1 Dialects 2 Phonology
2.1 Vowels 2.2 Tone 2.3 Stress 2.4 Consonants
2.4.1 Non-clicks 2.4.2 Clicks
3 Orthography 4 Grammar 5 Sample text 6 Common words and phrases 7 Bibliography 8 References 9 External links
Dialects Modern scholars generally see three dialects:
Nama–Damara, incl. Sesfontein Damara Haiǁom ǂĀkhoe, itself a dialect cluster, and intermediate between Haiǁom and the Kalahari Khoe languages
They are distinct enough that they might be considered two or three distinct languages.
Eini (extinct) is also close but is now generally counted as a distinct language.
Nama man giving lessons on the Khoekhoe language
Vowels There are 5 vowel qualities, found as oral /i e a o u/ and nasal /ĩ ã ũ/. /u/ is strongly rounded, /o/ only slightly so. /a/ is the only vowel with notable allophony; it is pronounced [ə] before /i/ or /u/. Tone Nama has been described as having three or four tones, /á, ā, à/ or /a̋, á, à, ȁ/, which may occur on each mora (vowels and final nasal consonants). The high tone is higher when it occurs on one of the high vowels (/í ú/) or on a nasal (/ń ḿ/) than on mid or low vowels (/é á ó/). The tones combine into a limited number of 'tone melodies' (word tones), which have sandhi forms in certain syntactic environments. The most important melodies, in their citation and main sandhi forms, are as follows:
Citation Sandhi Meaning Melody
ǃ̃ˀȍm̀s ǃ̃ˀòm̏s butting, hitting s.t. low
ǃ̃ˀȍḿs an udder low rising
ǃ̃ˀòm̀s forcing out of a burrow mid
ǃ̃ˀòm̋s ǃ̃ˀòm̀s a pollard high rising
ǃ̃ˀóm̀s ǃ̃ˀóm̏s coagulating, prizing out [a thorn] low falling
ǃ̃ˀőḿs ǃ̃ˀóm̀s a fist high falling
Stress Within a phrase, lexical words receive greater stress than grammatical words. Within a word, the first syllable receives the most stress. Subsequent syllables receive less and less stress and are spoken more and more quickly. Consonants Nama has 31 consonants: 20 clicks and only 11 non-clicks. Non-clicks
Bilabial Alveolar Velar Glottal
Nasal m n
Plosive p ~ β t ~ ɾ k ʔ
s x h
Between vowels, /p/ is pronounced [β] and /t/ is pronounced [ɾ]. The affricate series is strongly aspirated, and may be analysed phonemically as aspirated stops; in the related Korana they are [tʰ, kʰ]. Beach (1938) reported that the Khoehkoe of the time had a velar lateral ejective affricate, [kʟ̝̊ʼ], a common realisation or allophone of /kxʼ/ in languages with clicks. This sound no longer occurs in Khoekhoe but remains in its cousin Korana.
This article contains click symbols from the Khoekhoe language. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols.
Clicks The clicks are doubly articulated consonants. Each click consists of one of four primary articulations or "influxes" and one of five secondary articulation or "effluxes". The combination results in 20 phonemes.
