Wednesday, May 16, 2012


So there's been something on my mind lately, its just a small thing that doesn't take long to rectify but it keeps happening to me over and over, and so I'm putting it in 'print' so the universe can hear me.

There is no such thing as a Botswanan or Botswanian or Botswanese person. Yes shocking I know but its true. The thing with Setswana (the language spoken by Batswana) is that we are big on changing the prefix (maybe its more of a cranberry_morpheme than prefix but its at the beginning so lets not get academic for now) rather than attaching/changing the suffix (except maybe when we are dealing with the diminutive form to convey smallness or endearment). Its a very important distinction for us linguistically because the 'prefix' is often the primary way one can differentiate whether you are making reference to a person or an animal/thing. So here goes

Citizen of Botswana is Motswana (singular) Batswana (plural)
National language is Setswana - although there are various dialects as well as numerous other languages for example I being (n)Kalanga also speak iKalanga which is much closer to the Zimbabwean family of Shona languages than it is to Setswana.

The prefix 'mo' is found in motho (person/human being), mosadi (woman), monna (man), mosetsana (girl), mosimane (boy), morutabana (teacher) versus the 'se' Setswana (the language), setlhako (shoe), setlhare (tree) you see where I'm going with this prefixmania

So when airport officials look at my passport and say with utter conviction "Oh you are Botswanan", I'm not quite sure what to feel.Half out a fear of antagonising someone in a position of power in a legal no-man's-land I usually just smile, and mutter to myself after I get the entry visa. I generally try not to make a fuss, after all sometimes I say things like khaman! (which is a bastardised take on the English exclamation/phrase - come on) when things either go my way or they don't, you kind of have to read the emotion on my face to figure out which one it is. But should this Motswana yell at you randomly one day, just remember its been a long time coming its not you its my frustration with our tendency to bend towards universal templates. Just don't say I never tried to tell you how it was...


  1. I think we might need a re-look at this word Motswana. I wonder what you call a Setswana speaking citizen of Botswana to differentiate them from other Batswana. Language is the space where the world is defined and I think it's important for it to be as specific as it can be. Or maybe that's only me.

  2. Hi, I appreciate this post as my tenant is from South Africa with Motswana on her passport. It is great to have insight into other languages and places.