Khoisan Language

The Khoisan people speak a language which incorporates many click sounds.  Broadly speaking, there are two languages identified - Hottentot (Khoikoi) and Bushman (San), with many dialects which evolved from it.

Look at the Motto  !ke e: /xarra //ke  and try to formulate the sound as described below.

    //  this sign is used when writing San words with a click - similar to the sound made when urging a horse to move.

     /  another click sound, like the ' tutting' sound made when expressing sympathy.

    !    a tongue click which has the  sound of cork popping from a bottle.

    #    with one slash only, sounds like the sucking of a baby with tongue just behind the teeth.

With colonisation by the Europeans and the spread by Africans into the Khoisan homelands, Khoisan languages have suffered, with many dying out.

In the late 19th century, scholars such as the late Dr William Bleek were aware of this threat.  He studied what was then known as the Bushman language and was able to capture and reproduce a written version.  In his studies, began in the 1870's, he learnt the languages with the help of Bushman prisoners working in Table Bay harbour on the construction of a breakwater.

While the /Xam language has become extinct, efforts are being made to ensure that existing Khoisan languages do not suffer the same fate.  The majority of Khoisan people live in the Northern Cape and that province's Education Department plans to introduce four languages into schools.  These are: Nama, !Xu, Khwe and Khomani.  It is hoped that initiatives like these will revitalise these languages and urgent action is needed, since surveys revealed that, for example, only 6,000 inhabitants still speak the Nama language.

Back to Top