Sotho Tonology

Sotho Tonology


  • Phonology
    • Tonology
  • Grammar
    • Parts of speech
      • Nouns
        • Concords
      • Verbs
        • Deficient
  • Orthography


  • All examples marked with ‡ are included in the audio samples. If a table caption is marked then all Sesotho examples in that table are included in the audio samples.
  • The orthography used in this and related articles is that of South Africa, not Lesotho. For a discussion of the differences between the two see the notes on Sesotho orthography.
  • Hovering the mouse cursor over most italic Sesotho text should reveal an IPA pronunciation key (excluding tones). Note that often when a section discusses formatives, affixes, or vowels it may be necessary to view the IPA to see the proper conjunctive word division and vowel qualities.
  • Some systems without the necessary monospace fonts may render the diagrams used to illustrate the tonal rules incorrectly.

Like almost all other Niger–Congo languages, Sesotho is a tonal language, spoken with two basic tones, high (H) and low (L). The Sesotho grammatical tone system (unlike the lexical tone system used in Mandarin, for example) is rather complex and uses a large number of "sandhi" rules.

However, the Sesotho system is by no means the most complicated, nor even one of the more complicated. For example, there exist African grammatical tone languages with much more than just two tonemes, and the existence of breathy voiced consonants in the Nguni and other languages greatly complicates their tonology. (In Sesotho there is absolutely no interaction whatsoever between the tonemes and phones of the syllables.) There are also very few instances of "floating" tones, and fewer grammatical constructs indicated purely by a change in tone. (The most common instances of this are rule 1 of the plain copulative and the formation of many positive participial sub-mood clauses.) The rules are generally not very dramatic either, and there is generally a very strong tendency to preserve underlying high tones. (For example, in the Nguni languages the underlying high tone of verb stems, subjectival concords, the noun pre-prefix, and/or objectival concords often shifts several syllables to the right, to the antepenultimate or penultimate syllable.)

The tone of a syllable is carried by the vowel, or the nasal, if the nasal is syllabic. The tone carried by syllabic l (and, in Northern Sotho and Setswana, syllabic r) is left over from the elided vowel.

Read more about Sotho Tonology:  Tone Types, Downdrift, Verb Tone, Tonal Rules

Other articles related to "sotho tonology":

Sotho Tonology - Tonal Rules - Some Examples
... Furthermore, the second last syllable of the word is lengthened (or "stressed"), and the interaction of the tones as well as the penultimate lengthening results in the word being pronounced with pitch levels { ¯ _ \ _ } ... Extending the word by one syllable (O a bintsha "She is conducting") o•a•bintsha │ │ ││ │ underlyingly (H stem) │ │ H│ │ │ │ ││ │ subjectival concord H │ H│ │ ├─┤ ├┤ │ HTD H │ H│ │ │ │ ├┤ │ RBD H │ H│ │ │ │ ├┘ │ LTA H L H L Constructing a word The word appears on the surface with tonal pattern (the high beneath the third syllable is associated with two syllables). ...