Can click consonants arise from non-click consonants?Or are they an original feature of all languages that was lost in the majority of them and only retained in few?


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There is no known case where click consonants developed by regular sound change from some type of non-click. One can speculate that it could happen from extreme velarization of a language consonant, where the back tongue stricture in [tˠ] becomes a complete closure. In the case of the Khoisan languages, we have no idea where the clicks came from. Indeed, despite the implication of the name, Khoisan is not a demonstrated language family and the various sub-groups of Khoisan may not be genetically related at all.

We do know that the various Bantu languages of southern Africa plus Cushitic Dahalo of Kenya have borrowed clicks via contact with languages that have clicks. Once clicks are in the inventory, they can be freely used as sounds of the language. In quite a number of cultures (including English-speaking), clicks are used as bare noises for various expressive purposes, such as "tsk!" as the ideophone of disapproval. Clicks are also employed in Damin, which is a now-extinct ritual language used by Lardil speakers. As described by Hale & Nash in "Damin and Lardil phonotactics", the Damin clicks (which are nasal) do not contrast with non-click nasals. Damin is not a regular genetically-transmitted language (was not learned by children picking up the surrounding language).

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    Damin clicks were also ingressive, if I remember right, so phonetically quite different from Khoisan clicks?
    – Draconis
    Commented Dec 27, 2018 at 18:52
  • Hale & Nash describe them just as clicks. "l*" is described as voiceless ingressive with egressive glottalic release. They do say that some of the clicks can be rearticulated (doubled).
    – user6726
    Commented Dec 27, 2018 at 19:08
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    For the record, I for years thought that 'tsk tsk' or 'tut tut' was pronounced without any clicks at all just '/tɪsk/ or /tʌt/. Not enough disapproving aunts I guess.
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 27, 2018 at 20:37
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    Much the same can be said about ejective consonants -- other languages can pick them up, but nobody knows where they come from. Clicks and ejectives are common in the phonologies of Sprachbunds, and nobody knows where they come from, either.
    – jlawler
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 0:49

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