Go tsogile kgaruru-kgolo rankgwane! Dumela ramerodi senkgabokwana!

May 24, 2016

Moroka MoreriMoroka Moreri, that formiddable Setswana poet from Molepolole, has released his first poetry album. The great lyricist of our time has named the album Nkokowe. It is a fifteen track recording of some of his finest poems. I have written before that: “Moroka Moreri is simply a poet of our time – a man to whom we can turn when we need the lyrical sophistication of Setswana. He has both the academic rigour to analyse and explain what Setswana poetry is all about as well as an arresting presence on stage. He possesses the rare skill of those great poets of old who have gone before him as well as the technical knowledge of a modern poet to tease out the lexical niceties of poetry.” Moreri has published four poetry books: Motlhaolosa, Tshokele, Thotse and Khuduela. He has also contributed poems to other publications such as Kutlwano, Mokgosi Newspaper and Echo newspapers and many others. Not only that, Moroka is possibly the most famous poet living in Botswana today. He has recited poetry in numerous events, more than anybody could remember. He was there when the current president was inaugurated belting out his lyricism. He is currently leaving a most admirable legacy in Botswana schools through the development of young poets. The addition of an album to Moreri’s works is a testament to his creativity and development. In this album he brings together some of the finest in the Botswana’s musical landscape. The great voice of his long time friend from Molepolole College of Education, Mmereki Marakakgoro, appears in two very memorable songs, Tautona and Honey. It is the finest guitars of John Selolwane, Hugh Masekela’s long-time guitarist, which will keep the album on replay in many radios. Moroka also called on the services of the great saxophonist, Lister Boleseng. Lister is extraordinary in this recording. Poetry-wise, performatively, Track 2 is probably the best. Instrumentally, arrangement-wise and vocally the finest track is Track 12, Nkemo (Nkemo, Nkemo mpulela, ke senka Ramasunyana). Lyrically, my favourite track remains Lesutlha, Track 10. I encourage Batswana to buy this well produced and well mastered album and enjoy it for themselves. No writing can do it justice. I leave you with my favourite poem from the album: Lesutlha.




Dumela ramerodi senkgabokwana

O letse o anywetse tsa kae diphiri

A re tseye sefadi re go kwatabolotse melomo?

Su! Le ditlhale di tsurutla fela ganong


Matlhong go tsogile kgaruru-kgolo rankgwane

Thoko tsa gago di lwela bonno seboswa

Ntlha e ka bo e le borokhu re di go kgomorolola

E  sita kang le di ka wa melaka e tlaa tsamoga


Kgokgotsong e ka re o seja-megetlo raleswe!

Tulele e ntse bomoto boo kirisi terekereng

A seno sereto ke boko ya segwagwa senkgi?

