Original Research

Lexical similarities between Khelobedu dialect and Tshivenḓa and Sepedi languages

Tebogo J. Rakgogo, Itani P. Mandende
Literator | Vol 44, No 1 | a1910 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v44i1.1910 | © 2023 Tebogo J. Rakgogo, Itani P. Mandende | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 21 April 2022 | Published: 31 May 2023

About the author(s)

Tebogo J. Rakgogo, Department of Applied Languages, Faculty of Humanities, Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, South Africa
Itani P. Mandende, Department of Applied Languages, Faculty of Humanities, Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, South Africa


This article endeavours to argue from a linguistic point of view for the ‘independence’ of Khelobedu, to be recognised as an additional official language in the Republic of South Africa. The speakers of Khelobedu speak neither Sepedi or Tshivenḓa as some linguists claim. From the wide range of literature on this phenomenon, some Sepedi and Tshivenḓa linguists claim that this language (Khelobedu) is their dialect. This indecisiveness leaves Khelobedu speakers in limbo. As a result, Balobedu learners end up performing poorly academically because they learn the Sepedi language as their second language instead. The purpose of this article is to argue on linguistic grounds against such a classification by the earlier linguists and missionaries as the findings succinctly provide evidence in support of this position. In attempting to dispute this classification, the content analysis method was employed for data gathering purposes. A comparative lexicostatistic approach was used to undergird the study. In terms of data, Khelobedu, Tshivenḓa and Sepedi lexical items were collected and compared to corroborate the claim. Nevertheless, Khelobedu strongly shows its ‘independence’ as do Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana and isiZulu, isiNdebele, isiXhosa and Siswati. Furthermore, Khelobedu and Sepedi differ greatly in terms of their pronunciation. The issue around mutual intelligibility, we argue, should not be put into this equation. The article recommends that Khelobedu be regarded as an official language that Balobedu learners and students could use as a medium of teaching and learning; furthermore, Balobedu’s identity should also not be compromised.

Contribution: The significance and contribution of this article to scientific knowledge resides in its contention that the classification of Khelobedu as one of the dialects of the Sepedi or Northern Sotho language lacks linguistic justification. The article further argues that this misclassification was due to the partnership that existed between the missionaries and the colonial government in consultation with their informants who only recognised varieties where the missionaries settled and operated. Therefore, it is postulated that Khelobedu should be considered a fully fledged language since it shows its own linguistic repertoire.


Khelobedu; Tshivenḓa; Sepedi; dialect; language; lexical item; comparative lexicostatistics and ethnography


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