accompaniment affricated clicks 'sharp' clicks standardised orthography (with "ǃ")
dental clicks lateral clicks alveolar clicks palatal clicks
Tenuis ǀ ǁ ǃ ǂ ⟨ǃg⟩
Aspirated ǀʰ ǁʰ ǃʰ ǂʰ ⟨ǃkh⟩
Nasal ᵑǀ ᵑǁ ᵑǃ ᵑǂ ⟨ǃn⟩
Voiceless aspirated nasal ᵑ̊ǀʰ ᵑ̊ǁʰ ᵑ̊ǃʰ ᵑ̊ǂʰ ⟨ǃh⟩
Glottalized nasal ᵑ̊ǀˀ ᵑ̊ǁˀ ᵑ̊ǃˀ ᵑ̊ǂˀ ⟨ǃ⟩
The aspiration on the aspirated clicks is often light but is 'raspier' than the aspirated nasal clicks, with a sound approaching the ch of Scottish loch. The glottalised clicks are clearly voiceless due to the hold before the release, and they are transcribed as simple voiceless clicks in the traditional orthography. The nasal component is not audible in initial position; the voiceless nasal component of the aspirated clicks is also difficult to hear when not between vowels, so to foreign ears, it may sound like a longer but less raspy version of the contour clicks. Tindall notes that European learners almost invariably pronounce the lateral clicks by placing the tongue against the side teeth and that this articulation is "harsh and foreign to the native ear". The Namaqua instead cover the whole of the palate with the tongue and produce the sound "as far back in the palate as possible". Phonotactics Lexical root words consist of two or rarely three moras, in the form CVCV(C), CVV(C), or CVN(C). (The initial consonant is required.) The middle consonant may only be w r m n (w is b~p and r is d~t), while the final consonant (C) may only be p, s, ts. Each mora carries tone, but the second may only be high or medium, for six tone "melodies": HH, MH, LH, HM, MM, LM. Oral vowel sequences in CVV are /ii ee aa oo uu ai [əi] ae ao au [əu] oa oe ui/. Due to the reduced number of nasal vowels, nasal sequences are /ĩĩ ãã ũũ ãĩ [ə̃ĩ] ãũ [ə̃ũ] õã ũĩ/. Sequences ending in a high vowel (/ii uu ai au ui ĩĩ ũũ ãĩ ãũ ũĩ/) are pronounced more quickly than others (/ee aa oo ae ao oa oe ãã õã/), more like diphthongs and long vowels than like vowel sequences in hiatus. The tones are realised as contours. CVCV words tend to have the same vowel sequences, though there are many exceptions. The two tones are also more distinct. Vowel-nasal sequences are restricted to non-front vowels: /am an om on um un/. Their tones are also realised as contours. Grammatical particles have the form CV or CN, with any vowel or tone, where C may be any consonant but a click, and the latter cannot be NN. Suffixes and a third mora of a root, may have the form CV, CN, V, N, with any vowel or tone; there are also three C-only suffixes, -p 1m.sg, -ts 2m.sg, -s 2/3f.sg. Orthography There have been several orthographies used for Nama. A Khoekhoegowab dictionary (Haacke 2000) uses the modern standard. In standard orthography, the consonants b d g are used for words with one of the lower tone melodies and p t k for one of the higher tone melodies. W is only used between vowels, though it may be replaced with b or p according to melody. Overt tone marking is otherwise generally omitted.
Orthography Transcription Melody Meaning
gao /kȁó/ low rising 'rule'
kao /kàő/ high rising 'be dumbfounded'
ǀhubu (or ǀhuwu) /ǀʰȕwú/ low rising 'to stop hurting'
ǀhupu (or ǀhuwu) /ǀʰùwű/ high rising 'to get out of breath'
Nasal vowels are written with a circumflex. All nasal vowels are long, as in hû /hũ̀ṹ/ 'seven'. Long (double) vowels are otherwise written with a macron, as in ā /ʔàa̋/ 'to cry, weep'; these constitute two moras (two tone-bearing units). A glottal stop is not written at the beginning of a word (where it is predictable), but it is transcribed with a hyphen in compound words, such as gao-aob /kȁòʔòȁp/ 'chief'. Grammar Nama has a subject–object–verb word order and has three gender classes: male, female and neuter. Male and female nouns have a singular, dual and plural; while neuter nouns only have singular and plural number.
Singular Dual Plural Gloss
Female piris pirira piridi goat
Male arib arikha arigu dog
Neuter khoe-i n/a khoen people
Khoekhoe distinguishes between inclusive and exclusive 1st person plural pronouns. Sida is the exclusive form for we, it only includes a specific group; as opposed to sada, which is inclusive and refers to all. Sample text Following is a sample text in the Khoekhoe language.
