ǂ’Amkoe language

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ǂHoan (Koon)
Region Botswana
Native speakers
30+  (2013)[citation needed]
(9 ǂHoan and at least 20 Sasi)
  • ǂ’Amkoe
ǂHȍã (Eastern ǂHoan)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 huc
Glottolog hoaa1235[1]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

ǂ’Amkoe, often called by the dialectal name ǂHoan (ǂHȍã, ǂHûân, ǂHua, ǂHû, or in native orthography ǂHȍȁn), is a Kxá language of Botswana. It was shown to be related to the Juu languages by Honken and Heine (2010).[2] The ǂHoan dialect is sometimes specified as Eastern ǂHoan to distinguish it from Western ǂHuan, a dialect of the unrelated Taa language.[3] ǂ’Amkoe is moribund and severely endangered; there are only a few dozen speakers, most around the age of 60. The language is no longer being passed on to the children. The mother tongue of the younger generations is Kgalagadi, a Bantu language which is the local lingua franca of the area.

Language area[edit]

ǂHoan dialect (Eastern ǂHoan, ǂHùã, ǂHũa, ǂHṍã, ǂHoang de Dutlwe) is spoken in southeastern Botswana, just south of the Khutse game reserve at the southern fringe of the Kalahari desert, around the villages of Khekhenye, Tshwaane, Dutlwe, Mathibatsela, Motokwe, Salajwe, and Shorilatholo. There are some semi-speakers in Khudumelapye. No speakers remain in the former location of Tsia. There are perhaps fifty or so fluent speakers; the precise number is not known.

Sàsí dialect (Tshasi, Tshasi de Khutse)[4] is spoken in eastern Botswana in and around Bodungwane, Dibeti, Mokganene, Poloka, and Lethajwe. Tshasi is a Tswana name that is more precise than the generic Masarwa "Bushman". The number of speakers is similar to that of ǂHoan.[5]


There are some phonological differences between the ǂHoan spoken around Dutlwe and that spoken around Motokwe and Khekhenye; Salajwe has yet to be investigated. There is a "mutually intelligible language", Sàsí, with differences in phonology and lexicon, spoken around Lethajwe and Artesia, south of Shoshong, in eastern Botswana.[6] There have been no systematic studies of Sàsí. The two populations had no knowledge of each other, but when brought together in 1996, they were able to communicate, and found the differences amusing.[5]

Recent scholars such as Collins, Gruber, Köhler, and Güldemann restrict the name ǂHoan to the ǂHoan dialect, and call the language as a whole ǂ’Amkoe, which means "person" in all dialects. Almost all linguistic work has been on the ǂHoan dialect.


ǂ’Amkoe has bilabial clicks, which are found in only two other living languages and recorded in a very small number of recently extinct ones.[7] It has been in intense contact with Gǀui and previously with Taa, and many CVCV words appear to be borrowed from Gǀui. Some of the sounds in ǂ’Amkoe, such as the voiced uvulars (including clicks), appear to have been borrowed from Gǀui.


Vowel qualities are /a e i o u/. These may occur long, pharyngealized (written with a final q in the practical orthography), or nasalized (written with a final n).

Honken (2013), which is based on Gruber (1973), says the vowels may be modal, breathy, laryngealized, or pharyngealized, and that all may be nasalized.

A word typically has one or two vowels: It may have a sequence of vowels (including long vowels), or two vowels separated by a medial consonant. Besides long vowels, attested vowel sequences include ai, ain, ui, eo, oa, ua. Basically, vowel one is normally /a/ or /o/; an /o/ becomes /u/ before a high vowel two (such as /i/), while an /a/ becomes /e/ or /i/ consonant one is dental/palatal or if vowel two is high. These patterns may be an influence of |Gui (Honken 2013).

Tone-bearing final /m/ may occur in addition to two vowels, as in /uam/, though it is not clear from the literature if the result is still restricted to a two-tone sequence.[8]


There are at least three tones, high, mid, and low. In heavy syllables (long vowels and vowel–/m/), combination tones may be found; these include at least low–high, low–mid, high–mid, and mid–low. It appears these are the same tone sequences found in CVCV words.[8]

Gruber (1973) reports five stem (word) tones: level high, mid, low, bottom, and low rising.


Like many languages in the area, ǂ’Amkoe has a canonical CVCV root shape, where the second consonant may only be /b, m, r, n/.

