Khoisan Click Languages of Africa: Present, Past, and Future Map

Reference work entry


The term Khoisan, alternatively spelled “Khoesan,” is used by contemporary linguists as a convenient blanket term for the non-Bantu and non-Cushitic click-using languages of Africa and does not imply the existence of any familial relationships between the member groups. Some scholars include two isolate click languages of Tanzania, namely, Hadza and Sandawe, within the scope of a so-called “Macro-Khoisan,” although there is little evidence to suggest that these two languages are related even to each other, let alone to any of the southern African languages. This chapter begins by setting out the shifting speaker numbers and distributions of the diverse and often trans-nationally located Khoisan languages of southern Africa, as far as these have been reliably estimated for the present day on the basis of population surveys, and as far as they can be reasonably projected for the relatively recent, largely colonial period on the basis of historical records. The discussion then draws on comparative linguistic evidence (in both a narrow and wider sense) to assess various popular beliefs concerning the older, undocumented past of the Khoisan languages, which are often romantically imagined to be the last vestiges of some primordial African substrate – and the possibility of an alternative scenario is briefly sketched. The chapter concludes with a few brief notes on the uncertain future of these highly endangered African languages in an era of conflicting economic, political, and social-cultural demands.


Khoisan languages Click languages Endangered African languages 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of General LinguisticsStellenbosch UniversityStellenboschSouth Africa

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