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The fight to preserve Sesotho language



There are over 6 000 languages spoken worldwide but way back twice as many existed but died with time. If we do not step up and fight for ours it might be among many that are dying on a daily basis. One would say it is languages with a few speakers that die out but what is the actual truth is even big languages can still die.

Language is a structured system of communication and is conveyed by speech, writing, or gestures. But there is more to language than it just being a system of communication; it is a tag that differentiates human races. Language gives one identity and allows them to share aspects of that identity.

But so many factors can affect language such as location, occupation, class etc. And these are the same factors that can bring about the death of a language. But the number one factor that is slowly wiping Sesotho off the face of Lesotho is the desperate idea of English linguistic dominance. We worship the English language.

The English language is a god to a blackman and we worship the ground a whiteman walks on.

And it is so sad with the generation that comes after the millennium, Generation Z, because they are born English, raised English and do not care a bit about their native language or culture. They are a fully colonised generation. There is also the issue of language inequality that is seen not only in schools where children are reprimanded for speaking their native language but also in public as well. Nobody gets efficient services like an English speaking person. I dare you to go to any service providers on a busy working day, fake an accent and you will see English perform abracadabra for you.

This has resulted in Sesotho being less valued by the native Sesotho elites, the upcoming and those who look up to them. Ho phathahanoe kaofela re ipatla sekhooeng. Even in writing Sesotho is still less valued. This is why we hardly have books published in Sesotho anymore. This is a big threat to our language and if we do not act now, in a few years’ time what we used to know as a language that defined us will be dead.

  • The death of a language is caused by the decrease in a community’s linguistic competence. When the level of speech in language variety decreases this can result in no native or fluent speakers of the language. This loss can be primitive since languages give us identity. But not only do we lose our identity when language dies but we also lose:
    The expression of a unique vision of what it means to be human that is culturally devastating.
  •  We lose memory of our history and culture and a sense of creativity.
  • We lose information about the best of our culture and heritage.
  • We also lose the most precious thing that is our mother tongue, the root that we rose from, and the root that made or makes us who we are, unique from any tribe.

I want to applaud MoAfrika fm for the effort it puts into trying to preserve our language. They force the listeners who call to comment on their shows to speak proper Sesotho although I doubt none of the presenters are qualified Sesotho linguistic proficient. They however have to change how they approach this matter because it is sensitive and needs more patience than they have. Rome was not built in a day.

The way we glorify people who find pride in their language and refuse to use any other language than theirs is the way we should glorify ours when they find it difficult to perfect a foreign language but theirs, not the other way round.

It is very artistic to perfect multiple languages, to be proudly multilingual but it is also foolish to pride yourself in another man’s language and not yours. This is a tragedy our language is facing today, for we find it amusing when someone struggles with their language but is confident in another.

In schools, students’ intelligence is often measured based on what language one perfects, and it is often the English speaking child that is considered more intelligent to the fluent Sesotho speaking one. This has put so much pressure on so many students because their effort goes towards learning English and neglecting their language.

To be considered more educated, smarter, and superior, parents now take their children to English medium schools where English is the preferred language to any other but what they do not realise is that this is in no way necessary for establishing their self-worth and intelligence. Learning and taking pride in your mother tongue is crucial for cognitive and thinking process development.

When a language loses speakers, you might find that only a few speakers of that language are left. It is not easy being different in a world of all similar people.

But there is a way we can prevent the death of our language and preserve it.

1) We can all start observing and honouring Mother Tongue Day, which is an annual holiday for priding ourselves with a language that gives us identity.

2) The Ministry of Education can create programmes that educate students on endangered language and culture. This will also open their eyes to the idea that intelligence is not measured by the language which one perfects and they will be able to prioritise their language and see the beauty and need to preserve it for the coming generations.

We do not want the coming generations to look back at what used to be but to look at what we fought so much to keep alive. Let us take pride in our language. Dear MPs, may you please start delivering those speeches in Sesotho and tag along translators wherever you go for translation purposes while you represent Basotho and Lesotho the proper way? That’s also job creation. Re khabeng ka Sesotho.

Bokang Masasa


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