I give up. I surrender. The more I hear Bangwato attempting southern dialects the more I realise this whole scenario will end in disaster, confusion and many unintended expressions. I knew everything was wasted, gone, and unredeemable when I heard “Re le Duma FM re ikemiseditse…..go sa kgatlhalesege….” Did I hear this right? Go sa kgatlhalesege….kgatlhalesege?. No guys the word is kgathalesege a derivative of kgathala. The more I hear the confusion over [l] insertion, the more I think the best thing for everyone, for our sanity as well as for the dignity of Bangwato men and women would be for them to speak Sengwato and not attempt to sound southern. Let us outline the nature of the problem. Sengwato is one of the Setswana dialects spoken by a large group of Batswana living within Gammangwato. It is commonly identifiable by its lack of [l] where the southern dialects, Sengwaketse, Sekgatla, Sekwena and Serolong have the [l]. This results with lexical differences such as tlala/tala, tlhogo/thogo, setlogolo/setogolo – where the initial word is of southern dialects and the latter one is Sengwato. The point we wish to hasten to make is that none of the dialects is better. They are just different. While the southern dialects are easily identifiable by their [tl] and [tlh] while Sengwato uses [t] and [th], southern dialects do have words which use [t] and [th] just like Sengwato. These are words such as tau, tatolo, ata, thapama, thankgola, thipa, thupa, thuso. The fact that southern dialects have different contexts in which they use [t], [tl], [th] and [tlh] is a source of supreme confusion for the Sengwato speaker since he/she uses only [t] and [th] in all contexts in which the speaker of southern dialects uses [t], [tl], [th] and [tlh]. In trying to speak southern, the Sengwato speaker ventures into a terrain of landmines and mambas. How is he to know if it is tlhogo/thogo, thaga/tlhaga, ata/atla, thapa/tlhapa, tlala/tala? The southern dialect speaker is bemused by this confusion since to him all the words here presented by a Sengwato speaker are fine and acceptable. It all depends on what he means by their use. The southern dialect speaker can therefore proceed to explain that tlhogo is head; thogo is a mere vegetable leaf; thaga is a quelea bird while tlhaga is a heavily ambiguous word between escape, grass, energetic; ata means to increase/abound while atla is to kiss; thapa is to employ while tlhapa is homograph meaning to bathe or a vulgarity; tlala is hunger or be filled up, while tala is polysemous between blue/green and raw, including rustic uncouth mannerisms. Where does this leave the Sengwato speaker? No better really. He is left in wonder, not sure how to extricate himself from this linguistic web. However this has not discouraged him from attempting to sound southern. This is in part because he believes the southern dialect is a superior dialect to his. He sees his inability to unravel the [t/tl] and [tlh/th] web as a weakness which must be conquered. He therefore boldly matches on. The problem is not that he speaks [t/th] only. The problem arises when he attempts to speak southern and tries to guess where to insert the [l]. The humour and the humiliation begin. Unheard of terms such as kgatlhalesege, tlau, tlonki and tlhapo come to live. The solution to all of this is to allow Sengwato speakers to speak their dialect with pride and not feel inadequate in any way. There is no rule of [l] insertion which can be taught to Bangwato for them to master, so that they can predict where to insert [l]. The southern dialects have mastered [l] placement by the time they were 5 years old, as part of their Setswana language acquisition. The attractive thing about Bangwato speaking their dialect is that southern dialect speakers understand the Sengwato dialect very well and don’t have problems understanding what Bangwato mean when they elide the [l]. Sticking to the Sengwato dialect will also save the Sengwato speaker from an attack that he is not speaking properly. After all he will be only speaking his own dialect. Additionally, Bangwato understand southern dialects very well as well, therefore for everyone to keep to their dialects does not engender any confusion. The challenge and confusion will come when individuals write. But I am not there yet. I am talking about speaking. Let every man and woman speak his or her own dialect. An attempt to speak southern dialects by Bangwato has led to much confusion and humour. The argument is not that a Mongwato cannot master southern dialects, far from it. Justice Gaolekwe has mastered the [l] insertion and has no problem speaking Setswana like any one from the south. The point is that there is no need, no profit, and no benefit in individuals speaking southern dialects badly when they can be understood speaking Sengwato dialect.
What linguistically must be pointed out is that whenever there is a border between speakers, a linguistic variety will develop. By a border we mean a barrier like the one found between countries. But we also mean something more. A barrier could be a river, a mountain, a long distance between people or a desert. A barrier could also be social such as a class border or an educational barrier. Whenever there is a border, a variety of the language will always develop. Setswana dialects have largely developed because other speakers physically moved away. For instance in Maun, Batawana use to speak Sengwato. Now because of their interaction with other ethnic groups in the region, a Setswana dialect known as Setawana has developed. The encouragement should be that all Setswana dialects should be spoken by their speakers without fear or shame.