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Taa language

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Title: Taa language  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Tuu languages, Khoekhoe language, Click consonant, Khoisan languages, Tshwa language
Collection: Languages of Botswana, Languages of Namibia, Tuu Languages
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Taa language

Taa ǂaan
Native to Botswana, Namibia
Region Southern Ghanzi, northern Kgalagadi, western Southern and western Kweneng districts in Botswana; southern Omaheke and northeastern Hardap regions in Namibia.
Native speakers
4,200  (2002)Lewis, M. Paul, Gary F. Simons, & Charles D. Fennig, ed. (2013). Ethnologue: Languages of the World (17th ed.). Dallas, Texas: SIL International. 
  • Taa–Lower Nossob
    • Taa
Language codes
ISO 639-3 nmn
Glottolog taaa1242[1]

Taa , also known as !Xóõ (!Khong, ǃXoon – pronounced /kǃxóŋ/,[2] English [3]), is a Khoisan language known for its large number of phonemes, perhaps the largest in the world. Most speakers live in Botswana, but a few hundred live in Namibia. The people call themselves ǃXoon (pl. ǃXooŋake) or ʼNǀohan (pl. Nǀumde), depending on the dialect they speak.

Taa is the word for 'human being'; the local name of the language is Taa ǂaan, from ǂaan 'language'. ǃXoon (!Xóõ) is an ethnonym used at opposite ends of the Taa-speaking area, but not by Taa speakers in between.[4] Most living Taa speakers are ethnic ǃXoon (plural ǃXooŋake) or 'Nǀohan (plural Nǀumde).[5]


  • Relatives 1
  • Dialects 2
  • Alternate names 3
  • Phonology 4
    • Tones 4.1
    • Vowels 4.2
      • East ǃXoon (Traill) 4.2.1
      • West ǃXoon (DoBeS) 4.2.2
    • Consonants 4.3
      • East ǃXoon (Traill) 4.3.1
      • West ǃXoon (DoBeS) 4.3.2
    • Phonotactics 4.4
  • Grammar 5
  • Example phrases 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Until the rediscovery of a few elderly speakers of Nǁng in the 1990s, Taa was thought to be the last surviving member of the Tuu language family.


There is sufficient dialectal variation in Taa that it might be better described as a dialect continuum than as a single language. Taa dialects fall into two groups, suggesting a historical spread from west to east:[6]

  • West Taa: Traill's West ǃXoon and Dorothea Bleek's Nǀuǁʼen
  • East Taa
    • !Ama (Western)
    • (Eastern)
      • East ǃXoon (Lone Tree)
      • Tsaasi–ǂHuan
        • Tsaasi
        • ǂHuan

Traill worked primarily with East ǃXoon, and the DoBeS project is working with ’Nǀohan (in East Taa) and West ǃXoon.

ǀ’Auni and Kiǀhazi, previously considered dialects of Taa, were more divergent than the dialects here, and are now classified as a distinct language, Lower Nossob.

Alternate names

The various dialects and social groups of the Taa, their many names, the unreliability of transcriptions found in the literature, and the fact that names may be shared between languages and that dialects have been classified, has resulted in a great deal of confusion. Traill (1974), for example, spent two chapters of his Compleat Guide to the Koon [sic] disentangling names and dialects.[7]

The name ǃXoon (more precisely ǃXóõ) is only used at Aminius Reserve in Namibia, around Lone Tree where Traill primarily worked, and at Dzutshwa (Botswana). It is, however, used by the !Xoon for all Taa speakers. It has been variously spelled ǃxō, ǃkɔ̃ː, ǃko/ǃkõ, Khong, and the fully anglicized Koon.

Bleek's Nǀuǁʼen dialect[8] has been spelled ǀNuǁen, ǀNuǁe:n, Ngǀuǁen, Nguen, Nǀhuǁéi, ŋǀuǁẽin, ŋǀuǁẽi, ŋǀuǁen, ǀuǁen. It has also been called by the ambiguous Khoekhoe term Nǀusan (Nǀu-san, Nǀūsā, Nǀuusaa, Nǀhusi), sometimes rendered Nusan or Noosan, which has been used for other languages in the area. A subgroup was known as Koon [kɔ̃ː]. This dialect is apparently extinct.

