Pronunciation Guide

Pronunciation Guide to the Sesotho Texts in the J.P. Mohapeloa Critical Edition (download as PDF)

This guide is not a definitive document but a ‘rough guide’ to a language that has tricky pronunciation issues and is known to few people outside southern Africa. Sesotho home-language speakers themselves do not always agree about spelling or pronunciation, and there are limitations when it comes to singing rather than speaking any language. Bearing this in mind, the following pronunciations of vowels, diphthongs, and consonants are offered in the spirit of helping choirs pronounce what they sing. Comments that help to improve this Guide are welcome via the Contact page on, and corrections to it can easily be made online. Sesotho vowels and consonants are shown on the left; Sesotho examples from the song texts are given in brackets; the International Phonetic Alphabet symbol is shown in the middle; and the sound in an English equivalent (or occasionally other language) or a comment, is given on the right.

Sesotho                                                          Phonetic         Equivalent sound


a        (ba, ha, tsatsi)                =       a                 as in French ‘lac’ 

aa      (lekaagang, thepaa)        =       a:                as in ‘last’ or ‘father’      

ae      (hae, kae)                      =       aɪ                as in ‘fight’ or ‘lie down’

ai       (maila, tailoe)                =       eɪ                as in ‘play’ or ‘may

ao      (ao, kaofela)                  =       aɒ               as in ‘ah-oh’ 

au      (Taung, Mangaung)        =       aʊ               as in ‘now’ or ‘cow

b       (ba, Basotho)                 =       ɓ                as in ‘but’                      

b’e     (abbreviation)                =       ɓɛ               as in b-é

ch      (sechaba, chao)              =       t͡ʃ             as in ‘chair’ or ‘church

d       (Sesotho ‘l’ – see below)  =       d                as in ‘do’     

e       (re, hole)                       =       ɛ                as in ‘bed’ or ‘yet’

ea      (ea, moea)                     =       ʝɐ               as in ‘ya’, almost ‘iya

ee      (tjee, lefeela)                 =       ɛə               as in ‘there’ or ‘where’

ei       (ei, seilatsatsi)               =       ɛɪ                as in ‘play’ (ay-ee)

eo      (eo, eona)                      =       ɛɒ               as in ‘Eyore’ (ee-o)

eu      (qeu)                             =       ɛu               as in ‘euphemism’ (ee-oo’) 

f        (Afrika, kaofela)             =       f                 as in ‘fool’ or ‘fetch’

g       (Gauteng, Mangaung)     =       ɤ                as in Dutch ‘gaan’ 

h       (ha, hare)                      =       ɦ                as in ‘ham’ or ‘happy’

har’a (‘har[e] a’ elided)           =       ɦa-ɻ-a          

hl      (hle, hlaha)                    =       ʎ                 as in Welsh ‘ll’ 

i        (liba, Morija)                  =       ɪ                 as in ‘city’ 

ie       (lie, tsietsi)                    =       ɪɛ                as in ‘he ends’ (ee-ai)

ii       (pii, tiisa)                       =       ɪɪ                as in ‘hiit’ (i-i)

iu      (liu, Bosiu)                     =       ɪu:               as in ‘phew!’ (ee-u)

j        (je, joale                        =       d͡ʒ               as in ‘joy’ or ‘jump’        

k       (kae, thaka)                   =       k                almost a hard ‘g’ 

kea_u                                     =       kʝɐ-u          kya-oo

kh      (khomo, khotso)            =       ɤ                as in Dutch ‘gaan’ (soft ‘g’)

l        (sala, joale, pelo)           =       l                 as in ‘left’ (‘1’ before a, e, o) 

l        (lifela, lumela)                =       d                as in ‘do’ (‘d’ before i, u) 

ll       (lla, sello)                      =       ɫ                 as in ‘illlit’ ( as in Al-lah,

not as in Welsh ‘ll’)

m      (Morena, Moshoeshoe)   =       ɱ               as in ‘empathy’

mm    (mmè, hammoho)          =       ɱɱ             as in ‘I’m maybe’ (2 ‘ms’)

’m     (’mè, ‘mutlanyana)         =       ɱɱ             abbreviation of ‘mm’ 

mmè                                      =       ɱɱɛ          as in ‘I’m maybe’ (2 ‘ms’)

n       (nong, haneu)                =       ɴ                as in ‘noun’ 

nc      =       prenasalised dental click                  as in the sound for ‘tut tut’

nch    =       prenasalised aspirated dental click    as above but aspirated

ng     (leng, mong, nong)        =       ɳ                as in ‘in-go’ 

nk      (nka, nkutloe)                =       nk               as in ‘in-k

nn     (nna, senna)                  =       ɴɴ              as in ‘inno’ 

nya    (nonyana, senyamafi)    =       ɴʝɐ             as in ‘onya

o       (potla, koto)                  =       ɒ                as in ‘not’ or ‘pot’

ō       (rōna, thōla)                   =       ɔ:                as in ‘or’ or ‘sore’          

oa      (oa, majoana)                =       ɒa               as in ‘Iowa’ (oh-wa)

oe      (utloe, Moshoeshoe)       =       ɒɛ               as in ‘lowest’ (oh-way)

oeu    (Mosoeu)                       =       ɒɛ-u           as in ‘Soweto’ (oh-ai-oo)

oi      (tsoile, likhoiting)           =       ɔɪ               as in  ‘coil’ (o-i)

oo     (koo, moo)                    =       u:                as in ‘soon’ 

ou     (tloukholo)                    =       aʊ               as in ‘now’ (ah-oo)

p       (lipina, potla)                 =       p                as in ‘papa’ 

ph     (liphala, phera)              =       ph                              as in ‘purr’ (slightly aspirated)

q       (qeu, qojoa)                   =       palatal tongue click 

qh     (qho, qhooeng)              =       aspirated palatal tongue click 

r                                            =       r                 as in ‘red’ or ‘try’

s        (se, thusa)                     =       s                 as in ‘see’ 

sh      (shebile, lipshamathe)    =       ʃ                 as in ‘she’

s’o     (‘s[e] o elided)              =       s-ɒ              almost as in ‘Seoul’ (e-o)

t        (teng, litaba)                  =       somewhere between ‘d’ and ‘t’ 

th      (theng, thula)                =       th                as in ‘top’ (slightly aspirated)

tj       (tjee, matjato)                =       t͡ʃ             as in ‘edge’

tš/ts  (tšohang, tšaba-tšaba)    =       tʃ                as it ‘its’ (slightly aspirated)

u       (utloa, thula)                  =       u                as in ‘good’ 

ua      (ua, bua)                       =       u:a              as in ‘two one’ (oo-wa)

ue      (fue, uena)                     =       u:ɛ              as in ‘wet’ (oo-we)

uo     (puo, lipuo)                   =       u:ɒ              as in ‘too hot’ (oo-o)      

uoa    (kuoane, shapuoa)         =       u:wɒ          as in ‘do what?’ (oo-owa)

v        (Davida)                        =       v                 as in ‘voice’

w       (wa)                              =       ɒa               as in ‘Iowa’ (oh-wa)

y        (ya, moya)                     =       ʝɐ               as in ‘ya’, almost ‘iya

z       (Eben-Ezer)                    =       z                as in ‘zoo’