Khwe language

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Native to Namibia, Angola, Botswana, South Africa, Zambia
Region Northwest District in Botswana, Khwai River, Mababe
Native speakers
8,000 (2011)[1]
(7,000 Khwe and 1,000 ǁAni)
  • Kalahari (Tshu–Khwe)
    • Northwest
      • Khwe
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Either:
xuu – Khwe
hnh – ǁAni (Handa)
Glottolog kxoe1242[2]

Khwe (also rendered Kxoe, Khoe; /ˈkw/ or /ˈkɔɪ/) is a dialect continuum of the Khoe family of Namibia, Angola, Botswana, South Africa, and small parts of Zambia, with some 8,000 speakers.[1]


Khwe is a member of the Khoe language family.

The 2000 meeting of the Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in South Africa (WIMSA) produced the Penduka Declaration on the Standardisation of Ju and Khoe Languages,[3] which recommends Khwe be classified as part of the Central Khoe-San family, a cluster language comprising ||Ani, Buga and Ganda.[4]

Khwe is the preferred spelling as recommended by the Penduka Declaration,[3] but the language is also referred to as Kxoe, Khoe-dam and Khwedam. Barakwena, Barakwengo and Mbarakwena refer to speakers of the language and are considered pejorative.[5]

Other names and spellings of ǁAni include ǀAnda, Gǀanda, Handá, Gani, Tanne, and Tsʼéxa with various combinations of -kwe/khwe/khoe and -dam.


It is learned locally as a second language in Namibia, but the language is being lost in Botswana as speakers shift to Tswana. Thousands of Kxoe were murdered in Angola after independence, as they had been used by the Portuguese as trackers, and the survivors fled to Zambia. However, some may have returned to Angola more recently.

There is currently a dictionary of the Khwe language.


The Khoe mainly occupy the Okavango Delta of Botswana.[4] An estimated 3700 Khwe speakers live in Namibia, with the vast majority residing in the western region of the Zambezi Region.[6] The largest known Khwe settlements are Mutc'iku, located adjacent to the Okavango River, and Gudigoa in Bostwana.[1]

In 1990, 4000 !Xhu and Khwe,[7] including former members of the 31 Battalion (SWATF) who fought under the South African Defence Force in the Namibian War, were settled in a tent town in Schmidtsdrift, South Africa. In 2003, the majority of this community relocated to Platfontein, outside Kimberley, following the Schmidtsdrift Community Land Claim[8]


Khwe has 32 or 36 clicks, depending on whether one counts the four prenasalized clicks. There are four places of articulation, [ǀ], [ǃ], [ǂ], and [ǁ], each with several "releases". Miller (2011), in a comparative study with other languages, interprets the description in Kilian-Hatz (2003) as follows, illustrated with the palatal articulation:[9]

Click Description
ǂʰ aspirated
ǂ tenuis
ᶢǂ voiced
ᵑǂ nasal
ŋᶢǂ prenasalized
ᵑǂˀ glottalized nasal
ǂ͡q linguo-pulmonic
ǂ͡χ linguo-pulmonic fricative
ǂ͡χʼ linguo-glottalic fricative


  • Kilian-Hatz, Christa (2003) Khwe Dictionary (with a supplement on Khwe place names by Matthias Brenzinger). Köln: Rüdiger Köppe. ISBN 3-89645-083-2


  1. ^ a b c Brenzinger, Matthias (2011) "The twelve modern Khoisan languages." In Witzlack-Makarevich & Ernszt (eds.), Khoisan languages and linguistics: proceedings of the 3rd International Symposium, Riezlern / Kleinwalsertal (Research in Khoisan Studies 29). Cologne: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Kxoe–Ani". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ a b WIMSA (2001). "The Penduka Declaration on the Standardization of Ju and Khoe Languages". Windhoek, April 20–22, 2001. 
  4. ^ a b Chebanne, Andy (19 July 2010). "The Role of Dictionaries in the Documentation and Codification of African Languages: The Case of Khoisan". Lexikos (Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society (CASAS)) 24. 
  5. ^ Bright, William (ed.). The International Encyclopedia of Linguistics 4. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 363. 
  6. ^ Brenzinger, Matthias (1997). Moving to Survive: Kxoe Communities in Arid Lands. Universität zu Köln: Institut für Afrikanistik. pp. 321–357. 
  7. ^ Hitchcock, Robert K.; Vindig, Diana (2004). Indigenous Peoples' Rights in Southern Africa. Copenhagen, Denmark: International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs. pp. 29–32. ISBN 8791563089. 
  8. ^ Kleinbooi, Karin (August 2007). "Schmidtsdrift Community Land Claim" (PDF). Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies, School of Government, University of the Western Cap. Retrieved 2015-10-04. 
  9. ^ Amanda Miller, 2011. "The Representation of Clicks". In Oostendorp et al. eds., The Blackwell Companion to Phonology.

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