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Khoekhoe 

nama
Welcome

Khoekhoe, also known as Nama, and Hottentot (the latter term is pejorative), belongs to the Khoe language family. It is spoken by 200,000 people in Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa by the NamaDamara, and Haiǁom people (Ethnologue). The name Khoekhoen comes from the Nama word khoe ‘person.’

Status
  • Namibia
    Khoekhoe is the national language along with English and a number of other regional languages (Ethnologue). It is used at all levels of education and in the media.
  • South Africa
    Khoekhoe is used in education through the secondary level.

 

Dialects

Ethnologue identifies the following dialects of Khoekhoe:

  • Bondelswarts-Nama (Bondelswarts)
  • Sesfontein Dama (Sesfontein Damara)
  • Namidama
  • Central Dama (Central Damara)
  • Central Nama (Nama)
  • Topnaar-Nama (Topnaar)

 

Structure

Sound system

The sound system of Khoekhoe is characterized by an abundance of click consonants.

Vowels
Nama has 5 oral and three nasal vowel phonemes, i.e., sounds that make a difference in word meaning. In the table below, nasal vowels are marked by a tilde. All vowels may be long or short. Vowel length differentiates word meaning. In addition, there are many diphthongs.

x
Oral
Oral
Oral
Close
i
ĩ
u
ű
Mid
e
o
Open
a
ã
x

 

Consonants
Khoekhoe has 31 consonant phonemes of which 11 are non-clicks and 20 are clicks.

Non-click consonants
Aspiration is marked by a raised [ʰ] after the consonant. There is no contrast between voiceless and voiced stopsfricatives and affricates.

Stops voiceless plain
p
t
k
voiceless aspirated xx
Fricatives voiceless plain
s
h
Affricate xxxx
ts
xxx
m
n

/ʔ/ = sound between the vowels in uh-oh

Click consonants
Clicks are stops produced with two points of contact in the mouth: one forward and one in the back. The pocket of air produced by the resulting enclosure is rarefied by the sucking action of the tongue. Release of the forward closure results in a pop-like sound. There are several places of articulation at which click consonants can occur.

Khoekhoe has the following clicks consonants which can be modified in a variety of ways, such as aspiration, nasalization and glottalization

  • /kǀ/ = dental click
  • /kǁ/ = lateral alveolar click produced by the side of the tongue against the back of the side teeth (similar to the sound made when calling horses in English. In fact, the name Xhosa is pronounced as /’kǁʰ o:sa/.
  • /kǃ/ = alveolar click produced with the tip of the tongue against the roof of the mouth (like a cork pulled from a bottle).
  • /kǂ/= palatal click made with made with a flat tongue which makes a softer popping sound than the ǃ click above.
Plain
k!
Aspirated
kǀʰ
kǁʰ
k!ʰ
kǂʰ
Nasalized
ŋǀ
ŋǁ
ŋ!
ŋǂʰ
Voiceless nasalized aspirated
ŋclickraisedH
ŋǁʰ
ŋ!ʰ
ŋǂʰ
Glottalized
k!ʔ

Tones
Khoekhoe has three tones that can occur on vowels and on syllabic nasal consonants:

  • high tone marked with an acute accent, e.g., á
  • mid tone which is not marked
  • low tone marked with a grave accent, e.g., à

 

Grammar

Khoekhoe is an agglutinative language which adds clitics to roots to express grammatical relations.

Nouns

  • Khoekhoe does not have noun classes like the surrounding Bantu languages. Instead, it uses clitic pronoun suffixes to indicate person, gender and number, e.g., ‘áop ‘the man’ where -p is masculine singular 3rd person pronoun clitic.
  • There are no cases or gender markings.

 

Verbs
Khoekhoe verbs have the following categories marked by suffixes:

  • tense: present (unmarked), past (recent and remote), future, indefinite
  • aspect: punctual, imperfective, perfective
  • valence: passive, reflexive, reciprocal
muu ‘see’
mùuku 
‘see each other’
mùusn
‘see oneself’
mùuhè
‘be seen’

 

Word order
The normal word order in Khoekhoe is Subject-Object-Verb.

píli
ke
maríàsà
clickxanísà
màa
Bill
declarative
Mary (oblique)
letter (oblique)
remote past
give
‘Bill gave Mary the letter.’

 

Vocabulary

The vocabulary of Khoisan languages is a reflection of their lifestyles. Since the speakers of these languages live in close contact with nature, they have a very refined vocabulary related to hunting, animals, plants, and various types of terrain.

Writing

Khoekhoe has a standardized Latin orthography. The symbols of the  alphabet are given below:

Nonclick consonants

A a
B b
D d
E e
(F f)
G g
Gy gy
H h
I i
(J j )
K k
Kx kx
(L l)
M m
N n
Ń ń
O o
P p
R r
S s
T t
Ts ts
U u
(V v)
W w
X x
  • Letters in parentheses occur only in foreign borrowings
  • kx = /kʰ/
  • gy = j in jet
  • ń  = ng in sing

 

Click consonants

ǀ
ǁ
!
ǂ
ǀg
ǁg
!g
ǂg
ǀk
ǁk
!k
ǂk
ǀn
ǁn
!n
ǂn
ǀx
ǁx
!x
ǂx
ǀ’
ǁ’
!’
ǂ’

 

Difficulty

Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Khoekhoe?
There is no data on the difficulty of Nama for speakers of English.

6 Responses to Khoekhoe

  1. Crystal Naidoo

    Hi there, please can u help me, i would like to know how the San people greeted each, or the greetings they used,

    thank u,

     
    • Irene Thompson

      There are several basic Khoekhoe lessons on utube.

       
  2. Mr. Deon Kapuka

    Comment on Lesson 1.

    The sentence constructed seems to be wrong.

    /Khim !nu #hab //ga wrong

    /Khim !gû ‡nab //ga.

     
  3. Allison

    Also Born Three, please.

    Thank you

     

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