Bleek recorded another now-extinct variety at the town of Khakhea, and it is known in the literature as Kakia. Names with a tee: Katia, Kattea, Khatia, and Xatia, are apparently spelling variants of Kakia, though this is not certain. Vaalpens, ǀKusi, and ǀEikusi evidently refer to the same variety as Xatia.

Westphal studied a variety rendered ǀŋamani, ǀnamani, Ngǀamani, ǀŋamasa. This dialect is apparently also now extinct.

Westphal also studied ǂHuan (ǂhũa) dialect (or ǂHũa-ʘwani), and used this name for the entire language. However, the term is ambiguous between Taa (Western ǂHũa) and ǂ’Amkoe (Eastern ǂHũa), and for this reason Traill chose to call the language ǃXóõ.

Tsaasi dialect is quite similar to ǂHuan, and like ǂHuan, the name is used ambiguously for a dialect of ǂ’Amkoe. This is a Tswana name, variously rendered Tshasi, Tshase, Tʃase, Tsase, and Sase.

The Tswana term for Bushmen, Masarwa, is frequently encountered. More specific to the Taa are Magon (Magong) and the Tshasi mentioned above.

The Taa distinguish themselves along at least some of the groups above. Like many San peoples, they also distinguish themselves by the environment they live in (plain people, river people, etc.), and also by direction. Traill reports the following:[7]

ǃama ʘʔâni "westerners"
ǂhūã ʘʔâni "southerners"
ʘqhōa ʘʔâni "in-betweeners"
tùu ʔʘnāhnsā̂ "pure people"

Heinz reports that ǃxóõ in an exonym given by other Bushmen, and that the Taa call themselves ǃxoia.

The Taa refer to their language as tâa ǂâã "people's language". Westphal (1971) adopted the word tâa "person" as the name for the Southern Khoisan language family, which is now called Tuu.[7]


Taa has at least 58 consonants, 31 vowels, and four tones (Traill 1985, 1994 on East ǃXoon), or at least 87 consonants, 20 vowels, and two tones (DoBeS 2008 on West ǃXoon), by many counts the most of any known language. These include 20 (Traill) or 43 (DoBeS) click consonants and several vowel phonations, though opinions vary as to which of the 130 (Traill) or 164 (DoBeS) consonant sounds are single segments and which are consonant clusters.


Traill describes four tones for the East ǃXoon dialect: high [á], mid [ā], low [à], and mid-falling [â]. DoBeS describes two tones, high and low, for the West ǃXoon dialect. This may reflect a difference in analysis rather than a difference in the tone systems.


Taa has five vowel qualities, [a e i o u]. The Traill and DoBeS descriptions differ in the phonations of these vowels; it is not clear if this reflects a dialectical difference or a difference of analysis.

East ǃXoon (Traill)

Traill describes the phonations of the East ǃXoon dialect as plain, murmured, or glottalized. [a o u] may also be both glottalized and murmured, as well as pharyngealized or strident. [a u] may be both pharyngealized and glottalized, for 26 vowels not counting nasalization or length.

Murmured vowels after plain consonants contrast with plain vowels after aspirated consonants, and likewise glottalized vowels with ejective consonants, so these are phonations of the vowels and not assimilation with consonant phonation.

Vowels may be long or short, but long vowels may be sequences rather than distinct phonemes. The other vowel quality sequences (diphthongs?), disregarding the added complexity of phonation, are [ai, ae, ao, au, oi, oe, oa, ou, ui, ue, ua].

All plain vowels may be nasalized. No other phonation may be nasalized, but nasalization occurs in combination with other phonations as the second vowel of a sequence ("long vowel" or "diphthong"). These sequences alternate dialectically with vowel plus velar nasal. That is, the name ǃXóõ may be dialectically [kǃxóŋ], and this in turn may be phonemically /kǃxóɲ/, since [ɲ] does not occur word-finally. However, this cannot explain the short nasal vowels, so Taa has at least 31 vowels.

