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Juǀʼhoan language

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South(eastern) ǃXun / Ju
A Juǀʼhoan speaker, recorded in Namibia.
Native toNamibia, Botswana
Regionnear border with Angola
Native speakers
4,000 (2003)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3ktz
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Juǀʼhoan (English: /ˈtwæn/ JOO-twan,[2][3] Juǀʼhoan: [ʒuᵑ̊ǀʰwã]), also known as Southern or Southeastern ǃKung or ǃXun, is the southern variety of the ǃKung dialect continuum, spoken in northeastern Namibia and the Northwest District of Botswana by San Bushmen who largely identify themselves as Juǀʼhoansi. Several regional dialects are distinguished: Epukiro, Tsumǃkwe, Rundu, Omatako and ǂKxʼauǁʼein, with Tsumǃkwe being the best described and often taken as representative.


The name Juǀʼhoan (in the plural: Juǀʼhoansi) is also rendered Žuǀʼhõa – or occasionally Zhuǀʼhõa or Dzuǀʼhõa, depending on orthography. Depending on the classification, it is considered the Southern or Southeastern variety of the ǃKung (also rendered ǃXun) language cluster. It may thus be referred to as Southern ǃKung, Southeastern ǃXun, etc. Juǀʼhoan is based on the word ju 'people', which is also applied to the language cluster. (see ǃKung languages for variants of those names).



  Oral vowels Nasal vowels
Front Back Front Back
Close i u ĩ ũ
Close-mid e o õ
Open a ã
  • When a front vowel /e/ or /i/ follows a consonant with a back vowel constraint (e.g. clicks with uvular articulation), an [ə] is inserted before the front vowel, written 'a' in the orthography. For example, mi |'ae (myself) reads /mi |'əe/.
  • The diphthong /oa/ may be realized as [wa].

Juǀʼhoan has five vowel qualities, which may be nasalized, glottalized, murmured, or combinations of these, and most of these possibilities occur both long and short. The qualities /a/ and /o/ may also be pharyngealized and strident (epiglottalized). Besides, it is a tonal language with four tones: very high, high, low and very low tones.[4] Thus, there are a good 30 vowel phonemes, perhaps more, depending on one's analysis. There are, in addition, many vowel sequences and diphthongs.


Juǀʼhoan has an unusually large number of consonants, as typical for ǃKung. The following occur at the beginnings of roots. For brevity, only the alveolar clicks are listed with the other consonants; the complete set of clicks is found below.

Labial Alveolar Postalveolar
Velar Corresponding
Nasal voiced m n ŋ ᵑǃ
murmured () ᵑǃʱ
aspirated ᵑ̊ǃʰ
Plosive voiced b d dz ɡ ᶢǃ
tenuis p t ts k ᵏǃ (ʔ)
aspirated tsʰ tʃʰ ᵏǃʰ
prevoiced aspirated b͡pʰ d͡tʰ d͡tsʰ d͡tʃʰ ɡ͡kʰ ᶢᵏǃʰ
ejective / glottalized tsʼ tʃʼ kxʼ ᵑǃˀ
prevoiced ejective d͡tsʼ d͡tʃʼ
uvularized tᵡ ᵏǃᵡ
prevoiced uvularized d͡tᵡ d͡tsᵡ d͡tʃᵡ ᶢᵏǃᵡ
uvular-ejected tᵡʼ kᵡʼ ᵏǃᵡʼ
prevoiced uvular-ejected ɡ͡kᵡʼ ᶢᵏǃᵡʼ
Fricative voiced z ʒ ɦ
voiceless (f) s ʃ χ

Tenuis and modally voiced consonants (blue) may occur with any vowel quality. However, other consonants (grey, transcribed with a superscript diacritic to their right) do not occur in the same root as murmured, glottalized, or epiglottalized vowels.