Dipholora tsa gago di taologa semahunelo a motsekedi


Ba joko ya merafe ba tlhokile go go dira mmepe

Ka wena ba supa Cairo ka merodi ya gago

Ditlhakatlhake ba di supa ’ropeng tsa gago

Dinoka kgolo bo Nnaele ba di kaya mpeng tsa gago


A namane e tona ya makwapa tlhware makokoma

Hafokorone o ka iponna legagana a ikhutsa ’naong tsa gago

Terekere o bata fela go tlogela motlhala Jon Tere

Katakata o rethefatsa lefatshe o swaila le mesetlho


O namile a swela eng kgosi ya Mazulu ruri

Ka ka wena a ne a tlaa fenya dira ka ponyo

Monko wa gago ka one a  hepa dira sebohola jwa nakedi

A hepa dira bobe a di phatlalatsa le naga


Kgaa! O utlwiwa ka bodupa tsopa la nakedi

Le sefofu ga o se gake, ka se go tshwara ka nko

O amogelesega sentle thakeng tsa bophoko

Wena ’sutlha la mmamagotsane semela dipala


Ntlha dintsi di go ratile bobe wa ga mma

Di kokoana ntlwaneng ya nyana yoo kgafela

Sejo segolo e le kgakgathiba kgakgala nkong

E re di swetsa di fetise ka maladu a tšamogang dinthong


Itsose mokoduwe, o iphorole o lese go iphorokisa

Tsaya kobo ya segwagwa, o e apare o gwante

Ka swai o swaile makwapa o nne borethe

Metsi a bopa motho go phala kapari ya tlhotlhwa


Introducing the Oxford Online Setswana-English dictionary

May 19, 2016


I am happy to introduce to you the Online Oxford Setswana-English English-Setswana dictionary from Oxford University Press (UK) at https://tn.oxforddictionaries.com together with its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/OxfordSetswana/?fref=ts. The dictionary is totally free to use. Both the website and the page are managed by me, as the Setswana Language Manager for Oxford University Press. I encourage you to like the page and register with the Online Oxford English-Setswana dictionary so that you can contribute to the development of the dictionary by adding words and meanings to it. I am convinced that the launch of the website represents a breakthrough in the development of Setswana lexical resources online. It will go a long way in supporting the work of journalists, writers and all those who work in both Setswana and English. The website has just gone live this afternoon and it may still have some issues which we would ask you to report at SetswanaCommunity@oup.com. The online dictionary is a growing online database of our tongue. Let us work together to grow it and make it better.
It is another great leap for Setswana lexicography and language development.

How Batswana messed up the mattress!

May 12, 2016


The English word “mattress” is borrowed into Setswana and nativised as “materase“. A bit of Setswana basic grammar first: Setswana nouns fall into various noun classes called “ditlhopha tsa maina“. Setswana grammar classifies singular and plural nouns into different noun classes. Nouns that begin with “ma-” are plural nouns falling into class 5.  Amongst these are words like magapu, magala, matagwa, matlapa, etc. Their singular forms start with “le-“ and fall into class 4. They include legapu, legala, letagwa, letlapa, etc. Enough with boring grammar, now back to the mattress matter: when Setswana borrowed “mattress” from English and nativised it as “materase” the word was naturally slotted into the class of nouns that begin with ‘ma-‘, the plural noun class 5. The problem was that the English word “mattress” is not plural, it is singular, while materase because of its morphology was overnight turned into a plural noun in Setswana. So how did Batswana resolve this problem? They formed the singular form according to the rules of Setswana morphology. Leterase was formed! This in linguistics is what is known as backformation.

How we created the word for “shoes”

May 10, 2016


Now pause and imagine with me for a while dear reader. Imagine the first time Batswana encountered shoes, possibly on the feet of a white man. They should have thought them to be very interesting, perhaps even weird. They should have looked at the shoes and wondered what they would call them. They looked at the shoes and then looked at the hooves of their cows. They looked at the shoes again and back to the hooves of their beasts and saw no difference between the shoes and the hooves. The shoes were human hooves. ‘These white men have made hooves for their own feet!’ they might have exclaimed. And that’s how probably shoes like hooves are now called ditlhako because they looked like tlhako, a hoof, of the Tswana beasts.

The Mosotho man arrived at the name for shoes differently. To him shoes were special. He didn’t have to wear them everyday. He kept them safe tucked under his bed. Everyday he walked barefoot. Shoes were to be worn when visiting others since one had to present himself to others with their feet covered – a most impressive sign of being cultured. The shoes gained a new name and transformed the Sotho lexicon forever, “dieta” (a noun derivative of the verb “eta” – visit) was born.

Africans overstating the multiplicity of their languages!

April 25, 2016


African-language-map2 (1)It is a truism that Africa comprises multiple languages. Africa is not only multilingual, Africa is multicultural and massive. Actually if you asked African languages linguists how many languages there are in Africa the number is put in the region of 2000, some even suggesting that there could be even 3000 African languages. Some have seen this as a hurdle to the development of not just African languages, but also of African societies. Africa has become the biblical tower of Babel. Western languages in Africa such as English, French and Portuguese have become the lingua franca of many Africa states and interstate communication. Many African languages have become oral tools of communication in rural and small villages. But really what is a language? What sets languages apart? What is the difference between a language and a dialect? It is generally accepted that a language is a system of human communication shared by a speech community. By a speech community linguists are not necessarily referring to people who reside in the same town, village or country though this may be true. A speech community can be made by persons living in different continents as long as they share the same language. This means that speakers of English in England, America, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand belong to the same speech community and they speak the same language. Speakers of Setswana in Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe also speak the same language. These speakers may speak their language in a variety of ways depending on where they are found. We sometimes think of American English as distinct from British English. The difference is in particular obvious when we consider vocabulary distinctions between the two groups of speakers. We know terms such as cellphone, candy, elevator, pickup truck, traffic circle, gasoline, sidewalk, counterclockwise, department store, super market, drug store etc as particularly American. The British also have a stock of words distinct from those used in America. Such words include boot, bonnet, cinema, dustbin, nappy, pavement, motorbike, pub, a roundabout, windscreen and many others. The most important point to make is that American and British English are not separate languages. They are dialects of the same language: English. Additionally, it is important to observe that the so-called British English and American English each have their own various dialects. British English is not homogenous. Welsh English, Irish English and Scottish English are all varieties of British English. All these are distinct from the Southern & Eastern English dialects.