A long, glottalized, murmured, nasalized o with falling tone is written ôʼhõ. A long, strident nasalized o with low tone is written òqhõ, since Traill analyzes stridency as phonemically pharyngealized murmur. (Note that phonetically these are distinct phonations.)

West ǃXoon (DoBeS)

DoBeS describes the phonations of the West ǃXoon dialect as plain, a e i o u; nasalized, an en in on un; epiglottalized or pharyngealized, aq eq iq oq uq; strident, aqh eqh iqh oqh uqh; and glottalized or 'tense', aʼ eʼ iʼ oʼ uʼ.


Taa is unusual in allowing mixed homorganic, as in [dt], such clusters are listed in the chart below.

Taa consonants are complex, and it is not clear how much of the difference between the dialects is real and how much is an artifact of analysis.

East ǃXoon (Traill)

Marginal or rare consonants are in parentheses. Asterisks mark consonants added in 1994, which are likely also marginal or rare. A parenthetical alternative is the analysis of Miller (2011).

East ǃXoon dialect (Traill 1985, 1994): Non-click consonants
Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Plosive voiced d dz ɡ (?) ɢ ~ ɴɢ (?)
tenuis p* t ts k q ʔ
aspirated * tsʰ (?) (?)
breathy voiced dtʰ
ɡkʰ* (?) ɢqʰ ~ ɴɢqʰ (?)
ejective * tsʼ *, kxʼ (?) (qʼ) (?)
ejective cluster dtsʼ (?) ɡkxʼ (?)
Fricative voiceless f* s x h*
Nasal voiced m n ɲ (ŋ)
glottalized ˀm ˀn
Other (β) (l) (dʲ ~ j)

The nasal [ɲ] only occurs between vowels, and [ŋ] only word finally (and then only in some dialects), so these may be allophones. [β], [l], [j] also only occur in medial position.

The mixed-voice consonants have long been puzzling. Miller-Ockhuizen (2003) analyzes them as breathy voiced, attributing the medial voicelessness to a larger glottal opening gesture than is found in Hindustani breathy-voiced consonants. The same four-way contrast in phonation is found in the pulmonic contour clicks. Taa is typologically unusual regardless in having mixed-voice ejectives. However, Juǀʼhoansi, which is part of the same Sprachbund as Taa, truly does have mixed voicing in [d͡tʰ, d͡tʃʰ, d͡tsʼ].[9]

Of the velar and uvular series, Miller (2011) only reports /k, x, q/; the others in the table are marked (?). There are additional consonant clusters, though these can also be analyzed as uvularized consonants: /pʼkxʼ (pᵡʼ), tx (tᵡ), dtx (dᵡ), tsʰx (tsᵡ), dtsʰx (dzᵡ), tʼkxʼ (tᵡʼ), dtʼkxʼ (dᵡʼ), tsʼkxʼ (tsᵡʼ), dtsʼkxʼ (dzᵡʼ)/.

Taa may have as few as 83 click sounds, if the more complex clicks are analyzed as clusters. Given the intricate clusters posited seen in the non-click consonants, it is not surprising that many of the Taa clicks should be analyzed as clusters. However, there is some debate whether these actually are actually clusters; all non-Khoisan languages in the world that have clusters allow clusters with sonorants like r, l, w, j (as in English tree, sleep, quick, cue), and this does not occur in Taa.

There are five click types: bilabial, dental, lateral, alveolar, and palatal. There are seventeen series, differing in phonation, manner, and complexity (what were traditionally considered uvular clicks, but that are now analyzed either as clusters or as airstream contours). These are perfectly normal consonants in Taa, and indeed are preferred over non-clicks in word-initial position.

