Native toSouth Africa
RegionGauteng, Limpopo, parts of Mpumalanga
Native speakers
4.7 million (2011 census)[1]
9.1 million L2 speakers (2002)[2]
Early forms
  • Hurutshe
    • Kgatla
Standard forms
Latin (Northern Sotho alphabet)
Sotho Braille
Ditema tsa Dinoko
Signed Northern Sotho
Official status
Official language in
 South Africa
Regulated byPan South African Language Board
Language codes
ISO 639-2nso
ISO 639-3nso
Glottologpedi1238  Pedi
Geographical distribution of Northern Sotho in South Africa: proportion of the population that speaks a form of Northern Sotho at home.
Geographical distribution of Northern Sotho in South Africa: density of Northern Sotho home-language speakers.
  <1 /km²
  1–3 /km²
  3–10 /km²
  10–30 /km²
  30–100 /km²
  100–300 /km²
  300–1000 /km²
  1000–3000 /km²
  >3000 /km²
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
A speaker of the Northern Sotho language

Sepedi , formerly known by as Sesotho sa Leboa, is a Sotho-Tswana language group spoken in the northeastern provinces of South Africa. It is commonly referred to in its standardized form[4] as Pedi or Sepedi and holds the status of an official language in South Africa.[5] [6]

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 Sepedi language is spoken most commonly in Mpumalanga, Gauteng and the Limpopo provinces.[7]

Official Language Status

Sepedi vs Northern Sotho

According to Chapter 1, Section 6 of the South African Constitution, Sepedi is one of South Africa's 12 official languages.[8] There has been significant debate about whether Northern Sotho should be used instead of Pedi.[9] The English version of the South African Constitution lists Sepedi as an official language, while the Sepedi or Northern Sotho version of the Constitution of South Africa lists Sesotho sa Lebowa as an official South African language.[10]

South Africa's Official Language Policy

South Africa's English Language policy refers to the eleven official languages of South Africa as

specified in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa:[1]

(i.e., Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, and English).


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The Northern Sotho written language was based largely on the Sepedi dialect. Missionaries studied this dialect the most closely and first developed the orthography in 1860 by Alexander Merensky, Grutzner, and Gerlachshoop.[11] This subsequently provided a common writing system for 20 or more varieties of the Sotho-Tswana languages spoken in the former Transvaal, and also helped lead to "Sepedi" being used as the umbrella term for the entire language family. However, there are objections to this synecdoche by other Northern Sotho dialect speakers, such as speakers of Modjadji's Lobedu dialect.[citation needed]

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.[original research?]

The Highveld-Sotho

The group consists of the following dialects:

The Lowveld-Sotho

The group consists of Lobedu, Narene, Phalaborwa (Malatji), Mogoboya, Kone, Kgaga, Pulana, Pai, Ramafalo, Mohale and Kutswe.


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 do with Setswana.[citation needed][12] Northern Sotho is also closely related to Setswana, sheKgalagari and siLozi. It is a standardized dialect, amalgamating several distinct varieties or dialects. Northern Sotho is also spoken by the Mohlala people.

Most Khelobedu speakers only learn to speak Sepedi at school, such that Sepedi is only their second or third language. Khelobedu is a written language. 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.

Writing system

Sepedi is written in the Latin alphabet. The letter š is used to represent the sound [ʃ] ("sh" is used in the trigraph "tsh" to represent an aspirated ts sound). The 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.[13]



Northern Sotho vowels
Front Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a


Northern Sotho consonants
Labial Alveolar Post-
Velar Glottal
plain prepalatal alveolar plain lateral
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Plosive ejective pʃʼ psʼ tˡʼ
aspirated pʃʰ psʰ tˡʰ
Affricate ejective tsʼ tʃʼ
aspirated tsʰ tʃʰ kxʰ
Fricative voiceless f fs s ɬ ʃ h~ɦ
voiced β βʒ ʒ ɣ
Rhotic r ɺ
Approximant w l j

Within nasal consonant compounds, the first nasal consonant sound is recognized as syllabic. Words such as nthuše "help me", are pronounced as [n̩tʰuʃe]. /n/ can also be pronounced as /ŋ/ following a velar consonant.[14]

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.[15]


Some examples of Sepedi words and phrases:

English Sepedi
Welcome Kamogelo (noun) / Amogela (verb)
Good day Dumela (singular) / Dumelang (plural) / Thobela and Re a lotšha (to elders)
How are you? O kae? (singular) Le kae? (plural, also used for elders)
I am fine Ke gona.
I am fine too, thank you Le nna ke gona, ke a leboga.
Thank you Ke a leboga (I thank you) / Re a leboga (we thank you)
Good luck Mahlatse
Have a safe journey O be le leeto le le bolokegilego
Good bye! Šala gabotse (singular)/ Šalang gabotse (plural, also used for elders)(keep well) / Sepela gabotse(singular)/Sepelang gabotse (plural, also used for elders)(go well)
I am looking for a job Ke nyaka mošomô
No smoking Ga go kgogwe (/folwe)
No entrance Ga go tsenwe
Beware of the steps! Hlokomela disetepese!
Beware! Hlokomela!
Congratulations on your birthday Mahlatse letšatšing la gago la matswalo
Seasons greetings Ditumedišo tša Sehla sa Maikhutšo
Merry Christmas Mahlogonolo a Keresemose
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Mahlogonolo a Keresemose le ngwaga wo moswa wo monate
Expression Gontsha sa mafahleng
yes ee/eya
no aowa
please hle
thank you ke a leboga
help thušang/thušo
danger kotsi
emergency tšhoganetšo
excuse me ntshwarele
I am sorry Ke maswabi
I love you Ke a go rata
Questions / sentences Dipotšišo / mafoko
Do you accept (money/credit cards/traveler's cheques)? O amogela (singular) / Le

amogela ( tshelete/.../...)?