Nē ǀkharib ǃnâ da ge ǁgûn tsî ǀgaen tsî doan tsîn; tsî ǀnopodi tsî ǀkhenadi tsî ǀhuigu tsî ǀamin tsîn; tsî ǀkharagagu ǀaon tsîna ra hō.
In this region we find springbuck, oryx, and duiker; francolin, guinea fowl, bustard, and ostrich; and also various kinds of snake.
Common words and phrases
ǃGâi tsēs – Good day ǃGâi ǁgoas – Good morning ǃGâi ǃoes – Good evening Matisa – How are you? ǃGâise ǃgû re – Goodbye ǃHaese mûgus – See you soon
Khoekhoegowab/English for Children, Éditions du Cygne, 2013,
Beach, Douglas M. 1938. The Phonetics of the Hottentot Language.
Brugman, Johanna. 2009. Segments, Tones and Distribution in Khoekhoe
Prosody. PhD Thesis, Cornell University.
Haacke, Wilfrid. 1976. A Nama Grammar: The Noun-phrase. MA thesis.
Cape Town: University of Cape Town.
Haacke, Wilfrid H. G. 1977. "The So-called "Personal Pronoun" in
Nama." In Traill, Anthony, ed.,
^ Brenzinger, Matthias (2011) "The twelve modern
For a list of words relating to Khoekhoe language, see the Nama language category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Nama grammar and a story at Cornell (dead link as of January 2009; cached by the Internet Archive) Nama (KhoeKhoegowab) Phrase Video Lessons KhoeSan Active Awareness Group (dead link as of 17 October 2010) An 8-minute clip of spoken Hottentot (khoekhoegowab) Khoekhoe phonology and a story by Johanna Brugman (dead as of January 2017; Internet Archive cache) Khoekhoe basic lexicon at the Global Lexicostatistical Database
v t e
Eini Gǁana Gǀwi ǂHaba Khoekhoe Khwe Korana/Griqua Naro Shua Tshwa
Ekoka ǃXun Central ǃXun Juǀ’hoan ǂKx’aoǁ’ae Sekele (ǃ’OǃKung)
Lower Nossob Taa (ǃXoon)
ǃGãǃne Nǁng (Nǀuu) ǂUngkue ǀXam ǁXegwi
v t e
Languages of South Africa
Pan South African Language Board Commission for Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Community Rights Department of Arts and Culture
Northern Sotho (Sesotho sa Leboa) Southern Sotho (Sesotho) Tswana (Setswana)
Southern Ndebele (isiNdebele) Swazi (siSwati) Xhosa (isiXhosa) Zulu (isiZulu)
Recognised unofficial languages mentioned in the 1996 constitution
Bhaca Khoi Lala Lozi Nama Nhlangwini Northern Ndebele Phuthi San Tuu
German Greek Gujarati Hindi Portuguese Malay (historical) Tamil Telugu Urdu
Arabic Hebrew Sanskrit
Tsotsitaal and Camtho Oorlams Creole Fanagalo Pretoria Sotho Scamto SA Sign Language
v t e
Languages of Botswana
Birwa Gciriku Herero Ikalanga Kgalagadi Kuhane Mbukushu Nambya Northern Ndebele Tswana (official) Tswapong Yeyi Zezuru
ǁAni Gǁana Gǀwi ǂHõã Juǀʼhoan Khwe Kua ǂKxʼauǁʼein Nama Naro Shua Taʼa Tsoa
Afrikaans English (official)
v t e
Languages of Namibia
Other Bantu languages
Otjiherero Rukwangali Setswana Zemba Gciriku Fwe Kuhane Thimbukushu Shiyeyi
Nama/Damara Naro ǃXóõ Kung-Ekoka ǂKxʼauǁʼein Kxoe
Namibian Sign Language