East ǃXoon dialect (Traill 1985, 1994): Click consonants
noisy clicks 'sharp' clicks manner, along with speaker or dialect variation DoBeS CC
Miller (2011)
Tenuis (k) ǂ
kʘʰ* kǀʰ kǁʰ kǃʰ kǂʰ Aspirated () kǂ + qʰ ǂʰ *
ɡʘ ɡǀ ɡǁ ɡǃ ɡǂ Voiced (ɡ) ɡǂ ᶢǂ
ɡʘh ɡǀh ɡǁh ɡǃh ɢǂh Voiced velar plosive followed by aspiration (ɡh, ɡkʰ) ɡǂ + qʰ ᶢǂʱ
ŋʘ ŋǀ ŋǁ ŋǃ ŋǂ Voiced nasal (ŋ) ŋǂ ᵑǂ
ŋ̊ʘ ŋ̊ǀ ŋ̊ǁ ŋ̊ǃ ŋ̊ǂ Voiceless nasal (ŋ̊) ŋ̊ǂ ᵑ̊ǂ
↓ŋ̊ʘʰ ↓ŋ̊ǀʰ ↓ŋ̊ǁʰ ↓ŋ̊ǃʰ ↓ŋ̊ǂʰ Ingressive voiceless nasal with delayed aspiration (↓ŋ̊ʰ) kǂ + h ᵑ̊ǂʰ
kʘˀ kǀˀ kǁˀ kǃˀ kǂˀ Glottalized plosive () kǂ + ʔ ᵑǂˀ *
(kʘʼ?)* ? ? ǂˀ *
ˀŋʘ ˀŋǀ ˀŋǁ ˀŋǃ ˀŋǂ Preglottalized nasal (ˀŋ) kǂ + mˀ/nˀ ˀᵑǂ
Tenuis uvular (q) kǂ + q ǂ͡q
(qʘʰ?)* Aspirated uvular () ? ǂ͡qʰ *
ɢʘ ɢǀ ɢǁ ɢǃ ɢǂ (Prenasalized) voiced uvular (ɢ, ɴɢ) kǂ + ɢ ᶢǂ͡ɢ
ɢǀh ɢǃh ɢǂh Voiced (prenasalized) uvular plosive followed by aspiration, velar frication,
or uvular trill (ᴺɢh, ᴺɢx, ᴺɢʀ)
ɡǂ + ɢqʰ ᶢǂ͡ɢʱ
kʘˣ kǀˣ kǁˣ kǃˣ kǂˣ Voiceless affricate () kǂ + x ǂ͡qχ
ɡʘx ɡǀx ɡǁx ɡǃx ɡǂx Voiced velar plosive followed by voiceless velar fricative (ɡx, ɡkx) ɡǂ + x ᶢǂ͡ɢʁ
qʘʼ qǀʼ qǁʼ qǃʼ qǂʼ Uvular ejective () kǂ + qʼ ǂ͡qʼ
kʘʼqʼ kǀʼqʼ kǁʼqʼ kǃʼqʼ kǂʼqʼ Velar ejective followed by uvular ejective (kʼqʼ, dialectically kxʼ) kǂ + kxʼ ǂ͡kxʼ
ɡʘqʼ ɡǀqʼ ɡǁqʼ ɡǃqʼ ɡǂqʼ Voiced velar plosive followed by uvular ejective (ɡqʼ, dialectically ɡkxʼ) ɡǂ + kxʼ ᶢǂ͡kxʼ

The DoBeS project takes Traill's cluster analysis to mean that only the twenty tenuis, voiced, nasal, and voiceless nasal clicks are basic, with the rest being clusters of the tenuis and voiced clicks with x, kxʼ, q, ɢ, qʰ, ɢqʰ, qʼ, ʔ, h and either or . Recent work on Taa's sister language Nǁng suggests that all clicks in both languages have a uvular or rear articulation, and that the clicks considered to be uvular here are actually lingual–pulmonic and lingual–glottalic airstream contours. It may be that the 'prevoiced' consonants of Taa, including prevoiced clicks, can also be analysed as contour consonants, in this case with voicing contours.

*There is a misalignment in the source tables: DoBeS has 17 series, Miller (2011) 19, with the additional distinctions apparently being ǂʰ vs. ǂ͡qʰ and ᵑǂˀ vs. ǂˀ.

All nasal clicks have twin airstreams, since the air passing through the nose bypasses the tongue. Usually this is pulmonic egressive. However, the ↓ŋ̊ʰ series in Taa is characterized by pulmonic ingressive nasal airflow. Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996:268) state that "This ǃXóõ click is probably unique among the sounds of the world's languages that, even in the middle of a sentence, it may have ingressive pulmonic airflow." Taa is the only language known to contrast voiceless nasal and voiceless nasal aspirated clicks (Miller 2011).

