I would like to know whether anyone can give me a complete list of African languages containing phonemes known as "the clicks" (I am aware of two such sounds, if I well recall, performed with the tongue, which, to the best, of my explanation, "clicks", against the palate, and against the teeth (I think smiling is a part of producing one of the sounds, and clenching the mouth, to some extent, perhaps, too (I think the sound produced is similar to an [ɪ] sound, but is, to what I could tell, although I may be wrong, almost voiceless); while the other sound I think is performed by flattening the tongue against the hard palate, clicking it, and opening the mouth, (and performing a hard [a] sound, or something similar. I thought something similar to the phonemes [ŋ...ɑ], but, as I was saying, with a click in between, is common in Shona, but, I must be wrong, because, as pointed out below, Shona does not have clicks, so it must have been another language I was listening to)).

Can someone please provide me with a more accurate description of how these sounds are produced, perhaps, even, with audio recordings of these sounds?

Can someone please also tell me which IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) symbols are used to reproduce the clicks, phonetically, in writing?

I also would like to know which languages make use of such sounds, and in what geographical areas they are available, at least natively.

I thought the clicks were part of the Shona language, Bantu language of the Shona people of Zimbabwe (as a Google search turns up). But, as pointed out in the answer below, I was wrong.

A Google search also reveals the term "Dental Clicks", when I search for "Shona language clicks", but I could not find the term in the corresponding Wikipedia article on Shona that turns up. If I was wrong, then why does Google turn this term up?

But I would also know whether these phonemes are part of any other language as well, or, whether they can only be found in the Shona language (or, since I was wrong, in whatever languages they turn up in).



1 Answer 1


The question is rather broad, so I'll just focus on one part of it. There are no clicks in "Shona" (a fluid social construct), i.e. Karanga, Zezuru, Manyika, Korekore, Kalanga. There are a few words with clicks in Ndau, which is in one view a radically divergent dialect of Shona, else a closely related language. There are also a few clicks in Chopi – spoken in Mozambique, like Ndau. They are marginal and variable.

Clicks are robust in the Nguni and Sotho-Tswana sub-branches of Bantu (though not universal in Sotho-Tswana), and are extremely rampant in the so-called Khoisan languages (indigenous non-Bantu southern African languages). They also exist in Tanzania in Sandawe and Hadza, in languales labeled "Khoisan" which however are only typologically similar to the southern African languages. Then finally the exist in Kenya in the Dahalo language, a Cushitic language. This is the Wiki page on clicks, which lists a number of other languages said to have marginal clicks – omitting Chopi I suppose because the authors never worked on the language.

At any rate, you cannot find them in Shona, unless you deem that Ndau is a form of Shona.

  • 1
    Ken Hale reported clicks in Damin, a ceremonial language in Australia.
    – jlawler
    Jan 20 at 22:04
  • Thank you for your answer. Can you please explain to me what the difference is between clicks, dental clicks, and marginal clicks? Thanks. Jan 22 at 16:45
  • Also, as mentioned in my post, I would like to be redirected to the IPA symbols for marginal clicks. Thanks. Jan 22 at 16:45
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    Marginal sounds in a language are ones that only appear in a few words and perhaps not for all speakers, for instance [x] i.e. the fricative in "Bach" is not pronounced as in German by all speakers of English, but it is used by some. Dental clicks are a specific kind of click. You can see the IPA chart at web.uvic.ca/ling/resources/ipa/charts/IPAlab/IPAlab.htm to get the symbols, but there is no resource with natural language sound files. The person performing on that page isn't a specialist in southern African languages, and can't really do them right. Most can't.
    – user6726
    Jan 22 at 17:12
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    I don't find any item suggesting "dental click" in connection with a Google search for "Shona language clicks", but Google search results are notoriously fluid, so perhaps you can show us a specific article that implies that there are dental clicks in Shona. I expect that it has to do with the aforementioned issue of Ndau, and the question of whether Ndau is Shona.
    – user6726
    Jan 22 at 17:17

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