Northern Sotho: Theme 1 - Greetings and Courtesies

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The most important and effective way to reach out to a person is to greet him/her in his/her own language.  In true Northern Sotho tradition greeting is a very important procedure.  It is a structured encounter and it is considered ill-mannered not to greet either a friend or a stranger in passing. Ubuntu (humanity towards others) plays a prominent role in the African culture.  It is therefore not sufficient to merely say Dumelang!  You should also take the time to enquire about the other person’s well-being.

Dumêlang! can be used at any time of the day or night. It is literally a command, which is given to someone to ‘agree’, in other words to answer the greeting.  The singular form, viz. Dumêla! is nowadays regarded as too commanding and impolite, and therefore the plural form Dumêlang! is preferred even when one person is addressed.

Le kae? is actually a plural form, which indicates that you are inquiring about the person and his/her family members.  It is also an indication of respect.  It literally means ‘Where are you?’.  The reply Re gônaWe are here’, means ‘We are fine’

Who greets first?

The person who arrives somewhere is supposed to greet those present first - status or seniority does not play a role.  Should it happen that two people arrive at the same place simultaneously, e.g. if they meet in town, it does not matter who greets first. 

Forms of address:

When greeting a person older than yourself (more or less your parents’ age), tate 'father' would be used for a man and mma 'mother' for a woman.  For greetings of people of your grandparents’ age rakgolo, 'grandfather', and koko ‘grandmother’ are used as forms of address.  Greeting someone of your own age you would address her as sesi, 'sister', and buti, 'brother' for the male counterpart or kgaetšedi specifically to address the opposite gender.

Saying goodbye:

The person leaving first should be the first to say goodbye.  It would be impolite of the other person(s) to terminate the conversation first.  When saying goodbye to one person you would say Sepela gabotse (‘Go well’) or Šala gabotse (‘Stay/remain well’).  When saying goodbye to more than one person, Sepelang gabotse or Šalang gabotse would be used.  You can also end the conversation by merely saying Gabotse!