West ǃXoon (DoBeS)

West ǃXoon has 164 consonants in a strict unit analysis, including 111 clicks in 23 series, which under a cluster analysis reduce to 87 consonants, including 43 clicks.

These are written in the practical orthography (Naumann 2008). Marginal consonants are not marked as such.

West ǃXoon dialect (DoBeS 2008): Consonants other than clicks
non-click consonants labial alveolar palatal velar uvular clicks (5) glottal
oral stop voiced b [b] d [d] dz [d͡z] g [ɡ] gq [ᶰɢ] etc.
tenuis p [p] t [t] ts [t͡s] k [k] q [q] etc. ʼ [ʔ]
aspirated ph [pʰ] th [tʰ] t͡sh [tsʰ] kh [kʰ] qh [qʰ] ǃh etc.
voiced aspirated bh [bʱ] dh [dʱ] dzh [d͡zʱ] gh [ɡʱ] gqh [ᶰɢʱ] gǃh etc.
ejective pʼ [pʼ] tʼ [tʼ] tsʼ [t͡sʼ] kʼ [kʼ] qʼ [qʼ] qxʼ [q͡χʼ] ǃʼ etc.
voiced 'ejective' dzʼ [d͡zʔ] gʼ [ɡʔ] gqʼ [ɢʔ] gqxʼ [ɢʁʔ] gǃʼ etc.
fricative voiceless f [f] s [s] x [χ] h [ɦ]
nasal voiced m [m] n ~ nn [n] ny [ ɲ] ng [ŋ] etc.
voiceless nhǃ etc.
glottalized ʼm [ˀm] ʼn [ˀn] ʼnǃ etc.
approximant w? [w] l [l] y [j]
"intermittent" r [ɾ]

Reported clusters in x are tx, dx, tsx, dzx; clusters in qxʼ are pqxʼ, tqxʼ, dqxʼ, tsqxʼ, dzqxʼ, though these can be analyzed as uvularized consonants, /tᵡ, dᵡ, t͡sᵡ, d͡zᵡ, pᵡʼ, tᵡʼ, dᵡʼ, t͡sᵡʼ, d͡zᵡʼ/.

The identification of voiceless/voiced pairs of click clusters is aided by the morphology of West ǃXoon, where a significant number of nouns have a voiceless first consonant in the singular and a voiced first consonant in the plural. The rows of clicks below are all arranged in voiceless-voiced pairs, except for the pre-glottalized nasal clicks, which have no voiceless counterpart.