The situation in Africa is slightly different and must be treated with utmost care. Many African languages were reduced to a written script by missionaries who were concerned primarily with spreading Christianity. Many of these missionaries were in the majority of the instances in competition with each other since they were sent by various European churches. They were also not just on an evangelistic mission. They were fascinated by the idea of discovering new tribes and new languages or claiming to have recently stumbled on a new tribe! As a consequence the development of the writing system of African languages was therefore severely fragmented. Languages of the same group were written in different ways, such that their written text was almost incomprehensible amongst the readers from different ethnic groupings, though the oral language could be understood with surprising ease. In this process missionaries elevated certain dialects above others thus creating different nations out of people who otherwise spoke more or less the same language and belonged to the same linguistic and oftentimes same geographical boundaries. Thus Banda is right in observing that “the emerging of Sesotho, Setswana and Sepedi as distinctive languages owes much to the three different missionary societies whose activities were centred in different areas where Sotho was spoken. The London Missionary Society was active in the western side and the Sotho language there became Setswana; the catholic missionaries were active in the south, and the Sotho languages there became Sesotho, while the Lutheran missionaries were located in the north and the Sotho language there became Sepedi. As a result, not only were three varieties of the same language created, words pronounced the same way, were now spelt differently.” Sesotho, Setswana and Sepedi are therefore dialects of the same language, which we could simply call Sotho/Tswana. We know this because the languages are mutually intelligible. Batswana and Basotho don’t need a translator to speak to each other. This is not to say that there are no unique words which belong to each group. They are certainly there just as much as there are uniquely southern African English words or uniquely American or English words. To say Sesotho, Setswana and Sepedi constitute separate languages is misleading. The danger is that the missionaries imported their writing systems which made related languages look foreign to each other.  The Sesotho, Setswana and Sepedi case is not unique. In Ghana Barifor, Anufu, Ntrobu, Bowli, Likpe, Tafi, Logba and Krachi are all variants of a larger cluster of languages. In Nigeria Gun, Seto & Werne are Fongbe dialects and not separate languages. Phela, Alada, Asento, Gbekou and Savi are all variants of Phla-Phera. In Benin Phla-Phera dialects are Phela, Phla, Alada, Asento, Toli, Tofin, Ayizo, Se, Saxwe and Rota Fon. In Ghana Awlan, Gbin, Peci, Kpando, Ho Vhlin, Towun, Awlangan, Anfoin, Ve Aveno, Avedakpa, Kpelen, Fofome, Dayin Mafi, Agawe and Kuma are all Vehgbe dialects.

There is clear evidence that Africa is not the Tower of Babel that many people have in the past made it to be. Also it is clear that the claim of a host of languages, supremely exaggerates the language situation in Africa. Prof Kwesi Kwaa Praah argues that “The reality of the Tower of Babel emerges only when we split African languages up into minutiae and elevate all variants to the status of separate languages.” He is right.

The death of Common Sense

April 22, 2016


This was sent in to me by one of my readers.

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as:
– Knowing when to come in out of the rain;
– Why the early bird gets the worm;
– Life isn’t always fair;
– And maybe it was my fault.

Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don’t spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge).

His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a 6-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children.

It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer sun lotion or an aspirin to a student; but could not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

Common Sense lost the will to live as the churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims.

Common Sense took a beating when you couldn’t defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault.

Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.

Common Sense was preceded in death,
-by his parents, Truth and Trust,
-by his wife, Discretion,
-by his daughter, Responsibility,
-and by his son, Reason.

He is survived by his 5 stepbrothers;
– I Know My Rights
– I Want It Now
– Someone Else Is To Blame
– I’m A Victim
– Pay me for Doing Nothing

Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone.

If you still remember him, pass this on. If not, join the majority and do nothing.


