Are dialects markers of ethnic identity? The case of Setswana dialects and ethnic groups

Mompoloki Mmangaka Bagwasi


Many studies on dialects present language in neat, organised groupings that highlight similar language habits and linguistic features of people who belong to the same social, linguistic or regional group. In that way, social and regional groups are identified by the dialects that they speak, and vice versa. However, given the fluid and mobile nature of languages, dialects, and people, it is time that this relationship between language and identity was reviewed, and its complexity exemplified. The fluidity and dynamism of language makes it difficult to attach any linguistic features to any group of people or location. Using examples from Botswana, this paper argues that the relationship between Setswana dialects and Botswana ethnic and regional groups is non-representational and non-exclusive. Thus, the paper makes a distinction between Setswana ethnic groups and Setswana dialects, and challenges current perceptions of Setswana dialects which are based on ethnicity. The argument of the paper is based on historical claims, and translanguaging and levelling theories.


dialect, identity, ethnicity, Botswana, Setswana, translanguaging, levelling

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ISSN 2224-3380 (online); 1726-541X (print)

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