West ǃXoon dialect (DoBeS 2008): Click consonants
'noisy' clicks 'sharp' clicks DoBeS cluster
Clicks analyzed as segments
ʘ ǀ ǁ ǃ ǂ ǂ ǂ Tenuis
ᶢǂ ᶢǂ Voiced
ʘh ǀh ǁh ǃh ǂh ǂʰ ǂʰ Aspirated. ǂha is explosively aspirated ʜa].
gʘh gǀh gǁh gǃh gǂh ᶢǂʱ ᶢǂʱ Breathy voiced. gǂh is phonetically [ǂ̬ʱa]
ʘʼ ǀʼ ǁʼ ǃʼ ǂʼ ǂʼ ǂˀ Ejective. ǂʼa is phonetically [ǂkʼʔa]; the strong burst of the [kʼ] immediately follows that of the [ǂ], but there is a delay before the onset of the vowel comparable to that of ǂ"a [ǂʔa].
gǀʼ gǁʼ gǃʼ gǂʼ ᶢǂʼ ᶢǂˀ gǂʼa is phonetically [ǂ̬ʔă̰a], with a creaky onset to the vowel.
nhǀ nhǁ nhǃ nhǂ ᵑ̊ǂ ᵑ̊ǂ Voiceless nasal. nǂa is phonetically [ŋ̊ǂ̃ã], nasal with voiceless prenasalization even between vowels.
ᵑǂ ᵑǂ Voiced nasal. nǂa is phonetically [ŋ̈ǂ̃ã], nasal with murmured prenasalization.
ʼnʘ ʼnǀ ʼnǁ ʼnǃ ʼnǂ ˀᵑǂ ˀᵑǂ Preglottalized nasal. ʼnǂa is phonetically [ʔŋ̆ǂ̃ã], nasal with a glottal stop and brief prenasalization.
Clicks analyzed as clusters
ʘ" ǀ" ǁ" ǃ" ǂ" /ǂ/ + /ʔ/ ᵑ̊ǂˀ Initial ǂ"a is phonetically [ǂʔa]; after a vowel, a ǂ"a is [ãǂ̃ʔa] or [ãŋǂ̃ʔa]. The (allophonic) nasal venting may maintain low air pressure to contrast with the ejective click ǂʼa.
nʘ" nǀ" nǁ" nǃ" nǂ" /ᶢǂ/ + /ʔ/ ᵑǂˀ nǂ"a is phonetically [ŋǂ̃ˀa]. The (allophonic) nasal venting may maintain low air pressure to contrast with the ejective click gǂʼa.
ʘhh ǀhh ǁhh ǃhh ǂhh /ǂ/ + /h/ ᵑ̊ǂʰ ǂhha is phonetically [ŋ̊ǂha]; the [h] is weak. The (allophonic) nasal venting may maintain low air pressure to contrast with the aspirated click ǂha.
nʘhh nǀhh nǁhh nǃhh nǂhh /ᶢǂ/ + /h/ ᵑǂʱ nǂhha is phonetically [ŋǂ̬ɦa]. The (allophonic) nasal venting may maintain low air pressure to contrast with the voiced aspirated click gǂha.
/ǂ/ + /q/ ǂ͡q Two releases, /ǂ/ and /q/
gʘq gǀq gǁq gǃq gǂq /ᶢǂ/ + /q/ ǂ͡ɢ
ʘqh ǀqh ǁqh ǃqh ǂqh /ǂ/ + /qʰ/ ǂ͡qʰ Two releases, /ǂ/ and /qʰ/
gǀqh gǁqh gǃqh gǂqh /ᶢǂ/ + /qʰ/ ǂ͡ɢʱ Phonetically [qʰ] to [ɢʱ]
ʘqʼ ǀqʼ ǁqʼ ǃqʼ ǂqʼ /ǂ/ + /qʼ/ ǂ͡qʼ ǂqʼa is phonetically /ǂqʔa/.
gǀqʼ gǁqʼ gǃqʼ gǂqʼ /ᶢǂ/ + /qʼ/ ᶢǂ͡qʼ
ʘx ǀx ǁx ǃx ǂx /ǂ/ + /χ/ ǂ͡χ DoBeS: analogous to tx, tsx
gʘx gǀx gǁx gǃx gǂx /ᶢǂ/ + /χ/ ᶢǂ͡ʁ DoBeS: analogous to dx, dzx
ʘqxʼ ǀqxʼ ǁqxʼ ǃqxʼ ǂqxʼ /ǂ/ + /qχʼ/ ǂ͡χʼ DoBeS: analogous to pqxʼ, tqxʼ, tsqxʼ
gʘqxʼ gǀqxʼ gǁqxʼ gǃqxʼ gǂqxʼ /ᶢǂ/ + /qχʼ/ ᶢǂ͡χʼ DoBeS: analogous to dqxʼ, dzqxʼ

Vowel nasalization is only phonemic on the second mora (in CCVV etc. syllables), as it is a phonetic effect of clicks such as nǂhh on the first mora. nǂhh does not make the following vowel breathy, maintaining a contrast between nǂhha and nǂhhah. Likewise, while gǂʼ does make the following vowel creaky, there is a delayed onset to the vowel and the amplitude of the glottalization is less than that of gǂaʼ with a phonemically creaky vowel.

In an attempt to keep the phonemic inventory as symmetric as possible, the DoBeS team analyzed as segments two of the click types that Traill analyzed as clusters. These are (using the palatal clicks as examples) the pre-glottalized nasal clicks, ʼnǂ, which Traill had analyzed as /ǂ/ + /ʼn/, and the voiced aspirated clicks, gǂh, which Traill had analyzed as /ɡǂ/ + /qʰ/.

