During a class a friend of mine brought up an African Clicking language. I don't have a lot of information about this.

Which language groups in Africa include clicking, and what is known about the cultural and ethnic origins of clicking languages in Africa.

  • 3
    Why doesn't this simple Google search not answer your question? Jan 16, 2014 at 14:31
  • 6
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is not about history. Jan 16, 2014 at 14:41
  • "how did the language come about" is almost certainly off topic and far too broad. How did English come about? Since I find the question interesting, I'm going to argue (sophistically) that "what is the language" is a general reference question that is useful to history.
    – MCW
    Jan 16, 2014 at 14:47
  • 2
    Perhaps there is a better way to phrase the question, but I think (or at least hope) my answer shows that how we got our present menu of click languages and where those languages (and sometimes their clicks) came from can be described historically.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 16, 2014 at 15:03
  • This is a linguistics question, not a history question. "Questions on social sciences other than History are off-topic here, unless they also involve history in some fashion. While ethics, archaeology, etc. are all connected to history, each field has their own experts who are better equipped to answer such questions."
    – Luke_0
    Jan 28, 2014 at 16:06

1 Answer 1


A little background here: there are generally considered to be 5 "races" of man historically native to Africa1: Afro-Asiatic, Niger-Congo, Nilo-Saharan, Pygmy, and Khoisan. Each would have originally had their own native language, and their own native turf: roughly North Africa, Sub-Saharan West Africa, Sub-Saharan Nile Valley, Southern Rainforest, and Southern non-Rainforest respectively. Back then, the Khoisan and most likely the Pygmy languages made generous use of click consonants. The others did not have them.

Sometime around the year 1000BC, the Niger-Congo group acquired Iron age technology, and used it to slowly spread East across the whole continent. At this point, all the people to the south were still hunter-gatherers with no metallurgy. To an Iron age people, this is a huge power vacuum.

History, like nature, abhors a vacuum, so what happened next should be no surprise: One group of the Niger-Congo peoples (who we call "Bantu") quickly moved south and conquered all of the territory that was of any use for their tropical-based agriculture. The Khoisan were left to the desert areas and the far temperate south, but at least kept their click languages. The Pygmy got to keep their jungle, but lost their languages and now all speak Bantu2. So we got left with the language distribution map you see here.

enter image description here

However, the exchange wasn't all one-way. Many of the Bantu languages nearest the Pygmy and Khoisans ended up with some borrowed click-words (which is how we know the Pygmies probably had clicks in their languages). So today what have left are the Khoisan languages, which use clicks extensively, and some Bantu languages which borrowed a few clicks (and sometimes ran with them a bit).

1-Technically speaking all of mankind can ultimately be considered "native to Africa", but all other "races"/language groups spent the balance of their unique development and history outside of Africa.

2-Actually, this may not be completely true. Hadza traditionally has been thrown in with the Khoisan group because of its clicks, but quite recently linguists decided it is an unrelated isolate. Genetic studies seem to indicate that the speakers are related to...Pygmies! So this may actually be our one remaining Pygmy language.

  • Also, you might mention that clicking languages are a tactical advantage in stalking based hunting techniques because they are not easily noticed by potential preys. Typically, groups of hunters would coordinate their actions (selecting a prey, encircling it, etc) through clicks inaudible among the background savanna noises. Jan 22, 2014 at 23:50
  • @AlainPannetier - If you have a link for that theory, I'll see if there's somewhere appropriate I can fit it in. The practical utility of clicks wasn't really asked about though.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 22, 2014 at 23:54

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.