How much is this? Ke bokae e?
I want ... Ke nyaka...
What are you doing? O dira eng?
What is the time? Ke nako mang?
Where are you going? O ya kae?
Numbers Dinomoro
1 tee
2 pedi
3 tharo
4 nne
5 hlano
6 tshela
7 šupa
8 seswai
9 senyane
10 lesome
11 lesometee
12 lesomepedi
13 lesometharo
14 lesomenne
15 lesomehlano
20 masomepedi
21 masomepedi-tee
22 masomepedi-pedi
50 masomehlano
100 lekgolo
1000 sekete
Days of the week Matšatši a beke
Sunday Lamorena
Monday Mošupologo
Tuesday Labobedi
Wednesday Laboraro
Thursday Labone
Friday Labohlano
Saturday Mokibelo
Months of the year Dikgwedi tša ngwaga
January Pherekgong
February Dibokwane
March Tlhakola
April Moranang
May Mopitlo
June Ngwatobosego
July Phuphu
August Phato
September Lewedi
October Diphalane
November Dibatsela
December Manthole
Computers and Internet terms Didirishwa tsa khomphutha le Inthanete
computer sebaledi / khomphutara
e-mail imeile
e-mail address aterese ya imeile
Internet Inthanete
Internet café khefi ya Inthanete
website weposaete
website address aterese ya weposaete
Rain Pula
To understand Go kwešiša
Reed Pipes Dinaka
Drums Meropa
Horn Lenaka
Colours Mebala
Red/Orange Hubedu
Brown Tsotho
Green Talamorogo
Blue Talalerata
Black Ntsho
White šweu
Yellow Serolwana
Gold Gauta
Grey Pududu
Pale Sehla or Tshehla
Silver Silifere

Sample text

Universal Declaration of Human Rights[16]

Temana 1
Batho ka moka ba belegwe ba lokologile le gona ba na le seriti sa go lekana le ditokelo. Ba filwe monagano le letswalo mme ba swanetše go swarana ka moya wa bana ba mpa.
Temana 2
Mang le mang o swanetše ke ditokelo le ditokologo ka moka tše go boletšwego ka tšona ka mo Boikanong bjo, ntle le kgethollo ya mohuta wo mongwe le wo mongwe bjalo ka morafe, mmala, bong, polelo, bodumedi, dipolitiki goba ka kgopolo, botšo go ya ka setšhaba goba maemo, diphahlo, matswalo goba maemo a mangwe le a mangwe.
Go feta fao, ga go kgethollo yeo e swanetšego go dirwa go ya ka maemo a dipolitiki, tokelo ya boahlodi, goba maemo a ditšhabatšhaba goba lefelo leo motho a dulago go lona, goba ke naga ye e ipušago, trasete, naga ya go se ipuše goba se sengwe le se sengwe seo se ka fokotšago maemo a go ikemela ga naga ya gabo.

See also


  1. ^ Sepedi at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Webb, Vic. 2002. "Language in South Africa: the role of language in national transformation, reconstruction and development." Impact: Studies in language and society, 14:78
  3. ^ Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  4. ^ "PanSALB". Retrieved 18 September 2023.
  5. ^ "The SA Constitution". Retrieved 18 September 2023.
  6. ^ "free online course". Retrieved 18 September 2023.
  7. ^ "SEPEDI - South African Language Sepedi". Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  8. ^ "Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 - Chapter 1: Founding Provisions | South African Government". Retrieved 20 September 2023.
  9. ^ "Pedi | South African History Online". Retrieved 20 September 2023.
  10. ^ Rakgogo, Tebogo J.; Zungu, Evangeline B. (28 February 2022). "A blatant disregard of Section 6 (1) of the Constitution of South Africa by higher education institutions and language authorities: An onomastic discrepancy". Literator. 43 (1): 9. ISSN 2219-8237.
  11. ^ Rakgogo, Tebogo Jacob; van Huyssteen, Linda (3 July 2019). "A constitutional language name, lost in translation and its impact on the identity of the first language speakers". South African Journal of African Languages. 39 (2): 165–174. doi:10.1080/02572117.2019.1618015. ISSN 0257-2117. S2CID 199161866.
  12. ^ "Sepedi First Language". Career Times. Retrieved 21 February 2020.
  13. ^ Pukuntšu ya polelopedi ya sekolo: Sesotho sa Leboa/ Sepedi le Seisimane: e gatišitšwe ke Oxford = Oxford bilingual school dictionary: Northern Sotho and English. De Schryver, Gilles-Maurice. Cape Town: Oxford University Press Southern Africa. 2007. pp. S24–S26. ISBN 9780195765557. OCLC 259741811.((cite book)): CS1 maint: others (link)
  14. ^ Louwrens, Kosch, Kotzé, Louis J., Ingeborg M., Albert E. (1995). Northern Sotho. München: Lincom. pp. 4–11.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ " Languages of South Africa". Archived from the original on 10 April 2017.
  16. ^ "Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)", African American Studies Center, Oxford University Press, 30 September 2009, retrieved 18 September 2023