The expectation, from the morphology of ǃXoon, for voiceless-voiced pairs of click clusters led to the discovery of several series not distinguished by Traill. (This morphology appears to be more pervasive in West ǃXoon than in the East ǃXoon dialect that Traill worked on.) Thus for Trail's ǂqh, the DoBeS team distinguishes two phonemes, ǂqh and ǂh, and for Traill's ǂʼ, they have ǂ" and ǂʼ. It also lead to the discovery of voiced click types which may not exist in East ǃXoon at all, namely nǂ", nǂhh, gǂʼ, and gǂqʼ.

Under the contour analysis of Miller (2009), the distinction between simple and contour clicks largely parallels the DoBeS identification of clusters, apart from the last four rows (ǂ", nǂ", ǂhh, nǂhh), which are considered to be simple clicks.


The Taa syllable structure, as described by DoBeS, may be one of the following:

  • CVV
  • CCVV
  • CVC2V
  • CCVC2V
  • CVN
  • CCVN

where C is a consonant, V is a vowel, and N is a nasal stop. There is a very limited number of consonants which can occur in the second (C2) position and only certain vowel sequences (VV and V…V) occur. The possible consonant clusters (CC) is covered above; C2 may be [b~β̞], [dʲ~j], [l], [m], [n], [ɲ].


Taa is a subject–verb–object language with serial verbs and inflecting prepositions. Genitives, adjectives, relative clauses, and numbers come after the nouns they apply to. Reduplication is used to form causatives. There are seven nominal agreement classes in two tone groups which combine for nine or more grammatical genders. Agreement occurs on pronouns, transitive verbs (with the object), adjectives, prepositions, and some "particles".

Anthony Traill did extensive research concerning the language and its various aspects. He even wrote a dictionary of the Taa language, named A ǃXóõ Dictionary, as well as a book on the phonetics of the language.

Example phrases

These example phrases are from the Eastern ǃXóõ dialect and were compiled by Anthony Traill.

ǃnˤù.ṵ ì à ǁʼà-be ǃù.m ʘàa sâa
Hare.14 1PRO PST take:S-3 Eland.3 child:34 thither
"As for Hare, she took Eland's child away."
ǃqháa̰ ǂnûm ǁɢˤûlitê ǀè dtxóʔlu ǀnàe ǂʼá sˤàa̰
give MPO:4PRO two genital:22-P ASS:3 stench:3 DAT:3PRO COM:2 fat:22
"Give them their stinking genitals with the fat!"


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Taa". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ The proper pronunciation of “!Xóõ” can be heard in this recording, repeated from 0’16” to 0’24”.
  3. ^ Alan Barnard (…) Hunters and Herders of Southern Africa, p.xxii.
  4. ^ Gertrud Boden, 2007, ǃQamtee ǀaa ǂXanya: 'the Book of Traditions' : Histories, Texts and Illustrations from the ǃXoon and 'Nǀohan People of Namibia
  5. ^ DoBeS, “Taa”.
  6. ^ Naumann (2011) "A preliminary classification of Taa dialects".
  7. ^ a b c Yvonne Treis, 1998, "Names of Khoisan Languages and their Variants"
  8. ^ Distinguish ǁNg ǃ’e, a form of Nǁng, and ǁŨǁ’e, which is related to Seroa.
  9. ^  
  • Traill, Anthony (1994). A ǃXóõ Dictionary. (Quellen zur Khoisan-Forschung, vol. 9). Köln: Rüdiger Köppe.  
  • Naumann, Christfied (2008). "The Consonantal System of West ǃXoon". 3rd International Symposium on Khoisan Languages and Linguistics. Riezlern.
  • Traill, Anthony (1985). Phonetic and Phonological Studies of ǃXóõ Bushman. Hamburg: Helmut Buske.  

External links

  • Map of Taa language (ǃXóõ) from the LL-Map Project
  • DoBeS Taa language project
  • Large collection of ǃXóõ parts of speech based on the 2009 ǃXóõ dictionary
  • Swadesh list for ǃXóõ
  • UCLA Archive for ǃXóõ, includes story and language sound files
  • Taa basic lexicon at the Global Lexicostatistical Database
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