Sotho Orthography - Limitations


Although it is a sufficient medium which has been used for almost 200 years to pen some of the most celebrated African literature (such as Thomas Mofolo's Chaka), the current Sesotho orthography does exhibit certain (phonological) deficiencies.

One problem is that, although the spoken language has at least seven contrasting vowel phonemes, these are only written using the five vowel letters of the standard Latin alphabet. The letter "e" represents the vowels /ɪ/, /ɛ/, and /e/, and the letter "o" represents the vowels /ʊ/, /ɔ/, and /o/. Not only does this result in numerous homographs, there is also some overlap between many distinct morphemes and formatives, as well as the final vowels of Sesotho verbs in various tenses and moods.

Another problem is the complete lack of tone marking even though Sesotho is a grammatical tone language. Not only does this also result in numerous homographs, it may also cause problems in situations where the only difference between grammatical constructions is the tones of a few key syllables in two otherwise similar sounding phrases. That this would be a rather difficult issue to tackle is revealed by the fact that very few of the large number of written Niger–Congo languages have any consistently used tone marking schemes, even though some of their tonal systems are much more complex than that of Sesotho.

The following not too unlikely example is illustrative of both these issues:

ke ye ke reke dijo, either I often buy food, or so I may go and buy food

The first meaning is rendered if the phrase is composed of a Group III deficient verb (-ye, indicating habitual actions) followed by a verb in the perfect subjunctive mood. The second verb's mood is indicated by the low toned subjectival concord as well as the /ɪ/ final vowel. The second meaning is rendered by basically using two normal verbs in the subjunctive mood (with high toned subjectival concords and /ɛ/ final vowels) with the actions following each other.

Read more about this topic:  Sotho Orthography

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