So then what? What’s left?

HAH! EVERYTHING! We have barely touched the surface; yet, we’ve delved deeper than a majority of language classes seem to go. But really, linguistics is an EXTREMELY vast field, and every aspect- even those we have not yet mentioned, give deeper and deeper insight into not only the makeup of the language, but also the communication of its people. It is so important to realize that when learning a language; there are people who speak these languages exclusively and there are hundreds of thousands of nuances and subtleties that a language learner may never learn unless is immersed in a group of native speakers- and that’s pretty amazing.

Linguistics goes deeper into…

  • Semantics- the study of meaning
  • Pragmatics-study of meaning in context (rules of conversation)
  • Historical linguistics- pretter self-explanatory, right?
  • Sociolinguistics- the social connotations and patterns of dialects and languages
    …etc (really, there are MANY…)

    Really, all the intricacies that connect a spoken word to the meaning it represents in the mind and how it is broken down on lexical and semantic levels.

I found that in my class, there was some breakdown of linguistic analysis, but not on a level that really helped students being exposed to the language for the first time. For instance, there were times we spoke of noun classes and the concords, but not why these things are notable/ where they come from. Being more transparent about breaking down every aspect of language would truly give students the chance to not only learn fundamentals, but to apply them over and over again in their language learning journeys. This is why I propose educational curriculums should strive to include basic linguistic education and individual language breakdowns in their lesson plans. For most studied languages, there has already been linguistic research done in the field to provide a solid basis of reference.

The tools are out there, let’s use them!

Below, please find a pamphlet designed to give a brief linguistic analysis of the Sesotho language based on what we have touched upon. Enjoy.



Morphology and Syntax

Morphology: studies the parts of words (morphemes) and how they are systematically arranged in a language into words or word fragments to produce productive meaning.

Remember how in regards to Phonology, phonemes are the units of sound that make up complete units of meaning? Well, these complete (and minimal) units of meaning are morphemes! The morphology (like all subtopics of linguistics) of a language varies among all languages. In many, it can be as simple as a prefix or a suffix, but that’s not always the case. Some languages place more of an emphasis on stress, root word placement, intonation, and even context or parts of speech to completely decipher the meaning of a cluster of morphemes. It can get pretty complicated! That is why it is important to break it down whenever we study a language.

Some of the basic morphology of Sesotho has been detailed as follows.
*Remember, feel free to peruse the source material I personally used to do well in the class at any time.

  • Tone: pitch level of a syllable
    Sesotho uses high and low tones; they are used to distinguish between words that are lexically similar and to show grammatical relationships, both of which are shown below.
  • Length: Duration of sound
    Sesotho does not use length.
  • Noun classes: the classification of nouns in a language that may be determined by the morphology. Note how derivation occurs!
    Sesotho is based heavily on noun classes and the derivation of the nouns with prefixes and subject and object concords. *Refer to source material above to read about each term in detail. These aspects can derive a variety of meanings from one basic noun as shown below.screenshot-2016-11-20-19-46-03screenshot-2016-11-20-19-46-14

    Below note the table that notes the classes and their respective prefixes followed by a breakdown of object and subject concords (ie the morpheme added or used for a specific noun when referencing a specific subject or object in a sentence). This is a glimpse into how morphology and syntax work hand in hand. Stay tuned!


    Again, refer to the source material to get a fleshed out detailing of these phonetic rules in action!

NOW… on to SYNTAX!

Syntax is just like morphology in terms of taking smaller pieces and rearranging them into larger pieces of meaning, except now we are dealing with sentence structures! It deals with word order, lexical categories, agreement, constituency, and grammatical roles. Just like how in English the basic sentence structure is Subject-Verb-Object (S-V-O), in other languages it varies! Note that in that S-V-O structure, we’re not even touching on adjectives, adverbs, and object types.. so really, it can get pretty complicated. Note that in most cases, morphology and syntax complement one another to produce the ultimate meaning of an utterance.

Below are some example of the syntactic patterns present in Sesotho.

Screenshot 2016-11-20 20.20.02.png

Now, imagine learning all of these breakdowns in your own class. Figuring out how every step connects to the other… wouldn’t that make language learning easier? More accessible?

Yeah, I agree. Keep reading!

Phonetics and Phonology

Phonetics is the study of speech sounds in a language which deals with acoustics, articulation, and sound reception. Individual sounds in a language (which vary per language) are called phonemes, which are the smallest units of sound.

To transcribe and distinguish between sounds in a language, linguists use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). IPA allows the phonemes to be identified by all linguists around the world, creating a standard. All phonemes, both consonantal and vowel sounds, are represented in the following charts categorized by placement of articulation and manner of articulation, as shown below.


Remember, the phonemes vary per language. Phonetics also deals with the organs of speech involved with language production: lungs, vocal cords, pharynx, velum, palate, alveolar ridge, and the tongue. Note that the vowel chart is shaped like a mouth and the phonemes are placed in the spot of the mouth in which they are produced.

