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Setswana or Sitswana
Spoken in Botswana Botswana
South Africa South Africa
Zimbabwe Zimbabwe
Namibia Namibia
Region southern Africa
Total speakers 4,407,174[citation needed]
Language family Niger-Congo
Official status
Official language in Botswana Botswana
South Africa South Africa
Regulated by No official regulation
Language codes
ISO 639-1 tn
ISO 639-2 tsn
ISO 639-3 tsn
Geographical distribution of Setswana in South Africa: proportion of the population that speaks Setswana at home.
     0–20%      20–40%      40–60%      60–80%      80–100%      No population
Geographical distribution of Setswana in South Africa: density of Setswana 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

Tswana (Setswana or Sitswana), is a Bantu language written in the Latin alphabet. English is the national and majority language of Botswana, whose people are the Batswana (singular Motswana). Although English is the official language of Botswana, the majority of speakers also understand Setswana. There are also speakers in Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa. Internationally there are about 4 million speakers. Before South Africa became a multi-racial democracy, the bantustan of Bophuthatswana was set up to cover the Tswana speakers of South Africa.

Tswana is a Bantu language, belonging to the Niger-Congo language family. It is most closely related to two other languages in the Sotho language group, Sesotho (Southern Sotho) and Northern Sotho (Sesotho sa Leboa). It has also been known as Beetjuans, Chuana (hence Bechuanaland), Coana, Cuana, and Sechuana.





Tswana has the following consonant inventory.[1]

IPA chart Tswana consonants
Labial Alveolar Postalveolar/
Velar Uvular Glottal
central lateral
Plosive non-aspirated p   b t   (d)1 k
Affricate non-aspirated ts  
aspirated tsʰ tɬʰ tʃʰ
Fricative f s ʃ χ2 h
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Sonorant r l j w
  1. The sound [d] appears as an allophone of /l/ when followed by /i/ or /u/. It is now represented as a <d> in current orthography as well (unlike for similar cognates in Sotho).
  2. The voiceless uvular fricative is represented orthographically as <g>, as in Botswana's capital Gaborone. It may be realised as a velar fricative (/x/) by some speakers, and is described as such in some learning materials.


Tswana has nine vowel sounds, which can be resolved into seven phonemes:

IPA chart Tswana vowels
Front Back
Close tense i   <i> u   <u>
lax ɪ   <e> ʊ   <o>
Mid ɛ   <ê> ɔ   <ô>
Open a   <a>
  • The close lax vowels /ɪ/ and /ʊ/ open and tense slightly to provide allophones [e] and [o] in stressed position; eg koloi [kʊˈlo.i] "wagon".
  • The mid vowels can be distinguished from the close lax vowels in writing by use of the circumflex, so <e> is /ɪ/ while <ê> is /ɛ/. 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.


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 [ˈdi.a]; and dintshi "eyelashes" is trisyllabic [diˈn.tsʰi].

Some simple Tswana phrases

  • Dumela, rra/mma - Hello, Sir/Madam.

Formal inquiry after health:

  • O tsogile jang?—How are you? (literally, 'how did you awake?').
  • Ke tsogile sentle, rra/mma. Wena, o tsogile jang?—I'm well, Sir/Madam. How are you? OR I'm well/okay. How are you?

(Replace tsogile with tlhotse for afternoon greetings.)

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.)

Casual slang:

  • O a re eng? (pronounced wah-reng)—How's it going?
  • Ga ke re seppe. (pronounced hah kay ray seppay)—It goes well.
  • Eitha (pronounced ate-uh)—Hey
  • Go jwang? (pronounced hoe jwang)—what's up?
  • Mari ke sharp (pronounced mare keh shap)—I'm good.
  • Sharp! (pronounced shup)—Bye

Other useful phrases:

  • Ke a leboga, rra/mma.—Thank you, Sir/Madam (formal)
  • Ke itumetse, rra/mma." and "tanki" (slang)—Thanks, Sir/Madam (informal)
  • Ke _____—I'm _____.
  • Leina la me ke _______.—My name is _____.
  • Leina la gago ke mang?—What is your name? (formal)
  • 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 Setswana?


  • Robala sentle.—Sleep well.
  • Boroko!—Good night!
  • Tsamaya sentle.—Go well (said to the person/group leaving).
  • Sala sentle—Stay well (said to the person/group staying).


  • Morogo—Vegetables
  • Motogo—Soft Porridge
  • Bogobe—Porridge (Pap)
  • Nama—Meat
  • Dinawa—Beans


As opposed to the Northern and Southern Ndebele languages spoken in Zimbabwe and South Africa, respectively, there are no significant differences between standard Tswana as spoken in South Africa and standard Tswana as spoken in Botswana.

External links

Tswana language edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



  1. ^ Tables based on The Sound System of Setswana, University of Botswana 1999 (2001)


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