Nǀu language

Nǀu language

Infobox Language
region=South Africa

IPA|Nǀu or IPA|Nǀuu, also known as IPA|Nǀhuki, ǂKhomani, or Nǁngǃke, is a moribund Tuu (Khoisan) language spoken by the Nǁnǂe people in South Africa. The name IPA|ǂKhomani is used by the South African government, but apart from that is not recognized by the Nǁnǂe.

IPA|Nǀu belongs to the Tuu (Taʼa-ǃKwi) language family, with extinct ǀXam being its closest relative. The slash symbol in these names represents a click like the English interjection "tsk! tsk!" used to express pity or shame; "Nǀu" is pronounced like "noo", with a "tsk" pronounced in the middle of the /n/. Its closest living relative is the ǃXóõ language.

IPA|Nǀu prospered through the 19th century, but encroaching non-ǃKwi languages and acculturation threatened it, like most other Khoisan languages. The language of the ǂKhomani was mainly displaced by Afrikaans and Nama, especially after they started migrating to towns in the 1930s and found themselves surrounded by non-IPA|Nǀu speaking people. In 1973 their language was declared extinct, and the remaining IPA|ǂKhomani were evicted from the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park.

In the 1990s, IPA|ǂKhomani elders became upset that the language was dying out. It was thought that the language might already be extinct. They finally located 101-year old Elsie Vaalbooi, who could still speak IPA|Nǀu. Linguist Anthony Traill interviewed her in 1997. The South African San Institute soon became involved in the pursuit of information on the Nǀu language, and with the help of Vaalbooi they tracked down 25 other people scattered by the eviction who were able to speak or at least understand the language. Thabo Mbeki handed over 400 km² of land to the IPA|ǂKhomani in 1999, and 250 km² of land within the park in 2002. Vaalbooi came up with the Nǀu motto of "Sa ǁʼa ǃainsi uinsi" (We move towards a better life) for her rehabilitated people. At the time there were twenty elderly speakers, eight of whom lived in the Western Cape province signed over to them. As of 2007, fewer than ten are still alive in South Africa, and a few more in Botswana; none live with another speaker, and their daily languages are Afrikaans and Tswana, respectively. Linguist Nigel Crawhall is documenting the language. However, the younger generations of IPA|ǂKhomani are proud Nama speakers, and have little affinity to IPA|Nǀu, so there is little chance of saving the language.

peech sounds

IPA|Nǀuu has one of the more complex sound inventories of the world's languages. It is has a tone system similar to other Tuu and Juu languages, which is not covered here.


Like most languages in southern Africa, IPA|Nǀuu has five vowel qualities. These may occur long or short, diphthongized, epiglottalized, and, when long, nasalized.

The velar nasal IPA|/ŋ̩/ only occurs as a syllabic nucleus. A glottal stop IPA| [ʔ] begins a few words; it's not clear at this point if it is phonemic. IPA|/t, d, f/ are found in unassimilated loanwords. The difference between IPA| [ɾ] ~ [l] is allophonic as well as dialectal.

These are airstream contour consonants, which start off with a lingual (velaric) airstream mechanism and finish with a pulmonic airstream, rather as affricates are manner contour consonants, starting as plosives and finishing as fricatives. Traditionally these were considered to be uvular clicks, because the uvular or pharyngeal closure is audible, but in fact the rear closure of all IPA|Nǀuu clicks is uvular or pharyngeal. (The distinction between uvular and pharyngeal is not represented here.)

These differ from the previous consonants in releasing into an ejective. As in simple ejectives, they are all affricates.


*"The Sounds of Nǀuu: Place and Airstream Contrasts." Amanda L. Miller, Johanna Brugman, Bonny Sands, Levi Namaseb, Mats Exter, Chris Collins. Working papers of the Cornell Phonetics Laboratory 19, 2007
* [http://ling.cornell.edu/plab/amanda/amiller_jipa.pdf "Differences in Airstream and Posterior Place of Articulation among Nǀuu Lingual Stops."] Amanda L. Miller, Johanna Brugman, Bonny Sands, Levi Namaseb, Mats Exter, Chris Collins. (Submitted to the Journal of the International Phonetic Association, March 2007.)

External links

* [http://ling.cornell.edu/khoisan/nu/nu.htm Nǀu sound files at Cornell]
* [http://www.san.org.za/sasi/home.htm South African San Institute]
* [http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=ngh Ethnologue report on Nǀu]


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