The prevoiced aspirated and ejective consonants, both pulmonic and clicks, contain a voiceless interval, which Miller (2003) attributes to a larger glottal opening than is found in Hindustani breathy-voiced consonants. Phonetically, however, they are voice contours, starting out voiced but becoming voiceless for the aspiration or ejection.[5]

The phonemic status of [ʔ], [dz] and [dʒ] is uncertain. [ʔ] may be epenthetic before vowel-initial words; alternatively, it may be that no word may begin with a vowel. /mʱ/ occurs only in a single morpheme, the plural diminutive enclitic /mʱi/. /f/ and /l/ (not shown) only occur in loan words, and some accounts posit a /j/ and /w/. Labials (/p, pʰ, b, b͡pʰ, m/) are very rare initially, though β̞ is common between vowels. Velar stops (oral and nasal) are rare initially and very rare medially.

The uvulo-ejective consonants are analyzed as epiglottalized in Miller-Ockhuizen (2003). They have uvular frication and glottalization, and are similar to consonants in Nǀu described as uvular ejective by Miller et al. (2009).[full citation needed] Their epiglottal character may be a phonetic consequence of the raised larynx involved in making them ejective.

Only a small set of consonants occur between vowels within roots. These are:

Labial Alveolar Velar Uvular Glottal
β̞ ɾ ɣ
m n ŋ
k, ᵑk q͡χʼ
χ ɦ

Medial [β̞, ɾ, m, n] (green) are very common; [ɣ, ŋ] are rare, and the other medial consonants occur in only a very few roots, many of them loans. [β̞, ɾ, ɣ] are generally analyzed as allophones of /b, d, ɡ/. However, [ɾ] especially may correspond to multiple root-initial consonants.

Juǀʼhoan has 48 click consonants. There are four click "types": dental, lateral, alveolar, and palatal, each of which found in twelve series or "accompaniments" (combinations of manner, phonation, and contour). These are perfectly normal consonants in Juǀʼhoan, and indeed are preferred over non-clicks in word-initial position.

'noisy' clicks 'sharp' clicks series
dental lateral alveolar palatal
ᵏǀ ᵏǁ ᵏǃ ᵏǂ Tenuis
ᶢǀ ᶢǁ ᶢǃ ᶢǂ Voiced
ᵑǀ ᵑǁ ᵑǃ ᵑǂ Nasal
ᵏǀʰ ᵏǁʰ ᵏǃʰ ᵏǂʰ Aspirated
ᶢᵏǀʰ ᶢᵏǁʰ ᶢᵏǃʰ ᶢᵏǂʰ Pre-voiced aspirated
ᵑ̊ǀʰ ᵑ̊ǁʰ ᵑ̊ǃʰ ᵑ̊ǂʰ Aspirated nasal
ᵑǀʱ ᵑǁʱ ᵑǃʱ ᵑǂʱ Murmured nasal
ᵑǀˀ ᵑǁˀ ᵑǃˀ ᵑǂˀ Glottalized nasal
ᵏǀᵡ ᵏǁᵡ ᵏǃᵡ ᵏǂᵡ Linguo-pulmonic contour
ᶢᵏǀᵡ ᶢᵏǁᵡ ᶢᵏǃᵡ ᶢᵏǂᵡ Voiced linguo-pulmonic
ᵏǀᵡʼ ᵏǁᵡʼ ᵏǃᵡʼ ᵏǂᵡʼ Epiglottalized (heterorganic contour)
ᶢǀᵡʼ ᶢǁᵡʼ ᶢǃᵡʼ ᶢǂᵡʼ Voiced epiglottalized

As above, tenuis and modally voiced consonants (blue) may occur with any vowel quality. However, other consonants (grey, transcribed with a superscript diacritic to their right) do not occur in the same root as murmured, glottalized, or epiglottalized vowels.

Glottalized clicks occur almost exclusively before nasal vowels. This suggests they are nasalized, as in most if not all other languages with glottalized clicks. The nasalization would not be audible during the click itself due to the glottalization, which would prevent any nasal airflow, but the velum would be lowered, potentially nasalizing adjacent vowels.

