SiPhûthî, a highly endangered Tekela-Nguni language spoken in rural Lesotho
(Dr. Sheena Shah, University of Hamburg)
SiPhûthî (S404) is usually classified as a Tekela language within the Nguni branch of the South-Eastern Bantu languages. At the same time, siPhûthî is also considered to be a hybrid language due to its substantial number of shared features with Sesotho (S33). The number of 20,000 siPhûthî speakers in Lesotho – which has been in circulation for decades – is not based on any language census and seems to be far too high. SiPhûthî is spoken by baPhûthî communities who mostly live dispersed in isolated areas in two marginalised and poorly developed districts of Lesotho. The baPhûthî are dominated culturally, politically and socio-economically by the Sesotho-speaking majority in the country, the Basotho. They have been under Basotho rule since 1879 and are fully assimilated to the Basotho culture in all respects, with the notable exception of their language, siPhûthî. Due to the small number of speakers, the widely dispersed settlements as well as the high level of mobility of baPhûthî community members, siPhûthî is severely endangered and is being replaced by Sesotho. Today, in all but one valley, namely Daliwe, Sesotho is the dominant language of communication among baPhûthî. More recently, language maintenance efforts have been undertaken by some language activists, but so far with little outside and no official support from the government.
In this presentation, I will describe the kinds of threat and extent of language endangerment that siPhûthî is facing in the different areas in which baPhûthî reside. Data collected on the geographical distribution, numbers of speakers, as well as language data on the regional variation from three fieldtrips will be presented. Language competence, speakers’ attitudes towards their language, as well as ongoing language maintenance efforts will be discussed.