Tshwa language

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Native to Botswana, Zimbabwe
Native speakers
4,100 Tshwa and Shua  (2008)[citation needed]
  • Kalahari (Tshu–Khwe)
    • East
      • Tsoa
Cire Cire
Official status
Official language in
 Zimbabwe (as 'Khoisan')
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Either:
hio – Tsoa
tyu – Kua
Glottolog tshw1239[1]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Tsoa or Tshwa, also known as Kua and Hiechware, is an East Kalahari Khoe dialect cluster spoken by several thousand people in Botswana and Zimbabwe.

One of the dialects is Tshwao, the only Khoisan language in Zimbabwe, where "Koisan" is a language officially recognized in the constitution.


Tsoa–Kua is a dialect cluster, which is still poorly studied but seems to include:

  • Tsoa, also known as Hiechware and as various other combinations of Hio-, Hie-, Hai- + Chwa, Tshwa, Chuwau, Tshuwau + -re, -ri; also as Sarwa, Sesarwa (the Tswana name), Gǁabake-Ntshori, Tati, and Kwe-Etshori Kwee. Zimbabwean Tshwao apparently belongs here.
  • Kua, also spelled Cua and Tyhua
  • Cire Cire [tʃire tʃire]


The Cire-cire dialect has the following consonant inventory:

Consonant phonemes of Tsoa
Bilabial Dental Alveolar Lateral Post-
Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal click    ᵑǀ    (ᵑǃ)    ᵑǁ    (ᵑǂ)
Oral click ǀ ᶢǀ ǀʰ (ǃ ᶢǃ ǃʰ) ǁ ᶢǁ ǁʰ (ǂ ᶢǂ ǂʰ)
Glottalized click    ǀˀ    ǁˀ
Affricate click    (ǀqχ)    (ǁqχ)
Nasal stop    m    n
Oral stop p   b t   d k   ɡ q    ʔ   
Affricate    dz tʃ   dʒ
Fricative s   z ʃ    χ   
Approximant    l

The clicks have a very uneven distribution: Only a dozen words begin with one of the palatal clicks (ǂ), and these are replaced by dental clicks (ǀ) among younger speakers. Only half a dozen words start with one of the alveolar clicks (ǃ), and half a dozen more with one of the affricated clicks. These rather marginal sounds are placed in parentheses in the chart.

Tsoa has the five vowels /a e i o u/. It is not clear if Tsoa has long vowels, or simply sequences of identical vowels /aa ee ii oo uu/.

There are two tones, high and low, plus a few cases of mid tone.


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Tshwa". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 


Vossen, Rainer (ed.). 2013a. The Khoesan Languages. London & New York: Routledge.

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