Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences - Institute of Asian and African Studies


(Lecturer: Dr. Christfried Naumann)

The Tswana language (Setswana) belongs to the group of closely related Sotho-Tswana languages and is spoken as a mother tongue by about 6 million people and understood as a second language by a further 9 million, i.e. in total by more than 90 % of the populations of Botswana and Lesotho, about 25 % of the population of South Africa (especially in northern and central parts of the country) as well as by linguistic minorities in Namibia and Zimbabwe. The Sotho-Tswana languages Setswana, Sotho (Sesotho) and Northern Sotho (Sesotho sa Leboa, "Sepedi") have official status in South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho and Zimbabwe. Setswana is not only widely used as an oral lingua franca, but also as a written and official language, e.g. in education, public announcements, religious contexts or radio stations in Botswana, South Africa and Namibia.

The language course comprises 6 semester hours per week and requires no previous knowledge. It is based on the language form used in publications in Botswana (with certain differences to the written Setswana of South Africa, especially in terms of terminology), which is similar to the central dialects of spoken Setswana in south-eastern Botswana. 

Setswana is a tonal language, i.e. the pitch of a syllable (high tone or low tone) plays an important role in the distinction and correct pronunciation of words and grammatical forms, cf. [káè] "where" vs. [kàé] "how much". However, tones, as well as certain vowel distinctions, are not represented in normal spelling (cf. kae "where; how much"). In the course, we will try to understand the tone system as the basis for speaking, with active marking by the help of additional diacritical marks (káe, kaé) remaining optional.

The course is initially based on a revised version of the textbook First Steps in Spoken Setswana.  In the beginning, we mainly deal with grammatical structures (speech sounds as well as noun classes, concordance, pronouns, verbal and tense systems), including lexical and grammatical tone. We use numerous audio examples recorded by native speakers, prepared for use in the flashcard software Anki. As the course progresses, the focus shifts to practising listening and speaking skills in everyday communicative situations. 



Cole, Desmond T. 1955. An Introduction to Tswana Grammar. Cape Town: Longman. [Grammar]

First steps in spoken Setswana. 1978. Gaborone: Pula Press. [Textbook]

Otlogetswe, Thapelo. 2009. English - Setswana Dictionary. 2nd ed. Gaborone: Pentagon Publishers.

Otlogetswe, Thapelo J. 2013. Oxford English-Setswana Setswana-English School Dictionary. Oxford: OUP. [Dictionary]


Anki - Powerful, intelligent flashcards.


Music in Setswana - Examples (external youtube links)


More links (music etc.) at: Seminar für Afrikawissenschaften/Afrika im WWW/Setswana