The 'uvularized' clicks are actually linguo-pulmonic contours, [ǃ͡qχ], etc. The 'uvulo-ejective' clicks are heterorganic affricates, and equivalent to linguo-glottalic consonants transcribed [ǃ͡kxʼ], etc., in other languages (Miller 2011).[full citation needed]

See Ekoka ǃXung for a related variety with a somewhat larger click inventory.

Orthographic history[edit]

Juǀʼhoan is the only variety of ǃKung to be written. Three orthographies have been used over the past half century, two based on pipe letters for clicks and one using only the basic Latin alphabet.

In the 1960s, the South African Department of Education set about establishing official orthographies for the languages of Southwest Africa (Namibia). Jan Snyman was selected to develop an orthography for the then-unwritten Juǀʼhoasi, which was accepted in 1969. In this orthography, the name of the language is spelled Žuǀʼhõasi. A slightly modified form (Snyman 1975) is shown below.[6]

In the 1980s, the Bible Society of South Africa requested a new orthography, one that used only letters of the Latin alphabet, avoided diacritics as much as possible, and conformed as much as possible to the conventions of Afrikaans. This second orthography was accepted in 1987, in which the language is spelled Zjuc'hôa.

A third orthography was developed by the Juǀwa Bushman Development Foundation in 1994. This is the orthography that is currently in use in Namibia; there does not seem to be any publication in Botswana.

The three orthographies, along with the IPA, are compared below. Tone is evidently unmarked.

Comparison of Juǀʼhoan orthographies
Labial plosives Alveolar plosives Velar plosives Alveolar affricates Postalveolar affricates
IPA [b] [p] [b͡pʰ] [pʰ] [d] [t] [d͡tʰ] [tʰ] [ɡ] [k] [ɡ͡kʰ] [kʰ] [ts] [d͡tsʰ] [tsʰ] [d͡tsʼ] [tsʼ] [tʃ] [d͡tʃʰ] [tʃʰ] [d͡tʃʼ] [tʃʼ] [kxʼ]
1994–present b p bh ph d t dh th g k gh kh ts dsh tsh ds tz tc dch tch dc tj kx
1975–1987 dsʼ tsʼ dšh tšh dšʼ tšʼ kxʼ
1987–1994 gh ʼgh tj djh tjh djʼ tjʼ kg
Hetero-organic affricates Fricates Nasals Syllabic
IPA [d͡tᵡ] [tᵡ] [tᵡʼ] [d͡tsᵡ] [tsᵡ] [d͡tʃᵡ] [tʃᵡ] [z] [s] [ʒ] [ʃ] [χ] [h] [ɽ] [m] [n] [m̩] [ŋ̍] [m̰] [m̤] [j] [w]
1994–present dx tx tk dzx tsx djx tcx z s j c x h r m n m ang mq mh y w
1975–1987 txʼ dx tx ž š
1987–1994 dg tg tgʼ - tsg djg tjg zj sj g
Dental clicks Alveolar clicks
IPA [ᶢǀ] [ᵏǀ] [ᶢᵏǀʰ] [ᵏǀʰ] [ᵑǀˀ] [ᵑ̊ǀʰ] [ᵑǀ] [ᵑǀʱ] [ᶢᵏǀᵡ] [ᵏǀᵡ] [ᶢᵏǀᵡʼ] [ᵏǀᵡʼ] [ᶢǃ] [ᵏǃ] [ᶢᵏǃʰ] [ᵏǃʰ] [ᵑǃˀ] [ᵑ̊ǃʰ] [ᵑǃ] [ᵑǃʱ] [ᶢᵏǃᵡ] [ᵏǃᵡ] [ᶢᵏǃᵡʼ] [ᵏǃᵡʼ]
1994–present ǀ gǀh ǀh ǀʼ ǀʼh nǀh gǀx ǀx gǀk ǀk ǃ gǃh ǃh ǃʼ ǃʼh nǃh gǃx ǃx gǃk ǃk
1975–1987 nǀʼh gǀxʼ ǀxʼ nǃʼh gǃxʼ ǃxʼ
1987–1994 gc c dch ch cʼh nc nch dcg cg dcgʼ cgʼ gq q dqh qh qʼh nq nqh dqg qg dqgʼ qgʼ
Palatal clicks Lateral clicks
IPA [ᶢǂ] [ᵏǂ] [ᶢᵏǂʰ] [ᵏǂʰ] [ᵑǂˀ] [ᵑ̊ǂʰ] [ᵑǂ] [ᵑǂʱ] [ᶢᵏǂᵡ] [ᵏǂᵡ] [ᶢᵏǂᵡʼ] [ᵏǂᵡʼ] [ᶢǁ] [ᵏǁ] [ᶢᵏǁʰ] [ᵏǁʰ] [ᵑǁˀ] [ᵑ̊ǁʰ] [ᵑǁ] [ᵑǁʱ] [ᶢᵏǁᵡ] [ᵏǁᵡ] [ᶢᵏǁᵡʼ] [ᵏǁᵡʼ]
1994–present ǂ gǂh ǂh ǂʼ ǂʼh nǂh gǂx ǂx gǂk ǂk ǁ gǁh ǁh ǁʼ ǁʼh nǁh gǁx ǁx gǁk ǁk
1975–1987 nǂʼh gǂxʼ ǂxʼ nǁʼh gǁxʼ ǁxʼ
1987–1994 ç dçh çh çʼ çʼh nçh dçg çg dçgʼ çgʼ gx x dxh xh xʼh nx nxh dxg xg dxgʼ xgʼ
Plain vowels Pressed
Nasal vowels Pressed
Nasal vowels
IPA [i] [e] [a, ə] [o] [u] [aˤ] [oˤ] [ĩ] [ã] [õ] [ũ] [ãˤ] [õˤ]
1994–present i e a o u aq oq in an on un aqn oqn
1975–1987 ĩ ã õ ũ ã̭ õ̭
1987–1994 a, e î â ô û â̦ ô̦

