It
- Eitha (pronounced ate-uh)—Hey
- Go jwang? (pronounced hoe jwang)—what's up?
- Mari ke sharp (pronounced mare keh shap)—I'm
- Sharp! (pronounced shup)—Bye
Other useful phrases:
- Ke a leboga, rra/mma.—Thank you, Sir/Madam
- Ke itumetse, rra/mma." and "tanki" (slang)—Thanks,
- Ke _____—I'm _____.
- Leina la me ke _______.—My name is _____.
- Leina la gago ke mang?—What is your name?
- O mang?—What's your name? (informal)
- Ke tshwerwe ke tlala.—I'm hungry (literally, I'm
held by hunger)
- Ke tshwerwe ke lenyora.—I'm thirsty (literally,
I'm held by thirst)
- Ke rata ___.—I like ___.
- Ga ke rate___.—I don't like ___.
- Ke batla ___.—I want ___.
- Ga ke batle ____—I do not want ____
- Dijo tse di monate!—This food is good!
- Lekgolo—One Hundred
- A re tsamaye!—Let's go!
- Kokelwana e ko kae? —Where is the clinic?
- Ke nako mang?—What time is it?
- Ke kopa thuso, tswee-tswee.—I need help, please.
- A nka go thusa?—May I help you?
- A o ya ko ____?—Are you going to _____?
- ____ ke eng ka Setswana?—What is _____ in
- Robala sentle.—Sleep well.
- Boroko!—Good night!
- Tsamaya sentle.—Go well (said to the person/group
- Sala sentle—Stay well (said to the person/group
- Motogo—Soft Porridge
- Bogobe—Porridge (Pap)
Proportion of the population that
speaks Setswana at home, by municipality, in South Africa
Loan words and derivations
Setswana speakers use many loan words in their day-to-day speech.
These words are usually assimilated from the pop-culture in
America, Europe, and South Africa (such as sharp
as adjectives, or Hola
for hello). These
words are frequently slang words or words for modern or Western
concepts. Many Setswana words are derived from English, German, and
Dutch words such computere
for computer or
for window (from Afrikaans venster
perhaps from German Fenster
). Many Setswana words for
Western technology are their counterparts re-written and
re-pronounced in consonant-vowel syllabic cluster form.
to the Ndebele languages spoken in Zimbabwe and South
Africa, there are no significant differences between standard
Tswana as spoken in South Africa and standard Tswana as spoken in
- Tables based on The Sound System of Setswana,
University of Botswana 1999 (2001)