Gerlach (2012)[9] reports different consonant inventories for different speakers of ǂHoan dialect: A smaller one, similar to that of the neighboring ǀGui language and to previous accounts, is used by most speakers. A larger inventory, similar to the neighboring Taa language and with the pre-voicing of that language, is more idiosyncratic. (All ǂHoan speakers are trilingual in ǀGui and Kgalagadi. The language shows evidence that it previously had extensive contact with Taa.) Superimposed on this are areal features such as a shift of dental consonants to palatal.

The egressive consonants found in word-initial (C1) position are as follows. Those in parentheses are only found in loan words (Gerlach 2012):

labial alveolar palatal velar uvular glottal
nasal ɲ (ŋ)
voiced b (d) dz ɟ ɡ
tenuis (p) (t) ts c k q ʔ
aspirated tsʰ
ejective tsʼ qχʼ
uvularized tsχ

fricative s χ h
approximant w? (l)

Consonants found in word-medial (C2) position are /b, m, w, n, ɾ/; the phonemic status of /w/ in unclear. An additional consonant, /j/, is found as the first consonant of some grammatical markers.

The larger inventory adds the following "prevoiced" consonants: /dts, dtsʰ, dtsʼ, ɡkʼ, ɢqχʼ/; the smaller inventory might include /kʼ/.

Honken (2013 [2009]) gives the following inventory:[10]

tenuis p, c, k, q, ʔ
voiced b, ɟ, ɡ, ɴɢ
aspirated cʰ, kʰ, qʰ
ejective cʼ, (kʼ), qʼ
velarized cx
tenuis ts, tʃ
voiced dz, dʒ
aspirated tsʰ, tʃʰ
ejective tsʼ, tʃʼ, kxʼ
velarized tsx, tʃx
velarized ejective tʃxʼ
s, ʃ, x, h
r, l
m, ɲ (only /m/ appears word-finally)
w, j

/l/ becomes /r/ before high vowels. The /ʃ/ series is much more common than the /s/ series; both are described as palato-alveolar.

The voiced uvular, /ɢ/, is rare and variable in production. It appears to have been introduced in loans from Gǀui.[11] Initial /b/ is also only found in loans; it is not necessarily the same sound as medial /b/.[8] /p/ is mostly found in loans and /m/ is rare as an initial consonant.[10]

The palatal (/c/) series are described as stops in Traill (1980). They derive historically from dental consonants, and Tshila dialect still has dental /t, d, n/, etc.

Initial /h/ is frequently "absorbed" into the following vowel.


Like the Tuu languages, with which it was previously classified, ǂ’Amkoe has five click "types": bilabial, dental, alveolar, palatal, and lateral alveolar. There are a dozen or so "accompaniments" (combinations of manner, phonation, and contour), for 60–90 potential click consonants. Honken (2013) reports 55:

Manner and phonation 'Noisy' clicks 'Sharp' clicks
Voiced nasal ᵑʘ ᵑǀ ᵑǁ ᵑǃ ᵑǂ
Voiced oral ᶢʘ ᶢǀ ᶢǁ ᶢǃ ᶢǂ
Tenuis oral ʘ ǀ ǁ ǃ ǂ
Aspirated oral ǀʰ ǁʰ ǃʰ ǂʰ
Glottalized oral
(prenasalized between vowels)
Breathy-voiced aspiration
(prenasalized between vowels)
Preglottalized nasal ˀᵑʘ ˀᵑǀ ˀᵑǁ ˀᵑǃ ˀᵑǂ
Contour clicks
Prenasalized voiced uvular (?) ᶰǀɢ* ᶰǁɢ* ᶰǂɢ*
Tenuis uvular ǀq ǁq ǃq ǂq
Aspirated uvular ǀqʰ ǁqʰ ǂqʰ
Voiceless affricate ʘq͡χ ǀq͡χ ǁq͡χ ǃq͡χ ǂq͡χ
Ejective ǀqʼ ǁqʼ ǃqʼ ǂqʼ
Ejective affricate ʘq͡χʼ ǀq͡χʼ ǁq͡χʼ ǂq͡χʼ

*The voiced uvular clicks are rare, and their voicing is variable; they may be borrowings from Gǀui.[11]