The modern (1994) orthography also has ih, eh, ah, oh, uh for breathy (murmured) vowels, and ihn, ahn, ohn, uhn for breathy nasal vowels. However, Snyman maintains that these are positional variants of low-tone vowels, and not needed in an orthography (at least, not if tone were marked). Glottalized vowels are written with an apostrophe in all three orthographies.


Source: Dickens (2009).

Juǀ'hoan is basically isolating, being a zero-marking language in both clauses and noun phrases. The word order is SVO.

Nouns and pronouns[edit]

Nouns are grouped into noun classes based on animacy and species, with each class having a pronoun-set. The plural is formed by the suffixing of -si or -sín or by no change, . Many nouns have irregular plurals, such as (person, plural ).

For example, the noun gǂhòà, "dog", belongs to class 2, and may be referred to with the pronoun ha, whereas gǀúí, "forest", belongs to class 5, which has as its corresponding pronoun.

The noun classes and their pronoun-sets are as follows:

Class General Possessed Deictic Example
1 ha (sg); (dual); , (pl) (sg); hìsì (pl) ǁʼàhaà (sg); ǁʼàsà (dual); ǁʼàsìsà, ǁʼàhìsà (pl) "person"
2 ha (sg); hì (pl) mà (sg); hìsì (pl) ǁʼàhaà (sg); ǁʼàhìsà (pl) gǂhòà "dog"
3 ha (sg & pl) mà (sg); màsì (pl) ǁʼàhaà (sg & pl) ǁxòè "meteor"
4 hì (sg & pl) hì (sg); hìsì (pl) ǁʼàhìà (sg); ǁʼàhìsà (pl) gǁùú, "meteor"
5 ká (sg & pl) gá (sg); gásì (pl) ǁʼàkáà (sg); ǁʼàkásà (pl) gǀúí "forest"


Personal and demonstrative pronouns are:

Singular Dual Plural
1st person exclusive ètsá è, èǃá
inclusive mtsá m, mǃá
2nd person à; há (hort.) ìtsá ì, ìǃá
3rd person ha (n1-3), hì (n4), ká (n5) sá (n1) hì (n1-2), sì (n1)

Common words and phrases[edit]

  • ján ǀàm – Good day
  • ǂxáí – Good morning
  • ǁáú tzà – Good evening
  • gǁàán - Good afternoon
  • à ján – How are you?
  • ǁáú gè – Goodbye
  • – person
  • – people
  • gǃú, dohmsoan – water
  • nǃaisi u – Bon voyage

Sample texts[edit]

Following are some sample texts in the Juǀʼhoan language.[7][8]













E nǁurì tè kxóní ǀʼùrì ǃóm

we try and fix bicycle wheel

'We tried to fix the bicycle wheel.'














