Palatal clicks

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Not to be confused with the alveolar clicks. Unicode uses the obsolete description "alveolar click" for the palatal-click letter ⟨ǂ⟩.
Palatal click
 ʃ =
IPA number 179
Entity (decimal) ǂ
Unicode (hex) U+01C2
Kirshenbaum c![1]
Braille ⠯ (braille pattern dots-12346) ⠱ (braille pattern dots-156)
Voiced palatal click
Kirshenbaum J!
Palatal nasal click
Kirshenbaum n^!

The palatal or palato-alveolar clicks are a family of click consonants found only in Africa. The tongue is nearly flat, and is pulled back rather than down as in the postalveolar clicks, making a sharper sound than those consonants. The tongue makes an extremely broad contact across the roof of the mouth, making a determination of their place of articulation difficult, but Ladefoged & Traill (1984:18) find that the primary place of articulation is the palate, and say that "there is no doubt that [ǂ] should be described as a palatal sound".

The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents the place of articulation of these sounds is ⟨ǂ⟩, a double-barred pipe. An older variant, the double-barred esh, ⟨ ʄ ⟩, is sometimes seen. This may be combined with a second letter or a diacritic to indicate the manner of articulation, though this is commonly omitted for tenuis clicks.

In the orthographies of individual languages, palatal clicks may be written either with digraphs based on the pipe letter of the IPA, or using the Latin alphabet. Nama and most Saan languages use the former. Conventions for the latter include multigraphs based on ⟨ç⟩ in Juǀʼhoansi (1987 orthography) and originally in Naro, the latter since changed to ⟨tc⟩, and on ⟨qc⟩. In the 19th century, ⟨v⟩ was sometimes used (see click letters); this might be the source of the Doke letter for the voiceless palatal click, ⟨ↆ⟩, apparently a v over-struck with a pipe.

IPA I IPA II Description
ǂ Tenuis palatal click
ǂʰ aspirated palatal click
ǂ̬ ᶢǂ Voiced palatal click
ǂ̃ ᵑǂ Palatal nasal click
ǂ̥̃ʰ ᵑ̊ǂʰ Aspirated palatal nasal click
ǂ̃ˀ ᵑǂˀ Glottalized palatal nasal click


Features of palato-alveolar clicks:

  • The basic articulation may be voiced, nasal, aspirated, glottalized, etc.
  • The forward place of articulation is broad, with the tongue flat against the roof of the mouth from the alveolar ridge to the palate. The release is a sharp, plosive sound.
  • Clicks may be oral or nasal, which means that the airflow is either restricted to the mouth, or passes through the nose as well.
  • They are central consonants, which means they are produced by releasing the airstream at the center of the tongue, rather than at the sides.
  • The airstream mechanism is lingual ingressive (also known as velaric ingressive), which means a pocket of air trapped between two closures is rarefied by a "sucking" action of the tongue, rather than being moved by the glottis or the lungs/diaphragm. The release of the forward closure produces the "click" sound. Voiced and nasal clicks have a simultaneous pulmonic egressive airstream.


Palatal clicks only occur in the southern African Khoisan languages (the Khoe, Kx'a, and Tuu families), where they are extremely common, and in the single Bantu language Yeyi.

Language Word IPA Meaning
Khoekhoe ǂKhoesaob ǂ͡χòe̯̋sàȍ̯p July
Taa ǂnûm ᵑǂûm = ǂ̃ûm two
ǂHaba ǂHaba ǂʰabá (endonym)
Naro tcháó-kg'am
ǂʰáó̯kχʼam to be disappointed
Yeyi kuǂʔapara to smash up

Fricated palatal clicks[edit]

Fricated palatal click
 ʃ =(⨎)

Ekoka !Kung has a series of laminal postalveolar-to-palatal clicks with a noisy, fricated release which derive historically from more prototypical palatal clicks. These have been variously described as fricated alveolar clicks and (inaccurately) as retroflex clicks. Unlike typical palatal clicks, which have a sharp, abrupt release, these have a slow, turbulent anterior release that sounds much like a short inhaled [ʃ]; they also have a domed tongue rather than a flat tongue like a typical palatal click.[citation needed] [also said to be lateral] Like the clicks they derive from, they do not have the retracted tongue root and back-vowel constraint typical of alveolar clicks. A provisional transcription for the tenuis click is ⟨ǃ͡s⟩, though this misleadingly suggests that the clicks are affricates.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kirshenbaum assigned ⟨c!⟩ to IPA ⟨ʗ⟩, which he used indifferently for both alveolar ⟨ǃ⟩ and palatal ⟨ǂ⟩ clicks.
  2. ^ Miller, Holliday, Howcroft, Phillips, Smith, Tsui, & Scott. 2011. "The Phonetics of the Modern-day reflexes of the Proto‐palatal click in Juu languages". In A concise dictionary of northwestern ǃXun (2008), König & Heine transcribe them ⟨‼⟩, which is elsewhere used for the retroflex clicks.