Northern Sotho is the 5th most spoken language in South Africa, spoken by about 4.6 million, which is roughly around 9.1 % of the population. The black South African population is divided into four ethnicities; the Nguni people, the Shangaan-Tsonga, the Sotho-Tswana people, and the Venda people. A large percentage of the black population is made up of the Sotho and Nguni. Most Sotho groups are encompassed by the West Sotho (Tswana), Sotho (Basotho), and the North Sotho, which have the Bapedi within the group. Below is the difference between Sepedi and Northern Sotho explained in detail.

Northern Sotho

What is the difference between Sepedi and Northern Sotho

Northern Sotho, also known as Sesotho sa Leboa is part of the 11 official South African languages. It has about 30 varying dialects and Sepedi is one of them. This means that one cannot refer to Sepedi alone as Northern Sotho as this will exclude other dialects which fall under the umbrella of Northern Sotho. This confusion between Sepedi and Northern Sotho stems from the fact that missionaries who wrote the orthography mostly communicated with the Bapedi people. Therefore one should bear in mind that Northern Sotho cannot be equated to Sepedi alone, rather it is a language spoken by the Pedi people. 


What Are Is The Differences Between Sepedi And Northern Sotho-Pretoria-Midrand-capetown-Durban-2023


As explained above the difference between Sepedi and Northern Sotho is that Sepedi is a dialect of Northern Sotho and not Northern Sotho. Sepedi shares similarities with Setswana another South African official language. It also shares dialects with Sesotho sa Saborwa also known as South Sotho and Sesotho sa Setlokwa which is similar to the Sotho language. Sepedi is spoken mostly in the following provinces Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, and Gauteng. These provinces are found in the Northern parts of South Africa.


The different dialects of Northern Sotho

Although Northern Sesotho has about 30 different dialects it is mainly divided into the following: Sekopa, Sepedi, and Setau are grouped under one umbrella and mainly used in the South of Polokwane. Se GaMatlala, Setlokwa, and Sehananwa fall under the second umbrella and are spoken in the North of Polokwane. The third dialect includes Sekhaga, Selobedu, and Sephalabowa which are used in the east of Polokwane. The difference between these varying dialects is mainly their pronunciation. Although they might be pronounced differently their expression evokes the same meaning.

The Lobedu dialect does not come in written form but rather in spoken form, therefore it uses the orthography and standard Northern Sotho developed by the missionaries. The Lobedu dialect is associated with the monarch of Queen Modjadji also dubbed the rain queen. Lobedu is mostly spoken in Modjadjikloof in Limpopo. The people who speak this language are called Balobedu. Although the orthography of Northern Sotho is mainly based on the Sepedi dialect, the standardised Northern Sotho inspired by Sepedi has now given at least 20 different Sotho-Tswana languages spoken a unified writing system.

Northern Sotho Phrases and pronunciation

What is the difference between Sepedi and Northern Sotho

“š” is pronounced similarly to how “sh” is said in English. However, keep in mind that the English pronunciation of the letter “sh” when it comes in a Sotho word is not “sh.” The h suggests that there is a tiny breath release after the s, making it sound more like a simple English “s” than anything else.

Sesotho sa Leboa has seven vowel sounds: a, e, ê, i, o, ô, and u. If you are a beginner learner then you rarely use ê and ô in writing, which are used in dictionaries and learning materials. It is not always possible to determine a word’s pronunciation from its spelling; instead, the pronunciation of ê and ô must be learned.

a     Similar to how you would pronounce “i” in “like”
e Similar to how you would pronounce “ee” in “meet”
ê Similar to how you would pronounce “a” in “care”, or “e” in “red”
i Similar to how you would pronounce “i” in “tick”
o Similar to how you would pronounce “o” in “fool”
ô Similar to how you would pronounce “oo” in “floor”
u Similar to you would pronounce “u” in “put”

Isizulu translation services

Isizulu translation services is a company that offers accurate translations of your documents. We have translators who are well-versed in all 11 official languages, Northern Sotho included. We know the history behind the Northern Sotho and Sepedi languages; how each differs from the other and their similarities as well. We provide you with translators who are linguistics in the language they translate, and who know the dialects of the Bantu and Nguni people. Our translators have confidence in their translations and will offer you the best services, of high- calibre and to your satisfaction. For the best translation services in any of the South African languages please contact us: 012 348 3134 or e-mail us at We’ll be happy to help.

What is the difference between Sepedi and northern Sotho
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What is the difference between Sepedi and northern Sotho
This article goes into detail explaining the difference and similarities between Sepedi and Northern Sotho. It also explains the dialects of Northern Sotho and how the language came about.
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