Uto dchuun-a ǀKaece ko nǃama nǃang

car hit-TRANS ǀKaece LK road in

'A car hit ǀKaece in the road'














Besa komm ǁʼama-ǀʼan Oba ko tcisi

Besa EMPH buy-give Oba LK things

'Besa bought Oba some things'














dshau nǂai ʻm-a ha daʼabi ko mari

woman cause eat-TRANS her child LK mielie-meal

'The woman fed her child mealie meal.' (Dickens 2005:84)














mi ba ǁohm-a ǃaihn ko ǀʼai

my father chop-TRANS tree LK axe

'My father chopped the tree with an axe.'



  • Dickens, Patrick J. (2005). A Concise Grammar of Juǀʼhoan With a Juǀʼhoan–English Glossary and a Subject Index. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag. ISBN 978-3-89645-145-3.
  • Miller-Ockhuizen, Amanda (2003). The phonetics and phonology of gutturals: case study from Juǀʼhoansi (PDF). Routledge. ISBN 0-203-50640-5. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 January 2024.
  • Snyman, Jan W. (1983). "Zuǀʼhõasi, a Khoisan Dialect of South West Africa/Namibia". In Dihoff, Ivan R. (ed.). Current Approaches to African Linguistics. Vol. 1. pp. 115–125. doi:10.1515/9783112420065-007. ISBN 9783112420058.
  • Snyman, Jan W. (1997). "A preliminary classification of the ǃXũũ and Zuǀʼhõasi Dialects". In Haacke, W. H. G.; Elderkin, E. D. (eds.). Namibian Languages: Reports and Papers. Namibian African Studies. Vol. 4. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe. pp. 21–106. ISBN 978-3-89645-080-7.
  • Snyman, Jan W. An Official Orthography for Žuǀʼhõasi Kokxʼoi. Pretoria.


  1. ^ Güldemann, Tom (2003). "Khoisan Languages". International Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Vol. 1: AAVE-Esperanto. Oxford University Press. p. 362. ISBN 9780195139778.
  2. ^ Wade, Nicholas (18 March 2003). "In Click Languages, an Echo of the Tongues of the Ancients". New York Times. Archived from the original on 15 August 2009.
  3. ^ Feinberg, Jody (7 October 2018). "A SIMPLE EXISTENCE In photos, a recollection of life among the Bushmen". The Patriot Ledger. Quincy, MA. Archived from the original on 11 November 2022.
  4. ^ Dickens, Patrick (2009) [1992]. English-Juǀ'hoan/Juǀ'hoan-English Dictionary. Quellen zur Khoisan-Forschung. Vol. 8. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag. pp. 15–16. ISBN 978-3-89645-868-1.
  5. ^ Ladefoged, Peter; Maddieson, Ian (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 63, 80–81. ISBN 0-631-19815-6.
  6. ^ Snyman, Jan W. (1975). Zuǀʼhõasi Fonologie en Woordeboek. Cape Town: AA Balkema.
  7. ^ Pratas, Fernanda; Pereira, Sandra; Pinto, Clara, eds. (2016). Coordination and Subordination: Form and Meaning—Selected Papers from CSI Lisbon 2014. ISBN 978-1-4438-8950-6.
  8. ^ Kandybowicz, Jason; Torrence, Harold, eds. (2017). Africa's Endangered Languages: Documentary and Theoretical Approaches. doi:10.1093/oso/9780190256340.001.0001. ISBN 9780190256340.

External links[edit]