This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Nuts and Bolts: clicking.

The most widely-used click languages are to be found in South Africa, and Zulu and Xhosa are perhaps the best-known. Whereas English speakers only make clicking sounds on special occasions, click languages use them often and easily, in the same way as we use consonants like k or t.

There are various ways of making a click. You can make a tut-tut sort of a sound; you can make a click with the side of your mouth (the sort of noise people use to talk to horses); you can make a cork-out-of-a-bottle sound by pulling your tongue away from the top of your mouth.


Well, let me introduce you to the ǃXóõ language. It's spoken by about four thousand people in Botswana and Namibia. ǃXóõ is also called Taa, which is easier to say, though not as exciting to look at.

 ǃXóõ has five basic click types, but the variations of these five sounds add up to an amazing eighty three different clicks. At least. The grammarians are still not sure what counts as a click and what is a cluster of several clicks. West ǃXóõ has 111 clicks in 23 series: which is a lot however you split them up.

Just to give you the idea, here's an instruction video.

I couldn't find a video of ǃXóõ clicks, so this is Xhosa.

Have fun!

Thing To Try Today: some click sounds. Tut-tut will do, if you don't talk to horses much.


  1. After trying to follow that fellow in the video, I think I will stick to tut-tut!
    I do hope though that the click languages survive.

    1. I found the same, Jingles. It makes me marvel at how clever and determined babies must be.

    2. I have some S.African friends that speak Xhosa, and it's the most wonderful language to listen to - truly marvelous.

    3. You are lucky, Eddie. I've only really heard singing, but that was miraculously lyrical and gentle: not the least bit limping or stuttery. I loved it.