“Clicks” are found in only 24-38 living languages.
Clicks have nonverbal meanings (like indicating disapproval or sympathy) in English and many other languages. But they’re only used as consonants in 24 to 38 living languages.
It is not easy to differentiate between a language and a dialect.
These languages are spoken in Africa.
There is also an extinct Aboriginal language from Australia that uses them.
The largest language family with clicks is the Khoisan “family”.
The scare quotes are because linguists no longer believe that all of the languages in this family are actually closely related. Click consonants seem to be the only thing that ties them together.
Click consonants are the defining feature of the Khoisan languages, but neighbouring languages like Zulu and Xhosa also incorporate them. Linguists believe clicks spread to these languages through intermarriage and interaction with the neighbouring San peoples.
There is an interesting theory about how this may have happened. In the Zulu and Xhosa cultures, certain people could not say the names of certain other people, or even say things that sound like their names. So, the Khoisan wives knew just what to use: clicks.
As Khoisan wives used their native clicks to censor themselves, eventually the clicks became associated with polite speech. From there, they spread to become an integral part of the language.
“Click languages” may be the oldest languages in the world.
Some scientists believe that the first spoken human language include clicks.
Language is constantly changing, even today.
In 2003, Stanford geneticists analysed mitochondrial DNA from two groups of click speakers: the Ju|’hoansi of the Kalahari desert and the Hadzabe of Tanzania. Both groups are among the most ancient cultures, with mitochondrial DNA that links them to the dawn of humanity. Despite this, they aren’t closely related. In fact, the Stanford scientists described them as “on the opposite sides of the root.” They’ve had almost no contact with each other almost since humans became humans.
How do you write clicks?
It depends on the language and the type of click in question. In general, Xhosa and other Bantu languages use the Roman letters C, Q, and X, either by themselves or in digraphs. Khoisan languages use exclamation points and other symbols based on a vertical bar called a “pipe” to indicate clicks.
For example, the “!” in the word !Kung indicates a click, as does the vertical bar in “Ju|’hoansi”.
The “click language” in “The Gods Must Be Crazy” is !Kung.
If you’ve ever watched “The Gods Must Be Crazy” and wondered about the mystery language the tribe in the movie speaks, wonder no longer. It’s the Juǀʼhoan dialect of !Kung. The !Kung actor, Nǃxau ǂToma, lived a traditional life before starring in the film.
If you haven’t watched this film I can recommend it as an example and, if you like comedy, you will certainly be entertained and have a good laugh!
Click languages may sound exotic to Western ears. But to native speakers, they are no more unusual than “A is for apple” or “B is for boy.”
South African singer and activist, Miriam Makeba said in one of her shows:
“Everywhere we go, people often ask me, ‘How do you make that noise?’. It used to offend me because it isn’t a noise. It’s my language.”
We will leave you with a link to this video of Makeba singing “The Click Song,” or “Qongqothwane.”
You will have to turn the volume all the way up, but it is worth it to hear her break down Xhosa pronunciations.
The sound in the next link has better quality: