The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Khoisan languages

This article is about the Khoisan language group. For the Khoisan ethnic group, see Khoisan.

The Khoisan languages comprise the smallest phylum of African languages. Historically, they were mainly spoken by the Khoi and Bushmen (San) people. Today they are only spoken in the Kalahari Desert in south-western Africa, and a small area in Tanzania. The languages are becoming increasingly rare; several are known to have become extinct. Many of them have no written record. The Hadza and Sandawe languages in Tanzania are generally classified as Khoisan, but are extremely distant (linguistically and geographically) from the others. Many linguists regard the Khoisan phylum as a yet unproved hypothesis.

They are notable for the use of click consonants as phonemes, including the Kung-ekoka language, which has in excess of 50 click consonants and over 140 separate phonemes, and the !Xóõ language with its giant phoneme inventory and strident and pharyngealized sounds. Many people were exposed to this group of languages through the Bushman language used in the 1980 film The Gods Must Be Crazy.

The only other languages using clicks as phonemes are Nguni Bantu languages (a separate phylum) such as Xhosa and Zulu in South Africa, Sesotho (also spoken in South Africa and Lesotho), the South Cushitic Dahalo language , and an artificial ceremonial language called 'Damin ', spoken by some Australian Aborigines. All of these languages except Damin are believed to have adopted the use of clicks from neighboring Khoisan populations.

Grammatically, the Khoisan languages are generally fairly isolating. Suffixes are often used, but word order is overall more widely used than inflection.

See also


  • Köhler, O. (1971) 'Die Khoe-sprachigen Buschmänner der Kalahari', Forschungen zur allgemeinen und regionalen Geschichte. (Festschrift Kurt Kayser). Wiesbaden: F. Steiner, 373–411.
  • Treis, Yvonne (1998) 'Names of Khoisan languages and their variants', in Schladt, Matthias (ed.) Language, Identity, and Conceptualization among the Khoisan. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe, 463–503.
  • Vossen, Rainer (1997) Die Khoe-Sprachen. Ein Beitrag zur Erforschung der Sprachgeschichte Afrikas. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe.
  • Winter, J.C. (1981) 'Die Khoisan-Familie'. In Heine, Bernd, Schadeberg Thilo C. & Wolff, Ekkehard (eds.) Die Sprachen Afrikas. Hamburg: Helmut Buske, 329–374.

External links

Last updated: 09-03-2005 18:37:12