Dental click

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Dental click
(plain velar)
IPA Number177, 201
Audio sample
Entity (decimal)ǀ​ʇ
Unicode (hex)U+01C0 U+0287
Braille⠯ (braille pattern dots-12346)⠹ (braille pattern dots-1456)
Voiced dental click
Dental nasal click

Dental (or more precisely denti-alveolar)[1] clicks are a family of click consonants found, as constituents of words, only in Africa and in the Damin ritual jargon of Australia.

In English, the tut-tut! (British spelling, "tutting") or tsk! tsk! (American spelling, "tsking") sound used to express disapproval or pity is an unreleased[2] dental click, although it is not a lexical phoneme (a sound that distinguishes words) in English but a paralinguistic speech-sound. Similarly paralinguistic usage of dental clicks is made in certain other languages, but the meaning thereof differs widely between many of the languages (e.g., affirmation in Somali but negation in many varieties of Arabic, Turkish and the languages of the Balkans).[3]

The symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet that represents the place of articulation of these sounds is ǀ, a vertical bar. Prior to 1989, ʇ was the IPA letter for the dental clicks. It is still occasionally used where the symbol ǀ would be confounded with other symbols, such as prosody marks, or simply because in many fonts the vertical bar is indistinguishable from a lowercase L or capital I.[4] Either letter may be combined with a second letter to indicate the manner of articulation, though this is commonly omitted for tenuis clicks.

In official IPA transcription, the click letter is combined with a k ɡ ŋ q ɢ ɴ via a tie bar, though k is frequently omitted. Many authors instead use a superscript k ɡ ŋ q ɢ ɴ without the tie bar, again often neglecting the k. Either letter, whether baseline or superscript, is usually placed before the click letter, but may come after when the release of the velar or uvular occlusion is audible. A third convention is the click letter with diacritics for voicelessness, voicing and nasalization; it does not distinguish velar from uvular dental clicks. Common dental clicks are:

Trans. I Trans. II Trans. III Description
k͜ǀ ᵏǀ ǀ tenuis dental click
k͜ǀʰ ᵏǀʰ ǀʰ aspirated dental click
ɡ͜ǀ ᶢǀ ǀ̬ voiced dental click
ŋ͜ǀ ᵑǀ ǀ̃ dental nasal click
ŋ͜ǀ̥ʰʰ ᵑǀ̥ʰʰ ǀ̥̃ʰʰ aspirated dental nasal click
ŋ͜ǀˀ ᵑǀˀ ǀ̃ˀ glottalized dental nasal click
q͜ǀ 𐞥ǀ tenuis dental click
q͜ǀʰ 𐞥ǀʰ aspirated dental click
ɢ͜ǀ 𐞒ǀ voiced dental click
ɴ͜ǀ ᶰǀ dental nasal click
ɴ͜ǀ̥ʰʰ ᶰǀ̥ʰʰ aspirated dental nasal click
ɴ͜ǀˀ ᶰǀˀ glottalized dental nasal click

The last is what is heard in the sound sample at right, as non-native speakers tend to glottalize clicks to avoid nasalizing them.

In the orthographies of individual languages, the letters and digraphs for dental clicks may be based on either the vertical bar symbol of the IPA, ǀ, or on the Latin ⟨c⟩ of Bantu convention. Nama and most Saan languages use the former; Naro, Sandawe, and Zulu use the latter.


Features of dental clicks:

  • The basic articulation may be voiced, nasal, aspirated, glottalized, etc.
  • The forward place of articulation is typically dental (or denti-alveolar) and laminal, which means it is articulated with the tip of the tongue against the alveolar ridge or the upper teeth, but depending on the language may be interdental or even apical. The release is a noisy, affricate-like 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.


Dental clicks are common in Khoisan languages and the neighboring Nguni languages, such as Zulu and Xhosa. In the Nguni languages, the tenuis click is denoted by the letter c, the murmured click by gc, the aspirated click by ch, and the nasal click by nc. The prenasalized clicks are written ngc and nkc.

The Cushitic language Dahalo has four clicks, all of them nasalized: [ᵑ̊ʇ, ᵑʇ, ᵑ̊ʇʷ, ᵑʇʷ].

Dental clicks may also be used para-linguistically. For example, English speakers use a plain dental click, usually written tsk or tut (and often reduplicated tsk-tsk or tut-tut; these spellings often lead to spelling pronunciations /tɪsk/ or /tʌt/), as an interjection to express commiseration, disapproval, irritation, or to call a small animal. German (ts or tss), Hungarian (cöccögés), Persian (noch), Portuguese (tsc), Russian (ts-ts-ts; sound file) Spanish (ts) and French (t-t-t-t) speakers use the dental click in exactly the same way as English.

The dental click is also used para-linguistically in Semitic languages such as Arabic, Hebrew and Indo-European Pashto, and Persian where it is transcribed as نچ/noch and is also used as a negative response to a "yes or no" question (including Dari and Tajiki). It is also used in some languages spoken in regions closer to, or in, Europe, such as Turkish, Albanian, Greek, Bulgarian, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian or Serbo-Croatian to denote a negative response to a "yes or no" question. The dental click is sometimes accompanied by an upward motion of the head.[5][3]

Language Word IPA Meaning
Zulu icici [iːᵏǀíːᵏǀi] = [iːʇ̥íːʇ̥i] earring
ukuchaza [úɠuˈᵏǀʰáːza̤] = [úɠuˈʇ̥ʰáːza̤] to fascinate
isigcino [ísiᶢǀʱǐ̤ːno] = [ísiʇ̬ʱǐ̤ːno] end
incwancwa [iᵑǀwáːᵑǀwa] = [iʇ̃wáːʇ̃wa] sour corn meal
ingcosi [iᵑǀʱǒ̤ːsi] = [iʇ̃ʱǒ̤ːsi] a bit
Hadza cinambo [ᵏǀinambo] = [ʇ̥inambo] firefly
cheta [ᵏǀʰeta] = [ʇ̥ʰeta] to be happy
minca [miᵑǀa] = [miʇ̃a] to smack one's lips
tacce [taᵑǀˀe] = [taʇ̃ˀe] rope
Khoekhoe ǀgurub [ᵏǀȕɾȕp] = [ʇ̥ȕɾȕp] dry autumn leaves
ǀnam [ᵑǀȁm̀] = [ʇ̬̃ȁm̀] to love
ǀHōǂgaeb [ᵑ̊ǀʰȍòǂàè̯p] = [ʇ̥̃ʰȍòǂàè̯p] November
ǀoroǀoro [ᵑǀˀòɾőᵑǀˀòɾȍ] = [ʇ̃ˀòɾőʇ̃ˀòɾȍ] to wear out
ǀkhore [ᵏǀ͡χòɾe̋] = [ʇ̥͡χòɾe̋] to divine, prophesize

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ladefoged & Traill, 1984:18
  2. ^ In the English sound, the velar closure is not released, unlike the released sound found in languages that combine clicks with vowels.
  3. ^ a b WALS info on Para-linguistic usage of the dental click
  4. ^ John Wells, 2011. Vertical lines. Compare the vertical bar, ǀ, with |, l, and I (unformatted ⟨ǀ⟩, ⟨|⟩, ⟨l⟩, ⟨I⟩).
  5. ^ Deliso, Christopher. "Saying Yes and No in the Balkans". Overseas Digest. Archived from the original on 2008-12-26. Retrieved 2008-10-23.


External links[edit]