Rare Languages #5: Khoekhoegowab

By | March 19, 2023
Did you know that "Namib" is a word from Khoekhoegowab, meaning "vast place"?
Did you know that “Namib” is a word from Khoekhoegowab, meaning “vast place”? Image: Jessie Crettenden

Khoekhoegowab, also known as Khoekhoe language or Nama, is a language spoken by the Khoikhoi people in Namibia, South Africa, and Botswana. It is one of the few languages in the world that uses clicks as part of its phonetic system, which has made it a source of curiosity for linguists and language enthusiasts alike. In this article, we’ll explore Khoekhoegowab and its distinctive use of clicks.

Khoekhoegowab belongs to the Khoisan language family, which is characterized by its use of click consonants. The Khoikhoi people have a long and complex history in southern Africa, with evidence suggesting that they have been living in the region for at least 2,000 years. The language has evolved over time, incorporating elements from other languages spoken in the area.

Khoekhoegowab is recognized as a national language in Namibia and has been included in the Namibian constitution as one of the official languages of the country. The use of Khoekhoegowab is mainly concentrated in the southern regions of Namibia, where it is spoken by the Nama and Damara communities.

Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Khoekhoegowab is its use of clicks. There are four types of clicks used in the language: dental, lateral, alveolar, and retroflex. Each click is produced by making a specific sound with the tongue and lips, resulting in a distinct clicking noise. These clicks are used to differentiate between words and to convey meaning, just like any other phoneme in a language.

Due to its unique use of clicks, Khoekhoegowab can be a challenging language to learn for non-native speakers. It requires a level of oral dexterity and coordination that can take time and practice to master. However, the language is still spoken by a significant number of people in southern Africa, and efforts are being made to preserve and promote it as part of the region’s cultural heritage.

Khoekhoegowab is a truly unique language, with its distinctive use of clicks setting it apart from most other languages in the world. While it may be challenging to learn, the language is an essential part of the cultural heritage of southern Africa, and its continued use and preservation is vital. If you’re interested in learning more about languages and linguistics, Khoekhoegowab is undoubtedly a language worth exploring.

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