Languages of Lesotho

Languages of Lesotho
Official languages Sotho and English
Minority languages Zulu, Phuthi, Xhosa
Main immigrant languages Afrikaans
Source Ethnologue

Lesotho, an enclave in South Africa, is home to several languages, including English, Phuthi, Sotho, Xhosa and Zulu—all, except for English, belong to the Niger–Congo language family.[1]

National and official languages

Sotho (Sesotho or Southern Sotho), a Southern Bantu language, is the national language of Lesotho,[2][3][note 1] and is spoken by most Basotho.[note 2] It was recognized as the national language by the National and Official Languages Bill, ratified by the National Assembly of Lesotho on 12 September 1966, which also established Sotho and English as the country's two official languages.[1][4] The country's language policy promotes bilingualism,[5] and Chapter 1 of the Constitution of Lesotho states:[6]

The official languages of Lesotho shall be Sesotho and English and, accordingly, no instrument or transaction shall be invalid by reason only that it is expressed or conducted in one of those languages.
The Constitution of Lesotho, 1993

Sotho is the first language of more than 90 percent of the population[7] and is "used widely as a medium of communication" in day-to-day speech.[8] English is reserved for official interactions,[8] such as "government and administration",[9] although the use of Sotho in politics, religion, and the mass media is growing.[10]

Primary education of children takes place in Sotho for the first four years, but English becomes the medium of instruction in the fifth year of primary school.[9][11] Competence in English is "particularly important ... for educational, political, social and economic transactions in the subcontinent"[12] and facilitates obtaining employment within Lesotho and abroad.[13] Although "efforts are made to ensure that Basotho children" learn to read, speak and write English,[13] many Basotho complete only "basic primary education [and] remain monolingual in Sesotho".[9]

Minority and immigrant languages

A minority of Basotho, estimated to number 248,000 as of 1993, speak Zulu, one of the eleven official languages of South Africa.[14] Phuthi, a Nguni language closely related to Swazi, an official language of South Africa and Swaziland, is spoken by 43,000 Basotho (as of 2002).[14] Xhosa, another Nguni language and official language of South Africa, is spoken by 18,000 people in Lesotho.[14] Speakers of these minority languages typically also speak Sotho.[9]

Afrikaans, spoken mainly in South Africa and Namibia, is an immigrant language.[14]

See also


  1. The name "Lesotho" translates roughly as "the land of the people who speak Sesotho"; see Itano 2007, p. 314.
  2. The people of Lesotho are called Basotho (sing. Mosotho), where "ba-" indicates "the people of"; see Rosenberg, Weisfelder & Frisbie-Fulton 2005, p. 12 and Van Wyk 1998, p. 54.
  1. 1 2 "Lesotho". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Retrieved 3 October 2010.
  2. Dalby 2004, p. 576.
  3. Deprez, Du Plessis & Teck 2001, p. 175.
  4. Rosenberg, Weisfelder & Frisbie-Fulton 2005, p. 319.
  5. Legère, Fitchat & Akindele 2002, p. 109.
  6. "The Constitution of Lesotho" (PDF). ACE Electoral Knowledge Network. 1993. Retrieved 6 October 2010.
  7. Baker & Prys Jones 1998, p. 270.
  8. 1 2 Baker & Prys Jones 1998, p. 315.
  9. 1 2 3 4 Baker & Prys Jones 1998, p. 361.
  10. Baker & Prys Jones 1998, pp. 270, 361.
  11. "Basic Facts". The Embassy of the Kingdom of Lesotho – Tokyo, Japan. Retrieved 3 October 2010.
  12. Legère, Fitchat & Akindele 2002, p. 114.
  13. 1 2 Webb 1995, p. 96.
  14. 1 2 3 4 Lewis 2009, Lesotho at Ethnologue. Retrieved 3 October 2010.


  • Baker, Colin; Prys Jones, Sylvia (1998). Encyclopedia of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education. Multilingual Matters. ISBN 978-1-85359-362-8. 
  • Dalby, Andrew (2004) [1998]. Dictionary of Languages: The Definitive Reference to More Than 400 Languages. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-11569-8. 
  • Deprez, Kas; Du Plessis, Theo; Teck, Lut (2001). Multilingualism, the Judiciary and Security Services: Belgium, Europe, South Africa, Southern Africa. Van Schaik. ISBN 978-0-627-02508-2. 
  • Itano, Nicole (2007). No Place Left to Bury the Dead. Simon & Schuster. 
  • Legère, Karsten; Fitchat, Sandra; Akindele, Femi Dele, eds. (2002). Talking freedom: Language and democratisation in the SADC Region. Windhoek: Gamsberg Macmillan. 
  • Rosenberg, Scott; Weisfelder, Richard F.; Frisbie-Fulton, Michelle (2005). Historical dictionary of Lesotho. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. 
  • Van Wyk, Gary (1998). African Painted Houses: Basotho Dwellings of Southern Africa. Harry N. Abrams. ISBN 978-0-8109-1990-7. 
  • Webb, Victor N., ed. (1995). Empowerment through language: a survey of the language situation in Lesotho and selected papers presented at the Second International LiCCA Conference, the LiCCA (Lesotho) report. LiCCA Research and Development Programme. 

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