Thomas H. Brymer II. November 24, 2015. (http://panamaadvisoryinternationalgroup.com/blog/news-from-panama/an-obituary-printed-in-the-london-times-absolutely-dead-brilliant/)

Try and say “I don’t like you but I love you” in Setswana

April 18, 2016



We start with a problem. What is the difference between like and love in Setswana? Conceptually, this matter raises no problems – that is, Batswana have no problems understanding what they intend to mean or what they mean in expressing the concepts of love or like. But lexically or on the basis of words, we are locked on one word rata which means both like or love. Therefore, if a Motswana says Ke a go rata it isn’t clear whether he or she means I like you or they mean I love you. A bigger problem arises when someone wishes to say: The truth is I don’t just like you, but I really love you. I posed this question to my Facebook friends and their responses were most interesting & some riddled with supreme hilarity. Here is a sample for your enjoyment: (1) Nnete ke gore ga ke go rate fela jaaka ke ka rata mongwe le mongwe, maikutlo ame mo go wena ke a lerato le le tseneletseng (2) boammaaruri ke gore,ga ke go kgatlhegele hela,ke go rata tota! (3) Boammaaruri ke gore ga kena keletso fela mo go wena, tota ke go rata bobe. (4) boammaaruri ke gore ke go rata la o ka swa aka go ja (5) Nnete ke gore month gase maikutlonyana fela mme ke a go rata toto-tota (6) Fa kere ke a go rata, ke raya gore ke go rata thata, joo ke boammaruri. (7) Nnete ke gore ga ke go rate ga matshamekwane ke shwaa dibaki! (8) Boammaaruri ke gore, ga ke go kgatlhegele fela – ke go rata ratirati (9) Ke go rata la o ka a swa nka go ja. (it’s the sense that matters, not the wording) (10) go bua nnete ke a go rata, there is no like in Setswana. (11) Nnete ke gore ga ke go rate, ke a ikepela mo go wena. Some of these offering as translations sound off the mark while others are purely tautological. Part of the reason for the tautology is because of the lexical ambiguity between like and love. Some are delightful Setswana which express love and not just like. For instance we say most ridiculous things like o ka a swa nka go ja, ke a ikepela or ke shwa dibaki. Obviously these are idiomatic expressions – but they demonstrate the richness of the language. Put differently, the roots of our problem lie in the homographical nature of rata – that is, rata is really one spelling of two, perhaps more, words.

The problems in the meaning of like/love are exacerbated by the semantic closeness of like and love. The Setswana word rata has a fairly wide semantic scope. Tom Brown’s 1875 dictionary gives the English equivalents to rata as love, like, wish, will. The 1993 revised edition of this dictionary gives love; like; will; wish; want as the English equivalents. The difference here is the small addition of the word want into the list. Rata can also mean an act done repeatedly: O rata go ya masimo means both He likes going to the lands and He habitually visits the lands. Batswana use the word rata to also mean nearly. For instance: O ne a kgotshwa mme o ne a rata go wa. “He tripped and nearly fell”. Collocationally we wish to find out which words occur after rata as its argument. The following are the typical collocates of rata: rata dilo (things), rata nama (meat), rata bobe (much), rata mosadi (woman), rata motho (person), rata ngwana (ngwana), rata mokgwa (personality), rata mosimane (boy), rata motshameko (game), rata dijo (food), rata bana (children), rata sekolo (school), rata diphologolo (animals), rata monna (man), rata Modimo (God), rata,nna (me), rata lefatshe (land/world), rata mosetsana (girl), rata khumo (wealth), rata botshelo (life), and rata basimane (boys). An inspection of our collocations doesn’t really resolve the problem. Does one like or love animals or does one like or love school?

The problem with the use of rata has raised questions about whether Batswana are serious about the word and concept of love. Why do they like to say Ke a go rata with such casualness? Do they mean I love you or I like you? Perhaps this explains why the Batswana men are never serious about relationships. Perhaps they, themselves, do not know the distinction between liking and loving. Perhaps they conflate a liking, a mere interest in somebody, as love. But here, dear reader we find ourselves bogged down on the distinction between the speaker’s intended meaning versus the meaning of a sentence. We find ourselves going beyond the meaning of words into the psychology, the intention of speakers. But can a speaker’s meaning exist independent of the sentence meaning? Rata is problematic as we have seen, since we don’t know whether it is used to mean love or like. But does that matter? Shouldn’t we be principally concerned with what a speaker does with rata? Doesn’t go rata bana (to love children) have a meaning beyond the meanings one’s feeling of children admiration? Doesn’t the meaning cover the idea of having one’s own children? Doesn’t it include a sense of responsibility to provide for them, to protect them and to ensure that they succeed in life? Certainly the meaning of loving children is far removed from that of the expression go rata basadi (to love women) which has a negative sense of womanizing, lack of commitment and multiple concurrent partners. Go rata Modimo (To love God) is also different since it refers to religious devotion and worship. Perhaps there is a dislocation between words and meanings. What we must attempt to find is what people mean, regardless of the words they use. The question that arises naturally is whether meanings reside in words or in the minds of speakers. Now, that is a topic for another day.


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