Tswana - Setswana

1.  Classification / Classification

Tswana or Setswana (S31) is classified as: Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, Benue-Congo, Bantoid, Southern, Narrow Bantu, Central, S, Sotho-Tswana (S.30), Tswana (Webbook? and Ethnologue?)

2.  Where Spoken / Localisation géographique

Tswana / Setswana is spoken in Botswana, South Africa, and neighboring areas of Zimbabwe and Namibia. (Webbook, with modifications)

3.  Number of Speakers / Nombre de locuteurs

According to Ethnologue:

  • 3,301,774 in South Africa (1996 census)
  • 1,070,000 in Botswana (1993 Johnstone)
  • 29,350 in Zimbabwe (1969 census)
  • 6,050 in Namibia (1991 census)
  • Population total all countries: 4,407,174
  • 150,000 second-language speakers in Botswana

4.  Dialect Survey / Enquête de dialecte

Although Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, and Tswana are considered to be three separate languages they are largely interintelligible. (Webbook and Ethnologue)

According to Ethnologue:

  • Tswana (B=Botswana; SA=South Africa; N=Namibia):
    • Tlahaping (Tlapi) [B,SA,N]
    • Rolong [B,SA]
    • Kwena [B,SA]
    • Kgatla [B,SA] (used for Standard Tswana in Botswana)
    • Ngwatu (Ngwato) [B,SA]
    • Tawana [B,SA,N]
    • Lete [B]
    • Ngwaketse [B,SA]
    • Tlokwa [B,SA]
    • Melete [SA]
    • Tlharo [N]

5.  Usage / Utilisation

Tswana is, according to Heine (1970), "next to English the official language of Botswana." (Webbook)

Notes from Ethnologue about Tswana:

  • (Botswana): National language. Vigorous. 150,000 second-language speakers. Used among the educated. Used more for spoken purposes than written. Officially used as language of instruction in grades 1 to 4 in all government primary schools.
  • Literacy rate in Botswana (according to Ethnologue, accessed 2007):
    • L1: 80% to 90%
    • L2: ?
  • (South Africa): Official language?. ... Taught in primary and secondary schools
  • (Namibia): National language. Used in education, administration

6.  Orthography / Orthographe

6.1  Status / Statut

There is a standardized Latin based orthography. (Webbook)

  • In Botswana it is the 1981 Standard Setswana Orthography.
  • In South Africa there is standard written form of Setswana, as per Terminology and Orthography No. 4 of 1988.

[update! - are there differences of orthography between Botswana and South Africa?]

6.2  Sample Alphabet / Alphabet exemple

The following sources give alphabets for Tswana but without explanation:

The table on page 26 of "Alphabetical ordering of multilingual terminological and lexicographical data represented in the Latin alphabet" (ISO/FDIS 12199:1999(E)) http://anubis.dkuug.dk/jtc1/sc22/wg20/docs/n720.pdf indicates that 3 diacritic characters are used (no explanation): ê ô š [need verification & more info]

A sample text is shown on the "Language Museum" site: http://www.language-museum.com/t/tswana.htm

7.  Use in ICT / Utilisation dans les TIC

7.1  Fonts / Polices

Standard Latin fonts should suffice.

7.2  Keyboard layouts / Dispositions de clavier

7.3  Content on computers & internet / Contenu en informatique et sur l'Internet

The South African language site "Batho Portal" http://www.sediba.org.za/ has a section on & in "Setswana."

Universal Declaration of Human Rights: http://www.unhchr.ch/udhr/lang/tsw.htm

Wikipedia in Tswana at http://tn.wikipedia.org/ (500+ articles as of 11-2015)

7.4  Localized software / Logiciels localisés

Office software

Translate.org.za has localised in Tswana (South Africa):

Microsoft has localised Windows XP in Setswana (South Africa): http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=0db2e8f9-79c4-4625-a07a-0cc1b341be7c&displaylang=tn

Not aware of any effort to localise Tswana software for a Botswana locale.

Spell checkers

7.5  Language codes / Codes de langue


  • ISO 639-1: tn
  • ISO 639-2: tsn
  • ISO 639-3: tsn

7.6  Other / Autre

The Local Language Speech Technology Initiative (LLSTI) http://www.llsti.org/ has begun a text-to-speech (TTS) project with CSIR South Africa for Tswana.

Botswana page about Setswana http://www.botswana-tourism.gov.bw/culture_and_his/language.html

8.  Localisation resources / Ressources pour localisation

8.1  Individuals (experts) / Individuelles (experts)

8.2  Institutions / Institutions

Translate.org.za http://translate.org.za

8.3  On the internet / Sur la toile

AfricanLanguages.com "Setswana (Tswana)" page http://www.africanlanguages.com/setswana/

9.  Comments / Remarques

This is a cross-border Southern African language that could have localized versions for Botswana as well as South Africa - though the differences apart from a few minor locale issues would probably be minor. In any event, if they are based on a common version - in this case the one done by Translate.org.za - that would make it easier for the broader user community.

One basic need is a reference on the Tswana orthographies in Botswana and South Africa (differences?)

10.  References / Références

Dwyer, David (1997), Webbook of African Languages, http://africa.isp.msu.edu/afrlang/hiermenu.html (page on "Sotho/Tswana," http://africa.isp.msu.edu/afrlang/Sotho_root.html )

SIL International, Ethnologue: Languages of the World, "Tswana," http://www.ethnologue.com/language/tsn

SIL International, "ISO 639 Code Tables," http://www-01.sil.org/iso639-3/codes.asp

U.S. Library of Congress, "ISO 639.2: Codes for the Representation of Names of Languages: Alpha-3 codes arranged alphabetically by the English name of language," http://www.loc.gov/standards/iso639-2/php/English_list.php

Wikipedia, "Setswana," https://tn.wikipedia.org/wiki/Setswana

______, "Tswana language," https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tswana_language

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Categories: Languages, South Africa, Botswana, Eastern Namibia, Southern Zimbabwe