The shorter inventory in Gerlach (2012) is the 12 established accompaniments listed above (the table less the voiced uvulars), but with all 5 clicks in each. The longer inventory she reports brings back the voiced uvulars, and adds a similar (pre)voicing contrast, as in Taa, for 5 new accompaniments, though only a few clicks are attested for each:

ᶢǀq, ᶢǁq, ᶢǂq
ᶢǀqʰ, (ᶢǁqʰ)
ᶢʘqʼ, ᶢǀqʼ


ǂHõã is an SVO subject–verb–object language (see examples in Collins 2001, 2002, 2003). The SVO word order of ǂHõã and the other non-central Khoisan languages distinguishes them from Nama (Khoekhoe) and other central Khoisan languages which have SOV word order. ǂHõã has nominal postpositions used for locative relations (see Collins 2001), and the possessor precedes the head noun.

ǂHõã grammar is characterized by a number of features common to the non-central Khoisan languages. First there is an intricate system of nominal and verbal purality (the latter often referred to as pluractionality). Second, there is a system of verbal compounds. Third, there is a general purpose preposition (referred to as the linker in Collins 2003) which appears between post-verbal constituents.


  • Bell, Arthur and Chris Collins. 2001. "ǂHoan and the Typology of Click Accompaniments in Khoisan", in Cornell Working Papers in Linguistics, vol. 18, pp. 126–153.
  • Collins, Chris & Jeff Gruber. 2013. A Grammar of ǂHȍã with Vocabulary, Recorded Utterances and Oral Texts. (Quellen zur Khoisan-Forschung). Cologne: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.
  • Collins, Chris. 2003. The Internal Structure of VP in Ju|'hoan and ǂHoan. Studia Linguistica 57.1, pp. 1–25.
  • Collins, Chris. 2002. Multiple Verb Movement in ǂHoan. Linguistic Inquiry 33.1, pp. 1–29.
  • Collins, Chris. 2001. Aspects of Plurality in ǂHoan. Language 77.3, pp. 456–476.
  • Gruber, Jeffrey S. 1975. Plural Predicates in ǂHòã. In Bushman and Hottentot Linguistic Studies, A.S.I. Communication 2, ed. Anthony Traill, 1-50. University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg: African Studies Institute.
  • Gruber, Jeffrey S. 1975. Bushman Languages of the Kalahari: ǂHòã - Vocabulary -Stems, ǂHòã - Vocabulary - Recorded Utterances. Technical Project Report to the National Endowment for the Humanities, Washington, D.C.
  • Gruber, Jeffrey S. 1975. Collected Field Notes.
  • Gruber, Jeffrey S. 1973. ǂHòã Kinship Terms. Linguistic Inquiry 4, pp. 427–449.
  • Traill, Anthony. 1979. Phonetic Diversity in the Khoisan Languages. In Bushman and Hottentot Linguistic Studies, ed. J.W. Snyman, 167-189. University of South Africa, Pretoria.
  • Traill, Anthony. 1973. N4 or S7: Another Bushman Language. African Studies 32: 25–32.
  • Traill, Anthony. 1973. Westphal on "N4 or S7?": A Reply. African Studies 33: 249–255.


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "ǂ’Amkoe". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ Honken, H. & Heine, B. 2010. "The Kx'a Family". Journal of Asian and African Studies, 79, p. 5–36.
  3. ^ Barnard, A. 1992. 'Hunters and herders of southern Africa'. Cambridge University Press.
  4. ^ The disambiguator de Khutse is intended to distinguish this from a variety of Taa also called Tshase/Sase.
  5. ^ a b Collins (2013)
  6. ^ Collins (1998)
  7. ^ Amanda Miller, 2011. "The Representation of Clicks". In Oostendorp et al. eds., The Blackwell Companion to Phonology., p. 417
  8. ^ a b c L. Gerlach & F. Berthold. 2012. Shared vocabulary between ǂHoan and Gǀui.[1]
  9. ^ Gerlach, Linda, 2012. "Two speakers, two systems: phonetic or phonological variation in ǂHoan", Beiträge Sommersemester 2012, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.
  10. ^ a b Henry Honken, "Phonetics and Phonology: Eastern ǂHoan," The Khoesan Languages, ed. Rainer Vossen (2013, Routledge), pages 84–87
  11. ^ a b Gerlach, 2011, Phonological Borrowing in ǂHoan?

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