Phonology is the study of the patterns of sounds that occur within a language. The phonemes we gather about the language form patterns that indicate the way sounds behave in a language, what sounds complement others or cause them to change, and the systems of sounds. There is a deeper analysis of phonemes in the environments with one another. Phonetics and phonology work hand in hand.

Below, I will detail the phonemes present in the language Sesotho which I learned through my own research since my class did not focus on deconstructing the language.

Sesotho Phonetics & Phonology






Screenshot 2016-10-26 21.16.51.png

The information above shows the present phonemes in the language which is important information to know in order to know how and where to produce specific sounds of the language- which is a better approach than guessing how to produce sounds. This is crucial when dealing with sounds outside of our own language ideologies.

NOTE: Phonology goes further into tones and length of phonemes as well as the detailed intricacies of each. This guide does not detail such since it was not studied. Please refer to the official grammar.

About Sesotho

Sesotho is the Sotho language (Southern Sotho) of the Basotho people, an official language in Lesotho, South Africa. It is a Southern Bantu language belonging to the Niger-Congo language family and part of the Sotho-Tswana group. It is one of the eleven official languages of South Africa. Most Sotho (both northern and southern) are spoken most heavily in and around Lesotho in South Africa. The Ethnologue website will give you more specific information about its distribution and statistics.

Behold: Lesotho, South Africa
This image displays a basic language tree of Sesotho.


The Project: An Introduction

Hello and welcome to linguisticsmattersblog, a proposal for the integration of basic linguistic analysis in language education.

Learning a new language can be challenging. I, myself, have always felt like I am a skilled language learner; I pick words and phrases up quickly and can usually converse with locals to at least barter to score some cheap Ugg boots for a sweet deal. However, not every language learner has the same strengths, and it can prove to be a bit more challenging to learn a brand new language, especially across language family lines.

I am a native Spanish speaker and I also have native-like fluency in English. In my language learning ventures, I found French to be quite comprehensible, and I can decipher quite a bit of most romance languages when spoken to me, or even reading them. However, the moment I moved to Shanghai and gave Mandarin a shot, or when I moved to Cape Town and jumped into Sesotho, I got insight into the actual challenge that is language acquisition, especially after the younger years of the critical period (usually before 6-7 years of age) is way behind me. Naturally, it is something I have been wanting to decode- how can we improve language education to make it more meaningful and influential to its students- actually teaching a language to the point where any student driven enough to commit to learning the language can attempt to speak to a native speaker at least on a conversational level? The answer became very clear to me after studying linguistics.

Linguistics is a term that is thrown around all over the place. It is a very broad field, so I understand how plenty of people do not distinguish the study of linguistics from the study of language learning… which, yes… in some ways does fall into the realm of linguistics. The distinction I want to make in terms of this project is between basic linguistic analysis (I know, I keep saying that, what does it mean?) and basic language education- aka language on a deconstructed level vs. language on a lexical level. When one learns a language in a classroom, it is usually taught on a repetition-memory base with vocabulary lists and grammar rules hammered into the heads of many students (half of which probably are not passionate about learning the language in the first place). So, when you have students with all kinds of learning styles and levels of enthusiasm, there must be a way to delve into the language to cater to all students and provide a structural breakdown of it.

Enter: Linguistic Analysis!

Instead of focusing solely on memorizing grammar rules and vocabulary words, I propose to include a basic breakdown of the language’s phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax and, in effect, semantics. Keep reading the following posts to get a brief introduction and definition of each sub-topic of linguistic analysis (not delving too deeply outside of the basic breakdown components) in relation to the Sesotho language from Lesotho in South Africa. In this way, I will use a practical application of linguistic anthropological research on this language, merging the breakdown of the language and the process of learning a language by forming an imprint and deep understanding of how it is made up. As an avid linguist and language-learner, I have become aware of the fact that these two disciplines are not always used together to promote the effectiveness of one over the other like field method researchers do on site. Field method studies involve speaking to a group of native speakers, collecting data of the language in words, sounds, and sentences, and deconstructing the sounds and structures to its deepest levels. Over time, most field researchers end up learning the language by default, usually at a conversational level, not only by being exposed by the language regularly, but also by studying the most intricate structural makeup patterns. I present that breaking down the language to explain more than how grammatical rules apply will allow for a deeper understanding of how and why these grammatical rules are enforced- especially in languages that are completely foreign to the learner.

If a student like myself learns the sound pieces (or phonemes) of a language, the location in the mouth in which they are produced, and how they are distributed within the language, it makes it a lot more simple to then note and apply patterns and structures when learning new vocabulary or modes of speech. Keep reading for my experience with learning Sesotho in a classroom setting in South Africa and how I believe I may have learned more of the language if it were broken down on a deep structural, linguistic level.

I hope this encourages you to really explore language learning more fervently and research the linguistics of a language you’re learning- chances are, the breakdown has already been published for you!

For some more information on this topic, refer to articles like this one!

And for information about a previously published grammar of Sesotho and the main source for this blog visit this site.