Facebook, Sesotho Style

“Mornin guys? Kele hopotse kao fela n cn’t wait 2 c some of u s i knw dt we gna mt.”


A former student from Lesotho posted this on Facebook the other day, and that’s my usual reaction to any posting from someone in Lesotho: What?

Actually, Facebook for me is always such a puzzle (and a comedy) because I only use it to keep in touch with people from Lesotho. I have no American “friends.”

And over the past year or two I’ve noticed that Facebook, Sesotho style, follows a number of common practices. First, there’s the mixture of Sesotho and English. This is not done because I might read the post. Mixing Sesotho and English is something that Basotho do even among themselves as soon as they learn their first English words. It’s done for a variety of reasons, one of which is to show off one’s education.

The Sesotho-English mixture can be confusing for me, which wouldn’t be the case except that the words are always abbreviated, as if it’s a text message — and abbreviated in unorthodox ways. “Mornin” is obvious, but “cn’t”? Why not just add the a to make it a complete “can’t”? You add the apostrophe, but not the a?

And how about “dt”? I think it’s supposed to be short for “that” because there’s no Sesotho word that would make sense in this context. Yes, it’s definitely “that” because the th sound is hard for Basotho to make and so they often mispronounce “that” as “dat.”

Compounding the challenges of comprehension of these Facebook posts for me is that there are often mistakes in the Sesotho. For example, the first word in the above message — “Kele” — is properly written as two words “Ke le.”

Anyway, I can eventually tease the meanings out of most messages, and this one translates in full into:

“Morning guys (not a question). I remember all of you and can’t wait to see some of you as I know that we’re going to meet.”

Although I don’t have much experience Facebooking people from other parts of the world, from what I can gather, posts from people in Lesotho do have things in common with posts from Americans and others. There are way too many self-portraits put up — big, nose-hair showing portraits. There for me to read are also messages with too much personal information about romantic relationships and other things that spark outpourings of emotion and ought to be kept private.

Seemingly peculiar to Sesotho style, however, are two more things. Males post more about soccer than anything else. Constantly, soccer, soccer, soccer, especially when the two big South African teams, Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs, are playing. And finally, both males and females do something that anyone who taught in a school in Lesotho will recognize instantly, and that is they love to give advice, and to do so by speaking in proverbs, usually Biblical ones.

Here’s a post from another of my former students: 

“Ua heso 2 reach a certain goal u ar 2 go thru challenges know dat its when u ar a warrior. de devil never tempts weak pple bt de strong ones. Take a gud example by Daniel. Again its when a vision is fulfille. eba strong ngoaneso. Jesu o mamela a fetole!”

I’ll let you try to decipher that, and I’ll leave you with this one from yet another student (I love this stuff!):

“Hey frnds. be aware dat God is available en living. so try harder to please him. oh God i love u Daddy.”


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3 replies on “Facebook, Sesotho Style”

They are fun.
I suspect a lot of the abbreviations are products of posting by way of texting phones.
I play a lot on FB, with friends in a half-dozen countries, and notice that, cross-culturally, their posts start looking like tweets when they are posting on a “mobile device”.
With more cell phones operating than there are people in the world, English is going to have revolutionary changes. There are no language police on social media. In twenty years all English might be spelled phonetically and with no more vowels than Arabic.
God, Soccer, music and politics… Yup, and no doubt about which while the games are on.
I have a dozen well educated Mosotho friends on FB and when the games are on the men are doing wild play-by-play analysis and the women are patiently quiet, waiting for the air to clear, I suppose.
FB is fun. In my opinion it is the world’s shared coffee break or water cooler. It’s where the palaver and chatter crosses all borders.

Hi, Greg: I just looked you up here at your blog. I found these observations about facebook correspondence in Lesotho to be very fascinating. I’m connected to some Japanese researchers and professors and always find it amusing to ponder their use of katakana (phonetic writing for foreign words). In the past, the Japanese used to create their own words with Chinese characters for things from the West (computers -> denshikeisanki = electric calculator which is now “kon-pyu-ta”). Deciphering English or other foreign words written phonetically for Japanese is what accounts for their often great difficulties pronouncing words as we do (even though they know the word). I also agree with Tj Pfau re: how some of your Mosotho friends are writing and why they’re so “shorthand.” As always, I enjoy your musings.

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